Unpaged. How to Revisit History from a Plural Perspective?

ISSN 2783–9974 2020/2021


A Alina Șerban and Daniel Grúň

From Private Inventory to Open Archives. Archival Turn in Art History of Eastern Europe and Latin America

Any archive has the ability to secure a moment, to preserve the spectrum of personal traces and their hinges with a historical time through various gathered documents. It can also make visible unnoticeable conditions of living, of thinking and experiencing moments in time and thus further providing with a framework for discussing issues—regardless of the archive’s specific intentionality—that undergird the realities under which it was created. Archives are more than shelves of memory; they are zones of transfers, reminders that make the past visible, palpable fragments of a body of experiences that require an immersive process. Through this process, we are able to recoup the narratives it pertains to and to create new connections. As open sites, archives can generate revisionist interpretations as far as the writing of history is concerned. From this perspective, the artists’ archives in Eastern Europe and Latin America are playing a key role in reconstructing local histories of art, allowing access to information barely traceable in what is considered to be “the first public sphere” and, as a consequence of their less regulated formats, more than mere documents are provided to researchers.

As a recent theoretical framework in the history of art that determines a complementary direction in researching the post-war art in these regions, the artists’ archives have increasingly attracted the attention of scholars and art historians. Their fluid status—between artwork and theoretical hypothesis, between para-institution and repository of documents—has often eluded the anticipated paradigm of art production and exhibiting proposing instead a new type of practice. The complexity of relations set in time between the local political and social circumstances and the artist’s own impetus to exchange knowledge or to highlights counter-memory strategies, offers today an alternative view on history as it was unfolded in the official realm, emphasising the intersubjective character of these archives. Their “bottom-up” perspective puts into play forms of resistance, direct responses to the oppressive social surroundings, mutual exchange situations and attempts in historicising artistic practices of the time from one’s own point of view, being able to retrace narratives that have remained silent until recently in the “major” discourse of art history.

The present issue of Study turns attention to such problematics, the contributors taking on an investigative itinerary dedicated to the multiple connotations of archival practices and their role in giving form to alternative historiographies which emerged in the East-European and Latin American regions after the end of the 1960s and continuing until the 1980s. These practices encompass issues of self-archiving and self-historicising, closely intertwining with matters of communication and connectivity between regions otherwise inaccessible at that time, transforming archives into instruments of transnational networking, and conceptualising them as places of knowledge production.

This collection of texts is devoted to the particular way in which artists appropriate and interrogate the management, systematisation, and the accumulation of documents and, in subsidiary, engages with a revision of the polarised perspective imposed on the cultural landscape in Eastern Europe and Latin America, privileging a reframing gaze upon the hierarchical tendencies of Western art history writing. Thus, Study proposes to examine and debate the role that such equally artistic and historical manifestations have in the current effort to revisit the recent art histories of these “marginal” territories. As art historian Zdenka Badovinac argues, self-historicisation seems to be, in certain local contexts, the sole form of historicisation or the only method of articulating an interpretative framework of the activities carried out by artists outside the State-generated, official sphere. Retrospectively, self-historicisation and self-archiving sum up the need for defining counter-narratives that respond to the singular, monolithic gaze of an art history exclusively conditioned by geopolitical factors. At the same time, these interests and artistic tools highlight a plurality of positions and interpretations, contributing to an understanding of the global discourse on the history of art in these spaces and bringing to the forefront certain atypical or invisible artistic practices. The histories that remained “unpaged” due to their double quality as historical documents and artworks, point out not only specific social, artistic, and aesthetic phenomena, but they also draw attention to the production mechanisms generated solely by private, subjective experiences. The diversity of solutions and approaches found in the archives of artists from the former Eastern Bloc or Latin-American countries reveal their interest in the establishment of new contexts for their artistic practice, in setting out new channels of communication, and accumulating materials that can constitute the work itself.

The contributors outline how the research of artists’ archives generates new reading trajectories that reinforce the shift from interpreting artworks or artistic careers to reconstructing the role of artistic agency in society. This artistic agency often referred to as self-archiving or self-historicisation reveals various strategies of documenting and critically exposing the material, economic, institutional, social, and political conditions of art production, communication structures (in a broader sense, not necessarily focusing on artists’ networks), and the forms of counter-memory that embody critical stances towards dominating political paradigms. This does not only concern mail art, visual and experimental poetry, conceptual art, photography and video art, and community-based art practices but also art institutions established on the enthusiasm of individuals and functioning as points of connection, networking and lively exchange tools.

An important feature of this issue is the comparative method of investigation of the case studies, which introduces a transnational, and transregional perspective upon the phenomenon. It also reflects on preserving and protecting artists’ archives in times of globalisation and the increasingly changing status of these archives given by the institutional interests of museums, the influence of private capital and commercial structures, but also the impact of initiatives that aim to facilitate access to artists’ archives by establishing research platforms or other ways of making accessible to the public. Reading the essays, we become acquainted with the complex life destinies of these archives and their founders, many of whom have changed their status from private to public over the decades or reversely were lost and were reassembled. Besides, the changing status of artists’ archives into artworks, made by artists themselves with their continuous, long-term efforts to present their documentation collections is resulting in the accumulation of symbolic capital being used to produce forms of counter-memory. Last, but not least, the current Study reflects upon the role of the researcher as interpreter, as historian and activator of artists’ archives and the difficulties one has to face when entering the highly protected area of an archive, such as personal trust, myths one has to deal with, navigation, and knowledge transfer.

Conceptually, there are four thematic areas that could be described as the archive of resistance (Ivana Bago, Paulina E. Varas), the archive of care (Henar Rivière), the archive of knowledge (Katarzyna Cytlak, Katalin Cseh-Varga), the operative archive (Octavian Eșanu, Tomasz Załuski).

Summary of the Contributions

Polish art historian Katarzyna Cytlak examines the so-called “archivos desaparecidos” (the missing archives) in Latin America during the military dictatorships of the 1960s–1980s. Archives of artists and organisers such as Clemente Padín or Jorge Glusberg and CAYC—Centro de Arte y Comunicación [Centre for Art and Communication], founded in Buenos Aires in 1969, which are regarded as the most vivid points of connection between artists from Eastern Europe and Latin America of the time.

Hungarian art historian Katalin Cseh-Varga tackles the stereotypes related to the idea of artist archive as romantic or heroic achievement and proposes to replace it with the notion of the archive as a forum resting on a mental fundament. Her essay is based on a comparative study of personal diaries by György Galántai and Július Koller and reconstructing the information channels among contra-institutional projects.

Moldovan curator and critical thinker Octavian Eșanu introduces the conceptual triad of the “monument-document-mockument” to invoke the relation between art and time, art and memory, and art and history. According to Eșanu, in the battle of documents against monuments the former were used to delegitimise the latter in an operation of total rewriting of cultural history in accordance with new moral and epistemic virtues. The third part of this concept, the mockument, is symptomatic for Eastern Europe and introduces a process of erosion of credibility of both the document and monument—a sort of cynical, ironic, and satirical corruption of these other two instruments of time. The conceptual triad is applied by Esanu with regard to artists’ archives, particularly the Artpool archive in Budapest (founded by György Galántai and Júlia Klaniczay) and MANI, the archives of the Moscow Conceptualism (the samizdat publications collected by Andrei Monastyrsky).

Ivana Bago deals with the process of rethinking the Yugoslav socialist past, currently overshadowed and also suppressed by the conservative nationalist passions in Croatia. Her point of departure is the work of internationally renowned artist Sanja Iveković who has worked on setting up her own archive and research centre in Zagreb. Her essay is dedicated to a discussion about the aims and the purpose of such a research centre in dialogue with a growing number of archival projects. Bago deals with the tension between archiving being organised around an author’s name and the social function of such a procedure. Since Iveković’s work has itself included an “archival” dimension, and a dedication to countering anti-communist historical revisionism, especially one concerning the anti-fascist struggle during WW2, Bago is posing questions about how to further work with its legacy. She suggests that an artist’s empowering “document” could be understood as a lesson or an instruction scene around which contemporary scholars would engage in a process of study.

Henar Rivière’s case study deals with a work by Argentine artist Graciela Gutiérrez Marx entitled Grupo de familia. Reconstrucción de un mito / Family Group. Assembling a Myth, later renamed Los códices marginales de Mamablanca / The Marginal Codices of Mamablanca realized in different stages between 1980 and 1981. Her focus is on Gutiérrez Marx’s ethical and aesthetic universe, the artist’s theoretical thinking, which revolved around the concept of arte íntimo (inmost art) offering a revealing insight into the notion of art and the archive as process. Rivière analyses the key term “marginalisation” rooted in modesty aimed at opposing resistance leading to the existential and geopolitical dimensions of her theory and practice of inmost art. Family Group is an example of a profound sense of community, which is held together in a form of communication based on listening, by means of which she introduces stimulating alternatives to the common understanding of mail art networking.

Paulina E. Varas examines the legacy of Chilean women artists Luz Donoso and Lotty Rosenfeld, who preserved archives in their homes under the military dictatorship in Chile. Her contribution reactivates ideas of keeping, caring for, preserving, expanding, and protecting in present-day struggles. According to Varas, the archives kept by women artists are manifestations of resistance against the patriarchal violence and colonialist views of these histories too. Varas is introducing the category of the therapeutic in order to narrate the diversity of affections within the archives. She recognises the present-day value of women’s records of political art’s resistance during the dictatorship not as a nostalgic fetish but as a form of caring. Her research practice on women’s archives is related to “RedCSur”—the Southern Conceptualisms Network.

Tomasz Załuski argues about an archival turn in the historiography of artistic culture. He compares the archives of the Polish artistic duo KwieKulik (formed in the years 1971–1987 by Przemysław Kwiek and Zofia Kulik) and the networking activities of Polish artist and filmmaker Józef Robakowski. In both cases, according to Załuski, archival records acted as an accumulated artistic capital and an instrument of translocal and transnational networking. Załuski pursues a comparative analysis within the borders of a particular state art system provided transnationally and transregionally. This can provide a space for a more pragmatic, critical and nuanced account of neo-avant-garde cultures as embedded or actively engaged in social and institutional infrastructures of state socialism.

Alina Șerban is an art historian and curator, cofounder of the Institute of the Present in Bucharest. As part of this initiative, she curated the exhibitions „The Modern Idol. Henry Moore in the Eastern Bloc” and „24 Arguments. Early Encounters in Romanian Neo-avant-garde 1969–1971” at the National Museum of Art of Romania in Bucharest and coedited the series of publications in the format of artists’ interviews called PARKOUR. She is the founder and editor of the publishing programme P+4 Publications, dedicated to Romanian art, architecture and photography. She is currently working on the catalogue raisonné of artist Constantin Flondor. In her work, she is focusing mainly on issues of terminology, (re)definition and non-linear approach of post-war Eastern European art and architecture. She curated the Romanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2009, itinerated in 2010 at the Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, US.
Daniel Grúň is an art historian, curator, and art critic. Currently, he teaches at the Department of Theory and History of Art, Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, and works as artistic director of The Július Koller Society. In 2010, he was a grant recipient of the Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory. He was also involved as a co-curator in the first international retrospective of Július Koller, organised by MSN/Warsaw, mumok/Vienna, and Museion/Bolzano. Most recently he co-curated the exhibition Poetry & Performance. Eastern European Perspective in Nová Synagóga, Žilina. His research is mostly focused on the legacy of the neo-avant-gardes in former Eastern Europe.

Going Through and Beyond Artists’ Archives. A Need for Another Archival Turn

B Tomasz Załuski

How to Capitalise on Artists’ Archives and Self-historicisations
The 1970s artistic practices of self-documenting, self-archiving and self-historicising were part of what could be called the Neo-avant-garde culture of self-determination. In Poland, under the actually existing socialism, Neo-avant-garde artists, just as their colleagues elsewhere, strove to produce, present, interpret, evaluate and propagate their art in and on their own terms. They were afraid that the existing state art infrastructures and agents—quite conservative, or at best moderate—were not capable of recognising the specificity of new experimental art, or simply not willing to do so, and could misconstrue, misrepresent and undervalue its ideas and practices. In effect, many Polish neo-avant-garde artists not only preserved documents and testimonies of artistic life but also used their growing archives to produce their own narratives on the new art. Nevertheless, these self-narrated histories of the Neo-avant-garde were, from the outset, to be institutionalised and become part of the mainstream artistic circuit. Experimental artists took advantage of different administrative opportunities (these mainly included student and municipal or regional culture centres) in order to develop and expand an alternative circuit of the so-called “authored art galleries,” which functioned within the state art system, but they also hoped and tried, with some success, to introduce their art, archives and self-narrations into the mainstream art institutions in Poland and, in this way, transform and modernise them.

When at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s Przemysław Kwiek and Zofia Kulik, who formed the KwieKulik duo between 1971 and 1987,[1] turned from object-based art to process-based “Activities,” they also embraced self-documentation, self-archiving, and self-historicisation as essential aspects of their concept of art. As early as in 1971 they also began to document ephemeral actions by other fellow artists. The growing archive of photographs, especially diapositive slides, and other records of artistic life was to serve as the material for KwieKulik’s own visual multimedia art practices, the so-called “directed” slide multi-projections, but they also used it to disseminate information about processual art practices of an important faction of a young Polish neo-avant-garde milieu to which they belonged. In 1974 they created the Studio of Activities, Documentation and Propagation as a “label” of their artistic para-institution located in their private apartment in Warsaw, which housed the archive. The studio became—and today is widely known as—an exercise in artistic self-organisation, an informal performative archive operating beyond established institutional systems, producing and collecting all kinds of testimonies to artistic life and its infrastructural conditions. But what the artists really wanted to create was a formalised art-and-research agency which would work under the auspices, or be part of, a state institution. For several years, until the early 1980s, they tried to win the support of different state institutions but did not succeed. In their official application letters, they stressed that their ambition was to introduce their archive and the historicisation of the “art of Activities” built upon it “into the ideological and administrative current of Polish Art.”[2]

DIY illuminated table with a slideshow ready for guests of 11th International AICA Congress, 10–16.09.1975, Studio of Activities, Documentation and Propagation (PDDiU) at KwieKulik’s private apartment, Warsaw. Courtesy of Kulik-KwieKulik Foundation

Without the state institutional support, KwieKulik were presenting their archive and narrations on Polish ephemeral art to the interested public in their private apartment or at different galleries and cultural centres in Poland and—beginning in the late 1970s—abroad. Performing the archive in this way played several functions and generated different but interconnected kinds of capital for the artists. As their authored work, it co-defined them as artists and co-created their position within the experimental art milieu in Poland. The archiving practice also helped to build strategic alliances with fellow artists and integrate certain factions within the artistic milieu. With its gradual extension, the archive was becoming an important point of reference and source of knowledge for artists, art critics and curators from other regions of Poland and abroad. Therefore, it was turned into an instrument of translocal and transnational networking, with numerous foreigners visiting KwieKulik’s apartment, being shown the documents, and told the story of Polish ephemeral art. When the duo started to present their art abroad, which intensified between 1979 and 1987, the archive acted as an accumulated artistic capital. It helped contextualise their own performances in Western Europe, Canada and the USA, showing the history of their achievements and proving their local sources, specific infrastructural conditions and an evolution trajectory parallel to but independent from Western art scenes. It also turned them into representatives or promoters of the whole of Polish experimental art, which was inevitably perceived in the West through the Cold War geopolitical lens and treated as an example of the so-called independent art from the communist bloc. However, the archive and self-historicisation that KwieKulik would present there helped them correct certain Western misconceptions and, for example, protested against viewing their practices as a “dissident art” and not focusing on their properly innovative artistic values.

Józef Robakowski is usually associated with the experimental film and new media neo-avant-garde group Workshop of the Film Form, which was established in 1970 at the Film School in Łódź and remained active as such until 1977. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that his earliest art pieces were created in the late 1950s and in the 1960s he was a founding member of several photography, film and multidisciplinary groups in Toruń. Also there, at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, he took Heritage and Museum Studies and attended regular academic courses in art history and museology. This helped him build his later multirole career as an experimental filmmaker, video and performance artist, animator, documentalist, archivist and chronicler of Polish and international conceptual, media and ephemeral art of the 1970s and 1980s, the author of a collection of works and documentation, editor of artistic samizdats, self-published books and, last but not least, participant of heated debates on the neo-avant-garde, its artistic achievements, and historical accounts.[3]

As a member of WFF, Robakowski was taking part in both the alternative and mainstream art circuits and, as many other neo-avant-garde artists, attempted to introduce new experimental art and its self-narrations into some major art institutions. He also made a few professional documentary films on art, giving them experimental forms. In 1974–1975, on commission from the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, he made an assemblage and participatory movie called The Living Gallery, asking a number of Polish experimental artists to contribute with short scenes that would present their art and themselves as artists. His selection could be interpreted as an intervention into the artistic canon and exhibition policy of the museum, forcing the museum director Ryszard Stanisławski to accept, institutionally legitimise, and support a broader circle of young Polish neo-avant-garde artists. When the footage was not accepted by Stanisławski, who questioned Robakowski’s choices, The Living Gallery was re-edited and produced as a “living archive” which played the role of an alternative art institution as it was screened at numerous art events in Poland and abroad.

While KwieKulik considered the documentation they were making as part of their proper artistic practice and claimed the sole authorship of their archive, Robakowski was more of an animator who organised the work of a multitude of artists and allowed for a collective, or more precisely, dispersed multi-singular authorship of the documentation and archive thus produced. Such a principle was behind the Exchange Gallery established by him and Małgorzata Potocka in 1978 in their private apartment in Łódź. This alternative conceptual gallery was aimed at collecting and exchanging all sorts of archival records of artistic ideas and practices from Poland and abroad. It was a “communication structure,” a para-institutional label used as a networking and exchange instrument, and it produced the symbolic capital necessary for Robakowski to make new transnational contacts and arrange donations or exchanges of artworks and documents for his collection and archive.

When martial law was imposed in Poland at the end of 1981 to fight the social movement generated by the independent Solidarity Trade Union, Polish artistic milieus began to boycott certain mainstream art institutions and the alternative circuit gained in importance. Robakowski started to use the material space of his Exchange Gallery to present his collection and archive in the form of exhibitions of artworks and documentation, as well as film and video screenings. In the new decade, the 1970s neo-avant-garde, however active it remained, was no longer considered relevant to the new socio-political, cultural and existential situation in Poland and was ridiculed by a new generation of artists associated with anarchising “Pitch-In Culture” or the local version of “new expression.” Robakowski confronted this attempt at symbolically delegitimating the Neo-avant-garde by, among others, using the information and knowledge capital of his archive to self-historicise the 1970s artistic culture in texts he was publishing in “third public sphere” artistic samizdats. He strove to show that certain new artistic phenomena which defined the 1980s, such as the aforementioned Pitch-In Culture, had their precedents in the neo-avant-garde culture of the previous decade or even originated from it. He also wanted to establish the position of the Łódź artistic milieu in the field of new media art, boldly claiming, as he did on several occasions, that due to these “other media” the city was “the capital of Central Europe.”[4]

Exchange Gallery’s interior with the exhibition of Józef Robakowski’s “Energetic Angles” and a part of his video-tapes collection, the late 1980s, Łódź. Courtesy of Józef Robakowski

The 1990s, with their postsocialist or postcommunist condition, formed a new period in the exploitation of Neo-avant-garde archives in Poland. Many public art institutions turned to the ethos of the 1970s and 1980s alternative gallery movement, tactically equating its relative artistic autonomy with socio-political dissidence and taking its models as the reference point for their own mode of performance and exhibition policy. A prominent case was the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, which was formally established in the early 1980s but did not start to operate until the end of the decade. The centre aimed to take over the symbolic capital of the entire alternative gallery movement as its own “inheritance,” and become the depository holder and owner of the documentation of artistic ideas and activities it generated. A special unit within the institution, devoted to documentation and information on contemporary art, was gathering and, in very few cases, buying artist archives.[5] What is more, between 1991 and 1998 the centre organised a series of small displays of the 1970s and 1980s experimental art documentary materials that were located—both symbolically and spatially—on the fringe of the main exhibition program of the institution. The archives did not yet have the status of fully-fledged exhibition objects which could exist alongside “proper” artworks, enter into a dialogue with them, build their context, and even completely replace them.

A major contribution to the process of changing the status of artist archives into exhibition objects, or even proper artworks, was made by artists themselves with their continuous, long-term efforts to present their documentation collections, use them to self-historicise the 1970s and 1980s artistic culture and, in effect, produce forms of counter-memory which would work against the existing or emerging academic accounts and institutional canons. During the 1990s and after 2000 Robakowski prepared numerous shows at public and private art galleries in Poland and abroad, reconfiguring items from his archive and collection into self-narrated accounts of the history of his Exchange Gallery, broad presentations of Łódź’s art scene with its translocal networking[6] and, finally, panoramic outlines of Polish art since the early 1970s. Similarly, after distancing herself in the 1990s from the KwieKulik’s agenda and gaining international recognition for her individual career, Kulik involved herself once again in the duo’s archive. Around 2000 she started composing archival materials into narrative sets and exhibiting them at home and abroad. One of such works, From the KwieKulik Archives, from 2005, which consisted of nine panels with montages made of printed digital reproductions of selected archival documents and their descriptions, was shown at the exhibition Interrupted Histories, curated by Zdenka Badovinac at Moderna galerija in Ljubljana in 2006. The piece surely contributed at the time to establishing the status of KwieKulik’s archive as one of the most prominent ones in the region.

The growing interest of Polish and foreign art institutions in artist archives in the first and second decade of the twenty-first century was fuelled by a number of factors. The “archival turn” in global contemporary art as well as new curatorial ideas and practices, especially contextual approaches to curating exhibitions, led to a re-evaluation of the role of art documentation and archives of artistic life. A wider conditioning factor was the changing position of the art from the former socialist Eastern Europe in the global context. Art historiographical methodologies of horizontality, contextuality and comparativity, attempts at deconstructing the Cold War dichotomies and doing justice to local or regional art specificities, surely contributed to the self-emancipation of the art history of the region and promoted a geocultural agenda of the East European peripheries as spaces of decentering the Western artistic canon. The agenda turned out to be quite effective, and in the 2000s and the 2010s more and more Western art institutions, especially the ones deemed most progressive, self-deconstructing and focused on decentering their canons, were organising exhibitions, screenings, conferences as well as starting research programmes in which East European artist archives played an important role.[7]

The institutional odyssey of KwieKulik and Robakowski’s archives came to its completion in the 2010s when both archival fonds were acquired—the former by purchase and the latter by donation—by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.[8] Once the new museum building is finished in December 2022, the original items will be presented there in the form of permanent exhibition installations and digitised versions of all the documents will be made accessible online. The institution has clearly chosen to include the neo-avant-garde artist archives among its symbolic capital generators and identity markers.[9]

Towards Another Archival Turn in the Historiography of Artistic Culture
Neo-avant-garde artist archives have also proven to carry great potential for art historical research. They have been indispensable in terms of providing new, original and otherwise inaccessible sources of documentation and information and thus distinctly contributed to the rediscovery of the 1970s experimental artistic cultures in recent decades. They have also introduced a number of new research issues: self-documenting, self-archiving and self-historicising as artistic practices, or archives as tools of translocal and transnational networking. But most importantly, they have contributed to a shift, a kind of “archival turn,” in art historiography.

When I studied art history in Poland in the second half of the 1990s, basic archival studies of recent art were virtually non-present in art history writing[10] and in academic curricula, which did not provide any transfers of previously existing methodologies or research habitus in this regard. Therefore, when I was confronted with KwieKulik’s archive in the mid-2000s and started my research on it, I felt I had to learn from scratch how to create a grounded theory and bottom-up methodology of working with archives in general. The duo was exceptional among Polish Neo-avant-garde artists in terms of their compulsive need to meticulously document for the sake of future art historiography all available events, information, and material remains connected to artistic practices performed by themselves, their Polish fellows or artists from abroad. Another exemplary attitude which had a great influence on the structure and content of their archive was the artists’ focus on documenting and critically exposing the material, economic, institutional, social and political conditions of art production in Poland in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, the experience of working with KwieKulik’s documentary fonds has taught me to expand the very concept of the art archive so that it could include all types of traces and materialities, and to appreciate even the slightest, or the strangest, archival item as a potentially important source of information. During the process, my general research interests have also unavoidably shifted from interpreting artworks or art practices to reconstructing and analysing artistic life and culture in general, as embedded in wider frames of art infrastructures and material conditions of social life. This approach has proven to be productive not only in the case of KwieKulik[11] but also when applied to other issues, including Robakowski’s archive; the case of Infermental, “the first international magazine on video cassettes”; the history of the alternative artist-run Wschodnia Gallery, which has operated in Łódź since 1984; the translocal and transnational history of the early video art in Poland as seen through the perspective of the Labirynth Gallery and the Bureau of Art Exhibitions in Lublin.[12] What is more, a number of cultural turns in the contemporary humanities, most notably the performative, memory and material turns, have strengthened the impact of artist archives on academic art historiography after 2000 and have helped researchers become more receptive to issues connected with such archives and also better equipped when dealing with them.

The archival turn in art historiography which started to take shape after 2000 is undoubtedly far from exhaustion. In the Polish context alone, continuous and enormous efforts are still necessary to access and work through many more archival fonds produced by Neo-avant-garde artists in the 1970s and 1980s. This should be accompanied by intensified attempts at their comparative analysis within the borders of a particular state art system, transnationally and transregionally.[13] But we should also move towards a new and deeper “archival turn” which would go beyond the more or less explicit opposition between the official and unofficial artistic cultures that has been a sort of paradigm assumption of the studies on East European art from the period of actually existing socialism. This assumption has contributed to creating an abstracted image of experimental artistic culture in socialist Eastern Europe[14] and has not provided us with a conceptual tool to avoid the reproduction of mythologies, oversimplifications or exclusions which are often present in artistic self-historicisations or embodied in the very construction of artist archives. Experimental art archives should therefore be reinserted into and confronted with wider official archives of the state socialist systems of art as well as material, technical, union, institutional, cultural, economic, social and political conditions of art production. This can provide a space for a more pragmatic, critical and nuanced account of Neo-avant-garde cultures as embedded or actively engaged in social and institutional infrastructures of state socialism. It will also help to leave behind the spectre of “dissident art” that is still, albeit in an increasingly implicit way, shaping our approach to the East European art of that period. Such shift in research interests and methods should be, in turn, connected with putting an end to the dominance of the paradigm of political history and its simplistic models of totalitarianism and post-totalitarianism. Art historiographical accounts need instead to focus on social, economic and cultural history as perspectives into which political issues should be inscribed. Finally, as we urgently need to reinvent the issue of how to approach and present the local specificity of different artistic cultures in the context of contemporary populistic particularisms and xenophobic nationalisms,[15] other universal—multiuniversal, singuniversal or pluriversal, to be sure—analytic horizons are necessary. I think that one such horizon, which also allows for the combination of different aspects and frameworks of history (social, economic, political and cultural), is a shared experience of complex, (self)conflicting and ambivalent modernisations. In my present work on KwieKulik’s art and archive as well as other archival fonds created since the 1970s, I am trying to pursue this direction and analyse them in the broad context of socialist and postsocialist modernisations.

Tomasz Załuski is art historian and philosopher, assistant professor at the Department of Cultural Studies at the University of Lodz and at the Department of Art History and Art Theory at the Wladyslaw Strzeminski Academy of Fine Arts in Lodz, Poland. His research interests include modern and contemporary art; social, political and economic contexts of artistic culture; artistic activism and self-organisation; documentation and artistic archives. He is the author of the book Modernizm artystyczny i powtórzenie. Próba reinterpretacji (2008) [Artistic Modernism and Repetition. An Attempt at Reinterpretation], and the editor of the volumes: Sztuki w przestrzeni transmedialnej (2010) [Arts in Transmedial Space], Skuteczność sztuki (2014) [The Effectiveness of Art], Socrealizmy i modernizacje (with A. Sumorok, 2017) [Socialist Realisms and Modernisations], Wideo w sztukach wizualnych (with R. W. Kluszczyński, 2018) [The Video in the Visual Arts], Galeria Wschodnia. Dokumenty 1984–2017/Documents 1984–2017 (with D. Muzyczuk, 2019). He is also an editor of the journals: Art and Documentation and Hybris. The Online Philosophical Magazine.

[1] See: Łukasz Ronduda and Georg Schöllhammer, KwieKulik. Zofia Kulik & Przemysław Kwiek (Warsaw: Museum of Modern Art; Wrocław: BWA Wrocław-Galleries of Contemporary Art; Vienna: Kontakt. The Art Collection of Erste Group and ERSTE Foundation, Warsaw-Łomianki: The KwieKulik Archive, 2012).

[2] Ibid. Przemysław Kwiek and Zofia Kulik, “Our Activity: Aims, Principles, Practice, Benefits,” 448.

[3] For a panoramic account of Robakowski’s career as an art animator, curator, collector and a self-historicising artist, see: Tomasz Załuski, “O pożytkach z historii sztuki dla życia. Galeria Wymiany i Kolekcja Multimedialna Józefa Robakowskiego / On Art History and Its Advantages for Living. Józef Robakowski’s Exchange Gallery and Multimedia Collection,” in Sztuka Wymiany. Kolekcja Józefa Robakowskiego [Uśpiony kapitał 4] / Art of Exchange. Józef Robakowski’s Collection [Latent Capital 4], ed. Bożena Czubak (Warsaw: The Profile Foundation and the Museum Palace at Wilanów, 2013), 48–93.

[4] Józef Robakowski, “Lochy Manhattanu czyli sztuka innych mediów” [Dungeons of Manhattan, or Art of Other Media] and “Szalona galeria. Projekt 30-minutowej audycji telewizyjnej (raz w miesiącu)” [The Mad Gallery. A Project of a 30-Minute (Monthly) TV Broadcast], in Teksty interwencyjne 1970–1995 [Intervention Texts 1970–1995], ed. Józef Robakowski (Koszalin: Galeria Moje Archiwum, 1995), 119, 133.

[5] Among those items in 1991 was a documentation “album” prepared by Przemysław Kwiek and Zofia Kulik, “Rozliczenie dotacji na 50.000.000 (pięćdziesiąt milionów złotych) na sfinansowanie kosztów dokumentacji twóczości artystów-członków SASI” [The receipt of the subsidy of 50,000,000 PLN (fifty million zlotys) for financing the costs of art documentation by artists-members of SASI], typescript, the Archive of the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw.

[6] A follow-up of one of the exhibitions was the book Józef Robakowski and Elżbieta Janicka, Living Gallery. The Łódź Progressive Art Movement 1969–1981 (Łódź: FF Gallery, 2000), with archival materials arranged into a selective account of the art made in Łódź during the period.

[7] One must not forget about another conditioning factor which was behind this interest in East European art’s identity, namely, the global neoliberal culture industry with its “identity market” and the demand for local or regional distinctions and specificities. See: Jelena Vesić, “The Annual Summit of Non-Aligned Art Historians,” in Extending the Dialogue, ed. Urška Jurman, Christiane Erharter, and Rawley Grau (Ljubljana: Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory; Berlin: Archive Books; and Vienna: ERSTE Foundation, 2016), 33, 39, 44; and Edit András, “What Does East-Central European Art History Want?”, 58.

[8] Already in the late 2000s, the Museum of Modern Art became strongly engaged in supporting Kulik’s work on the archive and, together with the BWA Galeria Awangarda Wrocław and the ERSTE Foundation from Vienna, invested various forms of capital—financial, infrastructural, and human—into the production of a monumental book presenting the duo’s archive and Kulik’s self-historicisation: Ronduda and Schöllhammer, KwieKulik. Zofia Kulik & Przemysław Kwiek, which finally came out in 2012. Analogically, the private-public cooperation between the Profile Foundation and Museum Palace at Wilanów, Warsaw, led in 2013 to a joint exhibition of Robakowski’s collection and archive as well as the publication of the book edited by Bożena Czubak, which was entirely devoted to the artist’s art collecting, self-archiving and self-historicisation practices.

[9] This came about as another event in an ongoing process of the institutionalisation of artist archives in Poland. Since 2013, Wroclaw Contemporary Museum has been showing the archive of art critic Jerzy Ludwiński (art theoretician and critic associated with the Conceptual Art movement in Poland, who made attempts to create new experimental art institutions at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s) as part of its permanent exhibition and its symbolic identity marker. Apart from major public art museums, artist archives have been acquired, managed and presented by private non-governmental organisations, such as the Profile Foundation or the Arton Foundation, both based in Warsaw.

[10] It is quite symptomatic that Piotr Piotrowski, with all his path-breaking art historiographical contributions and the promotion of a geocultural agenda of Central and Eastern Europe, was not keen on doing basic archival research and never really made it part of his methodology. See: Agata Jakubowska, Wojciech Włodarczyk, Jan Sowa, Tomasz Załuski, and Jakub Banasiak, “Utopistyka stosowana. Dyskusja wokół książki Piotra Piotrowskiego ‘Globalne ujęcie sztuki Europy Wschodniej’” [An Applied Utopianism. A Roundtable Discussion on Piotr Piotrowski’s Book ‘The Global Viewpoint of Eastern European Art’], Miejsce. Studia nad sztuką i architekturą polską XX i XXI wieku, no. 5 (2019).

[11] Tomasz Załuski, “KwieKulik and the Political Economy of the Potboiler,” Third Text, no. 4 (July 2018): 392–411.

[12] See: Tomasz Załuski, “O pożytkach z historii sztuki dla życia. Galeria Wymiany i Kolekcja Multimedialna Józefa Robakowskiego / On Art History and Its Advantages for Living. Józef Robakowski’s Exchange Gallery and Multimedia Collection,” 48–93; Tomasz Załuski, “Infermental. Pierwszy międzynarodowy magazyn na kasetach wideo (1981–1991)” [Infermental. The First International Magazine on Videocassettes (1981–1991)], in Wideo w sztukach wizualnych [The Video in Visual Arts], ed. Ryszard W. Kluszczyński and Tomasz Załuski (Łódź and Lublin: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego and Galeria Labirynt, 2018), 205–246; Tomasz Załuski, “Galeria Wschodnia—A Biography of the Place,” in Galeria Wschodnia. Dokumenty 1984–2017 / Documents 1984–2017,” ed. Daniel Muzyczuk and Tomasz Załuski (Łódź: Fundacja In Search Of… and Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, 2019), 228–420; Tomasz Załuski, “Najbardziej efemeryczna ze sztuk. Wczesne realizacje z użyciem wideo w lubelskich galeriach Labirynt i BWA w latach 1976–1984 / The Most Ephemeral of the Arts: Early Works with the Video in the Labirynth Gallery and the Bureau of Art Exhibitions in Lublin, 1976–1984,” forthcoming.

[13] See in this respect for example Klara Kemp-Welch, Networking the Bloc: Experimental Art in Eastern Europe 1965-1981 (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 2018); and Daniel Grúň, Subjektívne histórie. Seba-historizácia ako umelecká prax v stredovýchodnej Európe / Subjective Histories. Self-historicisation as Artistic Practice in Central-East Europe (Bratislava: VEDA, 2020).

[14] This image is encapsulated in the following statement: “The protagonists of Eastern European art are often (self)represented as lone individuals acting within and against a totalitarian system on the margins of society and outside the official institutional spaces of culture […], in the dark spaces of the alternative sphere, the (semi-)privacy of artists’ apartments or somewhere in the remote wilderness of nature,” in Jelena Vesić, op. cit., 33–34.

[15] Edit András, op. cit., 55, 76–77.

The Mental Foundation of the Archive

C Katalin Cseh-Varga

Researchers[1] of artist archives that occurred during or in the aftermath of real socialism across Eastern and Central Europe imagine these forums of knowledge acquisition and stratification as hidden treasure islands. They are either accessible to the few privileged who have an intimate relationship with the artist’s (oeuvre) or to those scholars who are not shy to engage with unordered and unpublished materials in a shelter-like forgotten place. Self-archiving practices were in the past few years described as projects that arose as parallel undertakings that did not fit into the scheme of socialist institutionalisation. Also, self-historicisation was a strategy of aesthetic and creative challenge.[2] Optically and atmospherically, one’s imagination pictures (self-run) artist archives as dusty study rooms with little sun-light and piles of files either carefully ordered or unsystematically stored. Yet, this shelter offers a space for intellectual speculation, conversation, and for interaction with the material: the relationship with the ephemera becomes real, almost physical and embodied.

This romantic idea of the artist archive as an atmosphere which feeds all senses seems to either dissolve or become the subject of a thorough review. To illustrate this, there are at least two recent cases that re-conceptualise the atmospheric (maybe heroic?) archive. “The experimental art archive of East-Central Europe,”[3] the Artpool Art Research Center Budapest founded by György Galántai and Júlia Klaniczay in 1979, is currently moving into the Research Institute for Central European Art History [Közép-Európai Művészettörténei Kutatóintézet, KEMKI], an institution of the Hungarian Museum of Fine Arts [Szépművészeti Múzeum].[4] Although Artpool already joined the institutional complex of the Museum of Fine Arts in 2015, its re-location and re-organisation represent a real transformation in spatial and structural terms.

Aesthete and media studies scholar Péter György pointed to the challenges this new situation brings to the Artpool team, be it in terms of material classification, artistic references, exhibitions, documentation or presenting and interfering with the artworks’ complex network[5] which has always been at the core of the research centre’s purpose. Those scholars who experienced the atmosphere of the archive at Liszt Ferenc Square 10, practically housed in apartments next-door to each other, are already getting nostalgic about the feeling of “returning home”—as the author of the present essay also used to say. Loss of romanticism and loss of material interaction may be the case in the main archive of Július Koller housed at the Slovak National Gallery [Slovenská národná galéria, SNG], which has been transformed into a permanent exhibition series. At the moment, the second edition of a so-called “situational presentation” is on view, where the documents are grouped according to themes pre-defined by curator Petra Hanáková. The Archives of Július Koller is now presented through ephemera focused, above all, on geopolitics, the history of Celtic culture, his artistic concepts and ideas, as well as a selection of his calendars and notebooks.[6] What may be an ambitious and creative curatorial project, does not necessarily seem to be convincing from the researcher’s point of view. The material on view is not accessible for research purposes. The boxes storing archivalia on the shelves of the exhibition room are separated from the rest of the space by a green mesh curtain highlighting the documents’ inaccessibility. But Koller’s notes at The Archives of Július Koller, displayed statically in a vitrine, uncover the artist’s methods of processing and organising information. They are archives themselves that unfold their intellectual potential through usage and re-cycling in a creative aesthetic and academic discourse.

The Archives of Július Koller, permanent exhibition, Slovak National Gallery. Photograph by Martin Deko

In this short essay I will introduce the archive as a forum resting on a mental fundament. The intellectual core of Galántai’s and Koller’s archives are the diaries and notebooks which, well before the establishment of Artpool and the Koller collection at SNG, demonstrate the interwoven nature of art production and knowledge organisation. I argue that, in order to fully understand the structure and motivation behind information acquisition, we need to decipher the archive as a web of knowledge. Before examining regional and international intersections in the personal documents of Galántai and Koller mainly from the 1970s, I will touch on the deep aversion that both artists had to bureaucratic institutions. This antipathy may have been an important factor in the creation of their own creative system of documentation and for organising thoughts. Galántai’s disappointment in tertiary artist education and top-down institutional hierarchies in the arts was a major drive to found his own independent art space, the Chapel Studio in Balatonboglár he discovered in 1966. Koller’s frustration was similar to Galántai’s. Also inspired by conceptual art and institutional critique Koller, already in 1968, developed an interest in anti-galleries, fictive institutions and “cosmohumanistic culture.”[7] From this point of departure, I will explore notebook and diary entries by Galántai and Koller that meet at the large-scale documenta 5 exhibition (Kassel, 1972). Here the difference in terms of knowledge organisation and interpretation becomes clear: Galántai operated through impulsive self-conversations and Koller through a reproductive and distanced appropriation of information. And although Galántai’s and Koller’s archival principles differ from each other, the paths of information distribution at certain points cross other regional anti-institutional projects of challenging knowledge production.

Overcoming Institutional Frustration
György Galántai was a student at the Hungarian Art Academy [Magyar Képzőművészeti Főiskola] between 1963 and 1967. In a diary entry from 1966, he stressed how much his artistic work was reliant on an autodidactic approach[8] and how little he got from the rigid, as he considered it, and mostly old-fashioned art education. Two years later Galántai revisited his relationship to the Academy and criticised the institution’s lack of connection to a practical implementation of knowledge and the Academy’s simultaneous engagement in artist and educator training.[9] Galántai was dissatisfied with the countless static studies he and his fellow artists-to-be had to produce, and the vast number of theoretical (educator) documents. “Huge darkness and chaos […] nescience and self-nescience” dominated the institution and its graduates, as Galántai saw it. These conditions hindered the emergence of real creative artists.[10] Galántai would have welcomed an educational program that limited the creation of studies on pre-twentieth century art. As soon as the curriculum started to discuss twentieth-century material, the professional practical training could have become entirely free. Pedagogy-related courses could, in Galántai’s ideal scenario, become optional, and courses on “philosophy, psychology, geometrics, anatomy, space-design […], art history, material studies, artistic methods, practical training for two years strictly focusing on studies in alliance with the anatomy-space-design theory” could be mandatory for evolving artists.[11] Galántai’s institutional vision in art education was about merging theory with practice and the extension, as well as the acknowledgement, of the artist’s autonomy. The Art Academy should have been an open forum that supported young artists in finding their own creative voice, not an inflexible set of requirements and rules carved in stone. In June 1968, Galántai confirms the Academy as a burden to his intellectual and creative development, barely attending courses in the final year of his studies. He wrote: “I was physically getting sick of any sort of school, control (attendance sheets).”[12]

As Galántai got increasingly alienated from the Hungarian Art Academy, he founded a counter-institutional project of his own: the Chapel Studio in Balatonboglár. The abandoned chapel, which belonged to the Catholic Church and was located in the tourist region around Lake Balaton, seemed to be an ideal site for donating a physical space for the encounters of Central and Eastern European artists with similar ideas to Galántai’s. Yet another diary entry testifies that Galántai imagined this place of creation and exchange as a forum where people could gather,[13] and which would ideally turn into “a church of peace and art.”[14] During the summer programmes between 1970 and 1973, the Chapel Studio was home to a variety of art events, ranging from exhibitions and land art interventions to performances of experimental theatre, and have proven Galántai’s passion for open-mindedness—an open-mindedness he not only expected from individuals but institutions too. “One always has to be open to receive impulses. Everyone who does the opposite is incapable of progress.”[15]

Július Koller’s Ganek Gallery (Galéria Ganku, 1971–ca. 1989) project also represents a challenge and a subversive response to traditional, bureaucratically approved institutions of art. But while Galántai could implement his counter-institution in real-time, Koller’s gallery, projected to and named after a place in the High Tatras in Slovakia, only “functioned and grew over time [in] the artist’s personal archive.”[16] In post-1968 Czechoslovakia, there did not exist any privately-owned galleries[17] and self-made approaches of art exhibiting were clearly not welcome, therefore the planning and execution of alternative anti-institutions did not expand beyond the framework of the paper. The whole management of the fictive institution was executed in a team (a committee) and grew out of combining the desire for (Neo-)avant-garde art’s public presentation,[18] the passion for a blooming mountain tourism,[19] and a perspective directed to the cosmos instead of to a centrally organised social and cultural realm.[20] Daniel Grúň’s attentive research on the Ganek Gallery showed that conceptual documents themselves can demand agency expressing the need for an atypical exhibition space. I have reconstructed Galántai’s institutional criticism through his self-conversations[21]—the Ganek Gallery project is getting effective through its material remains when the documents are allowed to talk to us. Fragments extracted from mountaineering magazines, their incorporation into collages, photographs of Koller visiting the High Tatras, schematised images of the mountains accompanied by flying saucers and Koller’s handwritten notes on identifying his fictive undertaking as a communication platform for life and species beyond Earth are just a few documents the corpus of Ganek Gallery consists of. The bits and pieces of archivalia partly subvert the conventional operation of (art) institutions, like the statutory principles of the gallery from 1982,[22] but the documents are above all mosaics of irony, conceptual thought, teamwork, a reflexive attitude and a hope for minor socio-cultural transformation.

“Univerzálna Fiktívna Operácia,” U.F.O. Galéria—Galéria Ganku (U.F.O.) [Universal Fictive Operation, U.F.O. Gallery–Gallery Ganek (U.F.O.)], 1983. Marker drawing on paper 21,1 × 29,6 cm. Courtesy of The Július Koller Society, Bratislava
The Idea and the Archive
Concepts and ideas, the intellectual roots of the archive, and their precise organisation had the most important role in Július Koller’s notebooks. He filed these booklets along with philosophies, books, exhibitions, themes, personalities, etc. that Koller considered important. The notebooks are dedicated to Roland Barthes, body art, the documentas (1972, 1977) and the Frankfurt School, among others. Galántai’s diary entries also often touch upon intellectual currents and influential theoreticians, theoretical positions. A 1968 graphic chart, for instance, details the steps necessary to create an artwork. Among its ten different factors, there were those concerned with philosophical knowledge, theoretical preparedness, and universal world views.[23] Like his suggestions on how to improve the curricula of the Art Academy, this confirms Galántai’s engagement in intellectual terms. Both to Galántai and Koller, art production, distribution and presentation were essentially reliant on a solid basis centred around ideas and concepts and their resonance with the artists’ thinking. One of the mediums of this resonance and that of the information processing are the already mentioned diaries and notebooks.

A common ground in which to explore the connection between idea and archive in Koller’s and Galántai’s knowledge “containers” could be the landmark exhibition documenta 5. Since Galántai travelled to Kassel to see the show and Koller had access to related materials, such as the exhibition catalogue, they must have encountered the curatorial work of Harald Szeemann, who was in charge of the 1972 documenta. Szeemann was a well-connected, central figure in the contemporary art world(s) and, to a whole generation of artists across the globe, represented dematerialised art in which the idea was crucial. In her book Networking the Bloc, Klara Kemp-Welch convincingly elaborated on both and quoted Gábor Attalai, according to whom Szeemann “revealed a world in which limits ceased and art could turn toward a domain in which there was no longer any need for material.”[24] One of the first curatorial manifestations of art that got rid of materials was the exhibition Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form: Works, Concepts, Processes, Situations, Information (Bern, 1969). The importance of thought and ephemerality was, as a concept, brought into the planning of documenta 5, which was meant to become “a place for programmed events, as spaces of interaction, as a walk-through event structure with shifting centres of activity.”[25] It is especially intriguing to see how the aesthetic focus on the idea triggered more interpretations and appropriations which are now accessible through Galántai’s travel report and Koller’s structured excerpt of the exhibition material.[26]

Galántai started his journey across Western Europe on September 13, 1972, with stops in Austria, Germany and France before returning to Budapest on October 12. Visits to Kassel, Cologne and Düsseldorf were scheduled between October 2 and October 5.[27] After a visit to documenta 5 he wrote:

“I try to reconstruct what I have seen in Kassel, because yesterday I did not return to documenta. By the way: I think I need to build one or two German connections to be able to sell and to exhibit in Germany. [Géza] Perneczky [KCsV: émigré conceptual and mail artist who settled down in Cologne] will definitely be interested in my [photo] slides […] in KASSEL there are the most actual things. There were lots of books on different art genres, which are similarly impossible to overlook. […] It is a complete caricature of the Western business world. […] panopticon-like environment descendants […] self-documentation […] land art, nicely geometrical […] big environment […] large realist paintings […] natural solutions for other objects […] different objects made unusable […] sadistic room […] happenings on film […] text as art […] balloons […] spaces where there is nothing.”[28]

In contrast to Galántai’s subjective, critical tone, Koller works himself line by line through the catalogue of documenta 5. The notebook begins with detailed information on the curator, the location, the concept, and each of the large topics which the artists developed into central categories of the exhibition, along with the names of the authors of these sections. Koller’s intervention in the publication’s text is moderate. Besides minor comments, drawings and interpretations of the production style and the realisation of artworks, he mainly created an inventory of artist names and styles, as well as his brief opinion.[29] What comes into being is a network of knowledge Koller could return to at any time to discover new connections, parallels and differences. While Koller’s appropriating praxis is that of a collector of information who seemingly builds an unprocessed database, Galántai comments with honest vehemence, and thus the contact he established between experience and personal thought is more direct. Yet both artists developed a medium for creative associations and contacts between collecting and processing information.

Divergence of Ideas
The artists’ reflections on documenta 5 are just one example of how the artist archive operates as an intellectual forum, and perhaps, as a counter-institution inviting interaction. A closer look at Koller’s sketchbooks and correspondences, for instance, reveals regional points of connection between art projects and knowledge transmissions.

Different notebooks of Július Koller. Collection of the Slovak National Gallery. Photograph taken for the KONTAKT Collection Vienna for documentary purposes

Two of Koller’s booklets, entitled Body-Artists-Body-Art (1950–1971). Július Koller. Texts by P. Rezek (Body-Artists-Body-Art 19501971. Július Koller. Z Textov P. Rezeka) and Book Texts on Art. P. Rezek (Knihy-Texty o Umení. Petr Rezek), are linked to the Czech “underground” philosophical and art theoretical debates. Koller extracted information from Czech philosopher and art theoretician Petr Rezek’s samizdat publications that circulated in the 1970s and 1980s. Rezek was well-informed about international trends in art and had a close relationship with a few members of the experimental (event-based) art scene. He even appeared as an organiser of private home exhibitions at the end of the 1970s.[30] In 1976, Rezek’s self-published Philosophical Sketches about Recent Art (Filosofické skice k umění poslední doby) came out with a section entirely devoted to action art as it appeared in Czech lands.[31] Between 1978 and 1982, Rezek published a samizdat series on contemporary art consisting of 40 individual publications.[32] Koller might had access to Philosophical Sketches about Recent Art too, but looking at the “table of contents” of his Book Texts on Art. P. Rezek, one can clearly identify the source of each theme, such as Fluxus, Artists’ Books, Land Art and Acconci, as they are title-giving topics for Rezek’s samizdat series.[33] Koller organised the information therein following the pattern of his documenta 5 notebook.

A different kind of connection to information channels and contra-institutional projects among state socialist art scenes reveals Koller’s correspondence with László Beke, who in 1972 contacted the Slovak artist several times to request material for his World-Famous World Archives of Ideas, Concepts, Projects, etc.[34] and to invite Koller to the meeting of Czechoslovak and Hungarian artists as part of the 1972 summer program of the Chapel Studio in Balatonboglár.[35] With the World Archives in Din A4 format accessible in Beke’s home[36] challenged the conventional exhibition formats following the path of dematerialisation and conceptual art with building bridges to artists living in other (socialist) countries. And with the invitation to the artist meeting in Balatonboglár, Beke stressed the importance of a cohesive artist community, the vision which was at the core of Galántai’s Chapel Studio project. While Hungary’s political system was officially in conflict with Czechoslovakia, as Gyula Pauer argued, the art actions of Czech, Slovak and Hungarian (neo-)avant-garde artists created a peaceful atmosphere.[37]

László Beke, “Meeting of Czech, Slovak, and Hungarian artists.” Czech, Slovak and Hungarian lists of words, 1972, Chapel Studio of György Galántai, Balatonboglár. Photograph by György Galántai

The interlinked artist archives of György Galántai and Július Koller produce and recycle knowledge in the most creative ways. The scope of sources and networks can be grasped in depth when the material is open for scholarly interaction and is reflexively inserted into new historiographic discourses. Notebooks and diaries as intellectual companions to artists add nuances to the art history of communist times because they emphasise the agency of the document. The mental fundament of the archive points at connections and differences in artists’ knowledge spectrums. These companions shed light on the desired artistic autonomy, (inner) conflicts, and the artists’ embeddedness into his or her socio-cultural position experienced subjectively. The agency of the document, as demonstrated in this essay, may suggest returning to the very origin of historiographic research, namely a local and regional art history that is reliant on primary sources, such as intellectual exercises which artists themselves carry out on paper. A close look at concepts, the internalisation of ideas and their linking to other information sources and paths have the potential to write art histories of east and central Europe that are document-bound, yet bring unexpected connections and associations to our scholarly radar.

Katalin Cseh-Varga currently works as a visiting professor at Humboldt-University Berlin. Previously she was a Hertha Firnberg Fellow at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. She has recently finished a book entitled The Hungarian Avant-Garde and Socialism: Art of the Second Public Sphere (Bloomsbury, forthcoming). Her research focuses on the theory of public spheres in the former Eastern Bloc, the intellectual history of state socialism, archival theory, performance and intermedia art, and social media. Katalin’s publications include “The Troubled Public Sphere: Understanding the Art Scene in Socialist Hungary” in New Narratives of Russian and East European Art: Between Traditions and Revolutions (Routledge, 2020), and Performance Art in the Second Public Sphere: Event-based Art in Late Socialist Europe (co-edited with Ádám Czirák, 2018).

[1] This essay is an outcome of the Hertha-Firnberg project T 1074-G26 Behind the Artwork. Thinking Art Against the Cold War’s Bloc Polarity funded by the FWF [Austrian Science Fund].

[2] See for instance: Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, “Innovative Forms of Archives, Part Two: IRWIN’s East Art Map and Tamás St.Auby’s Portable Intelligence Increase Museum,” e-flux 16 (2010): 1–9; Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez,  “Innovative Forms of Archiving in Moscow Conceptualism and Beyond.” Lecture presented at Archive as Strategy Lecture Series, Calvert 22, London, July 20, 2011; Sven Spieker and Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, “Creating Context: Zdenka Badovinac on Eastern Europe’s Missing Histories,” ARTMargins Online (30 August 2009), last accessed 31 August 2015.

[3] Taken from the title of György Galántai’s and Júlia Klaniczay’s book ARTPOOL. The Experimental Art Archive of East-Central Europe (Budapest: Artpool, 2013).

[4] Péter György, “A folyamatos utalás” [“The Constant Allusion”], Élet és Irodalom (August 2020): 22.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “The Archives of Július Koller, 14 January 2020,” Slovak National Gallery, last accessed 19 October 2020.

[7] Daniel Grúň, “Guide to Ganek Gallery. The Archive of Július Koller’s Fictive Institution,” in Galéria Ganku, ed. Daniel Grúň (Vienna: SCHLEBRÜGGE EDITOR, 2014), 33.

[8] Diary entry by György Galántai, most probably 7 December 1966. Source: Artpool Art Research Center.

[9] Diary entry by György Galántai, most probably 8 May 1968. Source: Artpool Art Research Center.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Diary entry by György Galántai. 20 June 1968. Source: Artpool Art Research Center.

[13] Diary entry by György Galántai. 18 March 1968. Source: Artpool Art Research Center.

[14] Diary entry by György Galántai. Most probably September 1968. Source: Artpool Art Research Center.

[15] Diary entry by György Galántai. 8 July 1968. Source: Artpool Art Research Center.

[16] Daniel Grúň, op. cit., 29.

[17] Daniel Grúň, “Introduction,” 12.

[18] Daniel Grúň, op. cit., 36.

[19] Daniel Grúň, “Introduction,” 12.

[20] Daniel Grúň, op. cit., 32–33.

[21] I first introduced the term “self-conversations” in my paper “The Art of (Self-)Reflection. An Intellectual Journey across György Galántai’s Mind,” delivered at the conference Artpool 40—Active Archives and Art Networks, Hungarian Museum of Fine Arts Budapest, 20 February 2020.

[22] Daniel Grúň, op. cit., 33.

[23] Diary entry by György Galántai, most probably June 20, 1968. Source: Artpool Art Research Center.

[24] Klara Kemp-Welch, Networking the Bloc. Experimental Art in Eastern Europe, 1965–1981 (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2018), 5–6, 58.

[25] Harald Szeemann cited in Charles R. Green and Anthony Gardner, Biennals, Triennals, and documenta. The Exhibitions that Created Contemporary Art (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016), 21.

[26] This part of the essay (the reflection of Koller and Galántai on documenta 5) was previously presented at the conference Artistic Contacts after WWII in Central Europe under the title “Notebooks of Július Koller and Diaries of György Galántai as Webs of Knowledge” on 19 October 2019.

[27] Calendar entry by György Galántai. 1972. Source: Artpool Art Research Center.

[28] Diary entry by György Galántai. October 1972. Source: Artpool Art Research Center.

[29] Július Koller, Documenta 5. Befragung der Realität – Bildwelten heute. Kassel – Neue Galerie. Schöne Aussicht 2. Museum Fridericianum. Fridrichsplatz. 30. VI.8.X.1972. Notebook. Source: The Július Koller Archive, Slovak National Gallery.

[30] Pavlína Morganová, “Bytové výstavy: médium neoficiálního umění sedmdesátých až osmdesátých let,”[“Home Exhibitions: A Medium of Unofficial Art during the 70s and 80s”] Sešit pro umění, teorii a příbuzné zóny, no. 25 (2018): 73, 83, 88. Material accessed with the kind assistance of Lujza Kotočová; Hana Buddeus, Zobrazení bez reprodukce? Fotografie a performance v českém umění sedmdesátých let 20. století [Representation Without Reproduction? Photography and Performance in Czech Art of the 1970s] (Prague: Vysoká škola uměleckoprůmyslová, 2017), 169–170.

[31] See: “Setkání s konceptuálními umělci” [“A Meeting with Conceptual Artists”] in Petr Rezek, Filosofické skice k umění poslední doby [Philosophical Sketches about Recent Art] (Prague: 1976). Material accessed with the kind assistance of Lujza Kotočová.

[32] Most issues of the samizdat series are accessible at the Research Centre of the Czech Academy of Fine Arts, Prague.

[33] Július Koller, Knihy-Texty o Umení. Petr Rezek. Notebook. Source: The Július Koller Archive, Slovak National Gallery.

[34] Letter from László Beke to Július Koller and Peter Bartoš, dated 2 April 1972. Source: The Július Koller Archive, Slovak National Gallery.

[35] Letter from László Beke to Július Koller, dated 10 June 1972 and Letter from László Beke to Július Koller, dated 14 August 1972. Source: The Július Koller Archive, Slovak National Gallery.

[36] Klara Kemp-Welch, op. cit., 213–215.

[37] “Cseh-szlovák-magyar művészek találkozója Beke László szervezésében. 1972. augusztus 26–27,” last accessed 12 October 2020.

What Is Sought of the Past, and How Does It Respond?

D Ivana Bago

The gallons of rain that poured down on the first night of February 2020 only boosted the biblical atmosphere that made the opening of Rijeka 2020—a year-long programme that was to turn the port city on the Croatian side of the Adriatic into a European Capital of Culture — seem like the announcement of an entirely new historical beginning. With the leadership of Rijeka 2020 in the hands of cultural protagonists otherwise identified with an alternative or independent culture, and the social-democratic mayor declaring “the birth of a new city,”[1] tens of thousands of people that attended the opening had every reason to believe that they were joining ranks in a powerful cultural front against the conservative, nationalist backlash that had come to dominate Croatia (and much of the world) in the past few years.

Yet, a great deal of the programme turned to the past rather than the future, or in a more generous interpretation, looked to the past in order to construe a path into the future. In memory of partisans who gave their lives to liberate Rijeka during World War II, artist Nemanja Cvijanović announced a temporary installation of a monumental five-pointed star on top of a city skyscraper, and Sanja Iveković proposed to permanently rebuild the destroyed Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Memorial to Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht (1926) within the new cultural complex hosting the Rijeka Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Located in the vicinity of the museum, to some future generations Iveković’s monument to lost communist monuments could have also served as a testament to what has been called the “archival impulse” in contemporary art, in which the artist assumes the role of historian, often one whose approach to history goes against the grain of dominant historiography.[2] In the post-Yugoslav context, many such works have sought to reactivate the socialist past and thus counter the anti-socialist climate that has dominated politics and culture since the violent destruction of socialist and multinational Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Sanja Iveković, “Monument to Revolution (after Mies),” project proposal for Rijeka 2020. Courtesy of the artist

The archival impulse also dominated the culminating event of the opening, Opera industriale, a retro-avant-garde spectacle staged out in the open, at the once prosperous port of Rijeka. Accompanied by the dramatic effect of the torrential rain and the sea, the joint performances of hundreds of professional and amateur musicians, singers, dancers, and artists evoked the industrial, socialist past of the city by the use of blue workers’ outfits and helmets, the special effects created by welding and industrial noise, and the singing of the Italian anti-fascist anthem Bella ciao. I could not attend the opening; I watched its live transmission on TV, but next-day reports from enraptured friends who were there made me realise that you really had to be there to see it, or at least to see-believe it. Seeing from a distance was more likely to result in critical distance, such as pointing out that while projects like these countered the rampant anti-communist historical revisionism in the region, they also perpetuated the ideological deadlock in which every political battle in the present reverted into a symbolic, hysterically mediatised and chronically unresolved, battle for the past. Surely, the symbolic battle for history is always also a way to frame and activate political battles in the present, but this Benjaminian (and ultimately Romanticist) postulate of actualising the past is the lingua franca of both the left and the right, in form if not in content. The other possible critique would point out the aestheticisation and commodification of both the revolutionary past and current political struggles, and indeed, the newspaper articles that retitled the Opera industriale as “Opera (de)industriale” and that criticised the left for “applauding stage welders” while ignoring the fact that the empty stage occupied by EU-sponsored art is precisely one that got cleared by the destruction of socialist shipyards and industries.[3]

“Opera industriale,” performance. Courtesy of Rijeka 2020

While I witnessed the Rijeka 2020 opening from afar, I was invested in these debates and discussions, since my work as a curator and art historian focused on articulations of history in contemporary art and scholarship, especially the history of socialist Yugoslavia and its destruction. I was also invited by the Rijeka Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art to curate an exhibition of Sanja Iveković as part of the 2020 European Capital of Culture program. Since Iveković had already worked on the idea of setting up her own archive and research centre in Zagreb, I saw the exhibition as an opportunity to probe and open for public discussion the aims and the purpose of such a research centre, being in dialogue with a growing number of archiving projects initiated by, or dedicated to, artists of Sanja’s generation, such as the Julius Koller Society in Bratislava, the Artum Foundation (founded by Ewa Partum) in Bobrowice in Poland, the Ulay Foundation in Ljubljana and Amsterdam, the Valie Export Centre in Linz, the Harun Farocki Institute in Berlin, the Tomislav Gotovac Institute in Zagreb, etc.

Under the title Meeting Points—Documents in the Making, 1968–1982, I conceived the project as an essay-exhibition and a temporary research centre that tackled not simply Iveković’s work but also the relation formed between this work—and by extension, the Yugoslav socialist past—and its exhibitors and “historicisers,” myself included. I saw my curatorial position as an index of an ongoing, and even excessive, archiving and historicising, an almost obsessive quest to comprehend and solicit the past. I was particularly interested in the ongoing attempt of the post-socialist generations of artists, scholars and curators, to whom I also belong, to summon and reactivate the histories of socialism, and to do so by connecting with the work of artists and curators who began their careers in the late 1960s in Eastern Europe. Reflecting on these processes seemed all the more pertinent given that the Rijeka 2020 programme was decidedly marked by the will to counter the erasure of the socialist past, especially since Iveković’s own (unrealised) project to reconstruct van der Rohe’s memorial consisted in doing exactly that. As if following a certain transgenerational protocol, Iveković embraced the legacies of the early twentieth-century communist struggle, and I, as the curator of Iveković’s show, anchored my research in the year 1968, when artists of Iveković’s generation in socialist Yugoslavia stepped onto the historical scene, deeply marked by the student rebellions that protested the actual deficit of socialism and equality in a nominally socialist state.

The key question to be posed when considering these transgenerational, transhistorical transfers in the present is: what is sought of the past and how does it respond to this request? In particular, for the Rijeka exhibition, I was interested in why so many artists, curators, and art historians of my generation have been so interested in researching, documenting, and interpreting the art practices developed during the 1960s and 1970s in socialist Europe?[4] If conceptual artists of Sanja’s generation used the term “document” to relativise the distance between art and non-art, between primary and secondary information, what is the consequence of the repeated procedure by which we use their work as a document for the proximity between the present and the past? What are the artist documents that we gather in the recently formed archives, institutes and research centres documenting? Is nostalgia indeed a potentially revolutionary affect, or an excuse for being stuck in the initial step of asking the past to provide answers to the crises of the present? Is contemporary art indeed an emancipatory social practice or a commemorative symbol of the revolutions’ (and the avant-garde’s) historical decline?

The COVID-19 pandemic brought on an abrupt interruption to these questions, as well as the celebrations and criticisms of the Rijeka 2020 programme: by the time of the first lockdowns in March 2020, independent art and culture looked as bankrupted as the shipyards that they had purportedly commodified. While many planned projects were later resumed, albeit with greatly reduced funding, Meeting Points could not be continued in Rijeka and has meanwhile moved to Iveković’s Zagreb studio, which now forms the base for the artist’s future archive and research centre. The foundational questions remain the same, but the position from which they are asked has relocated from the representative stage of a “European Capital of Culture” to a more durational process of asking about the social and cultural capital that a work like Iveković’s presents today. Given that an increasing number of artists of Iveković’s generation in Eastern Europe have had foundations, archives, and institutes established in their name and dealing with their legacy, Meeting Points—Documents in the Making wishes to open this very “establishment” for discussion and make public the very process of thinking and drafting of another such institution. This is all the more important since such artist estates are most often private initiatives, often initiated and run by non-profit associations made up of artists and curators of younger generations, which is the case, for example, of the Julius Koller Society established in Bratislava in 2008. Public institutions in the region either do not have the interest or the capacity to take responsibility for the legacies of the neo-avant-garde artists, despite the fact that many of them are internationally renowned artists whose work—according to the provincial logic that is operative in the cultural policy of the majority of Eastern European nations—should be embraced as the primary cultural asset of the nation.

Yugoslavian Artists Dalibor Matičevič and Sanja Iveković, 1978. Courtesy of the artist

Of course, the work of such artists usually defies this very logic, and in Iveković’s case, it also very explicitly negates the predominantly nationalist, anti-communist and conservative ideology of the Croatian cultural establishment. Given the lack of support from local public institutions, artist archives and estates in the region are most often funded by international private foundations, unless a for-profit model of work is adopted, which opens up the issue of the sensitive balancing act between means and ends, and between private interest and the common good. The question, then, is how to set up and operate one such institution, with what/whose money, with which aims?

The key theme and a central tension here is one between the individual sovereignty signalled by the artist’s name and the social function of the institution carrying that name, between the individual artistic oeuvre and its social and historical place. Iveković has herself proposed an answer to this question in her first major solo show titled Documents, 1949–1967, which took place in 1976 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb.

Premiering the now internationally renowned works such as Double Life (1976) and Tragedy of a Venus (1976), in this exhibition, the artist juxtaposed media representations of women with pictures from her personal album, and thus pointed to the very thin and blurry line that purported to divide the personal from the public. Is the photo where Iveković is shown as a young girl in ballet school a “document” of her childhood hobbies or passion for dancing and art, or of the social construction of women’s identity as thin, elegant, and air-light, even while menstruating, as the tampon ad juxtaposed to Iveković’s photo would suggest?

The title of the exhibition, Documents, 1949–1967, certainly played into the conceptualist concern with the concept of document, as well as the related concepts of art as idea or information, which aimed to cancel out the distance between art and non-art, and show the potential of every and any object to become art, and vice versa. According to curator and gallerist Seth Siegelaub, conceptual art had displaced the centrality of “physical presence” and thus dissolved the distinction between primary and secondary information,” between the actual work and its reproduction in the catalogue, for example.[5] Iveković did the same with the distinction between the self and non-self: which was the “primary” document, the private photo, or the commercial ad? Is the ad an equally valid document of her private life, and her private photo a document of a specific Western cultural custom of stretching the female body tall and thin to its utmost limits?

Today, Iveković’s exhibition should be read as a document of a pioneering feminist intervention into art and art history in Yugoslavia, and stands as a meeting point in the history of feminism and the history of art not only in Yugoslavia but also globally, given Iveković’s strong presence in the international scene already since the early 1970s. Taking a cue from the show’s title and concept, which purported to “document” her personal history (from 1949, the year of the artist’s birth, to the year of the exhibition) while instead constructing a critical history of the contemporary moment when it was made, in 1976, the research project Meeting Points—Documents in the Making frames Iveković’s legacy as a document that speaks to both the past and the present, and in which the aesthetic and the political, the individual and the common, the artistic and activist, can find a productive space of encounter. What meaning do we choose to assign to the documents in Iveković’s archive? How will we arrange them? What will we foreground, what will we hide from view? How do we transform them into a common good, despite their common denominator being Iveković’s name, her “personal album”?

The tension of archiving organises around an author’s name and the social function of such a procedure is not easily resolved in advance. It rather only names an assignment and a long-term working procedure. Since the late 1990s, Iveković’s work has itself included an “archival” dimension and a dedication to countering the anti-communist historical revisionism, especially one concerning the anti-fascist struggle during WW2. How to archive the archivist? What difference will the organising, unearthing, and publicising of the artist’s sketches, travel photographs, books, letters and love letters, newspaper clippings, womens’ activist meetings, really make?

Will it make us feel better by giving us the sense that we have a stronger and more substantiated grasp of history, by being able to introduce missing pieces of the puzzle and more or less clumsily stitch the gaps? That we understand how the world really works because we excavated its origins? That we located a blueprint for future action, like a secret map leading to the long-buried pirate treasure? I am not really sure. What I would like to ask from the past in this particular case, however, is that a work such as Iveković’s be an empowering “document” — understood in its original meaning as a lesson, or an instruction scene — around which to gather and engage in a process of study. Not the kind of study that sovereign and rational subjects would conduct over a hypothesised historical and social object, but in the insurrectionarily humble sense defined by Fred Moten, a study as something “you do with other people,” a “talking and walking around with other people.”[6] Which ultimately suggests — perhaps already in an archival, post-COVID-19 sense — social life itself as the quintessential form of study, or even study as the quintessential form of life, including an artist’s life, and its traces.

Sanja Iveković, “Before and After the Revolution,” 1982. Drawing on paper. Courtesy of the artist

Ivana Bago
is an independent scholar, writer and curator based in Zagreb. She holds a PhD in Art History and Visual Culture from Duke University. She is the co-founder (with Antonia Majaca) of Delve | Institute for Duration, Location and Variables (www.delve.hr). She has published extensively – on contemporary art, including conceptual art, history of exhibitions and curating, performance, feminism, (post)Yugoslav art, and post-1989 art historiographies – and is on the editorial board of the journal ARTMargins. She is currently working on her book manuscript Yugoslav Aesthetics: Monuments to History’s Bare Bones, and developing Meeting Points: Documents in the Making, a research project on Sanja Iveković’s work and personal archive.

[1] “Head of the City of Rijeka Culture Department: ‘Tonight we are celebrating the birth of a new city!’”, Rijeka 2020 .

[2] Hal Foster, “An Archival Impulse,” October 110 (2004): 3–22; Mark Godfrey, “The Artist as Historian,” October 140 (2007): 140-172.

[3] See the separate but kindred commentaries by Boris Postnikov and Jurica Pavičić in Boris Postnikov, “Opera deindustriale,” Novosti, April 25, 2020; and Jurica Pavičić, “Što nam je razotkrila Riječka Opera Industriale,” Jutarnji, February 8, 2020.

[4] I proposed an answer to this question in: Ivana Bago, “Surviving Generation: Yugoslavism, Failure, and the Reserve of Yugoslav History,” in Persistent Traces from Heritage to Come, ed. Anastasija Pandilovska and Marjoca de Greef (Amsterdam: Suns and Stars, 2020), 23–31.

[5] “When art does not any longer depend upon its physical presence, when it becomes an abstraction, it is not distorted and altered by its reproduction in books. It becomes ‘PRIMARY’ information, while the reproduction of conventional art in books and catalogues is necessarily (distorted) ‘SECONDARY’ information. When information is PRIMARY, the catalogue can become the exhibition.” Seth Siegelaub, cited in Ursula Meyer, ed., Conceptual Art (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972), xiv.

[6] Fred Moten, in Stephano Harvey and Fred Moten, The Undercommons. Fugitive Planning & Black Study (New York: Autonomedia, 2013), 110.

Monument—Document—Mockument (in East European Art and Art History)

E Octavian Eșanu

One way to talk about art—in addition to the well-established art critical or art historical categories of style, genre, or form—is with regard to art’s relation to memory, time, and history. This relation is crucial, especially in modernity, with the emergence and then proliferation and now spectacularisation of various institutions of cultural memory such as the museum, the archive, and the documentation centre. Here, I will propose the triad monument-document-mockument to invoke the relation between art and time, art and memory, art and history. I will show how this conceptual set can be used to discuss artworks, as well as to examine methods of art critical reflection, along with other devices and institutions of social and/or aesthetic memory, namely: archiving, documentation, art historical cataloguing. What is offered here is a short exercise, a concise summary of a more extensive study undertaken with regard to the monument-document-mockument triad—a speculative intervention rather than an attempt to do full justice to each of its elements and their complex interrelation.

My interest in the theme began with the document, as I have been working to comprehend the role of the new archives and art documentation centres established in Eastern Europe after 1989 as part of the institution and paradigm of so-called “contemporary art.” Here, documents and documentation practices come suddenly into prominence, playing a significant role in a process of “re-writing” art history: an ideological conversion, a re-coding and re-composing of dominant regional art historical narratives in accordance with the demands of the new signifier and ideologeme of “freedom.” With support from American venture capital, the 1990s saw the opening of numerous institutions of aesthetic memory (like the Soros Centres for Contemporary Art, whose one central function was to gather various forms of documentation). These institutions, and those whom they supported, invested great resources in locating documents that provided evidence of an “aesthetic resistance,” or a desire for “freedom” in the region. Documents of many previously unknown or unofficial artistic practices, said to have resisted the official monuments of socialist culture, became new weapons in the battle for the collective memory of post-socialism. It was a battle of documents against monuments: the former were used to delegitimise the latter in an operation of total rewriting of cultural history in accordance with new moral and epistemic virtues. These documents provided “facts” (as demanded by the positivistic, rational, quantitative, and instrumental logic of Western market democracy) evincing a local desire for the free market and as a rebellion against “communist” modernity. Selected documents were then combined in lavish editions of “primary documents”—released every few years or so by US museums and other academic publishers—thus providing much-needed legitimacy to the current market-driven global corporate order (or, one might also say, these documents were converted into the new monuments of post-socialist art and culture).

In the mnemonic confrontations that we witness in Eastern Europe between documents and monuments, it is a duel between two kinds of temporal instruments: on one side, devices capturing liberatory impulses and traces of artistic resistance to an official cultural doctrine, and on the other side, fossilised and sedimented aesthetic material conferring ideological legitimacy upon various regimes and versions of state socialism.

The pair document-monument has been visited on numerous occasions in historiography, art history, phenomenology, archaeology, and the history of science. For a historian like Jacques Le Goff, the “monument and document” are distinct historical materials that perpetuate particular memories and norms in a society. For an art historian like Erwin Panofsky, a document is a humanistic instrument (an equivalent of what in the natural sciences is used for measuring and studying natural phenomena) only that in the humanities the document “measures” the products of art and culture. For Panofsky, however, a document (as instrument of memory) is meant to serve the monument (the artefact). In other words, a document is always less than a monument, as Panofsky goes on to illustrate in the relation between the St. John Altarpiece of 1471 (a monument of art history) and the contract made between the artist and the client/patron uncovered by the art historian (the document).[1] The monument is the primary material, or the body, while the document is secondary, or—as Panofsky also suggests—the limbs that carry the body of art. Certainly, the relation between monument and document was drastically altered during the last years of Panofsky’s life (in the 1960s) when—and under radically new conditions of late capitalism—the contractual nature of the document took independent artistic form or served as proof of aesthetic commitment in post-WWII conceptual, intermedial, and other opera aperta artistic practices, materialising in Fluxus’s scores and events or in various happenings and performances. Continuing with Panofsky’s analogy, one may say that in Fluxus there is no more “altar,” or monument of art, but only events, scores, instructions, and other documentary proof of contract or contact between the artist and the material or the audience. For Paul Ricoeur, monument-and-document are practical connectors between lived time and universal time, or what Ricoeur calls instruments of time (like the calendar, schedule, or clock), with the document also being part of a more complex relation: “archives-documents-traces.”[2] In this relation, “traces” are material-historical referents, the object-marks of historic events, or artefacts endowed with political meaning. In the art historical context the trace is a permanent or ephemeral artistic gesture, or the material artwork. The document testifies before collective memory to the veracity of the trace, asserting or denying the necessity of committing it to memory, or to the institution of the archive.

A proper theoretical investigation of the relation monument-document is beyond the range and focus of this text; my goal is instead to illustrate how these “instruments” (Panofsky/Ricoeur) or “materials” (Le Goff) of time, memory, and history can be used and understood in the context of Eastern European art history of the past fifty or so years. I will first introduce a third material and instrument of time: the mockument. A mockument is a construction that combines the free play of imagination with mnemonic elements from empirical reality. The mockument could be imagined as part of a process of erosion of credibility of both the document and monument—a sort of cynical, ironic, and satirical corruption of these other two instruments of time. A mockument is very close to what Fredric Jameson famously called “pastiche” in relation to postmodernism (that is, blank parody, statue with blind eyeballs, etc.). Unlike pastiche, which ridicules the modernist phantasms of artistic autonomy and essence and the bourgeois belief in a “unique self,” what the mockument mistrusts and finds impossible is memory and ultimately modernist Truth. A mockument is a sort of counter-instrument of time: it is a void contract, a fabricated trace, a fiction often claimed to lie at the centre of the ontology of “contemporary art;”[3] and in a wider context, it is the product of a social reality maintained by corporate and social media, by populism and “fake news,” and other similar satirical-humoresque sources of mass-, mis-, or dis-information and infotainment. Finally, a mockument is the dominant instrument of time and the dominant relation to history of those who believe in or have embraced the “end of history”—the dominant narrative of neoliberalism.

The monument-document-mockument triad, as considered here, can also be arranged historically, with the oldest collective mnemonic device being the monument: from Neolithic tombs, megaliths, and mounds to medieval altars, to modern bridges and skyscrapers, to monuments dedicated to the future of Communism, like Tatlin’s Tower, to what are recently called counter-monuments, for example the Stolpersteine or “stumbling stones” devoted to the victims of the Holocaust. The document, on the other hand, discloses the spirit of the modern age: it is a phenomenon of the Gutenberg revolution and the democratising effects of the printing press, and of the rise of epistemological virtues and positivism’s belief in “pure” scientific objectivity in the 19th and 20th centuries. And in art, the document has taken central stage in the “factographical” discourse or the Kino-Eye materialistic aesthetics of the historical avant-garde, or in photographic and cinematic documentaries aiming to uncover the Truth and the nature of social contradictions. In many post-WWII neo-avant-garde practices, documents served as primary authenticators of ephemeralised and dematerialised artistic events, and inevitably entered market circuits as monuments or museum fetishes themselves. But gradually, as both documents and monuments lose their spell—following crises of language, representation, signification, and reason at the “end of history”—mockuments emerge as the new dominant (counter-) instruments of time, in both everyday life and contemporary art.

When it comes to art, no other art historical context seems better suited for discussing the constant transformation and migration of monuments into documents into mockuments than Eastern European art history in the last half-century.

One could argue that most Eastern European official art, under different regimes of socialism (from the more liberal ones in Central Europe to most closed and reactionary in South Eastern Europe or certain parts of the USSR) deployed the monument—a collective, historical, and thus ideally socialist mnemonic device—as the main aesthetic instrument of time. In Soviet socialism, and in accordance with its aesthetic function, the monument was to serve as a reminder of an original act—the 1917 October Revolution that laid the foundations of a classless society. The aesthetics of socialist realism was thus built on classicising themes, tropes, forms, and other products of historical consciousness revolving around this original act of 1917. Socialist Realism was, in fact, the aesthetics of the monument, as monumentality (monumental ‘nost’) has been considered one of its essential features.[4] Socialist Realism called upon monumentality (especially in architecture, genre painting, and monumental sculpture) to convey through the grand scale of these artefacts the “greatness” of the socialist epoch. A good part of its officially supported and promoted art could also be categorised in terms of what Aloïs Riegl called “intentional monuments” (to be distinguished from “accidental monuments” like Neolithic structures discovered and interpreted by archaeologists).[5] A building, a painting, or a sculpture made for the purpose of recognising the greatness of the era could serve as an intentional socialist realist monument that legitimised the regime and established temporal connections between generations (think, for example, of Vera Mukhina’s 1937 Rabochii i kolkhoznitsa [Worker and Kolkhoz Woman], or of the many Soviet Soldier or T-34 tank monuments left throughout Eastern Europe to recall who was in charge). As a trace of time and of collective memory, the socialist realist monument unified time and space, linking territories to particular historical events (revolutions, uprisings, revolts) and thus serving as sites of ideological reproduction and maintenance of the political status quo. (And this certainly holds true not only for Soviet socialism, but for every other modern ideological site, as illustrated by Albert Speer’s “architecture of ruins” in national-socialism or by the Statue of Liberty that marks the site of “freedom of enterprise” for corporate America).

Marxist economic archaeology explains monuments, the oldest instruments of time, in relation to the economic domestication of space, the laying claim to a land, the emergence of agriculture and private property, the formation of the notions of kinship, family, ancestors, the right to property over land, and the commemoration of the dead, all of whose meanings and functions extend into modern ideology.[6] Like in Neolithic society, where the monument, tombstone, or memorial marks the property of kin or lays claim to land to be used for agricultural cultivation (which demands cyclical temporal patterns), a socialist realist artistic monument is an ideological or aesthetic instrument set to assure the lasting continuity of power.

But in times of historical rupture (revolutions, counter-revolutions, or transitions), these instruments, or materials, of time change their purpose or migrate from one mnemonic and aesthetic form into another. During the French Revolution, for example, religious edifices, châteaux, and feudal estates were turned into monuments of the Republic, protected historical heritage, or “patrimony,” for the most part using documents signed by the Commission of Historic Monuments. Such transformations can also be found in more recent Eastern European socialist art history. Take Mukhina’s Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, which is one of the paradigmatic monuments of Soviet Socialist Realism. Mukhina’s sculpture—first exhibited as part of the Soviet Pavilion at the Paris World Exposition of 1937 (just opposite of Albert Speer’s Nazi pavilion, and next to the Eiffel Tower: three monuments of dominant ideologies at the time)—became a permanent monument displayed at the VdNKh [The Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy] in Moscow. And then, following Panofsky’s schema, all the records concerning the production or existence of this sculpture—from articles, interviews, drawings, sketches, art historical research, correspondence, art historical books (like N.V. Voronov’s Worker and Kolkhoz Woman) to the Russian and English-language pages of Wikipedia—can be considered documents or “secondary material” to the monument. But then, some examples of “unofficial” art (like the 1980 performance called Homage to Vera Mukhina, where György Galántai, Júlia Klaniczay and G. A. Cavellini reenacted a tableau vivant of Mukhina’s worker and peasant on a public square in Budapest) become mockuments, even if the artists had some good intentions towards the monuments and documents of really existing socialism. It is the aesthetic ideology and acidic “spirit of Fluxus,” embraced by Galántai, Klaniczay and Cavellini—a spirit that feeds on the gag, on ironic distance, laughter, vaudeville, mockery, goofing-off, antipolitics and the “parody of protest,” in these parallel circles regarded as “liberatory”[7]—which dissolves the solid minerals of the socialist monument. The result is a mockument. And Eastern Europe has seen a lot of mockuments over the past few decades, when artists engaged in “primitive accumulation” of symbolic capital by painting Soviet tanks pink (like David Černý in Prague), or more recently “dressing up” Soviet Army soldiers from a monument in Sofia into characters from American pop-culture (by the so-called “Banksy of Bulgaria”), and much else that has accompanied a good part of our successful transition to “contemporary art.”

Left to right. MONUMENT: Vera Mukhina, “Worker and Kolkhoz Woman”, 1937. Courtesy of www.alisetifentale.net. DOCUMENT: Book by N. V. Voronov, “Rabochii i kolkhoznitsa” [Worker and Kolkhoz Woman] (Moskva: Moskovskii rabochii, 1990). MOCKUMENT: György Galántai, Júlia Klaniczay and G. A. Cavellini, “Homage to Vera Mukhina,” performance, Heroes’ Square, Budapest, 1980. Courtesy of Collection of Artpool Art Research Center. Photograph by: György Hegedűs

The conceptual triad of monument-document-mockument can also come in handy when used with regard to memory, archives, documentation, and the whole process of so-called “re-writing art history.” It could be argued, for example, that the Artpool archive in Budapest (founded by György Galántai and Júlia Klaniczay), or the archive of Moscow Conceptualism (the samizdat publications collected by Andrei Monastyrsky), and other similar unofficial art “institutions” launched under late socialism, are not “genuine” archives containing documents of material traces but—as the founders themselves confessed on multiple occasions—are “alternative,” “experimental,” “fictive institutions,” or as in Artpool’s case “an artwork.”[8] And in Moscow’s case—to use one of Monastyrsky’s favoured terms, which like many of this group’s terms lack “satisfying definitions”—they are “Rotten Pinocchios” (Gnilye Buratino),[9] that is, something impermanent that does not belong to “this” world of traces, records, and archives.

Take Artpool first. Recall, with Ricoeur, that for a document to qualify as a proper instrument of time, it must be part of the wider formula “archive-document-trace.” The term document—derived from the Latin docere (to instruct, to teach, to point out)—presents a warrant for a historical narrative, history, or argument. It serves as “evidence” regarding the “true” course of events; it points to the important “traces” of history.[10] The Artpool archive—or a good part of it—does not totally fit this formula, as not all of its extensively collected materials are proper records or traces of time. Galántai calls Artpool an “active archive,” which differs from a traditional (or “passive”) archive in that “it generates the very material to be archived.”[11] In other words, as an “active archive,” Artpool—which also collected traces or cultural productions made under the infamous “three-T” system (tilt, tűr, támogat: ban, tolerate, support), and under the influence of its “three Tóts” (Endre Tót, Gábor Tóth and Árpád Fenyvesi Tóth)—permits itself to make the traces that it intends to archive. It is a sort of premature gesture of documentation, an act of self-archiving and self-historicisation. In Riegl’s words, this would be an “intentional document” (and we can also call it a “mockument”) for it does not come into the archive as unpremeditated “proof” of objective historical time but as a fabricated artefact. It is art, or artifice, and as such it does not fully comply with the requirements placed on the instrument of time called “document” by its theoreticians. If in Ricoeur the document is the record of the trace, or the record of the “trace of an event,” many (but not all of course) of Artpool’s archival materials are “active” or pre-fabricated artefacts; these “documents” (which I call mockuments) offer proof of events that were staged in order to be shelved in the archive. (Examples of this include multiple mail art projects, where the organiser sent invitations to foreign artists asking them to send letters that would then be deposited as archival “documents.”) It is only the context and discourse of “art” in which these “documents” are presented that lends them “credibility” or rather “aesthetic value.”

Drawing on Artpool’s “active” collection, we may say that mockuments can be produced in several ways. The most common strategy is to ridicule socialist monuments and documents, as in Galántai, Klaniczay, and Cavellini’s “homage” to Mukhina’s Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, or as in another similar example: the “empty pedestals” of Gyula Pauer’s Conception Works (1973), where the artist “removes” a statue from the monument to have “pedestals without monuments.”[12] Another common technique that often results in the creation of a mockument is composing records of performances and happenings that mock socialist rituals (like actions made during May First parades) or reenacting counter-cultural motifs (like the “death of a hippie.”) Most mockuments in the Artpool experimental archives are the results or products of their “fluxus activity” (keeping the lowercase letter to distinguish it from the group Fluxus, as advised by Kristine Stiles), and which Galántai identifies as the dominant strategy behind the “active archive.”[13] Most of the collected records in this archive do not record “history” as “what [actually] happened” but “what might [have] happened,” which—and as per Aristotelian Poetics—is what distinguishes “history” from “poetry” or art. “What might have happened” takes the form of records of planned cultural events and initiatives, and of what after 1989 would come to be called “projects” (i.e. mail art correspondence, postcard and stamp shows, lectures, happenings, and so on). Unlike the monument and document, which concern themselves with “history as it happened,” according to Aristotle, the mockument ignores the trace or the referent, emphasising instead the poetic imagination, the concept, and the “creativity” of “what might [have] happened” or what could have been an alternative to the social status quo. The strategy rests on the bourgeois aesthetic ideology invested in the power of imagination, the freedom of the judgment of taste, and the belief that art must not be confused with life. And with historical Romanticism, the artist-genius departs mere life to find freedom in fiction or art. In lower-case fluxus, however, art merges with life (as everything can be art once the artist decides it is) and therefore its traces and records lie at the intersection of art and reality; they are “fictional” or “fabricated reality.” Mockuments, unlike monuments and documents, are intentionally subjective, fictive, fallible, constructed, self-historicising and self-archiving, and also, at times, quite narcissistic. In Artpool’s case, the mockuments are not only records of instances of deriding socialist art, or of using humour to comment on that repressive system, but they also rely on the very tactics of making “active archive practices”—a tactic where the trace (the artefact or event) is staged in order to be recorded and committed to the archive.

From Left to Right: MONUMENT: István Kiss, “Republic of Councils Monument”, 1969, cast in bronze, 9,5 m (height). Originally located at 14th District, Dózsa György Street, Felvonulási Square. Photograph by: Inga Walton. DOCUMENT: Collective Actions, “The Slogan”, 1977. Courtesy of conceptualism.letov.ru.  MOCKUMENT: Gyula Pauer, “Conception Works,” 1973. [Monuments without figure]. Reproduced from “ARTPOOL: The Experimental Art Archive of East-Central Europe”, ed. György Galántai and Júlia Klaniczay (Budapest: Artpool, 2013), 32.

We can also find mockuments in the archives of Moscow Conceptualism. Artpool, which functions as a true archive and since 1992 as a full-fledged research institution that has amassed a large collection of both “active” and “passive” traces of unofficial and post-socialist cultural activity—was also one of the earliest recipients of generous Soros grants. In Moscow, by contrast, the term “archive” is applied to a much smaller number of records (just four folders). MANI, that is, the Moscow Archive of New Art [Moskovskii archiv novogo iskusstva]—which subsequently became NOMA, and then Moksha, among others—includes papers, writings or notes left from the unofficial Soviet performances and actions of Moscow conceptualism.[14] Like Galántai on behalf of Artpool, Andrei Monastyrsky (the main archivist and archaeologist of Moscow Conceptualism) has confessed that in accordance with conceptual art’s nature, the gathered traces (that is, the “documents”) are “nonexistent,” the products of “mental worlds,” “mere products of ironic fancy,” or again “Rotten Pinocchios” (Gnilye Buratino).[15] As such, these “documents,” which are meant to prove for us the veracity of the conceptualists’ activities, are in themselves artefacts, artistic documents, or again: mockuments. And like their Central European colleagues, the Moscow conceptualists have developed their own mockumentary techniques, ranging from the practices of sotz art (by Komar and Melamid) to one of the most famous mockuments of the Collective Actions group action, called The Slogan (a Soviet banner hanging in the middle of the woods that read: I DO NOT COMPLAIN ABOUT ANYTHING AND I DO LIKE EVERYTHING, DESPITE THE FACT THAT I HAVE NEVER BEEN HERE BEFORE AND I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THESE PLACES.)[16]

To conclude, a work of art can be a document, used in the study of history, as genres or other paintings have served historians; it can also become a monument, as in Mukhina’s famous sculpture glorifying the victory of the proletarians. But such transformations are usually the product of certain collective, material, or historical permutations. An individual work of art that prematurely claims to be a monument or a document, a proof, a record or trace of an event, is only a mockument until history proves it wrong. Moreover, premature documentation (or mockumentation)—that is, creating a system of fictive records of existent or nonexistent empirical events—does not only affect the so-called “active archives” (or the archive as a work of art which makes its own records as it wishes) but it also affects and infects the “passive” and the “real” archives. For example, after 1989 the documentation practices of the Soros Centres for Contemporary Art encouraged artists to establish their own “artist files” and to regularly populate and cultivate their folders, thus encouraging the artist to become his or her own critic and art historian. This is to suggest that many mockumentary artistic practices that evolved after 1989 could be interpreted as signs of the entrepreneurial capitalist spirit invested in self-presentation, self-documentation, self-archiving, and self-promotion, as demanded by the capitalist engine of success and prosperity.

The mockument dominates the terrain of post-socialism and of “post-history” (for those who chose to believe in it). Among many other things, the mockument signals also a refusal of the artist to engage in what Fred Jameson once called “cognitive mapping”—that is, mapping of the acute social contradictions and “inconsistencies” of our market democracies (inequality, poverty, unemployment, exploitation), favouring instead detached witticism, sarcasm, and the “free play” of imagination. The triad monument-document-mockument charts and divides the history of post-World War II art on both sides of the Iron Curtain: on one side, the mockument dissolved in its acidic stew the monuments and documents of high modernism and political commitment (like in Fluxus’s slogan “Destroy European Culture!”); and on the other side of the same Curtain, in the antipolitics of the dissidents whose art was based on satirising the monuments and documents of really-existing socialism. Situated between parody and protest, between art and life, mockuments do not incite political action; they will not induce riots; and they may not even serve as temporal links among generations. What they can do—to quote from the title of a book written in the USA at the time of the beginning of re-writing Eastern European art history in the late 1980s—is to allow us to “amuse ourselves to death.”

Octavian Eșanu
is an assistant professor at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and curator of AUB Art Galleries. In the late 1990s he was the founding director of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art, Chișinău, producing the first “contemporary art” exhibitions in Moldova. From 2012 he was the first curator of AUB Art Galleries. He is the author of Transition in Post-Soviet Art: The Collective Actions Group before and after 1989 (CEU Press, 2013); The Postsocialist Contemporary: The Institutionalization of Artistic Practices in Eastern Europe after 1989 (Manchester UP, 2021), and editor of such volumes as Art, Awakening and Modernity in the Middle East: The Arab Nude (Routledge, 2018); Contemporary Art and Capitalist Modernization: A Transregional Perspective (Routledge, 2020). He is part of the editorial collective ARTMargins.

[1] See: Jacques Le Goff, “Document/Monument,” in Enciclopedia Einaudi, vol. 5 (Turin: Einaudi, 1978), 38–43. Erwin Panofsky, “The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline,” in Meaning in the Visual Arts, ed. Erwin Panofsky (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1955).

[2] Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, trans. Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer, vol. 3 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

[3] On “fiction” and the “contemporary” see: Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art (London: Verso, 2013).

[4] See for example: Hans Günther, “Totalitanoe gosudarstvo kak sintez iskusstva” [The Totalitarian State as Synthesis of the Arts], in Sotsrealisticheskii kanon, ed. Evgeny Dobrenko and Hans Günther (St. Petersburg: Gumanitarnoe agenstvo ‘Akademicheskii proekt,’ 2000), 11.

[5] Aloïs Riegl, “The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Its Origin,” trans. Kurt W. Forster and Diane Ghirardo, Oppositions 25 (Fall 1982): 21–51.

[6] See: Claude Meillassoux, “From Reproduction to Production: A Marxist Approach to Economic Anthropology,” Economy and Society 1 (1972): 102–108.

[7] For a more detailed discussion of the performative “spirit of Fluxus” see: Kristine Stiles, “Between Water and Stone: Fluxus Performance, A Metaphysics of Acts,” in In the Spirit of Fluxus, ed. Janet Jenkins (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1993).

[8] For “Artpool as an artwork” [italics in the original] see: Kristine Stiles, “Foreword,” in ARTPOOL: The Experimental Art Archive of East-Central Europe, ed. György Galántai and Júlia Klaniczay (Budapest: Artpool, 2013), 10. For other terms see: György Galántai’s texts and descriptions of Artpool in the same publication.

[9] The Dictionary of Moscow Conceptualism defines the term “Rotten Pinocchio” as: “refer[ing] to the population that inhabits the ‘worlds and spheres of impermanence.’” See: Andrei Monastyrsky, Slovarterminov moskovskoi kontseptualnoi shkoly (Moscow: Ad Marginem, 1999). For an annotated English translation and adaptation of Monastyrsky, Slovar see: Octavian Eșanu, Dictionary of Moscow Conceptualism, An Adaptation (Chișinău: Contimporary, 2010), available on UbuWeb: http://ubu.com/historical/moscow/index.html.

[10] Paul Ricoeur, op. cit., 117.

[11] György Galántai, “Active Archive: 1979–2003,” in ARTPOOL, 15.

[12] György Galántai, “The Pre-Story of Artpool—The Chapel Studio,” in ARTPOOL, 32.

[13] Kristine Stiles, op. cit., 10.

[14] For a more detailed description of the archives of Moscow Conceptualism see: Octavian Eșanu, Transition in Post-Soviet Art: The Collective Actions Group Before and After 1989 (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2013).

[15] For the Russian see Monastyrsky, Slovar’. For the English version see: Andrei Monastyrsky, “Editor’s Preface,” in Octavian Eșanu, Dictionary of Moscow Conceptualism, 9–10.

[16] For a discussion of this action see: Octavian Eșanu, Transition in Post-Soviet Art, 94.

The Non-systemic Fever of Collecting Artistic Data in the “Cono Sur”

F Katarzyna Cytlak

Archivos Desaparecidos
The term desaparecido [the missing] is generally used in reference to victims of the covert kidnappings and murders carried out as part of the regime of state terrorism implemented in Latin America during the military dictatorships of the 1960s–1980s. However, it could also be justly applied to describe the condition of artists’ archives in the region from that same period. Several seminal private artists’ archives and personal art collections created in the 1960s and 1970s did not survive our times. In Brazil, or more specifically, in São Paulo, the condition of research in the field of art history has been slightly better institutionalised than in neighbouring countries due to the existence of the São Paulo Biennial and the personal commitment to preservation of Walter Zanini, the longstanding director of the MAC-USP—the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo.[1] However, the task of successfully conducting research in art history in the so-called Cono Sur—the southern part of the South American continent—requires a great deal of flexibility, imagination and perseverance.

First, a number of archives containing international epistolary correspondence were confiscated by the police during the era of dictatorships. This was the case of the personal archive and art collection of Clemente Padín—a Uruguayan artist, activist and political prisoner during the Uruguayan civic-military dictatorship (1973–1985). As chief editor of the experimental literary reviews Los Huevos del Plata (1965–1969), Ovum 10 (1969–1972) and Ovum (1972–1975), Padín was also one of the most active Latin American cultural networkers. He not only organised numerous international exhibitions of visual and experimental poetry, such as Exposición Internacional de la Nueva Poesía [International Exhibition of New Poetry], in 1969 and Exposición Exhaustiva de la Nueva Poesía in 1972—both of which were held at the Galería U in Montevideo; he also participated in several international mail art exchanges and artistic initiatives developed outside of institutional structures. According to Uruguayan curator Patricia Bentancur, his archive contained artworks created by such artists as Joseph Beuys, Dick Higgins, Ken Friedman, Julien Blaine, Ulises Carrión, Edwin Varney, Edgardo Antonio Vigo, Guillermo Deisler, Timm Ulrichs and Davi Det Hompson.[2] However, his archives were confiscated on August 24, 1977 during his detention by the State Security Forces.[3] The archives were carefully studied by the Uruguayan Secret Service, and six items were chosen as incriminating evidence in Clemente Padín’s subsequent trial.[4] Although Padín himself regained his freedom in 1984 as the dictatorship in Uruguay weakened, his personal archives never resurfaced. Paradoxically, the artist was able to recover only those items that had been used to sentence him due to their political (subversive) content and the left-wing convictions they ostensibly expressed.

Clemente Padín, “Hacia un lenguaje de la acción” [Towards a language of action], Montevideo: Samizdat, 1976. Courtesy of Archivo de Clemente Padín, en el Archivo General de la Universidad de la República, Área de Investigación Histórica, Montevideo

Second, some archives were lost or abandoned during the artists’ efforts to protect themselves from persecution by the state. The entirety of the personal archives of the Argentinean artist Horacio Zabala were lost when he was forced to flee the country in 1976.[5] For the same reason, Chilean artist Guillermo Deisler, who established in Santiago de Chile and subsequently in the city of Antofagasta the Mimbre publishing house (1963–1973), which promoted the international experimental and visual poetry movement, had to abandon his personal archives before his escape to Europe.[6] The condition of being an emigrant, or more specifically, an exile, in Europe did little to improve his situation. In fact, it made preserving his personal files quite difficult, and sometimes impossible. Guillermo Deisler, who along with his family acquired the status of a legal political exile in communist Bulgaria, chose to settle there, as did several other Chilean intellectuals and militants after Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état in 1973.[7] Once Deisler’s artistic activity became officially recognised—i.e. after his becoming a member of the Union of Bulgarian Artists—he was able to work as an artist, exhibit his artistic production, and build his personal archives.[8] Conversely, Horacio Zabala, who went into hiding in Europe, living in exile illegally between 1976 and 1998 in Italy, Austria and Switzerland, was simply unable to establish his artistic documentation anew. The fact that he did not seek the status of a political immigrant in order to protect his family and relatives back in Argentina[9] meant that his personal files remained very limited in respect to his international activity as a mail art networker and artist devoted to architecture-based conceptual art.

Graciela Carnevale, “Acción Encierro” [The Enclosure Action], 1968. Courtesy of Archive of Graciela Carnevale, Rosario

Certainly, the most important “missing” archive devoted to Argentinian, Latin American and international art of the 1970s is that of the CAYC—Centro de Arte y Comunicación [Centre for Art and Communication]. Founded in Buenos Aires in 1969 by the art critic, curator and entrepreneur Jorge Glusberg, the centre was devoted to promoting local and international art and architecture, including visual and experimental poetry, performance art, conceptual art, computer art, outdoor installations, photography, video art, and sociological art.[10] CAYC developed a vast network of relationships with artistic circles abroad. During the decade and a half of its activity, CAYC not only brought together individuals from the local artistic milieu—it had thirteen founding members—but also organised both in Argentina and abroad a large number of exhibitions, festivals, lectures and artistic events, as Art Systems in Latin America, an itinerant exhibition presented at, among other places, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London in 1974, the Espace Pierre Cardin in Paris in 1975, and the International Open Encounters on Video, a series of ten events organised between 1974 and 1978 in Europe, Latin America and Asia. Jorge Glusberg established the cooperative Ediciones del Tercer Mundo [Third-World Editions], and also published several catalogues, artist monographs and so-called hojas amarillas [yellow pages]—one-page leaflets with information about CAYC’s activity that were published almost weekly, in 4,000 copies, a large part of which was sent abroad as part of Glusberg’s strategy to promote the centre’s activity, and Latin American artistic creation in general, in Europe and the United States. Due to a lack of institutional support in Argentina and the conflict between Glusberg and the art history milieu near the end of his life, the archive, which is now in the hands of Jorge Glusberg’s family, remains uncatalogued and inaccessible to the public. Because Glusberg’s activities as a curator and theoretician centred more on the process of curating exhibitions and events than on documenting art and creating a coherent art archive, some materials were discarded after shows in European museums and institutions. Some artworks and materials were also lost during Glusberg’s international travels, as was probably the case with a considerable number of videotapes produced by CAYC in the 1970s, which were confiscated by the authorities at the Ezeiza Airport, near Buenos Aires.[11]

El CAYC, “Art Systems in Latin America,” at the Internationaal Cultureel Centrum, Antwerp, 1974. Yellow pages edited by Jorge Glusberg, Buenos Aires, CAYC. Courtesy of Archivo de Artistas Juan Carlos Romero, Buenos Aires

A Race Against Time: Archivos en uso [Archives in Use]
The functioning of artists’ archives in Latin America has been very different from the role they have played in Western Europe and Northern America. From the 1960s to the 1980s, their creation was profoundly impacted by the difficult socio-political and historical contexts of that era—one of increasing authoritarianism, the rise and subsequent decline of civil-military dictatorships, and condition for artists to work and make a career that differed greatly from those in the so-called West. The creation of archives was not primarily an aesthetic or conceptual gesture, an artistic method for proposing a break from institutional contexts, or an expression of opposition to the laws of the art market. It was, above all, a necessity—a strategy of self-defence, preservation and survival. The archival turn in Latin America resulted, above all, from reduced institutional support and the weak development of the art market in the region and the commercial structures related to its art world in general—particularly when compared to the situation in Europe and the United States. Latin American artists of the 1970s and 1980s thus became archivists, documentalists, curators and art critics in order to bridge this institutional gap and to respond to the lack of recognition of their artistic creation in local contexts.

Guillermo Deisler, “Venceremos” [We will win], 1976. Printed brochure with black and white graphic reproductions for the Dramatic Theatre in Plovdiv, 11,2 x 19,9 cm. Courtesy of Archivo Guillermo Deisler, Santiago de Chile

Such an engagement with archives continues today. A number of artists have adopted strategies and actions that aim to preserve their own artistic trajectory. Yet the safeguarding of artists’ archives continues to depend more on personal determination than institutional support. After regaining his freedom following the collapse of the Uruguayan dictatorship in 1985, Clemente Padín contacted friends from his visual poetry and mail art networks, asking them to send back to him some of his artworks and publications in order to help him reconstruct his personal archives. Since 2010, the totality of his personal archive, which contains some 35 linear metres of documents, including reacquired artworks on paper, leaflets, filmed performances, cassettes, photographs and his epistolary correspondence, has been part of the General Archive of the University of the Republic of Uruguay in Montevideo. It is arranged in the original order provided by the artist.[12] Edgardo Antonio Vigo, an Argentinian artist and networker engaged in visual and experimental poetry, and editor of the independent reviews Diagonal Cero (1962–1968) and Hexágono 71 (1971–1975) decided, before his death in 1997, to leave his  private home and custody of his works to the Centre of Experimental Art Vigo. Established in the city of La Plata, it is a self-managed space, open to the public, which relies on the volunteer activity of local students and researchers.[13] The very same strategy of self-preservation and self-institutionalisation has been adopted by other artists, such as Juan Carlos Romero (Buenos Aires, Argentina) and Paulo Bruscky (Recife, Brazil). In 2009, thanks to the extraordinary determination of Laura Coll, the widow of Guillermo Deisler, the artist’s archive was assembled in Santiago de Chile. The archive includes materials she and her husband had hidden in Chile before their exile to Europe, as well as their personal archives created while living in Plovdiv, Bulgaria (1974–1986) and later in Halle, in the German Democratic Republic (1986–till his death in 1995).[14] Thanks to the personal engagement of Deisler’s family members, Chilean art historians and professional archivists, his archive—which contains more than ten thousand items—has been superbly ordered, conserved, classified, and digitalised, it has its own website and a well-organised online catalogue that follows the order given to the archived materials by Deisler himself.[15] The work of archiving these materials was facilitated in this particular case by the fact that, according to art historians involved in opening the archive to the public and the artist’s family members:

Guillermo Deisler always had a vision of his work that we could call “archival”: he tried to keep for posterity at least one copy of each graphic work he produced, in addition to the contextual documentation associated with it and the exhibitions in which he participated.[16]

The addition of Clemente Padín’s personal archive to the repository at the University of Montevideo was made possible thanks to the initiative of RedCSur—Red Conceptualismos del Sur [Southern Conceptualisms Network]. This collective initiative originated in 2007, bringing together artists, researchers and cultural activists from Latin America, who defend a Latin American perspective in their research and artistic activity and are conceptually and practically engaged in the preservation of local archives in Argentina (such as the Archive of Graciela Carnevale, Rosario; the Archive of Juan Carlos Romero, Buenos Aires; the Archive of Juan Acha, Mexico City).[17] In collaboration with researchers from the Study Group on Art, Culture and Politics in Recent Argentina, based in the Gino Germani Institute at the University of Buenos Aires, RedCSur started a project called Archivos en Uso [Archives in Use]—an initiative that aims to facilitate access to artists’ archives by establishing a digital research platform. Once digitalised and classified, various documents, images, graphic works and artists’ texts will remain freely accessible to the public.[18] The platform questions the politics of the archive in Latin America in a practical way—it responds to the fragility of the personal archive, which has been disappearing due to a lack of institutional support. The archives made viewable by Archivos en Uso were previously the object of scientific investigations by researchers, artists and scholars associated with this platform. In this respect the platform is continuing the strategy adopted in the 1960s and 1970s by Walter Zanini, director of the previously mentioned MAC-USP—Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo. As the Brazilian art historian and critic Cristiana Tejo observed, Zanini aimed to “build the porous and flexible fabric of contemporary exploration in the field of art.”[19] Attaching the MAC to the University “reinforced its educational character”[20] and, undoubtedly facilitates considerably, till nowadays, scientific research.

Archivos en Uso has already made four archives available to the public: the personal archive of the Argentinian artist and sociologist Roberto Jacoby, the archive of the CADA Group—a Chilean collective of action art [Colectivo Acciones de Arte, 1979–1985], an archive devoted to artistic responses to the Human Rights’ movement in Argentina and a separate archive specialising in underground artistic and cultural reviews published during the last Argentinean military dictatorship (1976–1983).[21] But the researchers engaged in the creation and functioning of the platform have also developed and deepened the theoretical and conceptual bases of this initiative: creation of a structure that favours the non-commercial collectivisation of politically and socially engaged art, aesthetic-political events, and phenomena and initiatives related to cultural activism, which, due to their counter-cultural and political character, very often remain unfamiliar to the wider public. The main principle behind the Archivos en uso is the free sharing of knowledge. The platform provides unconditioned access to its files (free of charge, accessible online) and knowledge about a diverse range of socio-cultural activities and their socio-political, historical and cultural contexts. Working in rich and precisely classified archives like those in Europe and North America tends to instil a feeling of security, the illusion that knowledge can be mastered, ordered and quickly accessed. They allow one, at least for a period of time, to envision a research project similar to the reading of books from the library in alphabetical order planned by a character in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea.[22] Such visits sometimes resemble work in a sterile biochemical laboratory. Increasingly, the public has access only to digitalised files and not to originals. The signification of archived files can be weighed and measured with precision. The cultural context of studied artefacts and events can be properly understood thanks to the large number of related documents that have been made accessible.

In contrast, in carrying out research in Latin American archives one is immediately confronted with the porosity, accidentality, and defective subjectivity of art historical discourses. The archives, which in the majority of cases are located in private spaces, become not laboratories but time machines—self-managed vessels that allow an investigator to travel in time. Investigating is an adventure full of chance discoveries, misfortunes and disappointments that follows a sinusoid of vanishing and rediscovery. Not only the institutionalising of archives in Latin America, but even just visiting them, seems to be a race against time. Both actions are based on human relations, and the success of the investigations depends on their quality. The envisioned investigation requires a network of contacts based more on friendship and shared artistic-political interests than on professional relations. In the majority of cases, this concerns the establishment of a personal relationship with the artist or the collective that is the object of study. Moreover, it necessitates visits to their homes, workshops or private spaces, where the documents are located. These conditions not only privilege a deeper understanding of the studied events or artworks. In the case of some types of artistic production—such as mail art-based artistic projects, which in principle necessitate a visit to an archive rather than to a museum to properly contemplate and understand these conditions—this could be particularly beneficial. Due to the lack of a stable institutionalised basis, the conditions for such investigations may deteriorate, as cultural actors involved in past events become increasingly more distant from their artistic production. Working in archives in Latin America that are less organised and classified than those in the so-called former West could be more creative for a researcher who cannot rely on pre-existing categorising structures, and who thus has to make his own orderings of knowledge. Due to the fact that in many cases these archives have not been digitalised and do not have systemised catalogues, investigators can continue to count on making some valuable and unexpected findings. Files can easily vanish, but they can also be happily rediscovered. For that reason, in the case of such non-institutionalised files, Derridian archive fever—reflecting both a passionate approach to vanishing and mutating knowledge and a desire for memory—could be explicitly experienced.[23] In Latin America’s non-systemic, activist laboratory nothing lasts forever. Art historians engaged in Latin American culture are never surprised to learn that precious files were thrown away due to a lack of interest from local art institutions or the relatives of the artist. But they can also hope that Clemente Padín’s personal archives, confiscated by the secret police, will one day reappear.

Katarzyna Cytlak is a Polish art historian whose research focuses on artistic creation in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Africa. In 2012, she received a PhD from the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Between 2015 and 2017, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas and at the University of San Martín, Argentina. She studies conceptual art, radical and utopian architecture, socially engaged art, and art theory in relation to post-socialist countries, seen through transmodern, transnational and decolonial perspectives. She is a grantee of the University Paris 4 Sorbonne, the Terra Foundation for American Art, and the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (Paris). Selected publications include articles in Umění/Art, Third Text, the RIHA Journal, and desbordesreview of the Red Conceptualismos del Sur.

[1] The specificity of research in Brazil is conditioned by the existence of the São Paulo Biennial, whose artworks, documents and materials have been classified and conserved. Initiated in 1951 as the second biennial in the world after that in Venice, it considerably contributed to the increasing presence of international contemporary art in the country, and to a growing role of art criticism and research in art history. The biennale’s archives reflect the development of artistic strategies and sometimes very conflictual debate on contemporary art during that era. It was also conditioned by the institution of the MAC—USP. Created in 1963, the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo has one of the largest art collections in Latin America, with more than 10,000 artworks created by Brazilian and international artists in the 20th and 21st centuries. Walter Zanini, who was the first director of the museum, and who occupied this position till 1978, contributed significantly to the growth of its collection by establishing initiatives that promoted video art, mail art and visual poetry, as well as artistic production by the young and emerging generation of artists, such as JAC—Jovem Arte Contemporânea [Young Contemporary Art]—a yearly exhibition of young art that started in 1967. Cristiana Tejo, “On Limits and Experimentations: Walter Zanini and the Invention of the Curatorial Field in Brazil,” Terremoto, no. 4 (30 November, 2015), last accessed 10 September 2020.

[2] Patricia Bentancur, “Clemente Padín. La práctica como crítica” [Clemente Padín. Practice as Criticism], in Clemente Padín (Montevideo: Espacio Pedro Figari del Banco Central del Uruguay, 2006), 44.

[3] Katarzyna Cytlak, “Von der Poesiezur Aktion. Der Prozess gegen Clemente Padín in Zeiten der uruguayischen Militärdiktatur” [From Poetry to Action. The Trial of Clemente Padín during the Uruguayan Military Dictatorship], in Kunst vor Gericht. Ästhetische Debatten im Gerichtssaal [Art in Court. Aesthetic Debates in the Courtroom], ed. Sandra Frimmel and Mara Traumane (Berlin: Matthes & Seitz, 2018), 341–348.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Katarzyna Cytlak, Unpublished interview with Horacio Zabala. Buenos Aires, 7 December 2019.

[6] Francisca García, “Los atributos de la Poetry Factory” [The Attributes of the Poetry Factory], in Exclusivo hecho para usted! Obras de Guillermo Deisler [Exclusively Made for You! Works by Guillermo Deisler], ed. Francisca García (Valparaíso: Imprenta Victoria, 2007), 113.

[7] Katarzyna Cytlak, “Del ‘conceptualismo ideológico’ al ‘conceptualismo socialista.’ Los años de exilio del poeta y artista chileno Guillermo Deisler en Bulgaria (1973–1986)” [From ‘Ideological Conceptualism’ to ‘Socialist Conceptualism.’ The Years of Exile of the Chilean Poet and Artist Guillermo Deisler in Bulgaria], MODOS—Revista de História da Arte. University of Campinas 4, no. 1 (January 2020): 141, last accessed 12 September 2020.

[8] Katarzyna Cytlak, Unpublished interview with Laura Coll, Guillermo Deisler’s widow, Santiago de Chile, 30 July 2018.

[9] Katarzyna Cytlak, Unpublished interview with Horacio Zabala, op. cit.

[10] María José Herrera and Mariana Marchesi, “Arte de sistemas: el CAYC y el proyecto de un nuevo arte regional” [Systems Art: CAYC and the Project of a New Regional Art], in Arte de sistemas. El CAYC y el proyecto de un nuevo arte regional (Buenos Aires: Fundación Osde, 2013), 5–9.

[11] Katarzyna Cytlak, Unpublished interview with Graciela Taquini, Buenos Aires, 24 May 2017. Some documents and publications were deposited by Glusberg in the public library of the Museo National de Bellas Artes [the National Museum of the Fine Arts] in Buenos Aires during the time he directed that institution, between 1994 and 2003. A set of the CAYC’s yellow pages was given by Glusberg himself to the artist Juan Carlos Romero.

[12] Fernardo Davis, “El Archivo Clemente Padín,” Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía,  last accessed 15 September 2020.

[13] Centro de Arte Experimental Vigo (CAEV), last accessed 15 September 2020.

[14] “Historia y organización” [History and Organisation], Archivo Guillermo Deisler. Sitio official del artista visual chileno Guillermo Deisler (1940–1995) [Guillermo Deisler Archive. Official Site of Chilean Visual Artist Guillermo Deisler (1940–1995)], guillermodeisler.cl, last accessed 19 September 2020

[15] Wenke Adam and Soledad Pozo, “Organización del Archivo Deisler. Desarrollo metodológico y tareas en curso” [Organisation of the Deisler Archive. Methodological Development and Ongoing Tasks], in Archivo Guillermo Deisler. Textos e imágenes en acción [Guillermo Deisler Archive. Texts and Images in Action], ed. Mariana Deisler, Paulina Varas, and Francisca García (Santiago de Chile: Ocho Libros Editores, 2014), 152–161.

[16] Ibid., 152.

[17] “Archivos,” Red Conceptualismos del Sur (RedCSur), accessed 20 September 2020.

[18] “Acerca de Archivos en Uso” [About Archivos en Uso],  accessed 19 September 2020.

[19] Cristiana Tejo, op. cit.

[20] Ibid.

[21] “Acerca de Archivos en Uso.”

[22] Jean-Paul Sartre, La Nausée [Nausea] (Paris: Gallimard, 1938).

[23] Jacques Derrida, Mal d’archive: une impression freudienne [Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression] (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1995).

“The Marginal Codices of Mamablanca” and Graciela Gutiérrez Marx’s Inmost Art

G Henar Rivière

1. Graciela Gutiérrez Marx and collaborators, “Grupo de Familia. Reconstrucción del mito—Los códices marginales de Mamablanca” [Family group. Reconstruction of the myth—The marginal co-dices of Mamablanca]. 138 original postcards inserted in partitioned plastic sleeves, 1980. Courtesy of Archivo Lafuente

“I must confess that I didn’t think the topic would hold much interest. It seemed too ordinary for some and irksome for others.” Even so, the Argentine artist Graciela Gutiérrez Marx decided to launch her project because her primary aim was to foster a “get-together at a distance” among the participants. The idea was simple: friends, family members, acquaintances, and acquaintances of acquaintances received, either by hand or in their mail box, a letter inviting them “to fill out the attached postcard with the images/ideas suggested by the topic.” They had to return their responses by March 19, 1980. On that date Mamablanca turned 75 years old and, to celebrate it, all the postcards received were shown in a home exhibition within a “white archive-box.” There, “uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces and family friends” of Mamablanca’s had the chance to handle the postcards and mix them up, altering those which invited such treatment (fig. 2), and creating others with their own images and ideas on the matter.[1]

2. Robin Cozier, postcard sent from Sunderland (England) to Mamablanca, received on February 18, 1980. Courtesy of Archivo Lafuente

The topic in question was at the very heart of the event. It was about family, a core element of our societies, whose burden falls on women due to the role traditionally assigned to them as mothers and spouses. Gutiérrez Marx conceived of it from within: Mamablanca was the name used at home for her mother, Blanca Marx. The artist acknowledges her as “the only direct support of this project,” in so much as she was the pilar of the Marx family thanks to her tireless daily labours. Taking such a personal approach, Gutiérrez Marx interrogated herself more than anyone else, aware of the internal contradictions which arose from this “lonely question [about family] shaped by all the spurious components of a bourgeois education, which I accept and recognise.”[2]

To her surprise, her lonely question resonated widely on departing La Plata in 200 missives destined for the rest of the world. Apparently, it was neither too ordinary for some, nor too irksome for others, as she had feared, but rather, touched a common nerve among many, mobilising 138 respondents. Those belonging to the mail art international network,[3] as well as those associated with Mamablanca by bonds of affection, sent postcards that comprise a pluralistic universe of visions of the family, where the particular contradictions of each collide at times, while being in tune with or complementary to each other at other times.

3. Gutiérrez Marx, “Arte íntimo” [Inmost Art]. Card, 1979. Courtesy of Archivo Lafuente

The present article deals with this project as a paradigmatic example of Graciela Gutiérrez Marx’s approach to art and life. Initially entitled Grupo de familia. Reconstrucción de un mito/Family Group. Assembling a Myth, it later went on to be called Los códices marginales de Mamablanca/The Marginal Codices of Mamablanca—a number of names which reflects the variety of forms it took on in the different stages of its realisation between 1980 and 1981.[4] Below, I offer an analysis and contextualisation of the great procedural, semantic, and relational diversity of this work in progress, which will immerse us in Gutiérrez Marx’s ethical and aesthetic universe. The guide to this immersion is provided by the artist’s theoretical thinking, which revolved around the concept of arte íntimo, translated by her into English as inmost art. With this term, Gutiérrez Marx literally stamped her projects (fig. 3), and articulated a conception of mail art which we shall revisit in order to gain a deeper understanding of this international phenomenon, which reached its zenith in the 1970s and 80s. Family Group constitutes a prime example of the decentralisation of the artistic circles operated by the mail artists’ network as a result of their desire to create an alternative to the ethnocentrism of the official art system. What is more, it offers a revealing insight into the notion of art as process which, opposing the traditional notion of art as object, entails the dissolution of the hierarchies between art, document and archive, making them into interchangeable concepts.

Family Group is part of a series of Inmost Tributes that the artist from La Plata began to carry out in 1978. That year, her fellow countryman Edgardo Antonio Vigo celebrated his fiftieth birthday. Vigo was a versatile artist and pioneer of mail art with whom Gutiérrez Marx had given life to a creative fusion under the name G.E. Marx Vigo. In honour of his birthday, Gutiérrez Marx wrote her “friends at a distance” to invite them to participate in what would be Inmost Tribute nr. 1. As was often the case in mail art projects, the envelope sent to the participants contained the text of the invitation and a sheet of paper which they could act on “with complete freedom” before resending it as a gift for Vigo. On this occasion, the artist included a theoretical text as well, which captured the “spirit” of the entire series thus inaugurated.[5]

The document “Inmost Art -First Draft-” is dedicated to “my colleague Edgardo A. Vigo, who teaches me, with his continuous example, the practice of modesty.” This latter quality is one of the two core ideas that lay the foundations of this proposal “for a Theory of the Intimacy of Art.[6] The other core idea has to do with a key notion in the praxis and thought of Vigo, Marx Vigo and Gutiérrez Marx at once: marginalisation.[7] Rooted in modesty, marginalisation constitutes for Gutiérrez Marx an ethical and strategic stance aimed at opposing resistance in a world under siege at every level: institutionally, geopolitically and existentially. An analysis of the institutional critique developed by the artist leads to the existential and geopolitical dimensions of her theory and practice of inmost art.

The institutional dimension is defined in Gutiérrez Marx’s thinking as a coercive framework, which manifests itself in all its might in the official art system as well as in the mass media. Both respond to economic interests which have emptied art of its sense and communication of any kind of dialogue. The first has been reduced to “the art show,” banally legitimated by pseudo-values such as “success and fame.” As to the second, “the natural channels” of “interpersonal communication” have been distorted by the imposition of a one-way communication system of closed messages that do not allow a response.[8] Against this backdrop, modesty becomes a necessary virtue for all artists who seek to escape from the tantalising net of art as spectacle. Marginalisation, for its part, constitutes an alternative space from which communication channels—those truly deserving of this name—can be opened; i.e., meeting places where there is room for the other’s voice too.

This is precisely what mail art as a practice is about: the creation of these channels and meeting spaces. Mass media’s high-speed bombardment dooms the spectator to passively devour a barrage of statements that s/he hardly has time to digest. As a counterpoint, mail art fosters slow communication based on listening; communication which incorporates the waiting time implicit in mail delivery, and whose messages are invitations as open-ended as a blank sheet of paper to be filled out by the receiver—who is, in this way, turned into an active sender. It can therefore be stated that, when Gutiérrez Marx proposes that her recipients “complete the enclosed postcard with the images/ideas” that the subject of the family evokes, what she is doing, above all else, is opening a listening space. To put it in her own words, she is “radiating the silence” necessary for genuine communication.[9] Moreover, it must be recalled that she welcomed contradictions: those which she knows from experience can be awoken in every individual and those which she supposes will arise from the “accidental meeting”[10] of the responses from two disparate groups of recipients (members of the mail art network and Mamablanca’s friends and family members). Everything has its place in the “silence of communication.”[11] Family Group embraces the complexity of the real and draws on it to cement a profound sense of community. This is not based on herd identification with facile, unambiguous slogans, but rather, it emerges from “a work bound to the realities of each and every one of the participants.”[12]

In this sense, Family Group entails a meaningful advance with regard to the tribute to Vigo. It is true that, as with the latter, it has its pretext in a birthday celebration, but there are two key differences: in the first place, Mamablanca does not belong to the mail art network and, in the second place, she functions as a symbol of something which transcends her individuality, namely: the “myth of the woman who founds all the facts of the family.[13] Consequently, this mail art event takes into account a much broader spectrum of realities in two ways. On the one hand, it incorporates those closest to Mamablanca, an intergenerational grouping of individuals from different cultural backgrounds and world views, and the mail artists, a group geographically spread out but more adjacent age-wise and in terms of their artistic language and their calling to create an alternative culture. On the other hand, it raises a universal subject of profound depth: it is no longer one of those mail art games designed to inspire witty responses, but rather, it is a question which appeals to the social dimension through each participant’s intimacy.

To get an idea of the sociocultural richness of this project, one only has to think of how it brings together proposals from such diverse latitudes as Latin America (Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil), eastern Europe (the former German Democratic Republic, Poland and the former Yugoslavia), western Europe (the UK, the former Federal Republic of Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Denmark), and the United States. The Family Group which results from this gathering fuses and confuses touching photographs of Mamablanca and drawings by her grandchildren with montages, making political and economic allusions as well as dystopian visions of the family (figs. 4-5). The words of gratitude from former primary school students to their “Ms. Blanca,” and the anecdotes from her youth recollected by her friends, alternate with enigmatic portraits of faceless groups and symbolic visualisations of family relationships (fig. 6). Among the regular members of the mail art network, there were those who wrote their postcards in the conceptual and performative language typical of their artistic practice (fig. 7), while others, battered by their loved ones’ illness or death, resorted to a genre as traditional as the epistle to express their feelings (such was for example the case of Spanish conceptual artist Isidoro Valcárcel Medina). As far as the idea of the family is concerned, this project probably reflects as many nuances as the number of participants involved. On one end, we find, for instance, praise for the role of women in holding the family together, as is cemented in the prototypical vision of the female/male binary:

“To Blanca in her day: in your home, Raúl [Blanca’s spouse] was the head of the family, but you are the heart of humanity, he was reason, you feeling, he strength, you grace, adornment, consolation and a magnet for all hearts.”[14]

On the other end, there are postcards which suggest different family models where the ties are not by blood, thus making the feminine presence no longer necessary (like the proposal by Belgian artist Johan van Geluwe). As a final example, there were those who confessed to Gutiérrez Marx that her ideas “scare me a bit because I feel a bit removed from them,”[15] and those who, to the contrary, were more extreme than her, asserting that the family is an “old institution already exhausted and in need of radical change.” (fig. 8)

What are the ideas that unite this diverse array of private cosmologies? The answer to this question will take us from the level of institutional critique to the existential dimension of this project. In the text sent to the participants in Family Group Gutiérrez Marx tackles the subject of the family question through the same anti-institutional critical lens that her theory of the intimacy of art is articulated through. She starts with the notion that the concept of the family is a “myth,” i.e. a work of poetic fiction which embodies a universal aspect of the human condition and carries out the essential function of giving “direction and unity” to a certain form of social organisation. According to her analysis, a striking breakdown is evident in our societies, since the myths which dominate them, particularly that of the family, have been emptied of content: official culture and the mass media have “objectified” them and reduced them to the status of “fetishes”, banal slogans which serve “as weapons of dominance and even destruction.”[16]

In light of this diagnosis, she aims to “reconstruct” the myth of the family, that is, give it back to the people so that they can imbue it with new meaning. Only in this way can it once again play a relevant role in real life.[17] That is why, upon receiving the replies, she scrupulously avoided any involvement, by herself or by third-parties, which could compromise the uniqueness and truth of each one: chance was the only method applied to arrange them, and she abstained from inviting “critics and specialists” who would take them as an object of study for “possible theories, analyses and conclusions.” In order to be reborn, the myth of the family had to do so organically, without expert pruners lying in wait; it had to sprout from within, from its own “poetic remains,” still latent in the “minor daily work—almost ‘vulgar’—” of the common people.[18] The intimacy of Family Group does not, thus, only dwell in the proposed subject, but also in its methodology, inspired by a germinal sense that underlies the general approach to the project as well as to each and every point in its realisation.

The 75th birthday tribute to Mamablanca situated the reproductive work of women, which had been rendered invisible secularly by structures of economic domination, at the heart of inmost art.[19] It has already been noted that Mamablanca was acknowledged by Gutiérrez Marx as the “only support” of her project, who “in her quotidian modesty as an unknown domestic star […] feeds the poetic universe of mankind” by the action of “giving birth.”[20] This exaltation of pregnancy was extended to a second event where, in order to celebrate Blanca Marx’s next birthday, the artist proposed sending gifts, which would be gathered together and buried inside a wooden box. This package made up Mamablanca’s Treasure and its burial emulated not a funeral ritual but the planting of a crop: fertilising the soil and waiting “until the date & day when life will blossom again.”[21] Mamablanca’s treasure-box is reminiscent of that other white archive-box in which the postcards received the previous year were deposited and then exhibited in an “inmost-show” held in her home.[22] Both vessels evoke the uterus, the most intimate of spaces, where the new life gestates in silence.

9. Gutiérrez Marx, “Los códices marginales de Mamablanca” [The Marginal Codices of Mamablan-ca]. La Plata: artist’s edition [1981]. Courtesy of Archivo Lafuente

Gestation as an existential metaphor was extended to the project’s last phase when the Family Group postcards gave way to The Marginal Codices of Mamablanca. Initially conceived as a Family Album, The Marginal Codices is an “event-book of poetry in action” which Gutiérrez Marx prepared and then gave a copy of to each participant.[23] It was made up of a simple cardboard box with xeroxed reproductions of the 138 cards and a list with the names and addresses of its senders.[24] (fig. 9) With its publication, the Con-fusion Editions were inaugurated, which the artist would continue producing in the coming years in a wide variety of formats. The idea common to all of them is fertilisation, i.e., the conception of new identities, new worlds made of paper out of the union and “comm-union,” the fusion and “con-fusion” of collective contents. Gutiérrez Marx sowed them either by hand or machine together with found materials belonging to the domestic sphere, such as “pieces of writing and drawings found on the streets,” “handwritten cooking recipes,” and “colourful rags” among many others. In this way, the Con-fusion Editions update and give “a same-other value to the tasks traditionally assigned to women, which upon losing their sense of usefulness, are reborn as alphabets of quotidian script without translation.”[25]

When The Marginal Codices of Mamablanca concluded, the collective poetic action, which the entire project had consisted of, came to an end as well. Gutiérrez Marx then sheathed the postcards in eight partitioned plastic sleeves, each one bearing a cardboard sign with the dual Spanish-language title of the project inscribed on it. (fig. 1) This device facilitates the storage, preservation, and cataloguing of the material as well as its legibility and visibility: folded, the sleeves can be read like a mail art magazine in eight issues, and if they are spread out next to each other, they can be shown like a work in an exhibition space.[26] Its striking display in the white cube of an art institution, combined with the postcards’ original character, confers it the aura of a unique artwork typical of the traditional notion of art as object. That is why it is important to insist on the procedural nature of this project and to point out that, once it ended, they considered the possibility of “destroying our archive” (i.e., the collection of postcards), in what would have been a gesture of radical coherence.[27] Fortunately, the artist opted to preserve it, creating this multifunctional device where art, document, and archive are one and the same.

10. Gutiérrez Marx, “Mamablanca’s Underground Nest.” Photocopy (with a handwritten letter to Ulises Carrión composed on the back), 1891. Courtesy of Archivo Lafuente

To recap, in the theory and practice of inmost art, the notion of art as a process is identified with gestation, the process par excellence in nature and human life. The projects initiated by Gutiérrez Marx are fertile meeting spaces that bear multitudinous fruits on paper, collective and marginal offspring disseminated through the alternative circuits of the mail art networks. The fusion of art and life effectuated in this manner responds to a real and concrete need for survival in the Argentine Republic during the civilian-military dictatorship (1976–1983) and its infamous state terrorism.  As the artist wrote to Ulises Carrión during those years:

“Here and now the prison experience is getting tougher and tougher, and resisting is a silent everyday practice which delivers us closer and closer to madness: a madness too lucid to end up committed.”[28]

In this context, creating other possible worlds seemed as necessary to her as breathing. Yet she had to create them while circumventing the danger of being discovered by the authorities if she was not to end up elongating the list of detainees made to disappear by the regime. The intimacy of Gutiérrez Marx’s art is thus also a strategy of secrecy, a nest tucked away where life germinates despite the siege of “the beasts” and their “vile pleasure in killing” (fig. 10). As an image of the myth of woman, Mamablanca is also a personification of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, whose struggle to recover the disappeared alive is symbolised by a headscarf, white in colour, like Blanca Marx’s name (“blanco/a” means white in Spanish) and her white archive-box. The veiled subject of The Marginal Codices of Mamablanca is thus the denunciation of the then current state of Argentine politics. The tragedy of a country peripheral to the international geopolitical order takes centre stage in a project with global reach, turning La Plata into a powerful node in the international mail art network. In conclusion, Gutiérrez Marx’s inmost art poetically and marginally alters the status quo, shining a light on those who were relegated to the shadows: women and the disappeared. In this way, the underground literally carries out its clandestine work of fertilising the land and sowing hope for a better future.

Henar Rivière is Teaching and Research staff at Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and Research and Project Manager at Archivo Lafuente, Santander (Spain). She holds a Ph.D. in Art History and specialises in artist’s networks (Fluxus and Mail Art), and new artistic practices and hybrid media from the end of the 1950s onwards, especially focusing on performance, sound art and experimental writing. She has been awarded postdoctoral and postgraduate scholarships and contracts at the Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles, USA), the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha (Spain), and the Freie Universität Berlin (DAAD), among others. She has curated exhibitions such as FLUXUS ABC at Galerie Krinzinger (Vienna, 2019–2020) and TLALAATALA: José Luis Castillejo and Modern Writing (MUSAC, León & CAAC, Sevilla, Spain, 2018), and was co-curator of ‘The lunatics are on the loose…’ EUROPEAN FLUXUS FESTIVALS 1962–1977 (Akademie der Künste, Berlin; Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen; MOCAK, Krakow; Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; National Gallery, Prague).

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, and with the exception of the titles, the quotations attributed to Gutiérrez Marx in this text are my own translations from the original Spanish. Many translations rendered by the artist herself exist and have, of course, been taken into account as well. Gutiérrez Marx conceived her projects in Spanish, her native language, and then translated them into English, the lingua franca of the mail art network. Her translations are not literal, and often the Spanish and English versions are significantly different and autonomous from each other. The Spanish version usually expresses her thinking in a clearer and more precise way. That is why I have opted to work with this variant and render my own translations. As such, what is sacrificed for the sake of academic rigour is the “experience of the foreign,” which she championed as a characteristic feature of the English-language texts of those mail artists who, like her, were not native speakers of the “hegemonic language” and who consciously adapted it “to the structural particularities of their mother tongues, neutralising from the onset its potentially invasive effect.” Graciela Gutiérrez Marx, Artecorreo. Artistas invisibles en la red postal (Buenos Aires: Luna Verde, 2010), 22. For quotations from the first paragraph: Graciela Gutiérrez Marx, “Report on the project,” in Los códices marginales de Mamablanca [The Marginal Codices of Mamablanca], ed. Graciela Gutiérrez Marx (La Plata: the artist’s edition, 1981), 1–4; and Graciela Gutiérrez Marx, “Grupo de familia: Reconstrucción del mito” [“Family Group. Assembling a Myth”], in Los códices marginales de Mamablanca [The Marginal Codices of Mamablanca], ed. Graciela Gutiérrez Marx (La Plata: the artist’s edition, 1981).

[2] Gutiérrez Marx, “Report on the project,” 1–3.

[3] The use of the lower case for the term mail art in this article is in line with the aesthetic approach of the artist. Cf.: Vittore Baroni, “La milagrosa pesca del mail art,” in Artecorreo. Artistas invisibles en la red postal, ed. Graciela Gutiérrez Marx (Buenos Aires: Luna Verde, 2010).

[4] In her essay on mail art from 2010, Gutiérrez Marx employs The Marginal Codices of Mamablanca as the main title, and Family Group. Assembling a Myth as a subtitle. However, historically, The Marginal Codices of Mamablanca did not appear until the second developmental stage of this work in progress. Thus, in this article Family Group is used first, and The Marginal Codices of Mamablanca is not mentioned until reaching the part in the project during which this term was coined, thereby maintaining rigour in terms of chronology and format. Cf.: Gutiérrez Marx, Artecorreo, 183.

[5] Graciela Gutiérrez Marx, Homenaje Intimo n.º1, invitation and envelope addressed to Ulises Carrión, 22 November 1978 (Archivo Lafuente, Ulises Carrión Papers, Correspondence of Edgardo A. Vigo).

[6] [Emphasis in original]. Graciela Gutiérrez Marx, “Arte íntimo -Primer borrador-” (1978), 2 pp. (p. 1) (Archivo Lafuente, Ulises Carrión Papers, Correspondence of Graciela Gutiérrez Marx).

[7] On the question of marginalisation in the works of Edgardo A. Vigo, see: Marcela Navarrete, “Lo marginal como categoría estético-política. Las producciones de arte correo en los 70 y 80”, in Órbita Vigo. Trayectorias y proyecciones, ed. Florencia Mendoza (La Plata: Papel Cosido, 2019), 97–107.

[8] It must be remembered that the Internet and social media were not in use yet. The question of to what extent social media allow for real dialogue remains outside the scope of this article. For quotes: [emphasis in original]. Gutiérrez Marx, “Arte íntimo,” 1–2. In Gutiérrez Marx’s observations on the media there are echoes of Hervé Fischer’s reflections; he in turn cites Jean Baudrillard. Cf.: Hervé Fischer, “Diffusions de masse et communications marginales,” in Art et Communication Marginale. Tampons d’Artistes, ed. Hervé Fischer (Paris: Balland, 1974), 5–6.

[9] [Emphasis in original]. Gutiérrez Marx, “Arte íntimo” (1978), 2.

[10] Gutiérrez Marx, “Grupo de familia.”

[11] Gutiérrez Marx, “Arte íntimo,” 2.

[12] [Emphasis in original]. Gutiérrez Marx, “Report,” 3.

[13][Emphasis in original], Ibid., 2

[14] Dora Maffei de Cirese, postcard sent from La Plata to Mamablanca, received on 17 March 1980.

[15] María Teresa Tellechea de Cerruti, postcard sent from La Plata to Mamablanca, received on 18 March 1980.

[16] Gutiérrez Marx, “Grupo de familia.”

[17] In the English-language version of the subtitle Family Group, Assembling a Myth, the important nuance of the notion of “reconstruction,” found in the Spanish Reconstrucción de un mito, is lost. For this reason, I provide my own translation for the caption in fig. 1, where the artist only used the Spanish title.

[18] Gutiérrez Marx quoted in, respectively: Gutiérrez Marx, “Report,” 2–3; Gutiérrez Marx, “Grupo de familia,” and Gutiérrez Marx, “Arte íntimo,” 2.

[19] On the devaluation of reproductive work in the face of production in the capitalist economy, see: Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch. Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (New York: Autonomedia, 2014).

[20] Gutiérrez Marx, “Report,” 2.

[21] Original in English. Graciela Gutiérrez Marx, [Mamablanca’s Treasure], printed, 1982 (Archivo Lafuente, Ulises Carrión Papers, Correspondence of Graciela Gutiérrez Marx).

[22] Gutiérrez Marx, “Grupo de familia.”

[23] Gutiérrez Marx, Artecorreo, 189.

[24] It includes, moreover, the Spanish- and English-language versions of the original invitation and the artist’s subsequent report, which is cited throughout this article.

[25] Gutiérrez Marx, Artecorreo, 191.

[26] It was most recently shown at the exhibition Radical Women: Latin American Art, 19601985, curated by Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta, accessed November 8, 2020.

[27] Quote from: Martin Eckmeyer, “To my astonishment”, in Los códices marginales de Mamablanca [The Marginal Codices of Mamablanca], ed. Graciela Gutiérrez Marx (La Plata: the artist’s edition, 1981).

[28] [Emphasis in original]. Handwritten letter from January 2, 1980 (Archivo Lafuente, Ulises Carrión Papers, Correspondence of Graciela Gutiérrez Marx).

Unearthing Secrets as Practical Knowledge. On Chilean Women Artists Who Kept Piercing Memories

H Paulina E. Varas

In memory of Lotty Rosenfeld (1943–2020)

It is known that burying a box or storing it where no one will find it is a way of preserving a secret. Hiding something as a way of preserving it betrays urgency. In situations where people are persecuted, in danger, or foresee an adverse situation, they often have to hide something unexpectedly and decide to put a box in inaccessible places, in places where no one can sense its presence and which, over time, might be forgotten and the traces of its location be difficult to find. But over time there is always someone who has an insight into that which was stored, who unearths that box and opens it.

Certain archives can be used to reactivate histories and to recount those that were unknown, and which may be many, i.e., not just one official or true history but several assemblages of experiences that are lived through or imagined. In contexts of political and social repression, such archives enhance multiple memories that are vital in reviewing forms of resistance by groups not linked to institutions. This is possible, to a great extent, due to alternative and autonomous experiences of producing and preserving out of urgency archives that challenge conventional forms of organisation. I will be referring to the experiences of two Chilean women artists who kept archives in their homes, archives that have played a significant role in revisiting our histories of resistance to the military dictatorship in Chile, making ideas of keeping, caring for, preserving, expanding, and protecting more polyphonic; and sharing materialities that are rhizomatically connected to present-day struggles.

The archives kept by women artists are manifestations of resistance against the patriarchal violence of their very own contexts and, at the same time, a way of confronting the global misogyny that has affected the works of women artists throughout modern history. Viewing the failure to mention women’s artistic practices in the histories of official art[1] as a form of contempt has been the object of study of female historians since the 1970s. Griselda Pollock[2] and Linda Nochlin,[3] for instance, were committed to revealing that works never mentioned or referred to in the great books recording the history of patriarchal art were omissions, uncreditings and memory lapses. I would also add to the present situation the need to focus on the patriarchal and colonialist views of these histories in order to pluralise critical approaches to artistic productions and their archives. Focusing on Chile, I want to address the impulses that made Chilean artists Luz Donoso and Lotty Rosenfeld store documentary records in their homes, which today are vital if we are to engage with the global histories of conflicts and resistances in political and activist art.

Returning to an archive involves a series of technical and subjective movements. To those who review what was preserved by some other person, the initial impulses of the archivists are not unfamiliar. And above all, dealing with documentary records linked to repressive socio-political moments implies a great deal of complexity because this task involves a certain level of resistance to oblivion, a form of narrative that must be carried out differently. Focusing on the culture around queer trauma and the broad range of feelings it involves, Ann Cvetkovich explains how narratives and archives, along with the public and private dimensions that are inherent in them, need to be re-framed in order to address histories and memories that have been removed from social life.[4] To make an archive public is to confront a social trauma as part of a public culture. As Cvetkovich points out, an “affect, including the affects associated with trauma, serves as the foundation for the formation of public cultures. This argument entails a reconsideration of conventional distinctions between political and emotional life as well as between political and therapeutic cultures.” The author proposes to expand the category of the therapeutic beyond the limited and medicalised confines between a clinical professional and a client, and thus posits that emotional life can be seen to pervade public life as well. These movements undoubtedly involve a risk at the time of making an experience public, but can also involve danger during the act of preserving.

If one looks, for instance, at the documentary records kept by some women artists during the repressive years of the Chilean military dictatorship in the 1980s, one becomes aware of the numerous kinds of feelings they contain: from a memory about the political project it entailed to the memory of a collective moment, from the feeling specific to participation to the fondness for a certain object or situation, etc. By connecting this diversity of affections contained within the archives with our present history, they gain a polysemic background and allow stories to be told from there. Hence there is not just one account of this experience but a multiplicity of narratives. All this puts pressure on memory, and it effects our present in such a complex manner that it must continue to be studied. In the years that I have spent researching dictatorial contexts and forms of resistance by looking at the documentary records and oral histories of their protagonists, I have encountered many different kinds of approaches and ways of remembering. For instance, I remember interviewing an architect who, as a young man in 1972, had been involved in the construction of the iconic building that housed the Third United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD III) during the administration of Salvador Allende. The architect was still living in the country where he had taken refuge after his political exile. Once I had the chance to meet him, however, he claimed not to remember anything. I believe we must continue to investigate these interstices of memory and social and subjective traumas in order to contribute in a more complex way to our public cultures. The relationship between memory and oblivion has been addressed through critical thinking in Chile with a special focus on the post-dictatorial period. As cultural critic Nelly Richard has pointed out, “to practice memory is to make the symbolism of remembrance vibrate in its full critical potential for the reconstruction and deconstruction of ongoing narratives.”[5] For Nelly Richard, the aim is to prevent history from disappearing into the logic of the document or the monument by keeping the relationship between the past and the present open and impeding time from becoming a static character, especially burdened by the weight of official commemorations. In the case of Chile, the post-dictatorial transition to democracy was full of neutralising consensus among the heterogeneous forces of the anti-dictatorial resistance. Those were the agreements of the political parties of the left or centre-left that were made for the organisation of power during the transition (which had been dissolved during the dictatorial period) where social and political organisations other to those holding influence now had played a leading role. In the cultural sphere, in which the UNAC (1976–1983) and the Coordinador Cultural (1983–1985) stand out, it can be noted that in the democratic period that followed hardly any cultural agent linked to these anti-dictatorial bodies held a position of power that sought to forget or remove traces of the recent past and chose not to redress the atrocities of state terrorism.

Practical Knowledge
The archives that certain artists have kept in their private homes reveal forms of care that must be considered, for they differ from the archives that are preserved in institutional spaces. The apparent precariousness and simplicity of conservation techniques are often due to a very powerful subjective impulse, a desire to preserve out of urgency. In this case, the aim is to coexist with documentary records and include them in the territory of the domestic, that is, in everyday life. To find a suitable place that will allow daily life to keep running while being cautious of “foreign” bodies. These carefully preserved archives—which are sometimes kept in small cardboard boxes and separated by silk paper sheets, in mail envelopes, or in improvised plastic bags—tell us stories. I was interested in entering into a dialogue with the impulses that led Luz Donoso and Lotty Rosenfeld to keep these memories as I could see that it was not only about history but also about the intertwining of those memories. Both artists kept at home documentary records of their works but also of a whole collective process of resistance to the dictatorship[6] that was becoming tightly tied into life at a time when life itself was endangered by neoliberal fascism in Chile in the 1980s. The motivation which, at certain times and in certain social contexts, leads someone from a community to preserve the documentary records of a collective operation surely has a specific name in some cultures that doesn’t refer to only one gender or individual with a particular expertise, but rather to those who had the courage and the opportunity to preserve documents and even put themselves at risk by keeping these documents at home during repressive regimes. As Luz Donoso stated, for instance, “the dictatorship took over our lives and there was no other space for us, we had to find another language, we needed to fight, to try to engage ourselves in some form of social reality.”[7] Today we can reconstruct certain trajectories, fragile memories can testify alongside the documents and we can travel through the seas and the mental fogs of our collective memory. We know that memories often produce a series of affections, yet this is thanks to those documents that allow us to combine stories of courage in which daily heroism, sensitive resistance, and nano-politics emerge and put the body on an invisible front line, defending life.

Using the practical knowledge that these artists developed while keeping records of political art’s resistance during the dictatorship recognises their value today, not as a nostalgic fetish but as a form of caring that is connected to our current struggles. Those of us who have studied art about the 1960s and 1970s have observed that many narratives have been silenced by a hegemonic history and that numerous archives have remained invisible, dispersed or abandoned. This is accompanied by an intense speculation on the part of the art market which has unfortunately caused invaluable archives from our histories of emancipation to be sold to private collectors from the Global North, leaving us without access to tell our own histories.

Experiences, and their accompanying thoughts, occur in a specific time and place that should be taken into account. They are particular and site-specific and we can examine them and see their rhizomes. It’s thus important to reflect on the notion of the reactivation of memories, which psychoanalyst and theorist Suely Rolnik has worked on extensively.[8] Not only are material records, or particular bodies, to be valued, but also the affects that are connected underground in the emancipatory processes of the present moment, which impact the present itself. Archives are not only history but a pulsating memory in the present, active and willing. I will present two archive examples that activate these thoughts within the Chilean context: Luz Donoso’s archive and that of Lotty Rosenfeld in the Colectivo Acciones de Arte, or CADA [The Collective of Art Actions].

1. In the case of artist Luz Donoso, I came across most of these questions while visiting the archive she had kept in her home until her death. As my hands got dusty and I joined the mites that old documents tend to attract, I was unsure of where and how to include this artist’s history in the art and politics of Chile as she had not been mentioned in any book. I then devised a way of tackling this under the notion of “archivum delicatum,” a conceptualisation aimed at accessing something indeterminate, such as Luz’s presence in the artistic and political anti-dictatorial scene of the 1980s in Chile, for although I found photographs, documents, catalogues, and statements indicating her strong presence, she was not included in the books[9] on art and politics of the time.

Hardly anyone could remember her or what she did as a committed artist. I asked some of her contemporaries but they seemed to have forgotten. I was struck by this. It was like a secret related to social trauma, since those who were closely involved in the anti-dictatorial struggle carried an intense emotional charge. In short, the “archivum delicatum” consists of assuming that these histories have an effect on us, that they are not aseptic, that they connect with our bodies, with our wounds, traumas, joys, and that, in subjective terms, they speak to us of this collective trauma. Thus, the way one accesses these materials must be determined by a subjective delicacy that takes care both of the critical potential of the materials and the way in which one will transform them into public culture. Our histories and those of the people we recall are involved in this non-aseptic task permeated by affections. Although this task evades positivism, it does involve a technique—that of conserving archives—as well as an animist approach that connects us to the memories of those who kept these remains or ruins. The concept of the “archivum delicatum” emerged from the condition of a female artist who had been obscured by the radical nature of her artistic and political stance. Several people tried to persuade Luz that her work was not worthy and that she should despise it. She worked with ephemeral and precarious materials such as photocopies or paper tape, and occasionally collages or video art, yet she was mainly interested in generating a reaction to the social and political scene: “At the moment I create political art. I work with factual events that I want to underline. I constantly address the case of the Detained-Disappeared. But it is in how this information is delivered and juxtaposed that the boundaries have to be pushed, that we fight for freedom, even against ourselves, and that the breadth and scope of our way of thinking are attained.”[10]

CADA, “No +,” 1983–1988, video stills. Courtesy of RedCsur and Lotty Rosenfeld
CADA, “Rayado No+ on the street,” circa 1983, action on the road to Andes Mountais. Courtesy of RedCsur and Lotty Rosenfeld

Given her radical stance, she often exhibited her works outside traditional art spaces. She carried out art interventions during the demonstrations of the Detained-Disappeared group, during political anti-dictatorial events, or in the street. She was very insistent on the phrase “inside and outside art,” wandering at the limits of disciplines and official spaces. She persevered because she knew that what she was doing would have an echo, and, for me, that echo was in the present, as I am a researcher interested in going beyond the limits that the power-knowledge of the hegemonic intellectual life imposes on us and in becoming aware of how affections influence my intellectual projects. A constant know-how.

2. At the Red Conceptualismos del Sur [RedCSur or the Southern Conceptualisms Network] we have worked on devising an archive policy aimed at sharing experiences from Latin American countries. For instance, we have been concerned with how to create a common ethic, a political stance on archives today. In “For a Common Archive Policy: A Call for a Good Practice Agreement,” a recent text written collectively, we presented our current views on our involvement with archives from different dimensions, as we have developed archives in numerous places and with different institutions.[11] This collective text results from the difficulties and achievements we experience while working with archives. There are several experiences that intersect, as well as several challenges that we can envisage.

In Chile, between 2010 and 2019 RedCSur worked with the archive kept by Lotty Rosenfeld in her home related to Colectivo Acciones de Arte, or CADA [The Collective of Art Actions], of which she was a member. We carried out a conservation process which resulted in the institutionalisation of the archive at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights of Chile and the publication of a book that compiles every stage of this initiative.[12]

This project allowed us to focus on materials that challenged already existing discourses on CADA both in Chile and internationally. Most of the documents had never been seen before as Lotty had stored them away as part of the works’ archival material. The archive contains photographs, written documents, footage of the collective’s actions, exhibition brochures, and international calls for actions, among other documents. CADA plays an important role in the history of art and politics in Latin America, and the actions they carried out between 1979 and 1985 have been exhibited in numerous museums. It was therefore important to focus on this archive because as we were organising and reviewing the material Rosenfeld had saved, we became aware of the possibility of looking at this already “well-known” collective in the history of art from a new perspective. For instance, we observed that many of the actions had been made possible due to the participation of a multitude of people—in addition to the five members who founded CADA in 1979—who felt emotionally and politically “touched” by their artistic anti-dictatorial actions. Furthermore, we also focused on CADA’s “less known” actions and studied how they worked on vital issues of the period such as the notion of “hunger and life” or the continuation of CADA’s work in present-day struggles.

One of the collective actions CADA carried out that resonates with the present is No + [No More]. No + took place in 1983 and consisted in inviting viewers to complete the No + statement with any phrase they desired. The more urgent the phrase was, the more powerful it became. After its emergence in the 1980s, the No + continued to be used during social protests and is still active today. In this case, the archive becomes a common body as its documentary records are resignified by the vital occurrences of the present. Diamela Eltit, one of CADA’s members, stated that she “believed that the CADA Archive contains footprints that also proliferate in other spaces: magazines, pamphlets, among others. That it is a matrix, a device, an artefact.” This is, to think of CADA’s archive as a repository of unfinished times, a reservoir of times and actions that can also be thought of as living forces of past and present struggles and, as Eltit notes, “CADA’s work also has a testimonial nature; in a way it is, following the ideas of Giorgio Agamben, a ‘witness’ to a predatory and voracious period of time.”[13]

Considering that an archive is never complete, its infinite nature speaks of raising awareness of these memories, of an openness towards new documents, of new ways of understanding the meaning of that archive, of exceeding it, of transforming it into an everyday tool. Today we are living under a global pandemic that is affecting the lives of many people not only because of the risk of contracting the virus but also due to the great disease that began a long time ago, which is the patriarchal, colonial, racist, and capitalist system. Hence the question is how to keep on resisting, and what do archives have to do with this task. By resistance I mean being able to breathe and think freely, if only for a moment, which seems almost impossible considering the current bombardment of information. Thus, asking myself what I am doing at this time seems important to me. How do I interact with my surroundings? How do we take care of our common areas in order to manage collective life? Art archives allow other people to tell stories, which, for me, is the most crucial practice that we must preserve; to be able to tell each other multiple stories about the life we live, to breathe the emancipation of our peoples and that of oneself.

Paulina E. Varas is a researcher and professor in Campus Creativo at Universidad Andrés Bello in Chile. She received a PhD in the History and Theory of Art from the Universidad de Barcelona. She is co-coordinator of CRAC Valparaíso, a collaborative non-profit research platform that works in the city of Valparaíso. Since 2007, she has been a member of the RedCSur where she has participated in a number of publications, public presentations, support actions and working groups. Recently she has authored or co-authored the books: Luz Donoso. El arte y la acción en el presente (2018); Archivo CADA. Astucia práctica y potencias de lo común (2019); Forces of art. Perspectives from a Changing World (2020). She has curated or co-curated art exhibitions in different institutional or independent spaces, in relation with political memories, feminism and community process. Currently she develops a research project about transversal genealogies in chilean women artists from 1980s to the present.

[1] There are glaring omissions of women’s artistic practices from the Chilean context. However, although the official history has overlooked women artists’ works, there have been attempts to rectify this and some works have sought to challenge these forms of power through disobedience. As Nelly Richard points out, female artists “rearticulated the socio-critical function of art in a context of extreme repressive violence and ideological censorship.” See: Nelly Richard, Masculino/femenino: practicas de la diferencia y la cultura democrática [Masculine/Feminine: Practices of Difference(s] (Santiago: Francisco Zegers Editor, 1993), 50.

[2] Pollock, Griselda Visión y diferencia. Feminismo, feminidad e historias del arte [Vision and Difference: Feminism, Femininity and the Histories of Art] (Buenos Aires: Fiordo, 2013).

[3] Linda Nochlin, “Por qué no han existido grandes artistas mujeres?” [Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?], in Crítica feminista en la teoría e historia del arte [Feminist Criticism in the Theory and History of Art], ed. Karen Cordero and Inda Sáenz (Mexico: UNAM, 2007).

[4] Ann Cvetkovich, Un archivo de sentimientos. Trauma, sexualidad y Culturas públicas lesbianas [An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures] (Barcelona: Ediciones Bellaterra, 2018).

[5] Nelly Richard, “Presentación” [Introduction], in Políticas y estéticas de la memoria [The Politics and the Aesthetics of Memory] (Santiago de Chile: Cuarto Propio, 2000), 11.

[6] I am referring to the experiences of artists such as the Colectivo Acciones de Arte, CADA [Collective of Art Actions], Hernán Parada, Elías Adasme, Taller de Artes Visuales, TAV [The Visual Arts Workshop], Virginia Errázuriz, Paz Errázuriz, Roser Bru, Agrupación de Plásticos Jóvenes, APJ [The Young Visual Artists Group], Víctor Hugo Codocedo, and Mujeres por la Vida [Women for Life], among many others, who carried out works and actions denouncing dictatorial violence.

[7] Paulina Varas, Luz Donoso: El arte y la acción en el presente [Luz Donoso: Art and Action in the Present] (Santiago: Ocho Libros, 2018), 207.

[8] See: Suely Rolnik, “Desentrañar futuros” [Unraveling Futures], in Conceptualismos del Sur/Sul [Conceptualisms of the South], ed. Ana Longoni and Cristina Freire (São Paulo: Annablume, 2009).

[9] During the extensive bibliographical research which resulted in a book on the work and archive of Luz Donoso it became apparent to me that Luz’s work had not been put into context, for as Nelly Richard noted in this book’s foreword, “although L. Donoso’s work and persona were very dear to me, for some reason it did not seem urgent to focus on her in Margins and Institutions (1986). Perhaps her very reluctance to be included or her unclear authorship in collective works made it difficult for her to be featured in a book that, apparently, required an articulation of her position that was too conclusive.” See: Paulina Varas, op. cit.

[10] Paulina Varas, Luz Donoso: El arte y la acción en el presente, 17.

[11] RedCsur, “For a Common Archive Policy: A Call for a Good Practice Agreement,” 22 December 2019.

[12] Fernanda Carvajal, Paulina Varas, and Jaime Vindel, Archivo CADA. Astucia práctica y potencias de lo común [CADA Archive. Practical Cunning and the Potencies of the Everyday] (Santiago: Ocho libros Editores, 2019).

[13] Diamela Eltit, “The Times in Time,” in Archivo CADA. Astucia práctica y potencias de lo común, 363.



Publisher: Institute of the Present
ISSN   2783–9974
ISSN–L   2783–9974

Editor: Alina Șerban

Assistant editor: Ștefania Ferchedău

Texts: Ivana Bago, Katarzyna Cytlak, Katalin Cseh-Varga, Octavian Eșanu, Henar Rivière, Paulina E. Varas, Tomasz Załuski

Introduction: Alina Șerban & Daniel Grúň

Copy editing: Diana Bularca, Emmet Cooke

Translation from Spanish language: Diana Bularca

Design: Radu Manelici

This online issue is released in conjunction with the Institute of the Present biannual programme IP Regional Meeting, second edition, 2020, conceived under the title Unpaged. How to Revisit History from a Plural Perspective. Cultural project co-funded by the Administration of the National Cultural Fund.

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