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Subversive Practices: Art under Conditions of Political Repression

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Wí¼rttembergischer Kunstverein,
May 30, 2009 - Jul 02, 2009
Stuttgart, Germany

Subversive Practices
by Sol Henaro

On a theoretical par with VRM, Subversive Practices: Art under Conditions of Political Repression shows the research conducted during two years of work summoned by Iris Dressler and Hans D. Christ, the directors of Stuttgart’s Württembergischer Kunstverein (WKV). The nine co-curatorships that make up the show are: “Political Bodies: Territories in Conflict” (Fernando Davis); “Progressive Images: Art in Chile under the Dictatorship, 1973-1990” (Ramón Castillo and Paulina Varas), Alternative Networks (Cristina Freire), “Collective Actions: Trips Out of Town, 1976-2009” (Sabine Hí¤nsgen), “Crosscurrent Passages: Dissident Tactics in Peruvian Art, 1968-1992” (Miguel López and Emilio Tarazona), “Between Limits. Escaping in the Concept” (Ileana Pintile Teleaga), “An Approach to the Confluences between Art, Architecture and Design in Catalonia” (Valentí­n Roma and Daniel Garcí­a Andujar), “Tomorrow is Evidence!” (Annamária Szoke and Miklós Peternák), and “Playing with the System: Art Strategies in the GDR from 1970 to 1990” (Anne Thurmann-Jajes).

The curators brought together a variety of works and documents from countries that were subjected to authoritarian regimes (dictatorships and communist regimes) between the sixties and nineties in South America, Spain and Eastern Europe. The productions that make up the show bear a direct relationship to conceptual practices that focus on the body, language, postal art, public art, performance and “anti-performance” (Perjovschi), and propaganda strategies such as stencils, banners and posters. Life in different countries and contexts that shared the common thread of having lived through periods of repression in which being, saying, or expressing a dissenting voice placed one in a dangerous position. It was a challenge that led many to devise actions and strategic means of communicating to counter repressive apparatuses. Postal art (present in various curatorial efforts) was in fact one of the most wide-ranging practices, since the ever-present difficulty of traveling, communicating and openly disseminating art production made the postal service a means of communication and freedom that people often did not have, thus turning postal art into a subversive device.

Since most such work was produced outside the channels of official production, it remained “exempt” from the circuits of visibility at the time, which prompted the use of non-conventional exhibition venues, their own homes and studios (as was the case with many Romanian artists such as Ion Grigorescu and Dan Perjovschi, or the Argentinean Carlos Ginzburg), public space (the Argentinean Horacio Zavala, Artur Barrio from Portugal and Clemente Padí­n from Uruguay), or postal art and links with universities (as happened in Brazil with a preeminent role played by the University of Sao Paolo, and in Hungary with the University of Fine Arts in Budapest). The human body was also used by some as a territory for symbolic geographies (6) (Ileana Pintilie), as can be seen in Dan Perjovschi’s Romania (1993) and Removing Romania (2003), in which he decided to tattoo his country’s name (which others refrained from doing to avoid identification/xenophobia) and then had it removed by laser ten years later. This was also the case in the photograph work Sequela (Sequel, 1974) by the Brazilian Fernando Franí§a, where a forearm appears tied with string, followed by the mark the string left on the skin… evocations of marks on bodies that in the imaginary - and all the more so in this context - is difficult not to associate with the visible effects of a tortured body.

In the exhibition, art looms as a political space for denunciation and redefinition (López/Tarazona), so many of the works focus directly on protest. Por el derecho a la vida (For the Right to Life, 1985) is a video register (shown for the first time in Subversive Practices) of the collective installation by the Peruvians Lucy Angulo, Hugo Salazar del Alcázar, Jesús Ruí­z Durand, Mario Pozzi-Escott and Leslie Lee at the public gallery in Miraflores (Lima), which points to continuous violations of human rights. The video shows not so much the collective installation but the testimonies of artists and viewers, which can be summed up as follows: “violence can never be responded to with indifference”. (7) This shaking of amnesia and complacency through art production is also present in several of the actions of the Chilean collective CADA (Colectivo de Acciones de Arte (Art Actions Collective), among them “NO +” (No More, 1983), an inconclusive anti-slogan that was shown in several Chilean cities and that people appropriated so as to complete anti-dictatorial, antiviolence slogans on public walls or on banners hung from buildings.

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