The Spiraling Time symposium opened on Friday, March 15, 2013 at the Berkeley Art Museum, with the keynote address by Andrea Giunta, Chair of Latin American Art History & Criticism of the department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. One of the world’s leading authorities on modern and contemporary Latin American art, Giunta provided a compelling lecture about the recurring themes in the art of South America – violence, memory, and scars from the past. These themes are perpetuated as counters to the totalitarian regimes that swept a dark cloud of disappearances, torture, and murder across the Southern Hemisphere in the latter twentieth century.
Giunta shared with the audience powerful works like Lotty Rosenfeld’s One Mile of Crosses on the Pavement (1979-1984), temporary action installations in Chile and Washington, D.C. that converted lines on the road into white crosses, which functioned as subtle symbols to denounce repression, and to demand a search for the truth from the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. Later, the same cross symbol in Rosenfeld’s work appeared as the “no” symbol in the 1988 Chilean National Plebiscite that ended Pinochet’s sixteen years of power.
Gustavo Germano’s Ausencias series (2008), are haunting re-enactments of old photos with individuals who are no longer there. The absent persons were one of the 30,000+ disappeared in Argentina’s Dirty War. The photos evoke the notion of human temporality and the precariousness of life during this time in Argentina. Paradoxically, in their absence, their unseen presence is eerily summoned.
Gustavo Germano, Ausencias. 1970, María Irma Ferreira and María Susana Ferreira /2006, María Susana Ferreira.
Giunta explained the officializing of memory in post-dictatorship South America. In Argentina and Chile, there have been official programs implemented by the governments in order to investigate the past. Throughout Argentina, bronze and tile plaques with personalized information mark the locations of the last whereabouts of persons who were disappeared. In Buenos Aires, the Parque de la Memoria serves as a monument to the victims of terror.
In Santiago, Chile, President Michelle Bachelet, herself a survivor of torture, inaugurated the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanosin 2010. The museum is meant to provide a documented narrative of the past in an architectural space that reflects the experience of remembering an intensely repressive era. Its zigzag layout, Giunta explains, is meant to be jarring and symbolizes the complexities involved with memory. The museum also includes multi-perceptual and multi-sensorial spaces that exacerbate the past and function as mechanisms of meditation on the victims.
Giunta briefly discussed the existing analogy in art between the Holocaust and the disappeared of South America. Lotty Rosenfeld, for example, re-installed a row of crosses in Kassel, Germany in 2007. And Berlin, much like Buenos Aires, is a cenotaph city. Giunta explained that there is a strong sense of solidarity between Germany and Latin America because they both vehemently oppose repressive systems that are designed by outside forces, and because they both believe in a commitment to the global agenda of memory.
The first lecture of the symposium dealt with difficult, but important subject matter. Giunta led an insightful conversation about a realm in the aesthetics of contemporary art that deserves not to be swept under a rug, but to be seen and discussed in the hope that history does not repeat itself.