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Inventing the Future. Political Construction and Cultural Action. Acts of the V Symposium on Research and Documentation

Posted on 14 April, 2015

Guadalupe Tolosa
The future can be invented, but maybe it emerges on the strength of a present in which the multiplicity of events –increasingly dominated by violence, which is present in virtually all aspects of life- turn the wager on aesthetic expressions into an opportunity to enrich the diverse and vast field in which we work, where the political, the ideological and the social are upturned.
It is precisely along this line that the plural visions extending from the social to the aesthetic-ideological, establish an extremely interesting intra-territorial link. Hence the international significance of the V Symposium of Research and Documentation on the Visual Arts, that took place in Mexico City on October 23-26, at the Adamo Boari Hall in Palacio de Bellas Artes. This academic conference produced interesting results between Latin America and Europe, with the special participation of colleagues from Spain and Portugal, and Latin American participants from Brazil and Chile. The participation of researchers, academics and students from public Mexican universities enriched the debate as well. All of the above is reflected in this report.
Researchers from the organizing institution, the National Center for Research, Documentation and Information on the Visual Arts (Cenidiap), had an outstanding participation. In terms of both quantity and quality, the wide-ranging character of their proposals was evident in 16 of the 33 papers read at the Symposium. There was a wealth of approaches in all the different thematic sections of the conference, a testimony to the constantly changing times in which we are now living, which attract the interest of visual artists, researchers, curators, documentarists, and students.
The Symposium was organized around nine sections, each with a highly suggestive title. In the first one, under the title “Critical Constructions”, the debate was initiated on the actions of the Frente Gráfico 132, a collective that deployed artistic images as tools in the struggle against the 2012 Mexican elections and the coming to power of an imposed president. Then followed a philosophical discourse about Thomas Moore’s Utopia and the invention of a future in an ideal society, contrasting this to Machiavelli’s maxim: “the end justifies the means”, making the point that such ideas are born in societies in crisis, where there is an urgent need for social and cultural changes in the face of injustice, inequality and the abuse of power. The discussion ended with an appraisal of collectives immersed in the struggle as a coming together of micro histories, positing the unavoidable need to organize historical and theoretical thought so that the societal production process may substantially change.
In the second section, “Dreamed Futures”, the possibility of creating an ideal future through cinematic science fiction, in order to create other worlds, was discussed. Centering on Blade Runner, the history of previous films and their influence was traced in order to show how a futuristic film presents an apocalyptic panorama very similar to current reality, through its visuals: a testimony to the film director’s training as a visual artist. With an ironic wink towards Umberto Eco, the second intervention philosophizes around the notion of the end of the world, from its origins in Christian thought up to the seeming impossibility of imagining joyful and harmonic futures today, because of the industrialized culture of predatory, apocalyptic capitalism. It therefore suggests not just imagining new futures, but questioning and abandoning the image of history as a linear process, so as to formulate new ways of conducting our lives. The other two interventions in this section, one regarding the first Mexican ships after the country had gained its independence,ñ and the fledgling nation, dislocated and wavering between the past and the future; and the other one, about Edward James’ visionary and eccentric quest among the fantastic constructions at Xilitla, pointed us towards the production of new signification projects.
Interventions on the third section, “Territorial Tactics”, approached several artistic and cultural events that have taken place in Mexico, showing potential uses of images as protest, in order to attain international repercussions: events in Oaxaca in 2006; events relating to the controversial Mérida Plan, in 2008; and, thirdly, the Red Water Manifest, which appropriated public fountains in several Mexican cities, painting the water red.
The fourth section, “Subversive Strategies”, opened with a dissertation on the social and aesthetic history of Mexican anarchism, in particular “anarcho-punk” and its consequences with Neo Zapatism. This was followed by a reflection around the notion that all art implies political action. And to conclude, an interesting intervention about street art in Santiago de Chile, with its demands for public education reform, and an invitation to academics and researchers to engage in a dialogue around Latin American artistic practices.
Section five, “Time Makers”, opened with an aromatic installation by Roberto de la Torre at the Ex Teresa Arte Actual museum, displaying his non-conformist creative practice in order to engage with the “narco” problematic in Mexican society. Rolando de la Rosa talked about some of his installations in public spaces. He calls them Social Actions with political and social justice tendencies. The Doscincuenta collective took on the spatial physical weave to talk about migration and conflict, relating to artistic projects about borders and the treatment of migrants as cannon fodder. This section concluded with a reflection around the accident caused by a tsunami in 2011, which led to the meltdown of four nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan. This paper deals with artistic actions in response to this event, such as an image referencing the accident, which was added to Taro Okamoto’s mural, Tomorrow’s Myth, which deals with the atomic bombs.
In the sixth section, “Coordinates and dilemmas”, there was an exposition of postgraduate activities at the Gender Studies Program of Mexico’s National University, which is experimenting with other pedagogical ways of producing knowledge through the body, and teaching-learning scenarios through contact pedagogy, based on an interest in listening to all the voices. Suddenly, another playful and lucid intervention comes up, a dissertation and wordplay about the future and its invention, all within the realm of funambulism, referencing capitalist discourse and positing the way in which what is necessary becomes possible, with digressions on the solitude of the individual in a vast collective, on the tense and the verb needed to invent a contingent future. At the close of this section, there was a reflection on the work of Arturo García Bustos at the time of the fall of the democratic regime in Guatemala, and how he was invited by Cardoza y Aragón in 1952 to promote the development of art with a social content in their country.
In section seven, “Disobedients and Institutionals”, there was an exposition of the production of images and discourses by the engravers, writers and poets gathered at Antonio Vanegas Arroyo’s popular printing shop, in the early 20th century in Mexico City, as interpreters of life at a very precise moment, and the discoursive formation of the signifying people through visual signs that are not left behind in the past, but are projected to the future to meet new signifiers. After this, there was a paper on statesmen as producers of monuments and artistic institutions representing a regime and engaged in cultural policies, focusing on Alberto J. Pani’s work in the creation of symbolic spaces that contributed to the political and cultural discourse behind the concept of nation in Mexico throughout the 20th century. The next subject was Stridentism and the Irradiador magazine, as an instance of “institutional disobedients” who rebelled but never stopped using the resources granted to them by the very system they rejected.  It was a case of romantic avant-gardists who idealized a movement which never fulfilled its initial promise. Lastly, a paper analyzing Mathias Goeritz’s work and thought, stressing his Dadaist roots, from his Estoy harto manifesto to his practice of art as a vehicle for sensation, for the spiritual dimension, for the vindication of humankind, with a deep and ever present Dadaist sense.
As moderator of the 8th section, “Real-time Activism”, I had the pleasure of listening to very interesting interventions, such as the reflection upon the video Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (2012), which attempts to grasp the creative force of anonymity, recognizing it as an active agent in the generation of questionings, based on the filming of a collective expression on the metal fence that surrounded the Alameda Central during its remodeling, at the time of the 2012 electoral process in Mexico. Another paper dealt with the loss of trust in the State in a society in crisis, which demands extra-disciplinary practices in the face of testimonies of killings and forced disappearances, with an exposition of such instances as the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, or the Cuenda project, as practices of artistic activism, aimed at making violence visible.  There also was an intervention about “escrache”, emanating from a series of Latin American organizations, such as Madres de Plaza de Mayo and H.I.J.O.S., demanding justice. And finaly, there was a detailed analysis of the image “No más Sangre”, which flowed at dizzying speeds through the transportation and cybernetic networks, with an aim to stop everyday violence in Mexico.
The last section, “Space Appropriations”, began with a narrative about the use of the human body as a conceptual support for public art expressions: the body as a tool for work and the city as a space for carrying it out, to get citizens closer to art-bodily perception, and as a means for political activism and militancy. There followed a lucid reflection on the distinction between mural and graffiti, there being more differences than similarities between these two artistic expressions, born out of different intents: muralism offered art with a particular vision of a historical-political-social event, making it available to the general public’s view; graffiti, on the other hand, emerged as a way of demarcating territories between young people in popular neighborhoods. Lastly, there was a dissertation on the need to rethink public art from the perspective of visualizing collective actions expressing political, social and cultural resistances, to produce a collective subject that posits new experiences of aesthetic appropriation.
To conclude, the plurality of contents in each section generated very interesting reflections about the need to invent or reinvent the future, “to begin the unavoidable political task of constructing an ever wider and more inclusive We”, as Carlos Guevara wrote in his presentation. The publication of the acts of the V Symposium contributes to enhance artistic historiography and art history, with papers that provided an enriching experience through the exchange of knowledge among a diverse and heterogeneous community, made up of researchers, documentarists, students and creators, who were able to reflect upon new ideas and concepts, providing innovating discourses, whose themes were highly enriched in the process.  A message posted on Twitter suits our present concern perfectly: “A State that suppresses its rebels has conquered peace, but it has lost its future”.

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