Tucumán Arde (Tucuman is burning), in reference to the northern province of Tucumán, gives form to the combination of artistic production and political engagement. This collective endeavor prefigures activist and context-based art practices that would spawn numerous emulators, particularly in the 90’s. Rather than “performing the real” this work aims to expose it. In Buenos Aires, there are the groups 4 para el 2000 and Maraton Marote; in Cordoba, Costuras Urbanas y Las Chicas del Chancho y el Corpiño; in Rosario, En Tramit; in La Plata, Escombros… The appearance, proliferation and vitality of such collectives are explained through contextual factors; they exist only because of the specific circumstances in place at the time.
Several actions by Grupo de Arte Callejero (GAC) et Etcétera are linked to the amnesty granted to former members of the military for crimes committed under the last dictatorship. The practice of “escraches” – public denunciations – begins at this time and is frequently used by theses two collectives, in collaboration with the organization H.I.J.O.S. (Hijos por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio). Founded in 1997 by students at the Prilidiano Pueyrredon National School, the GAC disrupts the vocabulary of the street, modifying urban signage. These are “guerilla semiotics,” to which Etcétera adds street performances employing grotesque costumes, at odds with the gravity of the subjects they treat : acts of torture, the kidnapping of a newborn from a female prisoner, a general and a cleric caught deep in conspiratorial discussion…
The Menem administration’s introduction of ultraliberal policies from 1989 onward, the brutal swing of Argentine society from a holistic to individualistic mindset, and the profound social transformations brought about by the 2001 economic crisis are all interlocking pieces in this new national reality. The current context is the outcome of Argentina’s tumultuous history : a half-century of successive military dictatorships followed by the conversion to a radically liberal economy and the ensuing rise of individualism through to the Kirchner years and the establishment of strong protectionist measures. Other groups form, such as Taller Popular de Serigrafia (TPS) , Arde ! Arte, Colectivo Siempre, Periferia, Urbomaquia, Ejército de Artistas, Por un arte de la Resistencia, Grupo (n) *… This is just a small sample from a long list of groups whose appearances coincided with a new vision of activism through art. After the 19th and 20th December 2001 insurrections and their bloody suppression by the authorities, any art practice exercised by a group became a profoundly political act. Created by Mariela Scafati and Diego Posada, with the help of Magdalena Jitrik, TPS makes collective art production an integral part of the popular movements and social combats of the day. Highly popular from 2000 to 2010, the collective uses the street as their studio. Processes of production are socialized in participative works in an art that dialogues with exploited groups and their concerns.
Taking shape outside the confines of the art world establishment, these collectives reject traditional representational forms and official institutions. Accused of conditioning work and framing its reception in unintelligible language, the institutional space is abandoned for the street. They turn away from figurative description and esthetic preoccupations, focusing exclusively on the participation in and the documentation of reality. Partisans of a realism that places art in the historic present even at the risk of becoming solipsistic, these collectives focus on the dynamic, concrete, contemporary moment. The figure of the artist living on the margins of society is replaced by that of a political being incorporating creative work into various forms of social protest. In this politically charged nation, artworks come into being experientially and contextually rather than autonomously. Political esthetics on the one hand and context-based art on the other; as Paul Ardenne wrote, they “anchor work in the circumstances that dictate social developments, mindful of interweaving production with reality.” (Un art contextuel : Création artistique en milieu urbain, en situation, d’intervention, de participation).
With the advent of a democratic government, extra-academic modes of transmitting knowledge and diffusing work develop and gain legitimacy. The contemporary Argentine scene reflects the long-standing, almost total lack of official support for artistic production. Institutional reluctance to accept new media work forges a united community, adept at exploring alternative paths.
The Clinica de obra embodies this model of informal education. Since it’s founding in the 90’s, it has expanded nationally, bringing young artists together under the guidance of professor-mentors. In the Clinica de obra, the final product is less important than the creative process, in contrast to the Colectivos de artistas that also developed in the absence of institutional teaching but focus on technical skill. Among the numerous organizations of the kind, Jardin Luminoso and Rosa Chancho (Buenos Aires), Cordón Plateado (Rosario), La Baulera (Tucumán) and Estudio 13 (General Roca) are the most emblematic. The Colectivo de artistas acts as an artistic incubator; a space for living and working where various skill sets, generations and heteroclite practices mix and evolve under one roof.
A particularity of the Argentine system is that it is dœsn’t exclusively rely on the marketplace (the North American model) or public institutions (the European model), but emphasizes instead the role of private initiatives. Artists easily open studios and the most well-known support local production, like Guillermo Kuitca and his eponymous grant that ran from 1991 to 2011. Exclusively addressed to emerging artists, this fund gave a number of artists such as Luciana Lamothe, Mauro Guzmán and Carlos Herrera workspace, guidance, and access to the painter’s international network. In reaction to the lack of educational infrastructure, other art world figures founded international artist residencies. The most well know, URRA (directed by artist Melina Berkenwald) and Proyecto ace (founded by artist Alicia Candiani), were created recently on the European model, and target emerging artists.
While the lack of official infrastructure has slowed Argentine art’s recognition on the international market, it has created an emerging scene familiar with alternative production models, nourished intergenerational dialogue and forged a culture of networking born out of group thinking. Artist Maria Olmedo’s career path illustrates the particularities and demands of a system that has evolved parallel to Argentina’s unstable economy. After studying visual art at the National University of Art in Buenos Aires and New York University, graduating with a diploma in marketing, this twenty-something artist built her career through this informal system : participating in Clinicas de obra and “charlas” (discussions) organized by artists in their studios and working for national and foreign galleries - both being integral parts of the Argentine model. Working across mediums, from painting to collage, Maria Olmedo belongs to a young generation of artists that lived through the last major round of turmoil in Argentina. It is a generation that is taking responsibility for developing and spreading Argentine art history while finding a balance between the traditional and the contemporary.
Article published in Code South Way magazine directed by Charlotte Cosson & Emmanuelle Luciani.