Political Exercise and Political Action Through a Network

Interview with Fernanda Carvajal and Mabel Tapia from Red Conceptualismos del Sur

Red Conceptualismos del Sur (RedCSur), established in 2007, is a self-organized, grassroots network of about 50 researchers and artists in Latin America and in parts of North America and Europe. In the last ten years, RedCSur has been breaking ground both in the thematics they work with and the way they carry out their projects.

RedCSur is committed to unearth mostly artists’ archives, and thus artistic-political responses, from the 1960-‘70s-’80s in Latin America, an era of social-political turmoil: to step up against the archive’s endangered material conditions and the layers of oblivion and neutralization that previously defined them. Moreover, while stressing the current political and artistic relevance of these practices, they do so in a way that also counters dominant forms of knowledge production. RedCSur works to create an institutional environment that enables to keep the archives in their original place, rather than moving them to a country of the “center,” for the sake of better preservation. They likewise emphasize and secure the public access and collectivness of these archives by digitalizing and also publishing them on their Archivos en Uso site.1 One of the culminating points of RedCSur’s work was curating the large-scale exhibition Losing the Human Form. A Seismic Image of the 1980s in Latin America, which was presented in 2012 at the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid and then traveled to the Museo de Arte de Lima and Museo de la Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero in Buenos Aires. The exhibition, presenting the years-long research endeavor of RedCSur looked at the period between Pinochet’s coup d’état in 1973 in Chile and the emergence of Zapatismo in 1994 in Mexico, detailing both the history as well as the often radical artistic practices—with works and documents never studied before—responding to these times of vast repression.

RedCSur is also keen on politicizing the way they work, including the use of the concept of the “South,” and they are also at the forefront of taking positions publicly in political matters by writing and publishing declarations on their website. RedCSur, in many ways, is an exercise in self-organization, regionally committed research practices, and the cultivation of political awareness.

In the interview with Mabel Tapia and Fernanda Carvajal, the two current coordinators of RedCSur, we touch upon some of the modus operandi of the network well as some of the issues that arise from these very strategies.

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March in Plaza de Mayo with photo banners, Buenos Aires, circa 1983. Archive of Alfredo Alonso / CeDInCI. Courtesy RedCSur. During March in Plaza de Mayo people carried banners with enlarged photos of missing persons. The sign “El pueblo que olvida no escribe su historia” translates to English as “The people who forget do not write their own history.”

 

Eszter Szakács: How did the idea of the establishing Red Conceptualismos del Sur (RedCSur) emerge?

Mabel Tapia and Fernanda Carvajal: The founding members of the network actually met for the first time in Barcelona at MACBA in 2007, at one of the workshops of the project Vivid Radical Memory: Radical Conceptual Art Revisited: A Social and Political Perspective from the East and the South.  They were, among others, Fernando Davis, Cristina Freire, Ana Longoni, Miguel López, and Emilio Tarazona. These researchers were not necessarily in contact in Latin America before this workshop and they had to realize that it was in Spain that they came together. This problematics necessitated the idea of establishing the network: to connect researches from Latin America in Latin America.

ESz: The Vivid Radical Memory project is also important from our perspective! One of the co-organizers, besides Universidad de Barcelona and Württembergischer Kunstverein, was C³ Center for Culture & Communication Foundation in Budapest led by Hungarian art historian Miklós Peternák. The project overall also featured important Hungarian artists and art historians, as well as the exhibition Subversive Practices, a version of which was also shown in Budapest, at Trafó Gallery in 2009. This was probably the first major public moments where there was an attempt to establish contemporary connections, based on historical similarities, between the “South” and the “East.” It is very intriguing that this project is basically the starting point of (RedCSur)! With “Propositions for a Pan-Peripheral Network,” we are also trying to go back to the historical relations the so-called Second World had with the so-called Third World. While avoiding slipping into false nostalgia and at the same time stressing that these historical relations were part of a socialist regime’s top down propaganda, we would like to see whether it is possible to rejuvenate or reactivate these connections on a grassroots basis.

MT & FC: In the network we have different positions concerning this. Of course there are many things in this past, such as unilateral governments, that need to problematized, but we think we also need to recuperate many aspects of that history. These are of course the links between the East and the South (some of the members have already been working on this, such as Cristina Freire, and we actually want to develop those links) but also, for instance, relationship with minorities. For sure, the reassessment of these memories need to be done in the present. As we said, we have many different points of view inside the network (a big issue, for instance, is Cuba, and it is not the only one) and the challenge for the network is how to work taking this into account.

For us, another important historical experience is the Non-Aligned Movement. It is part of our history, while at the same time it is not part of our history, it has been forgotten. It is something we need to rethink. We see the Non-Aligned Movement as an experience, as an organization of connections, as an articulation from a different, non-hegemonic geopolitical position. We think there is something to review there as a project; it is part of our past that we need to reactualize.  It is also a kind of experience that that we review in order to think of ourselves as a network. For this, we also look at “Internationalisms:” it is also an entry in the Losing the Human Form catalogue. So, we investigate these experiences to try to conceptualize RedCSur, and the second step is how to create alliance with other networks.

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Meeting and workshop of the Vivid Radical Memory project at MACBA in Barcelona in 2007. From right to left: Ana Longoni, Miklós Peternák, Antoni Mercader, Pilar Parcerisas. Source: www.vividradicalmemory.org/

ESz: Going back to Vivid Radical Memory, so, the researches from Latin America realized in Barcelona that that they are doing something similar and that they would need to join forces in Latin America.

MT & FC: Exactly. Especially to create a perspective from Latin America.

ESz: Why is that important?

MT & FC: Because without being in a kind of regionalism, there are some common history and alliance between the countries of Latin America. There are also ways of doing that these people who met in Barcelona wanted to put together. It also connects to Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s concept of the “epistemologies of the South.” Furthermore, it is not only that we talk about Latin America, we have defined a founding declaration with which you have to agree in order to become a member. Thus, for us, a perspective from Latin America is a political perspective. We assume positions in terms of doing and in terms of thinking and these positions should be shared with the people who are part of the network. RedCSur is not a network just to connect people. This network has a political statement.

The perspective from the South is also important in terms of the categories that were given at the moment of the Vivid Radical Memory project—from a Northern point of view—to conceptual art practices in Latin America: one of them was “ideological conceptualism.” Establishing RedCSur was an answer to this kind of categorization as well as a kind of decolonizing exercise. For example, the glossary section of the Losing the Human Form catalogue was also a similar exercise. We need to decolonize ourselves permanently.

ESz: You emphasize in your Founding Declaration and also elsewhere that you use the term “South” not in geographical sense but in a strategic way which delineates rather a modus operandi with the intention of going beyond the established binaries of center and periphery. You also understand the “Latin American stance” to be of a perception rather than a reassertion of a cultural identity. Within this rubric, how do you conceptualize working with institutions in Spain and Portugal? Are Spain and Portugal also South?

MT & FC: Yes, we consider Spain and Portugal South, even if we have the tensions of colonial past. We also find “South” in France or in United States; we can find “South” outside the South. Actually—it is a way of doing and thinking, not a geographical entity. For instance, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía was present in the network from the very beginning. We have a very friendly relationship with the Reina Sofía, and we also have tensions. Each time, with the Reina Sofía, but also with other institutions, we try to define our position in these complex situations and discuss what we produce together. One of the most important things for us is to build multilateral alliances, in a political way, in a financial way, and also in a more expanded way.

A topic that has not yet been addressed in general by the RedCSur, although  many of us aspire to do, is the research and development of artistic practices in the environmental field and as a political and proper approach to the “South.” It is not complaints on environmental issues, but essentially the construction of a form of relationship with our environment that seeks a proper meaning: how to inhabit the land based on the combination  of some scientific principle with the practices of the native peoples that have inhabited and still inhabit the Southern lands. These artistic practices have more to do with an approach that recovers a way of being, in coexistence with that environment. These practices question in itself the existing power structures and how we can still find forms of colonization in the way political structures deal with environmental issues in general.

In one of the transversal projects, on which the network is currently working, called the Giro Gráfico [the Graphic Turn], there are already some lines of research that point in the direction of an approach to the South, also in crossroads with a decolonial perspective. In this project, which will be an exhibition, we examine the graphic production, the visual materials of various social movements and struggles connected to, for instance, rural areas, the relationship between rural and urban centers. We are focusing on different struggles especially, but not only, in Latin America, as well as struggles related to indigenous movements, for instance. By looking into the visual strategies of different movements and also artists who decide to intervene or join struggles, we try to generate a juncture between political movement production and artistic production.

ESz: What decades are you looking at in the project?

MT & FC: Mostly the present. Our research starts in the mid-1990s up until now, with some references to the past.

In a way, this project deals with complex areas of the current neoliberal advance, such as the impossibility of getting out from extractive economies, how the neoliberal project is implicated in environmental issues, and how racism is also figured in all of this. We are analyzing different conflicts, such as the indigenous Mapuche community’s struggle, in the Southern parts of Chile and Argentina. Most recently, there was the case of  a young man, Santiago Maldonado, an artisan who was not a Mapuche, but was living in the Mapuche community. He took part in a protest that was countered by police force, in a Mapuche area where police was not supposed to enter. Maldonado then disappeared in the course of the confrontation. The government gave many strange explanations of what had happened with Maldonado, and his family started to investigate. There was also a massive visual manifestation by different movements, but also by individuals who put on their own houses a sign with the question: ¿Dónde está Santiago Maldonado? (Where is Santiago Maldonado?) His body was later found.

It is an example of the things that we are working on, when artists, collectives, individuals decided to produce signs and to put them in the public sphere as an answer to an urgent situation and to confront power. It comes out of a particular moment but it is also linked to historical struggles, to the indigenous movement, the many ways of racism, and problems of historical narrations. The many aspects of neoliberalism which are related to that specific thing, the visual strategies used in that very moment, need to be revealed. We will try to give a reflection from our perspective. So, the question is how not to decontextualize, not only the production but also the links with other problematic political issues––which is part of what you see in general in many exhibitions or narratives. It is not easy to show. The disappearance of Santiago Maldonado is connected to a state that does not respect human rights, but it is also linked to extractive economies and of course with the historical relation of the state with our indigenous past and present. We think the important thing is that we need to show the connections between things and not to decontextualize them.

ESz: And the system we are living in is built precisely on decontextualization.

MT: Exactly.

MT & FC: These are problematic knots which we believe is necessary to deepen if we do not want the “South” to become just a name, a kind of  “moniker.” We also see a risk in our approach. Even if we understand the South as a strategy and the determination for different ways of doing and thinking––rather than the geographical place from where it comes––we can also produce a reification of the South in the global world, decontextualized from the way of doing itself.

ESz: Do you see RedCSur as a movement in Latin America? And/or you would also like to communicate it internationally, and connect with others internationally? The majority of your materials are in Spanish or Portuguese: are there any specific reasons for this other than the context being Latin America?

MT & FC: We are not exactly sure whether we see ourselves as a movement. We would of course like to create dialogues with other collectives, and it is also time for this now after 10 years. Yes, most of the materials we have are in Spanish and Portuguese, but we are also working on having our website in English too. It is also always a question, however, whether it is necessary to put energy, money, and time into translation.

MT: Also, what appealed to me when we met at tranzit.hu in Budapest is that we need to put our practices in a dialogue, especially because of the current political situation, internationally. Perhaps we do not know yet how or for what exactly, but what is important is to start talking. This is exactly what happened with the network: it started and then it grew, and of course some problematic aspects of our work, which haven’t been originally anticipated, also emerged. We have participated in the institutionalization processes of archives that brings up various issues. We work with the artists’ archives, we do as much as we can to keep them in their place, but at the same time, we also produce (economic) value that can be sold. In a very paradoxical way, it is part of the critique of capitalism that we produce value that can be recuperated in ways that we do not define or control.

ESz: So, the work that you do, to preserve these archives and their knowledge in Latin America, so that they would not be taken away to Western Europe or North America, also opens up for avenues for the commercial market? How do you counter this?

MT & FC: We try to balance this with the digitalization of the archives (archivosenuso.org is an example of that), to have them open to everybody. Furthermore, in each of the projects, we have a different strategy or answer to this problem. We look for ways to institutionalize the archives in the contexts of their origin, as a strategy  to work for  their “de-privatization” and  to open archives policies to conceive them as “common.” But digitization and the intervention are not the final goal of our work, they are just part of a process the aims to produce knowledge about these archives, through, for example, publications that the network has  made, such as in Desinventario. Esquirlas de Tucumán Arde en el archivo de Graciela Carnevale, Santiago de Chile, Ocholibros, 2015. These perspectives and work do not stop the commodification of archives, but it is a way of multiplying the possibilities and to produce a dispute of meanings around them.

ESz: As you also underline in your declaration, RedCSur can also be conceptualized as a initiative to politically intervene or re-politicize, reactivate the artistic-cultural-political heritage of the 1960s-‘70s-‘80s in Latin America. What are your strategies for (re)politicization? How does this look like in practice?

MT & FC: We have several ways, from micropolitics to intervention into the broader social-political world. We also produce public declarations when something critical happens. For instance, we made a public declaration in 2014 about the situation in Venezuela, in particular about denouncing the manipulation of the international media.  This was one of the most visible instances of our public declarations, as we took a position that did not align with the international consensus—we are still criticized for this, because it was understood as an unconditional support to the Maduro government. However, we were mainly concerned by how the media treated the situation in Venezuela; at that moment the question was how the distribution of visibility and discourses of political conflict in our region works. Some of us are still concerned by these questions.Without denying or overlooking the complexity of the Venezuelan process, the centrality that Venezuela acquires is striking, when we know that it is not the only country in the region where violence and the crisis of democracy are taking place. Mexico,  Brazil, and Paraguay, of very different ways, also speak of urgent situations that cannot be ignored. That’s why we would like to mention another example that  was an amazing process of working and had also many (this time positive) repercussions: our declaration “¡No temer al mundo! Don’t Fear the World! Confront It to Create Other Worlds.” It was on the occasion of   the removal of Dilma Rousseff as president of Brazil. After more than a week working on the text, written by a large group of people, we published it and we also launched an international graphic action campaign  to call for propositions, and we have received more than we could imagine!

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The Action “¡FUERA TEMER! ¡FUERA EL TEMOR!,” Buenos Aires, December 21, 2016. The graphic-visual production of Juan Carlos Romero that launched RedCSur’s call is installed in public space. Courtesy RedCSur

For making declarations and projects, we also had to find a protocol, from proposing, to voting, to carrying it out. That is, besides our public declarations and political action, we also attempt to articulate micropolitics in our ways of working as well. The exhibition Losing the Human Form. A Seismic Image of the 1980s in Latin America was a turning point in the life of the network, in various ways, but also in the sense how we work within the network: we organize ourselves in nodes after this exhibition. We now have a multi-layer organization of three dimensions. There are nowadays 50 people working together, in different parts of Latin America, North America, and Europe; so, we are now organized in four nodes: research, publication, archives, and web.

Losing the Human Form. A Seismic Image of the 1980s in Latin America was large-scale project, with a lot of visibility, which we did not have before, and in which many people took part, with many different ways of thinking. It was difficult to articulate a common field. Also, doing a collective is not something you know how to do from the beginning, you have to learn it, and you need to produce the tools to make it happen.

Another crucial point is that the network is very affective. We have many wonderful meetings, friendships, and we also have many debates. This is also a political position and we consider it part of the work. It produces the possibility to find a common field, which you are sometimes unable to achieve, but which it turn produces desire and that is also very important for the network. We are producing a special field of horizontality, ways of making and working together, and ways of regulating. The questions of the commons and agonistic space is present all the time. Overall, the network is also political exercise and political action.

ESz: What does your job as being coordinators in the network entail? What do you do?

MT & FC: We try to go to every meeting of the nodes and be present in almost all of the project meetings, we also discuss and produce content when it is necessary. Overall, we facilitate communication within the nodes, which is very important. It is difficult to generate information for everyone, and it is crucial how information circulates within the network. We also try to produce a bulletin three times a year where we can find most of the things  that take place (it is an internal tool). Of course we organize and coordinate all the coordination and plenary meetings. Then, there is an administrative dimension, too. The role of the coordinator is at the same time to do all the administrative stuff, to contribute to communication inside the network, to produce transversal points of view and content,  as well as to be a kind of a spokesperson.

ESz:  Do you do the coordination job on a volunteer basis or you get paid for it?

MT & FC: The coordination role is the only one to get paid, delegates are always volunteers. Then, we try to have funding for our different projects, so work as part of the project is paid but it is always a very precarious situation and everyone works more than they get paid.

ESz: Why and how did you decide to join the network?

MT: To get into the network you need to be invited, first of all. I was invited in 2009 by Ana Longoni. The reason why I joined is the same reason why I am staying: it is a way of working politically, and to share this work with others, to try to produce common thinking. There are not many places where you can can do this.

FC: It was also Ana Longoni who invited me in 2009. Being a member of the network is also an opportunity to have a space of collective thinking and the possibility to think and discuss politically–in a space that has a different logic than the Academy.  And I also made great friends. We didn’t know each other with Mabel before, our friendship started by working together.

ESz: What has changed in the network in the last ten year, since its beginning in 2007?

MT & FC: Ten years ago we were in a very different world, the world has changed and the network has changed too. We are organizing a plenary, face-to-face meeting in 2018, and one of the things that we are going to re-discuss is the founding declaration of the network we made 10 years ago. Also, in the beginning, we focused on practices of the 1960s and the 1970s,  and now we are working also with the contemporary context. We also need to reshape the idea of the South and conceptualism, and even the notion of network. We likewise learned a lot about our practice, which is very intriguing. We did not know how to do things that we ended up doing. Now we have the know-how to continue and we also need to change the expectations.

ESz: How do you see the future? What do you wish for the network?

MT & FC: We would like to see the network to be more radical and taking more positions and actions in global politics. On the other hand, we also need to produce more content and to think about the political side of how we do things. We are working on a book now, on the occasion of this anniversary, which will include the history of the network but also it will aspire to be a text that takes part in the present, politically.

 

About the interviewees: 

Fernanda Carvajal is sociologist, teacher and researcher at Buenos Aires University. Magister in Communication and Culture and PhD in Social Sciences. Since the year 2008 she resides in Buenos Aires and works on crossings between art, politics and sexuality, since the 70s in Chile. She integrates the group “Art, culture and politics in Argentina” directed by Ana Longoni and the group “Micropolitics of sexual disobedience in contemporary Argentine art”, directed by Fernando Davis. She is co-coordinator with Mabel Tapia of Southern Conceptualisms Network, from where she formed the curatorial team of the exposition “Losing the human form. A seismic image of the 1980s in Latin America” at Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, 2012 (and its itinera ncies in Lima, 2013 and in Buenos Aires, 2014). At present, among other projects, she works together with Alejandro de la Fuente in the conformation of the Mares of the Apocalypse Archive.

Mabel Tapia is a researcher from Buenos Aires, living in Paris. Her research focuses on art practices from the XXIst century involving the use of archives, activism, political engagement and that have as one of their main characteristics, the deactivation of the aesthetic function. Processes of legitimation, valorization and visibility of contemporary practices in their relation to the phenomenon of reification in the frame of new paradigms in both artistic and socio-economic fields are part of her investigation. She is currently co-directing with Stephen Wright the PhD level program « Documento y Arte contemporáneo » organised by art schools EESI and ENSA, Bourges. She is co-coordinator with Fernánda Carvajal of the RedCSur. She also works as an editor and recently, she has coordinated the edition of the catalogues: Losing human form. A seismic image of the ’80s in Latin America (Madrid: Musée Reina Sofía, 2013 and Buenos Aires: Eduntref, 2014) and Really Useful Knowledge (Madrid: Musée Reina Sofía, 2014), Desinventario (Santiago de Chile : Ocholibros, 2015).

The Red Conceptualismos del Sur [Southern Conceptualism Network] (RedCSur) is a collective initiative bringing together some 50 researchers and artists from the various regions of Latin America, Canada and Europe, establishing itself as a platform for collective thought and action in the contemporary relations between art and politics. It was founded in 2007 by a group of researchers concerned with intervening politically in the processes neutralizing the critical potential of ‘conceptual practices’ that had been developing in Latin America since the early sixties. The RedCSur has been involved in a long-term reflection on the uses and politics of archives, working on the constitution and organization of some of the most significant artist-held archives in South America. The platform archivosenuso.org is an open-ended tool to socialize its archival investigations. Among other research projects, the network led the exhibition and the publication of Losing Human Form. A seismic image of the 1980’s in Latin America produced in collaboration with the Reina Sofia Museum. Recent publications include Desinventario. Esquirlas de « Tucumán Arde » en el archivo de Graciela Carnevale (Santiago de Chile, 2015) and Arte y disenso : memorias del Taller 4 Rojo, (Bogotá, 2015).

 

Notes

  1.  See, among others, materials about RedCSur in English: Joaquín Barriendos, Miguel A. Lopez, Jaime Vindel, Micropolitics of the Archive | Part I: Southern Conceptualisms Network and the Political Possibilities of Microhistories, Field Notes 2: Archive as Method, Asia Art Archive, Sat, 1 Dec 2012, https://www.aaa.org.hk/en/ideas/ideas/micropolitics-of-the-archive-part-ii-southern-conceptualisms-network-a-brief-chronology/type/essays, Micropolitics of the Archive | Part II: Southern Conceptualisms Network, a Brief Chronology, Field Notes 2: Archive as Method, Asia Art Archive, Sat, 1 Dec 2012, https://www.aaa.org.hk/en/ideas/ideas/micropolitics-of-the-archive-part-i-southern-conceptualisms-network-and-the-political-possibilities-of-microhistories, Ana Longoni, Another Mapping of Art and Politics. The Archive Policies of Red Conceptualismos del Sur, L’internationale, 15 Feb 2016, http://www.internationaleonline.org/research/decolonising_practices/58_another_mapping_of_art_and_politics_the_archive_policies_of_red_conceptualismos_del_sur, Miguel A. López, South-South Intersections: Southern Conceptualisms Network and the Political Possibilities of Local Histories. In: Speak, Memory: On Archives and Other Strategies of (Re)activation of Cultural Memory, ed. Laura Carderera (Cairo: Townhouse Gallery, 2012), 40–50. Losing the Human: A seismic image of the ’80s in Latin America, Madrid/Buenos Aires, Musée Reina Sofía/Eduntref, 2014.

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