On Stage at the End of the World


On Stage at the End of the World
[People] Daniel Omar Luppo, Director of the International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa

Ubiquitous as it may be, the world map probably gets little more than the occasional cursory glance from most of us. Argentina? We know just enough to place it somewhere at the world’s other end. And then a visitor arrives in our midst, hailing from this land’s northeastern reaches, from the distant, unfamiliar city of Formosa. He is Daniel Omar Luppo, artistic director of the International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa. In person, his air is more that of a tireless activist and champion of local culture than of a festival director. It is perhaps for this reason that, during our conversation, formulaic talk of “international exchange” or “cultural cooperation” seems inappropriate. All I can do is ask, plainly and without pretension, about what he can tell us about what is underway at his nation’s northern frontier. As befits the man under whose direction the Formosa festival has been erected as a tall watchtower over Argentina’s farthest outpost, Luppo is a cogent articulator. Moreover, his message to us is clear: Our knowledge of the world is incomplete; and so it will remain so long as we have not yet visited his stage at the end of the world.  




Q. Woo Yeon : The name of your festival, more dry than evocative, reads almost like a declaration. Why “integration”? Why “recognition”?

Daniel Omar Luppo : It is a declaration. It communicates political resolve, a political vision. Until now, most festivals and artistic activity have been concentrated in Buenos Aires. Formosa, on the other hand, is Argentina’s northernmost city, bordering Paraguay. Given that, historically, border cities were restricted development zones, people in these cities were treated no differently than outsiders, from Paraguayans. Then, 20 years ago, there came a move to invest in the development of these areas, in things like telecommunications, and finally the people of Formosa started feeling like they belonged, like they too were Argentinians. We proposed our name to the Formosan provincial government and adopted it as an acknowledgement of our integration with the region and the fact that we can now count ourselves as people of Argentina. It could also be interpreted as a statement of unity among genres or equality in how people enjoy the arts, regardless of their region or class. 

Q. What are your ties with the festival? Are you from Formosa yourself?

 Daniel : I’m an original founding member and today the director. But, no, I’m not from Formosa. I lived in Buenos Aires until 1987 and then started giving lectures in Formosa, which is when I got interested in the city and ended up settling down there. We created the theater company, which gradually grew until we finally launched this festival. I’ve basically lived in Formosa for the last 26 years. It began as a Latin American festival, open only to neighboring countries like Brazil, Paraguay, and Chile. But after the third year, this scope was expanded to include Asia and Europe. The 2015 festival was our 11th thus far. It’s organized by Argentina’s Instituto Nacional del Teatro and the provincial government of Formosa, and all of the performances are free for local residents. This past year, a children’s production put on by Korea’s Edu-Art & Therapy Theater CCOTBBAT was invited to the festival.

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Poster for the 2015 International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa ©International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa

Paper Window by Edu-Art & Therapy Theater CCOTBBAT ©International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa
The Woodcutter and the Heavenly Maiden by Theater Ro.Gi.Narae ©International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa

Q. In the same way that Formosa stood on the periphery of Argentina, Asia and Latin America stood on the margins, the periphery, of world history. There appear to be considerable similarities—economic instability, political chaos wrought by military dictatorships and coups, a crisis of identity borne of years under colonial rule. What’s your take?

Daniel : The cry for freedom sounded in our creation of art—this we have in common. Creation is impossible in places where freedom and safety are not guaranteed. 

Q. Was Argentina not such a place—where making art came with heavy political pressure? Numerous intellectuals and artists sought asylum abroad. I wonder whether the country’s artists, having gone through such an ordeal, are still bearing the weight of this kind of political trauma.

 Daniel : After 2000, conditions related to freedom of artistic production and expression improved dramatically. Nonetheless, for my generation, with regard to matters of history, we create art “so as to never forget.” This is a philosophical expression, but as we see it, “if it happened before, it can happen again.”

Q. “So as to never forget.” That brings to mind something said by Latin American literary figure Gabriel Garcia Marquez—“Forgetting is hard for anyone who has a heart.” Are you familiar with it? (“Yes.”) Unfortunately, this phrase has sometimes been invoked at inappropriate times in Korea. Any society that has undergone rapid democratization and breakneck modernization will feel the reverberations down the line. Despite the notion that Korea has been able to achieve substantial growth, censorship remains an issue here. Even if things in Argentina have improved considerably, as you say, are there any persisting constraints on artistic activity?

Daniel : Censorship is unthinkable in modern society. In Argentina, there is a National Theatre Law, law no. 24,800 (ley 24,800),1) which was proposed by a legislator from Formosa Province. When resources are allocated for funding of the arts, decisions are made not by public organizations but by a committee of private organizations to ensure that arts funding is allocated fairly. When there are problems with decisions made in the public sector, Argentinians will react very zealously and aggressively. So even if you’re the government, you can’t just make a unilateral decision and then announce it after the fact. For example, in 2001, which was a tremendously volatile year politically, the culture ministry announced cuts to the culture budget. Artists from around the country got on buses and converged on Buenos Aires, where they staged heated demonstrations, piling up wooden crates emblazoned with the phrase “Art is Dead” around the National Assembly building. I was there too, stacking crates in front of the National Assembly. 

1) http://sinca.cultura.gob.ar/sic/gestion/legislacion/ley.php?id=200

Q. Was it after this incident that you sought refuge in Formosa? Or perhaps you were expelled there?

Daniel : (Laughing) No, never.

Daniel Omar Luppo, Director of the International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa ©Kanghyuk Lee

Q. What trends do you see in Argentinian theater? What are the current issues?

Daniel : Argentina is a large country. The productions being staged in Buenos Aires are very different from those taking form in various regions throughout the country. Also, the generations that lived through the military dictatorship in Argentina have very different visions of theater than the younger generations that followed. With such diversity, it’s hard to say that one particular thing is the trend. Take Buenos Aires, for example. In addition to having a large number of theatrical productions, it’s also the city with the highest number of mental health practitioners per capita. And, of course, it’s also the birthplace of what might be the most poignant music in the world—the tango. Anxiety is an important emotion that really pervades the city. As a result of exchanges with Paris, a lot of studies have been produced on mental health, and the result has been a strong fixation on relationships. Lots of plays have dealt with the relationships between mother and son, or father and son, or lovers, but more recently, the father-son relationship has become an immensely popular subject and prevailing trend across the theatrical sector. My thinking and ideas, however, differ. In Buenos Aires, there is a tendency to want to experience the world from a self-centered perspective rather than from an objective standpoint. That’s why I left. 

Q. I’ve heard that more Freud is read in Buenos Aires than anywhere else in the world. Perhaps confusion about identity—being in Argentina physically yet feeling rooted in Europe—as well as political and economic upheaval have served as the foundation for the anxiety you mention. In any case, won’t your friends in Buenos Aires take issue with what you’ve said?

Daniel : It doesn’t matter. It’s the perception that Buenos Aires stands for all of Argentina that I am contesting.   

Q. Korea and Argentina are very far apart. Because of this distance, not much is known about the other, on both sides. When Korean artists are asked about Argentina, a considerable number mention Jorge Luis Borges.2) It seems he’s a continuing source of intellectual inspiration. But when asked about performing arts, the answers are De La Guarda or Fuerza Bruta.3) Isn’t this rather ironic—this divergence of perceptions between intellectual inspiration on the one hand and commercial entertainment on the other? Would you enlighten us? What are we missing?

 Daniel : That’s an amusing story. The fact is that Borges will still be here after 500 years. De La Guarda will be forgotten. 

2) Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentinian novelist, poet, and critic, not to mention an icon of 20th-century postmodernism. Born in Buenos Aires, Borges produced diverse writings across an array of genres, including poetry, nonfiction, and essays. He is best known for the seminal short story collection Fictions (1944). In Korea, the complete collection of Borges’ writings was published in translation in 1999.
3) Fuerza Bruta is a postmodern theater show and company that was created in Buenos Aires in 2005 by Diqui James. The show arrived off-Broadway in New York in 2007 and has been performed around the world since then. It has been watched by over 500,000 people in New York alone.

Q. (Laughter) Is that so? Which parts, then, of Argentina’s performing arts heritage do you think will live on past 500 years?

Daniel : Argentinian playwright Armando Discépolo,4) as well as theater director Carlos Gorostiza,5) who is still alive at the age of 95—their works will continue to be reinterpreted, and they will live on. Please remember them. 

4) Armando Discépolo (1887–1971) is an Argentinian playwright known for developing the Argentinian version of grotesque literature known as Criollo Grotesque, or Creole Grotesque, characterized by the combination of melodramatic tragic satire and themes of domestic strife.
5) Carlos Gorostiza (1920–) is a contemporary Argentinian playwright and theater director as well as novelist. Famous works include his debut play El Puente (1949), which describes attitudes of differing social classes toward social issues and is generally regarded as having ushered in a new beginning for theater in Buenos Aires.

Interviewer Woo Yeon (left) and director Daniel Omar Luppo (right) ©Kanghyuk Lee 

Q. What would you say is your mission, or your guiding conviction, in your programming for the festival or your other performing arts activity?

Daniel : In Korea, I watched a performance by Lee Jaram. Her performance was one I will never be able to imitate. I will never be able to perform Korean theater. But no question about it—I was moved by what I saw. In silence, we cannot discern where another person or people are from, but when they sing and act, this can be determined. Theater is, in essence, cuerpo del territory—the body of territory. Localism has the potential to be the most compelling style of art, as well as the most universal.  Are you saying that the concept of nationality still has some validity in our increasingly globalized modern society?No. What I mean by locality, or by nationality, is “the place in which I find myself at this very moment.” 





Woo Yeon_Chief Manager, Namsan Arts Center
Woo Yeon_Chief Manager, Namsan Arts Center
Woo Yeon is currently the chief manager at the Namsan Arts Center. She previously served as the general director of the LIG Arts Foundation, the director of International Development at the Korea Arts Management Service, and the director of planning at the Seoul International Dance Festival and the CID-UNESCO Korea Chapter, as well as being a producer for the Seoul Performing Arts Company