The University Art Gallery (UAG) at the University of California, San Diego presented an exhibition of Argentine political art produced in the public sphere over the past fifteen years – Arrhythmias of Counter-Production: Engaged Art in Argentina, 1995-2011 (October 6 2011 – January 20 2012). A one-day conference, Arrhythmias: Narrative, Political Imagination & (im)possible Archives, took place in conjunction with the exhibition on January 13, 2012.
The exhibit was curated especially for the UAG by Jennifer Flores Sternad, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU and a leading critic and scholar of political art in the Americas.
Arrhythmias showcased art practices developed in Argentina since the mid-1990s that demonstrate exceptionally creative, and widely diverse, modes of engagement with present-day social and political struggles. The artists featured in the exhibition combine artistic practices and the pursuit of creative experimentation with methodologies and epistemologies, such as those associated with militant research, radical pedagogy, direct action, community organizing, critical cartography, tactical media and Brechtian theater. Many of the projects in the exhibition were developed through direct contact with, or in explicit alignment with, left social movements. In some cases, the artistic practice was coextensive with popular forms of struggle or grass-roots organizing. Other projects include anti-imperialist historiographical interventions that interweave the Southern Cone’s colonial history with its present-day neoliberal order, studies of vast informal economies and the migrant and local labor that sustains them, and provocative street performances and media interventions that reveal the logic behind the discursive and legal system of anti-terrorism.
This work evolved in response to the various political and subjective tensions that accompanied the Argentine economic crisis, which peaked in 2001 and 2002. These include a profound negation of state institutions, the protagonism of autonomous social movements, and popular militancy and grass-roots organizing attached to aesthetic invention. Another important point of reference for these artists is their understanding of the period popularly dubbed “post-crises,” characterized by re-legitimation of the traditional political system, the repression and domestication of social movements and a turn towards a discourse of security. Described by its architects as a return to “normal capitalism,” this transformation has been hailed internationally—as well as by some sectors in Argentina—as a remarkable “recovery” and successful return to stability.
If, as Ruth Gilmore writes, “Crisis signals systemic social change whose outcome is determined through struggle,” the works in this exhibition trace the contours of this struggle over the past decade, up to the present. In doing so, they reject official representations of stability and development, defy the image of a kinder and gentler “normal” capitalism and interrogate the political theater through which these ideas are promoted. Dismantling the narrative of crisis and “recovery,” they instead reveal the conditions of stability for the crisis state, and what it costs in labor, terror and even life.
Artists included in the exhibition
Ala Plástica is an NGO that has worked since 1991 on projects in which art, ecological regeneration and collective investigation play a primary role. The group’s activities often deal with ecological work, the conservation of native cultures and species, and the participatory recuperation of local economies and social tissue. Ala Plástica’s members and collaborators include artists, scientists, community organizations, other NGOs and researchers.
Eduardo Molinari is a multidisciplinary artist whose work centers on research through artistic methods and walking as an aesthetic practice. His l Archivo Caminante [The Walking Archive] is a meta-work that is both an archival collection he has, maintained since 2001, as well as the manifestation of his ongoing artistic-cum-research practice. This practice draws on varied epistemological frameworks and methodologies, including those associated with militant research, conceptual art, ethnography, post-colonial historiography, travel writing and psychogeography. El Camino Real, featured in this exhibition, is a diptych comprised of an installation that features documents drawn from the Archive and the book,El Libro Plateado y Real , appearing in its first English translation. In El Camino Real history unfolds in a non-linear and palimpsestic time that moves between the Southern Cone’s colonial history, Argentina’s hyper-neoliberalization in the 1990s and ensuing economic crash, and the potentiality of popular revolt and armed struggle seen in the country in the early 1970s. This work not only refigures a sense of national identity, but also proposes an especial understanding of the past — one that encompasses the unpredictable landscape of collective memory, fugitive events and experiences that have escaped the archival record, and the untapped potentialities still latent within them.
Etcétera… was formed in 1997 by a group of visual artists, poets, puppeteers, and actors. The group’s unique fusion of aggressive street theater, political critique, and direct-action protest, is equally marked by the group’s formative militancy within Argentina’s left human rights movement as it is the artists’ fealty to Surrealism. Beginning in the late 1990s, Etcétera… worked closely with the human rights group H.I.J.O.S. (Children for Identity and Justice Against Forgetting and Silence) in developing and popularizing escraches: popular exposure protests that are used to denounce unpunished perpetrators of state-sponsored terrorism, seeking a form of justice that is not beholden to the state’s legal and judicial institutions. Etcétera…’s particular style of surrealist street theater– sometimes grotesque, always irreverent – has played an important role in bringing visibility to unpunished acts of state violence while, at the same time, questioning rhetoric of victimization often emphasized in social justice struggles.
The Errorist International was founded by Etcétera… in 2005 as a response to the US-led “War on Terror” and the passage of international counter-terrorist legislation in Argentina. The Errorists stage situational performances to uncover the strategic operations of the state’s terrorism discourse and explore its repercussions in the media, language, and visual culture. They disseminate manifestoes, communiqués and videos about Errorism: a “practice and philosophy based on error as a way of life.” The Errorists’ works include performances in the midst of political demonstrations, unannounced street actions that target unwitting passersby (or even police), videos, photo-novels, poetic manifestoes and media interventions and hoaxes.
Grupo de Arte Callejero [Street Art Group]’s aim to “militate politically through art” is perhaps best exemplified in the way the group has worked with Argentina’s popular and left human rights movement since the 1990s, particularly in the organization and visibilization of escraches. One of GAC’s most visible contributions to the escraches are street signs that identify the locations of former concentration camps and signs and maps that lead demonstrators to the front doors of former military officers, complicit doctors and priests, and “economic genocidas”. With their maps, street signs, posters and anonymous interventions GAC creates a counter-mapping of the city — on that refuses the juridical and military obviation of both collective trauma and militancy. In the Argentine context, the way GAC inscribes symbols of state terror into spaces of the post-dictatorial present renders deeply ambivalent the official representation of the institutions of the neoliberal democratic state that has been consolidated against the violence of the past dictatorship.
Julian d’Angiolillo is a visual artist, filmaker and playwright whose work explores questions of urbanism, spatial practice, public space and memory. This exhibition features his recent feature-length film Hacerme Feriante [Become a Stallholder], along with documentation of its creation. The film is the product of d’Angiolillo’s intensive research on a massive informal market known as La Salada. Condemned by the European Union for violations of brand copyright laws, La Saladais the largest informal market of its kind in Latin America, attracting migrants from Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay and the Argentine countryside. D’Angiolillo’s film examines the coordinated efforts of stallholders, local bosses or caudillos, and visitors who open the fair in the middle of the night or pre-dawn hours twice weekly. Italso explores the ways in which the market is far more than a site of commerce, and is also a place for celebrations, religious ceremony and popular assemblies and a strategic field where the identity of immigrants and workers is reaffirmed.
Taller Popular de Serigrafía [The People’s Screen-Printing Workshop]was born in 2002 in the context of the popular assembly movement in Buenos Aires. The collective worked closely with neighborhood assemblies and participated in myriad demonstrations organized by piquetero [picketer] movements and occupied factory workers. The artists worked by determining a popular struggle or action in which they would take part and then collectively developed a graphic image that would communicate the spirit of the struggle. They disseminated these images at demonstrations by screen-printing the image onto posters and attendees’ shirts in situ, using their portable printing table that was mounted in a shopping cart. The exhibition will feature posters and T-shirts from over 50 different actions the group realized between 2002 and 2006.
Iconoclasistas‘ projects in tactical media, “agit-pop” graphics and radical cartography all grow from the group’s understanding of communication as a political praxis. They create bold graphic works that articulate counter-hegemonic social imaginaries and aim to support popular left struggles. These images are just one part of an ongoing collective research practice through which they and their myriad collaborators generate representations of grass roots justice struggles throughout Latin America and synthesize and disseminate this information in such a way as promote consideration of actual and possible connections and broader resistance movements. Their collective mapping workshops bring together people from diverse social movements and communities to foment dialogue about local problematics, promote direct inquiries into the specific sites of conflict or struggle, and create visual representations of this collective knowledge.
La Tribu is an independent radio based in Buenos Aires. Their work for this exhibition is curated by the cooperative media conglomerate Diego de la Vega LLC.
The Archivo Provincial de la Memoria [Provincial Memory Archive] is a public institution that aims to give historic value and meaning to sites that are part of the history of state terrorism in the state of Córdoba, Argentina. Diego de la Vega LLC is a Mexican coin-operated media conglomerate that works under the secret agenda of “another world is possible ” with the goal of creating collective common goods while working in the logic of a globalized information economy. Diego de la Vega’s CEO, writer and media artist Fran Ilich, created a piece for the exhibition in collaboration with the Memory Archive that is based on a dialogue between Ilich and activists who work with the Archive and with the human rights organization H.I.J.O.S. Córdoba.
Jennifer Flores Sternad is a scholar and curator whose research focuses on militant and activist art, performance, and artistic practices developed within or in alignment with social movements. Since 2001 her work in these fields has included extensive research in Argentina, Brazil and Chile, as well as on Xicano/a and Latino/a art and theater in the U.S. Her texts have been published in books and academic journals in the US, Europe and Latin America, including Art and Activism in the Age of Globalization (NAi, 2011); Live Art in LA, 1970-1983 (with Suzanne Lacy, Routledge, 2011 forthcoming); Zona de Poesia Árida: Coletivos de Arte (Universidad de São Paulo, 2011 forthcoming), MEX/LA: Mexican Modernisms in Los Angeles (with Ricardo Bracho, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2011 forthcoming); Haciendo Tiempo: Arte Radical, 1999-2004 (Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de Mexico, 2010); and the journals GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies; Contemporary Theatre Review; The Journal of American Drama and Theater and Interreview. She has directed and produced public art events in Argentina, Chile and California and she is co-founder with Fran Ilich of the media art/research project Collective Intelligence Agency. She holds a BA in Literature from Harvard, an MA in Art History from UCLA, and she is currently a doctoral candidate and MacCracken Fellow in American Studies in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU.
*Banner Image: Still from Hacerme Feriante, video, 2011 Julian d’Angiolillo