Interview: Lola Arias on Minefield
Ahead of the world premiere of Minefield, Argentinian artist Lola Arias tells us about working with veterans, the legacy of the Falklands war 33 years on, and the impact she hopes her work will have.
For someone who knows nothing about the project, can you give us some context around Minefield - what the piece is about and how it developed and why you chose to explore the conflict?
In 2013 I did a project called After the War, and that’s when I started to work with veterans. I did a video installation in which Argentinian veterans reconstructed moments from the war in the places they work today. In the Falklands-Malvinas war there were a lot of conscripts, and these people are now completely different from the soldiers they used to be. For example, one was an opera-singer and another a sportsman, like a swimmer.
The gap between the men they used to be and the men they are now started to interest me a lot and I thought about continuing the project with British veterans. So, Minefield will be the first time a group of British veterans and a group of Argentinian veterans are reconstructing together their memories of the war and this will be rehearsed in Argentina and in England so we will be creating together a whole picture of what happened to them at that time and who they are now.
This project is all about memories, how they are still important for them today even if it’s 33 years later. How even if it was a war that lasted only two months, it’s still present every day for them.
You must have been six years old during the Falklands War - what were your personal memories of the conflict?
During the Falklands-Malvinas war, I was in my first year of primary school and we were asked to write a letter to the soldiers. I remember everyone was writing letters to the soldiers. They all started the same way: ‘to the unknown soldier’, then it was ‘I’m a student of such-and-such school and I’m wishing you the best for the war’, and so on.
When I started to work with the Argentinian veterans, they had kept these letters from the unknown students from all over the country. Some even contacted the people who wrote them. One guy told me that he met his wife, because she was a secondary school student who wrote him a letter saying ‘I wish you the best’ and after the war he got in contact with this woman. They met and they fell in love and have been married for 10 years.
So you never know what can come out from a letter from an unknown student to an unknown soldier.
You work often draws on many different genres and disciplines - what form will Minefield take and what can audiences expect to happen?
We’re still developing it, but it will be a project where people are telling their own stories in an informative way, but there will still probably be media and music. We are even thinking about having a band, with British and Argentinian veterans because some of them play instruments – one plays the drums and two of them play guitar. We thought that it could be really interesting to have them play together, so we’ll see what language they play in – English, Spanish or Spanglish.
What have you discovered about the various characteristics of the veterans so far? What are the similarities/differences?
It was surprising to see that English veterans were as affected as Argentinian veterans by the war. I had the impression that because most of the Argentinian veterans were conscripts – so they were only 18 and not really prepared to go to war, they only had a few months’ training – for them it was a totally traumatic experience.
But I thought that people who were well-trained and inside the military before going to war – it’s just one more mission in their life – but I realised that for British veterans this was also a traumatic experience and they all went through very hard moments and all of them have a story to tell.
Why is Minefield an important and relevant work for today's audiences? What do you hope the legacy of the work to be?
For Argentinians it’s a very present topic, it’s not something forgotten or lost in history, but for the British people it’s just one more war. I think it’s not so much about the relevance of this war in terms of in terms of the history. But it is in a way very interesting to reflect on how these people who were there even for two months are still affected today, 33 years later: they go through fear and pain and they were very marked by this experience. If you think about this happening to people that were only there for two months, you cannot imagine the consequences that are facing British soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and so on.
All of them are looking forward to this encounter. For people who were in a war 33 years ago, they don’t have the feeling that the other one is the enemy anymore, they just have the feeling that they’re just other veterans of the same war. They fell very connected, emotionally. I think it will be very moving to see them interacting and telling each other their stories.
Minefield blurs the lines between truth and fiction, what do you think about the meaning of 'truth' in the processes of truth and reconciliation, and what possibilities does theatre open up in addressing post conflict reconciliation?
I’m not doing this because of reconciliation. I don’t think they need that. For me it’s more about how people can build up a history together using their personal stories. I think that through their personal stories you will get a kind of whole picture of the war and what the consequences were for everyone. You’ll be able to reflect on the history of both countries and how politicians from both sides used the war for their own purposes.
Minefield will premiere at Brighton Festival as it celebrates its 50th year of commissioning and producing innovative arts and culture. What does it mean for you to be part of Brighton Festival in this milestone year?
I’m very happy to be part of the celebration of a festival which is doing very challenging, wonderful work.
I remember being at Brighton Festival with My Life After in 2013 and people were emotional about it and very grateful afterwards. A lot of people came after the plays to talk to the performers and to me about the play and that was really beautiful.
I’m very proud to be a part of it.