Imaginaries of Revolt, Archive of Life, and Experience Reshaped from the Pandemic
Online seminar conducted by Nelly Richard
Museo Reina Sofía
The Politics and Aesthetics of Memory Chair. 2020 Edition
Politics and Aesthetics of Memory
Education programme developed with the sponsorship of the Banco Santander Foundation
Recent times have witnessed an outbreak of diverse social uprisings on a global scale (Hong King, Barcelona, Quito, Beirut, Bogotá, Santiago de Chile) to protest against the regime of inequality and social injustice established by neoliberal hegemony. The balance of the success or failure of these multiple attempts to obstruct the neoliberal system are yet to be gauged due to the pandemic caused by COVID-19, which has forced the entire planet to halt its rhythms and flows, bringing it to a near complete standstill.
In Chile, the uprising sparked in October 2019 unleashed an encouraging process shaped by the call for a Constituent Assembly, before the pandemic slowed its core drives right down. The result was a shift from mobilised collective energies to deserted cities and bodies stranded in the individual isolation of lockdown. This forced step, moving from the beat of something new to an unforeseen lack of motion, has led to questions related to how to reinterpret the archive of revolts — in Chile and other zones — considering the emotions and shocks the pandemic has etched into bodies to extract reserves of meaning from them and which orbit around instability.
Nelly Richard is a theorist and essayist, and was founder and director of Revista de Crítica Cultural from 1990 to 2008 and director of the MA in Cultural Studies at the University of Art and Social Sciences (ARCIS) in Santiago (Chile) from 2006 to 2013. She has written a broad number of publications in Chile and internationally in relation to art, memory and the Chilean transition to democracy, for instance: Márgenes e Instituciones. Arte en Chile desde 1973 (Metales pesados, 1986, reissued in 2008); Masculino / Femenino. Prácticas de la diferencia y cultura democrática (Francisco Zegers Editor, 1993); La Insubordinación de los Signos (cambio político, transformaciones culturales y poéticas de la crisis) [conversación entre: Germán Bravo, Martín Hopenhayn, Nelly Richard, Adriana Valdés] (Cuarto Propio, 1994); Residuos y metáforas. Ensayos de crítica cultural sobre el Chile de la transición (Cuarto propio, 1998); Fracturas de la memoria. Arte y pensamiento crítico (Siglo veintiuno, 2007); Feminismo, género y diferencia(s) (Palinodia, 2008); Crítica de la memoria (Universidad Diego Portales, 2010); Crítica y política (Palinodia, 2013) and Diálogos latinoamericanos en las fronteras del arte (Ediciones udp, 2014). Furthermore, she curated the Chilean Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, under the title Poetics of Dissent: Paz Errázuriz — Lotty Rosenfeld. Since 2019, she has coordinated the force line Politics and Aesthetics of Memory, inside the framework of the Museo Reina Sofía’s Public Activities Department.
In the wake of more than thirty years of democratic transition which left issues around social rights, memory and justice outstanding, the social unrest in October 2019 led citizens to scream: “Chile Woke Up!”. It did so by challenging the neoliberal order and imagining new horizons of social transformation.
This first session in the seminar prompts a review of the trance brought on by passing from the desire to re-establish a new democracy to the feeling of a future closed off by the uncertainty and misery of a fear-infected present. This fact alters the configurations of memory, the sensitive weft of bodies and human lives, ways of conceiving society and politics in its articulations with the State, and so on.
The pandemic has left the world hanging and withdrawn, its effects a reason to rethink new formulations and consider new ways of acting that give rise to solidarity practices which are able to regenerate intersubjective ties.
Over the past few decades, a far-reaching debate has been set out around the critical role of art and the capacity of artistic practices to question the relationship between social structures and power correlations, putting forward alternatives that defy the regime of signs set by capitalist rule. Art’s critical signs help us to take note of the effects of the symbolic closure exercised by the different systems of violence and political, economic and social control; as an emancipatory response, art invites a broadening of the limits of perception and consciousness that define the contours of a reality in conflict.
The seminar’s second session seeks to reflect on the artistic manifestations that, between social uprisings and the pandemic, put their strategies of ethical-political intervention to the test in a present besieged by multiple forms. To reflect on the dialogue and counterpoint between different strategies of artistic activism which concern memory, the action Not to Die of Hunger in Art, by the CADA collective (1979), and the intervention carried out by Delight Lab (2020), involving the projection of the word “Hambre (Hunger)” on the tallest building in Santiago de Chile in the middle of lockdown, will both be analysed.