MOBILE MEMORIALS

Florencia San Martin, Art Historian

 

Memorial and Mobility is a series of works by Maria Veronica San Martín (Santiago, 1981) in which popular struggles, military repression, and the subjectivities of collective memory in Chilean recent history are represented. This body of work was made between 2011 and 2016 in the cities of Washington, D.C., where the artist lived from 2010 to 2014, and Santiago, where San Martin was born and currently lives. In this series the dimensionality of printmaking and the three-dimensionality of sculpture intersect dynamically with the narrative form of artist books. A medium that San Martín has rethought from its connections to sculpture and installation on the one hand, and its relationships to memory and printmaking on the other, the artist book in itself operates as an ongoing object of transformation in the artist’s series. Through a sequence of aesthetic and formal strategies, San Martín has created what she calls “mobile memorials,” analysing machinations of torture in connection to the hegemonic discourse established during the dictatorship in Chile (1973-1990).

 

Considering the ethical complexity of representing memory through mediums other than testimony – in this case, the visual arts – the artist has created a system of layers that is sometimes translucent, but through proximity becomes opaque or foggy, allegorically referring to the collective resistance of the oppressed society against the official – or better, the fervent nationalist – story that Chile wrote in Pinochet’s time. The main objective of Memorial and Mobility is to interpret the current consequences of the human rights violations of the dictatorship. The series explores these intersections through visual possibilities and multiple printing processes. Using techniques such as screen print, woodcut, dry point, and aquatint etchings, San Martín explores the brutal experience of the regime on the collective body, acknowledging its consequences, its ghosts: translucent layers embedded in engravings, where the accumulation inevitably reveals their opacity. In the artist’s words, “The transition from dictatorship to democracy corresponds to the image that disappears in the printmaking process (in the etching process on the lithographic stone, or with the nitric acid baths on the metal plate) and then reappears (printed on the paper).” Therefore, Memorial and Mobility calls to the need for a search for justice and truth, which is not finite, but is an initiative that exists in and with time.

 

The series is composed of the following artist’s books: El Siglo, Militaries Betray The Country (2011); In Their Memory: Human Rights Violations in Chile, 1973–1990 (2012); Memory & Landscape: Unveiling The Historic Truths of Chile (2013); Marches: Student mobilization in Chile (2013); Indignity and Resistance in the Foothills of the Andes. A Case Study of Villa Grimaldi. 1973-1978 (2015); and the sculpture, There is no tomorrow without yesterday (2016). The latter, which is the artist’s most recent work, is a sculpture made of multiple translucent layers joined by hand-stitched crosses. Building up a tower that touches the ceiling of the exhibition space, There is no tomorrow without yesterday reveals the fragmented process of truth-seeking, turning the so-called reconciliation’s reports, such as Rettig (1991) and Valech (1998), into blue blocks. In line with the thought of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, opaque blocks, rather than translucent layers, imply that processes of justice have been necessary yet insufficient. This flawed judicial process has contributed to the idea that the problem has already been surmounted[1].

 

As in There is no tomorrow without yesterday, the phantasmagorical image, undefined traces, and sensations of proximity emerging from the a blue-grey palette invite the viewer to come over to the other works in the series, opening a book to form part of its continuous transformation into sculpture, etching, and then into book over and over ad infinitum.

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[1] Agamben, Giorgio. Remnants of Auschwitz: the witness and the archive; translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. (New York: Zone Books, 1999)