The course of the publication, beginning with its cover and encompassing the first half of its pages, consists of a visual exploration of the shows held at commercial galleries during the previous six months. The second half contains wall texts, list of artworks, and other information about each show; a summary of what has taken place at non-commercial institutions and organizations; the most important contributions of Argentine artists to foreign institutions during the period; and a map of recommended readings that expands the theoretical and bibliographical frame of reference for the edition. Each issue closes with a special section that provides a reflexive vision of contemporary art in the global context.
The magazine has an editorial board that, for two issues, will curate its editorial section. For the inaugural year, the members of the editorial board for #01 and #02 were Inés Katzenstein, Rafael Cippolini and Santiago García Navarro and Dorota Biczel, Andrea Giunta and Santiago Vargas will be in charge of #03 and #04.
It is our hope that arteBA Revista will prove a stimulating record that, with the passage of time, will become a reference document of Argentine contemporary art of its time.
Luis Vargas Santiago
Uncertain Decolonizations I
We are interested in conceiving of art and culture as a privileged space where unprecedented situations can be triggered. We imagine shifting places in which the most established versions of events go astray to question the frameworks of power. At stake is the operation of de-narrativizing in order to narrate anew, in order to rupture accounts as they once again become set and established, whether through a meditative appeal or a call for immediate action. We want to learn to what extent artworks, installations, museums, art fairs, and art history are capable of displacing the order of daily life.
Yet, this separation, like the notion of art itself, is trapped in its systems of power and epistemologies. Stories are told within the meta-story of the great narratives, which are still written from the world’s nexuses of power. The attempts to examine and to incite interventions that undermine and question that power—from the place of theory, history, or curatorial practice—are relatively recent. To deconstruct the frameworks of power, to investigate how to do so, to reinvent the language and terms we use to understand the world and ourselves—it is in those ways that art aspires to intervene in the liberating arena of thought, emotion, and the body.
What, in this context, does to decolonize mean? We understand the term to refer to the questioning of structures that define and regulate existing powers. Its sphere of operation is not limited to the traditional critique of art institutions. One could imagine, as Argentine poet and artist Ricardo Carreira did, that putting the shoe on the wrong foot is an act of decolonization.
It means upsetting both practices and bodies with a jarring decision that is not geared to any practical end. Apparent arbitrariness can also lead to an act of decolonization. More precisely, we know that practices linked to the feminist, LGTB, queer, indigenous, and African-American movements formulate a radical decolonization of the social markers that determine bodies, affects, and understanding of and relationship with the environment. We know that artistic activism ignites a possible field for the exercise of the imagination of dissent. Questioning institutions, criticizing the concept of the work of art, investigating the zones that entrenched narratives conceal (the other side of modernity and modernism, the other side of dominant economic and political systems, the other side of the normativization of genders) constitutes the field of research of the anti-normative new.
Notwithstanding, decolonization today plays a role beyond traditional asymmetries and binarisms. A range of recent events (like the result of the election in the United States) suggests that we are before a turning point in history: a crisis of globalization and everything it has entailed, including the art world. If every country now cries “us first,” what will become of the flows in which not only capitals, but also ideas, uprisings, and acts of solidarity were enmeshed? Are we before a new understanding of the international order? Migratory flows, inequality, and poverty in countries in the global north and south, the failure of neoliberalism and of the left’s projects, the hyper-technologicalization of social movements and activisms, the militarization of social networks, the positive and negative potentials of “big data” and “deep learning.” All of this incites a rereading of the global age and the supposed homogenization of the world. While there may be many synchronies, there are also many lags.
Categories like the postmodern and the generation gap, which for some time has been defined by access to technology (vg generation, millennials, Z generation, etc.), are not the same around the world; indeed, they generate asynchronous presents. Think, for instance, of the gaps between Africa and Europe, but also between Manhattan and the Deep South in the United States, between the classes that live in the “revitalized” downtown areas of major cities and people displaced from their traditional homes. There is no single division between north and south, but rather many souths in the north and many norths in the south. Decolonizing and conservative gestures exist on both sides of globalization. Regardless, the model questioned is always neoliberalism, whether because of its inability to combat inequality or to protect unique national projects.
We understand that it is not possible today to conceive of decolonization without considering as well how very uncertain the political present is, a present that has, it appears, radically challenged the categories that had structured our thinking. Decolonization thus becomes somewhat uncertain, but—indeed mostly—urgent. An urgency that, for some time, had not been felt in the art world.
The art system with its fairs, biennials, galleries, and inner workings usually finds itself on the most developed side of history, regardless of whether the event in question is Frieze, arteBA, or the Istanbul Biennial. It seemed that the consistent core of political art had disappeared in the eighties, that it had eluded the confines of art institutions to show up only sporadically on the street and in plazas as the fleeting gestures and poetics of artistic activism. Yet, in the neoliberalism at the heart of the art system there is room for all gestures, those of the establishment but also those of the decolonizers. Is it conceivable today that the political potential of art has returned to the art institution? Consider the reactions of MoMA and the Whitney to the executive order attempting to ban citizens from a group of countries entry to the United States or the many others in the art world who have come out against a new order that seems to anticipate the rise of anti-progressive sectors. Is this a decolonization of our own paradigms?
Thus, new issues emerge that can take the shape of questions and open the debate for intersecting responses. We ask ourselves and the interlocutors to whom we are sending these question, as well as the general public who may read them, how—in this new and unpredictable state of the world— artistic operations might formulate decolonizing perspectives. How are culture and the art field redefined? How do we want or aspire to reformulate our practices before such a pressing set of circumstances? Can we speak of decolonization not only in terms of poetics, but also of the exhibition system, of curatorial practices, of art history, of art education, and even of the art market and art fairs? How will our own roles and actions, and even what drives us on this new scene, be defined? What can art do, what does it have to say, before the new world map that appears to be taking shape?
We invited a group of artists, curators, museum directors, art historians, philosophers, collectors, and directors of art fairs to ponder these questions. What follows are their reflections.