New YorkMuseum Of Modern Art
Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America 1960 - 1980
September 5, 2015 – January 3, 2016
Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America 1960-1980, curated by Stuart Comer, Roxana Marcoci, and Christian Rattemeyer, with Martha Joseph and Giampaolo Bianconi, is an immersion into the peripheries of decentralized art practices that deeply questioned—in a time of political upheaval and dictatorial regimes—what artistic content and production was, and how it could situate itself in relation to its own structural, political, and cultural necessities. A determined collective sensibility, which eluded and opposed monocular understandings of cultural value and creation in both Latin American and Eastern European regions, was charged by an incessant practice of distrust against established norms and dynamics concerning the artist’s role as social agitator and mediator—almost a nihilistic acuity that negated a tedious, systemic set of values.
Artists working within this terrain—Lygia Clark, Eduardo Costa, Luis Camnitzer, Marta Minujín, Oscar Bony, Harold Pinter, Geta Bratescu, Valie Export, Jiri Kovanda, as well as art collectives and anti-groups like OHO, Aktual, El Techo de la Ballena, and Colectivo Acciones de Arte (CADA)—comprise some of the many featured in the exhibition. Regardless of their geographical distance and ideological differences, countless elements bind together the nature of these practices. Seeking alternative models of artistic understanding, production, and circulation, the overlapping mediums, as well as a clear institutional detachment, unlocked myriad creative possibilities for these artists: concrete poetry, sound art, performative actions, mail art, self-published books and magazines, and social interventions were produced out of necessity, their authors seeking a new aesthetic and conceptual framework. Subtle, absurd actions were explored, differentiating between what art was and what art could become. This risky phenomenon nurtured and expanded each medium’s limitations. For instance, Milan Knizák’s Destroyed Music (1963), is a piece where four broken vinyl records are displayed. Originally, the work was also a sound piece, where “broken materiality” was heard. The exclusion of matter constructs the vacuum of sound, and negative space is suddenly filled with meaning. (In the visual field, it could be compared to Stan Brakhage’s films where he scratches and paints directly onto celluloid, attacking the medium to re-signify its import.) Eduardo Costa’s Names of Friends: Poem for the Deaf-Mute (1969-2007), is a Super 8mm color film, which also uses the power of omission. The viewer sees only Costa’s lips while he mouths the names of fifty-three of his friends. Making no sound, speech is transformed solely into movement; the viewer left with only a suggestive, half-empty ramification of language.
Sensorial and perceptual elements were also explored, as in Lygia Clark’s Bichos, her famous sculptural experiments that could be worn, which questioned the issue of unmoving materiality and the body. The name of these pieces suggests that they are animated creatures. Abrigo Poético (1960) was one of the first Bichos she produced. Clark’s attempt was to blur the line between movement and stability. The body, perceived not only as flesh and living matter, is seen as an absolute animated being, inseparable from all its faculties and complexities: individual’s consciousness, its location in time and space, and language, as part of collective subjectivity. This perception comprises the body as an instrument that surpasses political and social divergences, confronting a total ideological stance.
Recomposed into poetic dissonances, many of these works use language as a starting point of deconstruction. Text is taken to performative actions, mail art is used as a form of poetry, investigating the relationship between the geographic and collective thought. Throughout the show, the viewer experiences a bridging element—one that is idiosyncratic of these regions—that of an intrinsic political tension and the exploration of movement, not only present in the body, but also in consciousness and perception. Argentinian artist Oscar Bony’s 60 Square Meters and Its Information (1967) is an immersive, minimal installation where the viewer is invited to consider the problem of mediated space and live experience. A handout is given before one enters the space. A chain-link fence covers the gallery floor, while a 16mm projection shows a fragment of the same fence. Standing on the fence is a bit unsteady; the viewer’s awareness and presence in space is augmented. “It could be said that there is redundancy, an overload of information that does not allow for an immediate appreciation of both the physical sensation of the fencing and the cognizance of its material makeup; this very same information is what provokes a dissociation of that which is united,” says Bony’s handout, explaining the stages of perception in the piece. This thought-provoking reflection works as a meditation on post-modernity and its relationship to the individual’s mind-body experience of the world.
Through diverse utterances, these works remind us of the power of subjectivity and the necessity of experimentation in the face of the absurd, revealing how structural detachments—even from culture itself—can play a significant role, not only in artistic dialogue, but in the collective structures that define and comprise individual experience.
LUCIA HINOJOSA (Mexico City, 1987) is a writer and visual artist. In 2013 she co-founded diSONARE, a bilingual arts publication.