The art of insurgency is on full display in Resurgent Histories, Insurgent Futures, an exhibition about cultural guerrilla warfare at the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia. Having culled some of the most powerful aesthetic incursions from major flashpoints of political struggle across the Americas, curator Jennifer Ponce de León demon- strates what it means to remap the world. Rather than assembling work that fits into expected blueprints for “political art” or peddling the wares of institutionalized “social art” (which often has more to do with privileged outreach than with social upheaval), she provides a counter-cartography that remaps how we should understand the social politics of engaged artists and the world they inhabit—in order to transform it.
On ViewSlought Foundation
September 7 – October 1, 2017
In a myriad of different ways and within disparate contexts, all of the artists in the exhibit are participat- ing in a collective struggle against the ongoing effects of colonial conquest. The Los Angeles-based Pocho Research Society for Erased and Invisible History, founded by artist Sandra de la Loza, is a guerrilla art group that operates under the guise of a fictional histor- ical society. They install their own counter-memorial plaques in urban spaces to show how public history in the United States serves to make some histories and subjects socially invisible, thus enabling their displacement and social marginalization. The exhi- bition at Slought features October Surprise (2004), an intervention that marks the former sites of independent cultural and political spaces, and Echoes in the Echo (2007), a series of poetic memorials to queer Latino bars whose closure is one symptom of the displacement of working class people and spaces. By combining site-specific guerrilla interventions with texts that are as evocative as they are politically incisive, the works by the Pocho Research Society uproot dominant narratives, with their halcyon myths of national unity, while charting the colonizing assault of gentrification on the urban landscape.
The Buenos Aires-based art groups GAC (Grupo de Arte Callejero) and Etcétera mobilize art as direct ac- tion by participating in exposure protests—organized by the Argentine human rights movement—that draw people’s attention to torturers living in their midst encouraging them to take justice into their own hands and also to see the fundamental continuities between violence under a past dictatorship and the violence of the neoliberal corporate state in the present. GAC’s street signs and maps identify the homes of unpun- ished war criminals, including “economic genociders” who engineered economic policies that devastated the working class. Etcétera also uses these exposure protests to denounce art patrons who profited from such policies and collaborated with the military in repressing workers. The exhibition includes photos and videos from Etcétera’s protest performances, created in the context of Argentina’s 2001–2002 financial crisis.
The most memorable is surely Mierdazo (2002), in which the artists orchestrated a collective “shit attack ” on Argentina’s Congress building. The ever-mercurial Fran Ilich, channeling the spirit and coffee of the Zapatistas, restages fragments from his experimental alternative reality game, Raiders of the Lost Crown (2013). The artworks, texts, interventions, performances, and financial exchanges that make up the game plumb the profound, global, and ongoing effects of the American Holocaust. Far from a simple denunciation, they form an endless hall of mirrors, where the “good intentions” of symbolic gestures are ironized in light of the reality of anticolonial struggle, and we are made to see the ways colonial strategies are updated and redeployed over time.
The Iconoclasistas, based in Argentina, organize collective mapping workshops to produce cartographies of urgent social conflicts and their territorial inscriptions, asserting an urgent counterpoint to celebrations of development by showing the destruction that powerful industries wreak on people and the environment. The videos and cartographies of Brazilian collective Frente 3 de Fevereiro and artist Daniel Lima reveal connections between racism, state violence, and the segregation and control of urban space as it is seen across different cities in the Americas—from Haiti to Brazil to the U.S.
The exhibition also includes a film program, featuring recent documentaries by Brazilian and Argentine artists. It presents the visually stunning cinema of Julian D’Angiolillo, which provides nuanced explo- rations of subjects and practices that are socially marginalized but shape the urban landscape and city life in profound ways, including the complex workings of informal markets, migrant communities, and street artists hired to paint political propaganda. The films are on display in Slought’s newly inaugurated Mediatheque for the duration of the exhibition. Afterwards, they will be available for viewing on demand in the Mediatheque any time during Slought’s opening hours, except when conflicting events are held in the space.
Presented as a “translocal cartography of guerrilla cultural warfare” across the Americas, this exhibit is structured as a bottom-up ethnography instead of a top-down appropriation. All of the work is embedded, in different ways, in anti-capitalist, anticolonial and anti-imperialist social movements in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S. In the context of intensifying neoliberalization at the end of the 20th century, but also the Zapatista uprising and alter-globalization movements, the generation of artists selected for Resurgent Histories, Insurgent Futures clearly demonstrates that aesthetics can be, and indeed have been, a radicalizing force in contemporary social and political struggles.