Jonathan Harker

DRINKING SONG
2 minute loop (2011)
Collaboration with Donna Conlon

 
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Panamanian beer brands are closely related to Panama’s national identity. As far as I know, Panama is the only country in the world which lends its name to a commercial product: none other than Panama brand beer. Can you image a beer named United States of America, or France, or Botswana? This phenomenon caught my attention several years ago (in fact, I even made a postcard about it: Panamá, it’s for men!). There’s also a brand named Soberana (Sovereign), which was first launched into the market in 1964, the year that the feeling of opposition to U.S. presence in the Canal Zone exploded violently on the streets of Panama under the battle cry “Absolute sovereignty!”. We also have a brand of beer called Balboa, named in honor of Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a genocidal spanish conquistador who came to the American continent as a stowaway and supposedly “discovered” the Pacific Ocean (in this sense, naming a panamanian beer Balboa is more or less the equivalent of naming a german beer Goebbels or an Indian beer Kipling). Balboa is tacitly considered Panama’s founding father, and his ubiquitous image occupies a priveledged position in the Panamanian social imaginary. Panama’s currency – which is in reality the U.S. dollar – is called the Balboa; and in Panama one can find convention centers, schools, plazas, avenues and entire neighborhoods that share his name and utilize his iconic image. Finally, Panama also has Atlas brand beer, a name which explicitly references cartographic and geographic matters. According to Greek mythology, Atlas was a Titan condemned by Zeus to carry the world on his shoulders for all of eternity. This explains why, amongst other things, an atlas is a book of maps or charts. Atlas beer’s logo is a globe which features an eagle hovering above the American continent, and in terms of its symbolic weight, it is closely related to Panama’s often cited “strategic geografic position”.

So the names of Panama’s four main beer brands are intimately related to the construction and mythification of the country’s national identity. “What do we do with that?”, Donna and I asked ourselves. “Let’s play a song using bottles, cans, bottlecaps, glasses and cases of those beers.”, we responded. But, which song? The United States National Anthem, of course. By all means, let’s play the official theme song of the country that boldly declared its vocation for conquest and empire by taking over and finishing construction of the Panama Canal and thereafter establishing and ruling a colonial enclave on Panamanian territory for almost a century. We already thought the idea to be very coherent and tight, but when we found out that the Star Spangled Banner’s music was conveniently borrowed from The Anacreontic Song – an old drinking song written and composed by two members of a London gentleman’s club called the The Anacreontic Society – we knew that we were really onto something.

Drinking Song was first shown at the 8th Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre Brazil, in an exhibition called Geopoetics.