Acción Urgente Exhibit in Proa Foundation
Article by Anna Lowe. It seems to me not a day goes by in Buenos Aires without some road or square being closed off by a ‘piquete’ protest. With shouting crowds and colourful banners it’s hard not to take notice – but is it art? According to the new exhibition ‘Acción Urgente’ at the Proa Foundation the answer is, at least sometimes, yes. Curated by Cecilia Rabossi and Rodrigo Alonso, the exhibition displays ‘urban interventions’ carried out by South American artists who use varied forms to confront issues like women’s rights, political corruption, racism and indigenism, among other topics. Approaching Proa with its garish black exhibition sign I had my doubts about what I would find inside. Can a display of random found objects, pamphlets, posters and maps represent the violence and complexity of political struggle? And even if it can, is political art ever ‘good’ art? The first objects didn’t do much to allay my fears – a pile of bin bags and behind them some hanging flags. Yet reading the accompanying text explained these were interventions by Colectivo Sociedad Civil who, when corrupt electoral practice kept Peruvian president Fujimori in power in 2000, called for ‘political cleansing’ and began a mass movement of ‘taking out the rubbish’ and washing the national flag. Just as Duchamp placed his ‘found art’ urinal in the museum, in this exhibition ideas are more important than the visual outcome. Thus with ‘Lava la Bandera’ the ritualistic action of washing flags outside the presidential palace for six months demanded accountability and contributed to the fall of the government in November 2001 – the purest example of art as expression, the found object adapted to protest. The exhibition feels very timely. This past month politicians world-wide have seemingly gone mad, Cold War with Russia threatens to restart, the Gaze strip erupts, and our own Argentina is forced into default. The Proa Foundation takes on a critical social role and, as the exhibition title ‘Acción Urgente’ or ‘Action Immediately’ suggests, we are a million miles from the anodyne canvases on the walls of many contemporary commercial galleries. Here, the pieces presented are driven by intent and urgency rather than the wish to tickle the appetites of collectors. Although perhaps not a visually stunning exhibition, for visitors willing to discover the context behind each piece (in Spanish only) it makes compelling viewing. Examples include Clemente Padin’s infamous mail art created during the Uruguayan dictatorship (1973-1985), which by exploiting the mechanisms of commercial infrastructure formed a global network of resistance. Or the Brazilian group Contrafilé who attacks all social regulation and call for radical decentralization by placing a typical turnstile (ubiquitous for controlling everyday life in buses or subways) on a pedestal. Perhaps the most uplifting aspect of this surprisingly cheerful show — no, it’s not all grief and economic misery — is those objects that do their fighting through wit. The strongest room aesthetically is dedicated to the International ‘Errorista’ group and displays giant photos of a D-day style beach landing on Mar del Plata in 2005 carrying toy weapons to protest against the presence George Bush at the Summit of the Americas. Also on the beach, Brazilian OPAVIVARÁ! Harness Ipanema’s power to gather people of all social classes and encourage them to wear sarongs ironically branded with political phrases. Communication is the central theme of this exhibition. How do those who are marginalised and without resources transmit their ideas? Of course, today we live in an age where arguably the most powerful communication tool used by protestors is Twitter. But the funny thing is that, judging by this show, nothing technologically innovative looks particularly effective in a street protest. Proa shows political activism as an imaginative process that drives a wealth of art and design ingenuity. But returning to my initial reservation – while undoubtedly thought-provoking, can we really consider these urban interventions ‘art’? Last week my brother sent me an image of a ‘cacerola’ (casserole pan) with the comment ‘There’s an Argentine pot next to the Renaissance sculptures at the Victoria and Albert Museum?!’ He was referring to the new ‘Disobedient Objects’ show just opening at the V&A in London which is displaying this battered pan lid as an example of design for protest (these pots were banged in their thousands on the streets of Argentina in 2001 in protest against Corralito measures). 7000 miles apart, the aim at both exhibitions is essentially the same: to bestow on these scrappy, guerilla-made works the status and respect of gallery display. They celebrate the undeniable creativity of those who have – and still do – regularly sacrifice their time to keeping our nation-states in-flux and adaptable. Proa may disappoint visitors who believe art should stay in its place and never sully itself with mundane reality, especially politics; but this exhibition recognizes the brave outsiders who question accepted norms and, instead of using of violent methods, criticize and provoke through poetic action.
- Fundación PROA, Acción Urgente
- The exhibition closes in September
- Tuesday to Sunday 11 -19hrs
- Admission $20 AR