Micropolitics of the Archive
Before I begin, I would like to say that I consider none of what I am going to share here mine, or completely mine. Many of the ideas, dilemmas, and uncertainties recounted here are the products of a long, collective work of affective, intellectual, and political interaction generated within the Red Conceptualismos del Sur (or the Southern Conceptualisms Network), often about complex situations such as those which this issue of Field Notes calls into question and about the possibilities for reactivating our local, critical memories. Therefore, I would like to ask that the personal tone of this text be interpreted as an echo of a plural voice.
Margins of critical memory
The Southern Conceptualisms Network began in 2007 when a core group of Latin American researchers decided to establish a platform for thought, discussion, and position-taking. At the time, our work and research had sought to map and recuperate a dispersed constellation of artistic practices developed across Latin America, between the 60s and the 80s, during times of conflict or under conditions of political repression (i.e. populist governments and dictatorial military regimes, both from the right and the left). Those political configurations led to complex intersections between politics and aesthetics, where multiple responses were given to specific situations, in an attempt to evade and denounce oppression, state coups, civil rights violations, prohibitions of political activity, and cultural and social censorship.
Our Network was born with the intention of contributing to the reactivation of these artistic and political micro-histories and assisting in the generation of new conditions for the discussion and preservation of these materials and documents in our own contexts. We insisted upon the importance of their sensitive presence in our public life. Rather than treat them as mere ‘sources’ of ‘the history of art,’ we envisioned them as living antagonistic forces, capable of intervening in our local memories, our academic apparatuses, and our public debates.
We use our name, Red Conceptualismos del Sur, in a tactical sense. In recent years, terms like ‘conceptualism’ or ‘conceptual practices’ have been escorted in the historiographic, theoretical, and political de-hierarchisation and decentralisation of the canonical narrative of art history, understanding ‘conceptualisms’ not as a limited artistic movement but as a different way of practicing art and of conceiving its social function. Likewise, rather than claiming a unique geographical cultural identity, the term ‘Southern’ calls for furthering knowledge processes from subordinated places, bodies, and aesthetics—historically in unequal standing vis-à-vis a Western-Imperial worldview. Without plural cognitive equality, global social justice is impossible. As cultural mediators, we face the challenge of imagining and proposing more equitable forms of producing and sharing knowledge on a transnational level. In asking ourselves about the situation of historically marginal archives and subaltern artistic heritages, we are also trying to figure out how to dismantle the self-affirming universalist epistemologies, which had constructed unequal dynamics of production and distribution of knowledge in the first place, by introducing other points of origin capable of enabling more democratic futures.(1)
Key to our endeavour is our decision to remain independent. Our Network is an autonomous entity consisting of about 55 researchers, artists, curators, psychoanalysts, art historians, sociologists, and activists from Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Colombia, the United Kingdom, and Spain. The Network collaborates with institutions from different areas. Being independent, we can define our own agenda of political action, regardless of the current demands of the academy or the market. The downside is that we have to spend so much time searching for funding for our initiatives.
However, since 2008, we have been able to organise editorial projects, exhibitions, research groups, and public events in São Paulo (April 2008), Rosario (October 2008), Madrid (March 2009 and November 2010), Santiago de Chile (July 2009), Lima (July 2012), and Buenos Aires (October 2012). We have also organised exhibitions, guest-edited some international journals, and published books such as Conceitualismos do Sul/Sur (2009) edited by Ana Longoni and Cristina Freire; El deseo nace del derrumbe. Roberto Jacoby, acciones, conceptos, escritos, edited by Ana Longoni in 2011; and the forthcoming book Desinventario ,a publication that returned critically to the exhibition project Inventario 1965-1975. 'Archivo Graciela Carnevale' (curated by Fernando Davis, Ana Longoni, Ana Wazdik, and Graciela Carnevale) was organised in Rosario in October 2008, as a reflection on the intersections of art and politics in Argentina in the 1960s from the Carnevale’s archive.(2)
[For an alternative policy of the decentred archive: the case of Inventario (3)
Often, the expansion of contemporary art’s canon by means of the inclusion of so called ‘peripheral’ practices imposes on them an epistemological framework that involves the deployment of their disruptive power in the present. Given this circumstance it is urgent to imagine visibility policies for the documentary remains of these experiences that respond to an alternative logic.
In this sense, an invaluable endeavour was the exhibition ‘Inventario 1965-1975. Archivo Graciela Carnevale’ [Inventory 1965-1975. Graciela Carnevale archive], held at the Centro Cultural Parque de España, Rosario, Argentina, from 3 October to 9 November 2008.
The three tunnels that make up the exhibition space were intervened as follows: the first of them was practically empty. Only lights projected on the wall disclosed its symbolic mediation as cultural container. At the back of the room, a random sequence of images from the archive—which accounted for the production and distribution process of ‘Tucumán Arde’(4) —visually overlapped with the sound of the testimonies recently collected by Ana Longoni and Mariano Mestman for their research on the itinerary of 1968.(5) In the two remaining corridors, the public had access to plenty of visual and reference material (a partial copy of the archive was to be found in the middle of the second tunnel), which ranged from ‘historical’ documents from the 60s – 70s to those confirming the diachronic resonances of the experience, in diverse media.
The title of the curatorial experiment expressed a double intention: first, to inventory the archive for publication in a catalogue that would account for all of its documents; and second, to invent ways of critically activating in the present the utopian substrate of the practices that make up its documentary patrimony. The exhibition of the archive is reconciled with the implementation of its use value. The dismantling of the narratives at play sought to free experiences such as ‘Tucumán Arde’ from their institutional consecration as emblems of ‘Latin American conceptualism’, differing the meaning of the original event as the generating possibility of a new event. Emphasis on the materiality and processuality of the constitution of the discursive order of the archive was positioned against the aesthetic homogeneity of the artsy document, predominant in events like Documenta 12, turning on itself the demystifying potentiality of the ‘original’ experience. This epistemocritical approach revealed the fissures of every narrative that seeks to provide the viewer with a single explanation of the historical significance of those practices, relying on the uniqueness and multiplicity of readings when defining dialogically—but also agonistically—their sensitive memory.
Jaime Vindel is a researcher in the history of art, philosophy, and social science based in Madrid.]
More recently we curated the exhibition ‘Losing the Human Form. A seismic image of the 80’s in Latin America’ at the Reina Sofía Museum, an exhibition that gives an overview of the 1980s, establishing a counterpoint between the effects of violence on bodies and the radical experiments which challenged the repressive order. This project has also allowed us to consolidate our collaboration with the Reina Sofía Museum (begun in early 2008), which aimed at transforming traditional museum policies and challenging the predominant circuits of cultural production, from south to north, and replacing them with horizontal itineraries, including South-South movements between archives, museums, researchers, artists, and institutions.
The archives and the market
Since the beginning many of us felt that reactivating the force of those artistic practices in the present meant not only fighting the censorship they had endured in the past, but also confronting our current situation, in which the scarce documentation about these practices is being disputed by large institutions and private collections. Over the last twenty years, Latin America’s symbolic capital has become quite appetising for the global art market. During the 80s, the notions of marginality and native exoticism served to present the ‘art of the periphery’ through condescending international exhibitions. During the 90s onwards, the accelerated globalisation changed the idea of ‘internationalism’ in art and progressively transformed the metropolitan demands, which now seek to duly include in their collections those works from other geographic areas, which were previously unaccounted for.(6) These new market demands for international art circulation, which exist in unequal economic and geopolitical conditions, mark the contradictions that we face today as mediators of cultural production between the South and the North.
[Geopolitics of Art Archives from Latin American
Latin American art is, today, at the core of the exhibition and research dynamics of museums and academic institutions of central countries. In this context, cultural dissemination strategies inevitably go through strategies of valorisation of knowledge processes about practices, and of categorisation of poetics located in the Latin American art discourse framework. The identification and study of documents and archives enabling the construction of this network and of discourses about it has become the self-interested action of knowledge multinationals (7) which govern and exhibit artistic practices in a de-territorialised manner.
These multinationals, institutions such as museums and universities,(8) characteristically are: (I) projects financed by US and European capital, sustained on strategies of study and dialogue with knowledge groups and social movements in Latin America; (II) argued on the absence of discussion platforms in Latin American countries; (III) managing the direction of Latin American peers from recognised research and political activity centres in the development of their initiatives; (IV) generating programmatic research and cultural action plans on the local dialogue stage-sets during several years; (V) determining national and international visibility strategies to their name; (VI) aiming to generate states of the art of Latin America’s social and cultural circumstances based on the epistemic foundations of their discourses; (VII) developing training and dialogue processes of Latin American members to generate intellectual communities; and (VIII) constituting work networks in Latin America under projects of their own doing.
All of these points are attractive for Latin American partners and actually strengthen their work. In itself, this process is not harmful for the research on Latin American art but only to the extent in which autonomy in the construction of knowledge must be negotiated in the context of a discursive and conceptual framework about Latin America outside itself, outside of Latin America. The epistemological situation reveals an issue of power relations in the construction of knowledge. This dynamic of identification, classification and visualisation of Latin American art establishes ways of understanding and relationships of dependence and interdependence in Latin American knowledge society; strengthened by the weakness of local scenarios in the generation of autonomous knowledge about art and its archives, knowledge multinationals impose ex professo the referential framework which guides research policies. This dynamic can be critically reviewed in the relevance and understanding about the categories which classify the complexity of documents and archives.
David Gutiérrez Castañeda is a researcher in the history of art and sociology of culture and art and a member of Taller de Historia Crítica del Arte [Critical Art History Workshop] based in Bogota.]
Take for instance how some archives of Latin American artists have become the new ‘spoils of war’ on the international art market, coveted by renowned universities, private collectors, and art dealers. This is a very delicate situation in countries where state support for the arts is meagre or practically nonexistent, and where the artistic community distrusts the existing governmental institutions.(9) Some important Latin American archives have been sold and displaced to institutions in Europe and the United States, obviously offering many more economic and infrastructural resources than Latin America. These movements trace a paradoxical juncture: the international acquisition of archives preserves the material but at the cost of moving them away from their country of origin. Neo-colonial logic becomes thus enforced and extended, widening the North/South divide, and, once again, legitimising the North American and European sites of knowledge production. Such a situation demands a collective strategic response not only from local artistic communities, but also from all those responsible for the care of material patrimony: from common citizens to the various states and private institutions involved.
I would like to comment briefly on some projects we are currently developing in Latin America. The first is a summary of the research project ‘Cartographies’, developed in 2007 and 2009. The second is two models of archival projects we are currently putting in motion: on one hand, preservation of at-risk archives, which we do with the support of various institutions on the continent, and on the other, creating what we call ‘in use archives’, which allow for the examination of materials and documentation through a virtual interface.
Mapping the archives
The ‘Cartographies’ project, run by our Network during 2007 and 2009, constitutes a collective work of research regarding the state of the archives and documentation of ‘critical art’ dating from 1950 in South America. This project, coordinated by the Argentine art historian Ana Longoni and myself, was composed of diverse cartographies that have been mapped out by different researchers in seven countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Peru.(10) Each of these cartographies was structured in two distinct parts. The first part takes account of the existing archives and those currently being created, whether institutional or of a particular individual, public or private. In each case, we determined where the archive is located, what its origin is, who its interlocutors are, what material is being gathered, why it is relevant, how it is stored, what policies are held regarding its public consultation and opening of the archives, etc. The second part was a chronology of key events in ‘critical art’ in each country from 1950 onward. This chronology recorded the dates of each event, information on who has researched it, and what bibliographic materials are available. For many of these ‘critical episodes,’ of course, no such research existed, nor has documentation been found, but it is precisely this exercise that made it possible to highlight the gaps and create new diagrams for intervention.
This project, supported in its first phase by the MACBA (2007) and in its second by SEACEX and Reina Sofía Museum (2009), allowed for the creation of seven ‘cartographies,’ some still incomplete. The project located 90 archives in Colombia, 35 in Ecuador, 31 in Peru, 26 in Argentina, 21 in Paraguay, 17 in Chile, and 12 in Brazil (in addition to a number of small collections of documentation). There were few established archives and there are many more archives currently being compiled, the existence of which were unknown at the beginning of this work. There were few archives that are well preserved and many at risk. The resources on which these archives rely tend to be insufficient, and the depositories, in some cases, foresee donations to local initiatives or the institutionalisation of the archives.
Another important aspect to consider is the ‘effect’ produced by the act of naming certain groups of documents ‘archives.’ This is also a call to attention: the same exercise of researching and charting (the act of contacting, interviewing, taking interest) ends up instituting the organic idea of the ‘archive’, labelling it of clear public interest. These ‘effects’ do not only operate through the subjectivity of the depositories of these materials, but also on their status and economic value.
In light of the risk that this project could encourage new processes of economic speculation, since 2008 our Network has initiated dialogues and alliances between some of the involved agents, whether individuals or local institutions, to guarantee the accessibility and public conservation of some archives, which I’ll discuss in a moment.
The ‘Cartographies’ project has helped us not only to define priority archives for the Network support but also to elaborate the sharpest lines of micro-research and trace a map of decentralised actions. The results affected various other projects in development since 2008: for example, they introduced new coordinates to our ‘Critical Writings’ project, a large scale revision of writings produced between the 50s and 80s in Latin America,(11) and to our ‘Alternative Artistic Networks: visual poetry and mail art editions’ project on the collaborative groups that used visual poetry and mail art as a tactic of denouncing the dictatorships.
We began our attempts to generate a new politics of preservation and public access in 2008 with one of themembers of the Network, the Uruguayan poet and artist Clemente Padín. We worked to convert his archive into a public Centre of Documentation in Montevideo City, Uruguay. The project was born out of the artist’s concern due to recurring offers from private collectors to acquire his personal archive of experimental poetry and publications from the 60s and 80s.
During those decades, Padín had been one of the main promoters of various editorial initiatives that built networks with artists and visual poets from Latin America, the United States, and Central and Eastern Europe, at a time of harsh political repression. In 1977 Padín was detained by the Uruguayan dictatorship and his archive was impounded, losing in the process many books, magazines, and works which were never returned.
The arrest prompted an extensive, international protest campaign organised by the Mail Art Network that demanded freedom for Padín and his colleague Jorge Caraballo, summarised in the slogan: ‘Free Padín, Free Caraballo.’(12) After being freed in 1979, the artist began to re-establish contact with the Mail Art Network and to reconstruct his archive.
[Archival Imaginaries: museums, counter-canon and instituting practices (13)
The dissemination of post-structuralism to the field of creative cultural administration and progressive management of the artistic resulted in the collapse of several of the archival imaginaries seen as unmovable by late-nationalist state bureaucracy and, in turn, prompted the questioning of the self-legitimising inertia of the museum institution. Consequently, the question of relevance concerning the archive policies of art museums involves the following wager: assume that, because archives are symbolic-social artefacts made and updated in the course of their historical performance, the records and documents that constitute them are thus devices feasible of being reinterpreted, socialised, understood, concealed, manipulated, claimed, officialised or delegitimised by the emergence of new archival imaginaries. The latter are, in the broad sense of the word, instituting spaces and discursive joints that enable reactivating past events either as disruptive forces of the present or as monumentalising coercions. Every intersection with the past is, in this sense, a political and epistemic struggle in and for the present.
To the extent that museums claim the fact that the remains of some artistic practices—or certain objects (artworks or not)—operate in the form of documents, traces, or records of the past, they will therefore be compelled to become devices of intervention and tools of disruption of the canonisation processes of the stories of art; otherwise, their role will be limited to serving as contenders of the spectacle through the display of the ruins (of the global history) of art. Therefore, the critical transformation of the representational logic of museums should be accompanied by a radical questioning of our desires of transmission and access to the past, of our collective strategies and persistence against oblivion, and of our need to identify with or disidentify from our cultural institutions and their archive policies.
It is in this scenario that we must enquire about the circumstantial relationship between the emergence of a new set of acquisition and exhibition strategies within the museum on one hand, and, on the other, the demand for international visibility of a series of documentary collections, proto-archives, or compilations of registers related to the conceptualist practices and the political turmoil arising in Latin America since the sixties. In other words, it is within this framework that we must ask ourselves about the process of cross-pollination between certain peripheral, marginal, radical, non-canonical (or in the process of canonisation) conceptualist practices, and the new global archival imaginaries of some centre-progressive contemporary art museums.
From our point of view, the debate about the policies of archive acquisition and exhibition seems to require not only the emergence of radical intervention strategies in the construction processes of new post-national archival imaginaries but also the emergence of new instituting practices, conscious of art museums’ politics, geopolitics, and the biopolitics of the archive.
Joaquín Barriendos is a researcher in visual culture and contemporary art based in New York and Barcelona.]
In 2009, with the funding of SEACEX and the Reina Sofía Museum, the art historian Fernando Davis and the Brazilian curator Cristina Freire, founding members of our Network, completed a general diagnostic of his archive.(14) Then we began conversations about the archive’s custody with the General Archive of the Universidad de la República, in Montevideo, to guarantee a safe place for it and adequate cataloguing criteria that would assure its proper conservation and use. During this process, collaborating with the Reina Sofía Museum became a precedent for determining conservation policies different from those of a conventional private acquisition in which the material is usually displaced from its original country.
This first experience allowed us to implement similar projects in other cities. Last year we started working with the archive of Chilean activist art collective CADA, whose work was developed during the years of Pinochet’s dictatorship. The situation with this archive—consisting of photographs, documents, and remnants of artwork—was very particular because the initial intention of its custodians was to sell it to an institution outside Chile, given their distrust of governmental institutions. In this situation, our job was to open a dialogue to imagine ways to keep the archive in Chile, and to incorporate it into an institution, ensuring public access. After a difficult start, and with the collaboration of artists Diamela Eltit and Lotty Rosenfeld (former members of CADA), the financial support from the Foundation for Arts Initiatives and the institutional support from the Reina Sofía Museum, Madrid, we came to an agreement with a local institution, the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago de Chile.(15) Thus, after a long first diagnosis and inventory of materials, conducted by Jaime Vindel, Fernanda Carvajal, Isabel García, and Paulina Varas, the archive is about to move on loan to this museum’s documentation centre, and in five years it will be moved to the archive of the National Museum of Fine Arts.
We’ve just begun an even more ambitious project with the archive of the Argentine artist Juan Carlos Romero, who maintains one of the largest collections of political prints and graphic production by art collectives, organisations, and social movements in Latin America, but alsowhose profuse work from the 60s is one of the most important critical testimonies of the continent. We are beginning negotiations with the 3 de Febrero University, Buenos Aires to preserve and organise in its facilities the Romero archive, and some other local archives. We are preparing a similar project with the archive of the Peruvian collective E.P.S. Huayco, an important group of critical art from Lima, Peru, active during the early 80s. This material has been in Switzerland since 1982, following the departure of two of the group’s most important figures, Francisco Mariotti and Maria Luy. Our intention is for the archive to return to Lima next year and stay on long-term loan at the Lima Art Museum – MALI, a museum that is doing remarkable work in the consolidation of the art scene, bringing together an important collection of 20th century Peruvian art.
[Between the digital archive and the image bank (16)
In a context of liberalisation and opening of rights on registers, copies and visualities of archives of Latin American art, global museum institutions and their progressive administrations have found that access to information is a timely political strategy. This access has translated—beyond its exhibition, collection and conservation policies— into the development of large digital archives on the Internet, which, based on a counter-hegemonic sense of the cultural, have opened a path to renegotiate universal knowledges and make them available to the various users globally connected.
Understanding universal digital archives in this context of borderless global art, besides indicating their access opportunities, would entail alerting about a certain timeless and space-less dimension, which sustains its own de- territorialised category. More precisely, the emancipatory euphoria flaunted by these new digital repositories runs the risk of becoming neutral ahistorical complacency where what ultimately will prevail is the image bank. So a universally accessible digital economy should take into account that the profits of the image—available as banking catalogues (image-banking) in the global network—do not necessarily amount to an opening of knowledge, but rather stress the historical-local value of other archive policies.
Under a westernised perspective and given the precarious archival- institutional support of cultural governance in the Latin American context, we could say that the lack of archives of political art in specific areas of the subcontinent would constitute the new timelessness for centralised knowledge, and, correlatively, would be tantamount to a lack of modernity for Latin America’s own knowledge.
In this sense, digital archives would respond to a modern tradition and their updating would depend on high connectivity allowing for multi-historical and de-territorialised access, in detriment of local management policies. However, we must also be suspicious of a fixed over-determination to a place, because its claim would simply end by emulating the Nation-state apparatus of territoriality as a prophylactic guarantor of original documents under patrimonial seal, based on a culture of the identitarian, essentialist and private image, regardless of public policies.
Thus, an initial assessment of digital archives would be very related to what has been defined as an archive-image, that is, if the archive is a locus which needs to be managed, we must also bear in mind that this is now a clearly unfixed place, given that it has been diluted among networks; it is an invisible place because it is located behind the image. Therefore, the challenge of digital archives of Latin American political art and of museum institutions that promote their public access and interactivity, would not so much imply protecting the revered local symbolic patrimony but opportunely noticing the conveniences and contradictions of diluting documentary registers to such level that it is no longer possible to claim ownership of the document or its copy, much less of the original, and the implications of negotiating the reproduction of these same copies to the point of inscribing them as universal, and thus the possibility of turning them solely into an image. It is precisely at this juncture that it is unavoidable to think about the political event that digital archives activate as opposed to the banking instituted by the archive-image.
Cristián Gómez Moya is a researcher in visual studies and the history of art and theory based in Bogota.]
‘In use archives’
As a second modality, we’ve promoted the experimental socialisation of artist’s archives through a virtual platform that enables these digitised materials to be viewed on any computer with the installed software. Unlike the preservation and organisation of archives in institutions for the reference of researchers and the general public, the creation of these ‘in use archives’ attempts to imagine a workspace that allows access to documentary collections through a simple design, which merely requires curiosity instead of specialised knowledge. The first of these virtual platforms was that of the archive of Argentine artist Roberto Jacoby, an active participant of the 60s avant-garde, whose diverse creative production of five decades spans social research, song writing, essay writing, network-creation, literature, and art. This ‘in use archive’ was prepared for the exhibition ‘El Deseo nace del derrumbe’ (Desire is born of collapse) curated by Ana Longoni, held at the MNCARS between February and July 2011.
But we’re not talking about merely digitising an archive previously organised and kept by the artist. Quite the contrary: these ‘in use archives’ are actually the result of research processes that involve systematising and re-thinking the ‘chaotic and scattered universe of papers, publications, recordings and films’ in the homes of the artist and his or her friends. As Ana Longoni recognizes: ‘the work entailed gathering the parts, filling in the blanks, and imagining different ways of granting them legibility and meaning.’(17) By this we mean that research itself usually generates archives. The software consists of a digital interface where you can examine Jacoby’s writings, projects, photographs, videos, and audio files using key concepts that allow navigating the material, but also using a timeline, a list of collaborators and a list of incidents and historical events. Our second software includes all of Roberto Jacoby’s songs in a kind of invitation to karaoke: ‘the lyrics, the audio tracks, information about their historical context and the artwork that accompanied their appearance (album covers, concert photos).’
We intend to offer these digital interfaces so that they can be installed for free public access in various libraries, documentation centres, museums, universities, and institutions. We’ve already offered it to institutions such as the Museo del Barro in Asunción, or the Centre for Artistic Research of Buenos Aires. Quite recently we finished two new ‘in use archives’: the archive of the Chilean collective CADA, already mentioned, and an archive compiling photos and documents of Creative Practices of the Human Rights movement in Argentina, since the last dictatorship. At this very moment, these two archives can be accessed at the documentation tables of the exhibition ‘Losing the Human Form’ that we’ve curated at the Reina Sofía Museum.
What I’ve presented is just a glimpse of the kind of interdisciplinary work dynamics we foster within our Network, in spite of many economic difficulties. Whatever the format, our interventions have the common aim of putting into play different possibilities for history, the archive, and the transmission of knowledge. We don’t know where this work will take us, but we’re conscious of the urgency of intervening to prevent the latent danger of dispossession and material deterioration of our cultural memory. Our call is to act collectively. Without regional initiatives and new local politics (or, even worse, without archives), it will be very difficult to commit ourselves to the agenda of democratic reconstitution in our countries, which must be the seminal horizon of any cultural project that intends to be truly critical.
Miguel A López Lima, October 2012
(Translation: Max Hernández Calvo)
For a brief chronology of Southern Conceptualisms Network, see "Micropolitics of the Archive | Part II."
- Sat, 1 Dec 2012