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Art & Social Space
Suburban Thoughts : Part 1
by Maria Angélica Melendi

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It is evident that the demonstrations in Seattle and Geneva, the movements against the war in Iraq, or those taking place in different countries addressing local conflicts, such as the case with Fujimori in Peru or the 2001 crisis in Argentina, demonstrate a connection with the political and social events that gave rise to these strategies during the second half of the twentieth century. Artist colectivos- the word can be readily traced to the sixties — have thrived since the beginning of this century in Porto Alegre, Rí­o de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Recife, Sí£o Paulo, Brasí­lia, Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Rosário, Lima, and Santiago. In Brazil, they were to be identified and introduced into the art system by the curators of Panorama 2001/2002.

How was one to view this return? In this sense, Hal Foster operates with a model based on the Freudian concept of a posteriori (Nachtrçglichkeit). According to this view, the historic and neo avant-garde are similarly constructed within a complex network of anticipated futures and rebuilt pasts, in an a posteriori that excludes any simple before and after, cause and effect, original and repetitive system...(4)

So, in the beginning, the work of the avant-garde was non-sensical because a breakdown in the symbolic order of its time prevented the unravelling of the code. Acting through two operations - one of rupture, the other of restoration — practices of the recent past have returned, not only to intensify these faults, but to repair them. For Foster, the avant-garde, partially repressed, returns but returns from the future: such is its paradoxical temporality.(5) In this way, by means of a complex network of hoped-for futures and reconstructed pasts, each era dreams of the next; but this dream is only possible through memory and the continual reconstruction of an immediate past.

Contemporary groups give a new significance to the protests of the sixties and seventies. By operating through direct action in the urban space, they find, as the Situationists in the sixties would have wished, an emotional re-engagement with the cityí­s degraded and abandoned spaces, and what was destroyed, forgotten or erased as the new centers were created. Their principal aims are: A rejection of authority or its distribution among group members, a complete dematerialization of the nature of work, and practices which become interchangeable with urban sign-posting, popular advertising or day by day tasks.

In order to trace the emergence of this a posteriori return, we should return to 1968, when the newspaper L'Humanité called the student Daniel Cohn Bendit, leader of the Nanterre rebellion, a German Jew. On Parisian walls, young people responded "we are all German Jews!" At that time, German Jews, blacks, women, Bolivian minorities, Tucuman sugarcane workers, Peruvian peasants, Chilean salitre workers, and Brazilian favelados were the "other society", the oppressed, the damned of the Earth. Thirty years later, when every Utopian impulse would seem to have disappeared, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), begins to put forward similar ideas from Mexicoí­s Lacondon jungle. These ideas are no longer disseminated by means of clandestine paintings on city walls, but through the Internet.

At the University of Texas site which opens with the phrase "We are all Marcos", we read:

Marcos is a homosexual in San Francisco, a black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Isidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, an Indian in the streets of San Cristóbal, a gang member in Neza,a rocker on the University campus, a Jew in Germany, [...] a Communist in the post Cold War period, a prisoner in Cintalapa, a pacifist in Bosnia, a Mapuche in the Andes, a unionized professor, an artist with no gallery and no portfolio, [...] a woman alone in a subway station at ten at night, a landless peasant, an alternative editor, an unemployed worker, a doctor with no consulting room, a nonconformist student, a neoliberal dissident, a writer without books or readers...(6)

By identifying themselves with the discrimiated, oppressed and exploited minorities who are beginning to resist and to speak out, with all those sowing the seed of discontent, of uneasiness within the conscience of the middle classes through the virtuality of the Internet, Marcos and the Zapatistas again put forth old political and cultural modes of resistance. Through this common virtual space, an operation is set in motion which finally contaminates and disrupts the school, the newspaper, the library, the museum, the bookstore, the gallery and the market.

The relevance of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) in the contemporary imagination can be outlined by the infiltration of their communiqués into the North American academic debate. As an example, one can find at the University of Texas site, the EZLN Declaración de la Selva Lacandona (Lacandon Jungle Manifiesto) included in the book The Postmodern Debate in Latin America, organized by John Beverly, José Oviedo and Michael Aronna and edited by Duke University.

Like the Mexican Zapatistas, critics and artists today are nearing the "other face of culture", with which they identify themselves. As archivists or collectors they organize debates, compare representations, plan and implement strategies. It should, however, be noted on the other hand that these groups do not always avoid the institutionalized spaces of power. On the contrary, by occupying them they plant the seed of resistence and dissidence. They also open themselves to other heterogenous and global spaces where their projects are launched, or like bottles thrown into the sea, recovered or lost forever ...

(1) Borges, Jorge Luis. Obras Completas. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1981. p.131
(2) Bayly, Doris. Lava la Bandera. In: http://www.latinarte.con/spanish/magazine/magazine_ la_lavalabandera.jsp
(3) Cf.VICH, Ví­ctor. Desobediencia simbólica. Performance y polí­tica al final de la dictadura fujimorista. (mimeo).
(4) Foster, Hal. The return of the Real. Cambridge: MIT, 1996. p.29.
(5) Foster, Hal. The return of the Real. Cambridge: MIT, 1996. p.29.

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About the Author
Maria Angelica Melendi was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and resides and works in Brazil since 1975. She’s an Assistant Professor at the Department of Plastic Arts of the Escola de Belas Artes, Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais, as well as a scholarship student at the CNPq, Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimiento Científico e Tecnológico. She’s currently investigating how the visual art manifests itself in the Latin-American political scene, with emphasis in memory and identity strategies, a theme that she has published in books, newspapers and academic magazines.

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