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Home arrow Philosophy arrow Playful Memories: The Autofictional Turn in Post-Dictatorship Argentina
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Outside the Lines

Inspired by Quieto’s understanding of photography as a medium that creates rather than just records family ties, in the films M (Prividera 2007) and Encontrando a Victor (Bruschtein 2004), and in Diario de unaprinc- esa montonera, the directors and blogger, respectively, construct similar illusionary encounters with their disappeared parents by filming/pho- tographing themselves interacting with enlarged photographs of them. Finally, in Mi vida despues, photographs of the parents of the actors are projected onto the clothes or the faces of their offspring, producing a similar effect to the photographs of Quieto, not least because of the physical similarities and ages of parents and children.

In similar fashion to these photographic mash-ups, in recent years, collage has been a common visual technique used by post-dictatorship artists. Examples include Angela Urondo’s series Infancia y dictadura (2010) and the collages of Jorgelina Paula Molina Planas. Both works, together with Ana Adjiman’s paintings Mis viejos and Oraculo pictorico, and the series Los ninos del proceso by Marfa Giuffra, who also uses collage, were shown in the joint exhibition Familias Qheridas at the Centro Cultural Recoleta in Buenos Aires in 2011.59 Moreover, in 2008 the group Hijos e Hijas del Exilio created the mapa del desexilio, a collective collage comprising letters of children exiled during the dictatorship, and of photographs and newspapers that relate to their years living abroad. Finally, a few years ago the Colectivo de hijos launched the CdC: “Club de Colaye o Colectivo de Collage o Campo de Creacion o cualquier cosa (menos Campo de Concentracion, por obvios motivos),”60 a gathering where the members of the Colectivo create collages that also refer to the legacies of the dictatorship.

In all of these collages the artists register not so much a past presence (as photographs do) but a present absence, alluded to by the fragmentary nature of collages and the dislocated family portraits comprising diverse materials and images of different sizes and textures. Moreover, collage is, for Lucila Quieto, a democratic language available to anyone who lacks the expertise of an artist: “sometimes we are in a meeting of the Colectivo de hijos, discussing a theme or subject and not everybody has the tools to speak. The idea of these encounters of the CdC was precisely to give everyone the opportunity to say something.”61

Collages are also a means of escaping what Andreas Huyssen has called “the marketing of memory.”62 Sebastian Grynberg, one of the members of the Colectivo de hijos, has said in this respect that “the collages we made are not easy to sell, I don’t think we can make shirts with them.”63 Collage not only has difficulties finding a place for itself in the market but it also defies the logic of the market by using everything that the latter sees as disposable and useless. Thus collages are a force of resistance and an act of memory as opposed to the ideal of the clean slate aspired to by the market through its constant operations of the substitution of the old with the new.

Quieto’s collages also echo a transnational trend of second- and third- generation artists born after other traumatic events that also modify and intervene in photographs of the past with techniques learnt at school as a means of evoking childhoods under terror. One key example of this trend is Ram Katzir’s 1996-1998 peripatetic and playful installation Your Coloring Book. A grandson of Holocaust survivors, Katzir was born in 1969 in Tel Aviv and was twenty-seven years old when he staged the exhibition. He placed thirteen colouring books in the museums where he showed his work and invited visitors to sit on school benches and colour in the simple black-and-white shapes. At first the visitors did not know what they were colouring. In the pictures they could only see someone feeding a baby deer, a family enjoying some time together in the garden, a group of teenagers looking out of the window or a group of children about to take a train. Then some images revealed their true origin, such as one of children making the Sieg heil salute to their teacher or another of planes forming the swastika symbol in the sky. At the end of the book the visitors could read about the sources of these images, confirming their suspicions. They were all drawings based on pictures from Nazi propaganda. They could then see, for example, that the man feeding the deer was Hitler, that the family portrait was of the ideal “Aryan” family, that the children looking out of the window were watching the Fuhrer pass, and that the children taking the train were Jewish children being deported from the Lodz Ghetto. Katzir used these images to create a colouring book following the model of a children’s book published in Germany during the 1930s called Trust No Fox and No Jews.

As the artist himself expected, the installation divided opinion and sparked a debate similar to the one surrounding the Mirroring Evil exhibition addressed in Chapter 3. Some were horrified by the images, arguing that they trivialized the Holocaust, that they encouraged empathy with the Nazis by using innocent artistic forms to draw guilty people, that they reduced the events to a fairy tale, that they were deceitful, that they should be banned, and that the artist was too young to teach anything to the survivors. Katzir responded by stating that he intended to protest against Nazi propaganda by using seemingly innocent images from the period to show how easy it is to absorb Nazi ideology through these images. He added that his objective was to address the tensions present in periods of conflict between “innocence and guilty knowledge.”64 He also confessed to being overfamiliar with the images of the Holocaust that were taught to him at school and that he wanted to alter that imaginary so as to refresh memory and make those images “visible” again.

Like Quieto, Katzir used images and techniques taught at school (his exhibition was also called Within the Lines, a phrase children often hear from their teachers) to draw, illustrate or colour the most horrifying crimes. The images of these young artists, with their infantile aesthetic, raise questions about what, during periods of collective trauma, children know and what they do not, what they understand and what they just reproduce, “copying and pasting” from the discourses of grown-ups.

In neither of these works is there an attempt to reconstruct images from the past. Instead, we are encouraged to look at them with the knowledge we now have in the present of the events in question, anachronistically. Thus one visitor to Katzir’s exhibition coloured in the image of deportation and wrote next to it: “Stop children! Don’t enter this train! It will bring you to gas cameras [sic], to death.” Another one drew Hitler-like moustaches on all the members of the family picture, and a third one drew an explosive device and a knife in the hand of a girl being greeted by Hitler, entitling the drawing “A missed opportunity.” Similarly, Lucila Quieto’s collages reappropriate the photographs that were destined to be used by military propaganda in newspapers, forcing us to see them for what they really were.

It is perhaps not that surprising that montage and collage are popular artistic techniques among the younger generations. They speak of fragmented and baroque identities, worlds in ruins, incomplete puzzles and the disruption of chronologies after the coup. Young artists such as Quieto do not just lament the existence of ruins, though, and the remains of that past. Instead they produce something new with them, both playfully and seriously, like children do. And yet neither montage nor collage are childish techniques, not least since both had political origins. Throughout the history of art, both have been popular strategies of protest that have put together dissimilar and contrasting images in a fiction and an artificial image to highlight what they have in common, and to encourage us to turn our gaze to what lies “outside the lines” and beyond the frames of what we are accustomed to seeing.

 
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