The minefield of memory - La Nación

Below is a translation of Alejandro Cruz’s article for Argentinian newspaper La Nacion, which can be found in the original Spanish here

The Minefield of Memory

Director Lola Arias is currently rehearsing her new play which will have its world premiere in England. In Minefield three Argentine and three British soldiers, who fought each other in the Falklands Islands war, explore what remains in their minds 34 years on.

Minefield is a project which reunites Argentine and English veterans from the Malvinas (Falklands) war to explore what has stayed in their mind 34 years later. Minefield investigates the marks that war leaves behind, the relationship between experience and fiction, the myriad of forms memory can take.”

The last paragraph was written by Lola Arias, the creator of this piece that is now going through a phase which at one time seemed impossible: the three English veterans have arrived in Buenos Aires and have found themselves with the three Argentine veterans. It took three years of work to reach this near impossible meeting between enemies.

Three years ago, this talented director, poet, singer, playwright, and actress was invited to participate in an event that took place in London. It was called After the War. Twenty-five artists from around the world were asked to create a piece work on the consequences of war. Lola presented a video installation. In the process of making this piece she went looking for testimonies. Her first reference for this journey through worn-out boots and mined memories was the book Parts of War by Graciela Esperanza. From both sides of the Atlantic, she was gathering the parts of a shared story that she wanted to create a dialogue between. Three veterans from each side of this project have stayed on to make up the protagonists of Minefield.

Far from that one image of the ex-soldier dressed in his fatigues; her image is one of many images. “Anyone can be a war veteran. There is not a unique profile or a unique mark,” she says in the enormous space in the Centre of Experimental Art in UNSAM (National University of San Martín). The diversity of experience was one of the driving ideas that she followed when it came to casting. In England she had come across so many people that had played important roles as soldiers. Some were now civil servants. Others, with time, have gone into academia. On the Argentinian side, the paths were also diverse.

In creating this piece, Lola had her own path to travel, putting her own feelings into question. She explains it like this: “It’s that we have the idea that the most hurt in this story were the Argentinians because the majority of them were conscripted without training or equipment. Boys that, all of a sudden, ended up in the middle of a situation they weren’t prepared for. Of course, while interviewing the English veterans, who are now all professionals, I realised that war leaves a mark on everyone. No matter how prepared you are, you are never prepared to see people die.”

In England, tape recorder on in hand, the first stage of the work was to come up with questions. Before pressing play she had her own questions: “Why are they going to share their experiences with a woman, an Argentinian woman, an Argentinian woman artist?” Now, with hindsight, it occurs to her to think that these layers of being a woman, an Argentine and an artist combined allowed the English men to show a level of vulnerability.

On each side of the Atlantic the process of reflecting on their past on those two islands unfolded. Minefield will have its world premiere in England at the end of May and will arrive in Buenos Aires in November. In England, it will be part of LIFT Festival, Brighton Festival and the Royal Court Theatre programmes. In Argentina, it will show at UNSAM (National University of San Martín), where we are right now. And there will also be a film, directed by Arias herself, called Veterans. Produced by Gema Films, it will include the majority of the testimonies, records, wounds, futures and reconstruction pushing the documentary format.

In Minefield the process of reconstructing this memory will be in the form of a film set turned time machine. “To reconstruct,” she says, remarking on the original concept of the two works in process, “To relive what happened 34 years ago when they were all becoming adults.”

AC: Where were you 34 years ago?

LA: I was 5 years old. I don’t have any memories of that time. Yes, about growing up in public school singing the “March of the Falklands”, I know that off by heart to this day (briefly, she sings the chorus, sitting upright, she laughs, perhaps, at the little girl she was). My generation grew up with the idea that it was something we had lost as a nation and that we had to regain. I didn’t write letters for the soldiers because I was very young, but they did receive them. In those letters you see the State’s operation to make us responsible for looking after those soldiers and to be, in a certain sense, at the foot of war permanently.

Other operations trace the map of the English camp. Of the three veterans that fought in those islands they called the Falklands, one of them arrived in Buenos Aires a week later than planned. He is a Gurkha born in Nepal. For various reasons, the process of getting a visa was more complicated and he couldn’t arrive in Buenos Aires with the other two veterans-cum-actors. ‘If one thinks about the relationship that an army has with the idea of homeland, you have to think that some of these men that fought for England weren’t even recognised. Many of them were only given residency recently, years after the end of the year. Or if they are residents, they don’t have citizenship. They were fighting for a country that didn’t allow them to live there.’

In My Life after the War, Lola Arias reunited six actors born during the dictatorship and reconstructed their lives. “Who were my parents when I was born? What was Argentina like when I didn’t know how to talk? How many different versions exist of what happened when I didn’t yet exist or was too young to remember?” they asked themselves while they showed photos, dressed up in their parents clothes and relived meetings and missed opportunities.

Now, clearly, the questions have other nuances. “Both sides say that each time that they went to school the first thing that they ask a child is if they killed” reflects Lola. “That is the question for us as we look in on the world from outside. The question for them is what did they do for others, how humans could be in the midst of that.”

AC: What was the question that crossed your mind during all this time?

LA: I’m interested in investigating what happens with time. In fact, this piece needed time. It needed 34 years. War doesn’t interest me, post-war interests me. What matters to me is what happens to a person who went through that experience. What matters to me is what memory has done, what it has erased, what it has transformed. Some have become professional storytellers and my work was and is to undo this in order to know what happened to them.

“I don’t write about war, but about the human being in the war. I don’t write the history of war, but the history of feelings. I am a historian of the soul,” wrote Svetlana Alexievich in her book War’s Unwomanly Face. These days, in the evening, Lola listens to war stories. Before going to bed she reads one in Alexievich’s book. Sometimes, at night, she dreams about the war.

While all these tales crisscross in her mind, she is working on another project which will debut in Berlin. It will be eight women of different ages that grew up in a socialist regime. In August, in the Park of Memory, she will present some of the videos that she has already shared in London. A year dominated by the theme of memory. Or, as she says, ‘the idea of theatre as a form of reconstruction, of representation of the past and its political reformations.’

Thirty four years ago, Lou Armour was in the Falklands. He is the first one in the photo. He is one of the actors in Minefield.

Gabriel Sagastume

He was on the outskirts of Mount Longdon. He remembers the deaths of his companions when they went to steal food from the kelpers’ house. They died by stepping on a landmine placed by the Argentinians. After the war he studied Law and became a district attorney. He never wanted to work with cases related to the Falklands. He wrote a book about his journeys to the islands and the artistic exchanges with islanders.

David Jackson

He was a radio operator for the Royal Marines. He spent the war in the back of a lorry listening and transmitting radio messages. When he got back, he discovered his wife had cheated on him and they divorced. Shortly after he decided he no longer wanted to be part of the military world and he started to study psychology. He now works looking after veterans who return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marcelo Vallejo

He was a conscript. When he arrived he had to drag a 500 kilo mortar with other soldiers. The day of surrender, a bomb killed a friend. On returning he lost his job and suffered from severe depression that drove him to drink. On a trip to La Rioja he took antidepressants with alcohol and threw himself in a dyke. He didn’t know how to swim. Someone rescued him. He learned to swim at 39 years old. He is now a triathlon champion.

Sukrim Rai

He was part of the Gurkha Battalion during the Falklands war. He was on the frontline and also was in charge of accompanying doctors helping the wounded and recovering the dead. After the Falklands he served throughout the world, Australia, Hong Kong, USA, Brunei. When he finished his career with the British Army he was a security guard in Iraq. The last to arrive in Buenos Aires.

Ruben Otero

As a conscript, he had to go to the Buque General Belgrano bombed by the English. He spent 40 hours on a raft with more than 20 people with temperatures less than 20 degrees. Today he has a printing business and a Beatles tribute band. He always plays in a vest that says “The Falklands are Argentinian” because he doesn’t want people to think that because he sings in English he doesn’t still want to reclaim the islands.

Lou Armour

He was a sergeant in the Royal Marines. He was in the Falklands when the Argentinians invaded, he was taken prisoner and sent back to England. Two weeks later he decided to return to fight. He held an Argentine soldier in his arms during the last minutes of his life. On returning he left the army. He studied sociology and history of art. He teaches children with learning difficulties.

Minefield will be at Royal Court Theatre 2 – 11 June, as part of LIFT 2016, find out more and buy tickets here