Artists Art Issues Exhibitions About Us Search

Art & Theory
Place the body. Forms of artistic activism in the Americas during the 80s
by Sharon Lerner

Bookmark and Share

A few observations

Upon closing the roundtables, Paulina Varas made some important observations on the development of the event and the RCS mission. She pointed out that the work conducted by the RCS is not just historiographic, but above all implies taking a stand, and stated that today the search for meaning in such practices involves raising questions more than making statements. In other words, pointedly asking: what affects us politically and poetically today? Unfortunately this was not discussed during the seminar, perhaps due to time constraints. Indeed, part of the stated mission of the RCS is to shed light on a series of 80s practices in order to boost new ways of taking action in the present. But what shape should this updated view take? The work of researching, archiving and retrieving that has been done is of course invaluable.(8) Furthermore, disseminating research through the RCS’s public presentations provides access to experiences in contexts that could lead to new creative ways of triggering responses to specific current issues.

In that regard the Lima seminar left a few loose ends. On the one hand, we could say that a cross-analysis of material was sometimes missing, in the sense that the lines of exploration that the roundtables presented for consideration were not articulated or discussed in greater depth, one exception being the comments made by Roberto Amigo in response to the opening session, in which he stated that the debate on “art activism” should take a back seat to the more important issue of discussing the internal conflicts that arose withinthe groups that had formed. Criticizing Expósito’s video, Amigo pointed out that it blurred the role played by the political players in the Siluetazo, and that the internal confrontations that arose over the production of images should be questioned and examined in greater depth.(9) In short, and in more general terms, he stated that the incongruity of the materials gave rise to conflicts and posed the question of defining the specific object under study. He therefore proposed the use of more traditional methods such as image analysis and making use of the traditions from which images stem, since that would cast light on the specific aims of creating a public.

At the end of the two days of presentations, we were left with a feeling of having received an overwhelming amount of novel, stimulating information but that the encounters, frictions and different timeframes between experiences were not fully examined. It is important to remember that the seminar was a presentation of the current status of research underway within the network and that its analysis was probably more thorough in the RCS’s private sessions. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that a presentation of this kind is important, particularly in a context such as that of Peru, in which the different types of local activism have not been fully discussed and prior examples of debate on many of those fronts remain practically non-existent.

Sharon Lerner


(1) During the seminar the RCS held private working sessions in the mornings and shared its research with the public during the afternoon sessions.
(2) Except, incidentally, for the clear difference between the dictatorships in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, or distinguishing the forms taken by the crisis/violence in places such as Mexico, Colombia or Peru.
(3) Originally the silhouettes were made using the bodies of protesters who offered themselves as molds; subsequently stencils were used.
(4) Here too an important distinction was made between the terms “art activism” and “vanguard”. The latter was discarded, since it did not form part of the vocabulary used by the discussion groups.
(5) Mapa Teatro’s Horace is based on Heiner Müller’s 1968 experimental play, Der Horatier. In it Müller uses an incident that took place in ancient Rome to exemplify ways of approaching moral ambiguity in the past.
(6) Postal art went from being a practice invented to create an alternative circuit for art in the 60s, to becoming a strategic means of responding to the restriction of liberties in contexts of political repression.
(7) One completed in 1976 was called “Happy Bicentennial” and consisted of a mini-manual for making a home-made bomb. However, the closing phrase in the “Happy bicentennial of exploitation” publication highlighted the author’s imaginary intention. Another example is attempt No.4, titled Le monde comme il va, containing illustrations by Guillermo Dreisler (1975-1976) in which he poetically and somewhat ironically narrates the history of the world.
(8) For example, at the outset of the seminar a brief reference was made to an initiative to make digital publications of the RCS archives in conjunction with human-rights organizations in Argentina.
(9) He thus briefly mentions a series of issues such as the participation in the Siluetazo process of the Juventud Peronista, which made silhouettes at the university, and photojournalists’ switch from passive to active resistance in 1981-1982 through their links to the workers’ movement, to mention a few examples.

3 of 3 pages     previous page

back to issues