The editorial categories are research topics that have guided researchers during the recovery phase and continue to be the impetus behind the Documents Project’s digital archive and the Critical Documents book series. Developed by the project’s Editorial Board, each of the teams analyzed this framework and adapted it to their local contexts in developing their research objectives and work plans during the Recovery Phase. Learn more on the Editorial Framework page.
In the declaration they issued as a companion statement to the Tucumán Arde [Tucumán Is Burning] exhibition in Buenos Aires, the artists condemn the regime’s violent excesses that, though subtle when applied to the arts, are nonetheless intent on silencing any kind of criticism that might be expressed in the form of merchandise. The text of the declaration asks “why the system can appropriate and absorb even the boldest and most innovative works of art.” In response, it speculates on the role of art in a contemporary society in which the media only provide the public with messages that reinforce the oppressive nature of the system. The artists feel isolated, unsure of what they should be saying and to whom they should be saying it. To abdicate from their status as the artistic voice of the bourgeoisie, they believe they must adopt an activist approach and propose a “creative militancy” and a “militant creation” that strives to “create a genuine underground network of information and communication.” The resulting works (expressed in whatever artistic language is available) will be “beautiful and useful.” Whether these works are considered art or not is unimportant. It is their belief that “art is everything that mobilizes and agitates,” anything that says, “Let’s do something to change” this way of life.
Tucumán Arde [Tucumán Is Burning], the best-known group event ever produced by the avant-garde of Buenos Aires and Rosario, took place in 1968, when radical political and artistic unrest came to a head. The event involved a complex combination of research, counter-information, and a massive public awareness campaign. As part of the research process, some twenty artists (mainly from Rosario) traveled to the Province of Tucumán for the second time in October 1968 where—with the help of union members, journalists, and other supporters—they worked secretly to document the social conditions at the (shuttered) sugar mills, schools, hospitals, and so on. The objective was to expose the truth about the government’s official campaign, the so-called Operativo Tucumán [Tucumán Operation]. The dissident group resorted to a variety of tactics, such as making recordings, taking photographs, and shooting films. The artists used their research to create an exhibition-accusation that they presented at the CGT (Confederación General del Trabajo) [General Workers Confederation] in Rosario, the headquarters of the workers’ movement that opposed the dictatorship of Lieutenant General Juan Carlos Onganía (1966–70). The event was not confined to a particular section of the premises but occupied the entire building and used a variety of media (photographic panels, film, recorded statements, printed material, press clippings, letters, and so on) to document the tragic social consequences of the decision to close the sugar mills. The exhibition opened a few weeks later at the headquarters of the Sindicato de los Gráficos [Printers Union] on Paseo Colón Avenue in Buenos Aires, but was shut down on the same day it opened in response to government pressure. The artists and union members agreed to abort the event in Buenos Aires under government threats to take over the union’s headquarters and either remove its leaders or shut it down completely. This was yet another example of the kind of government repression of cultural activities that was quite common in that period, and took the form of censorship, harassment, or immediate closure of any event, exhibition, or show that was critical of the military regime. According to several accounts, what most displeased the government in this case were the photographs of police brutality toward demonstrating workers at the sugar mills. This statement, distributed at the Buenos Aires event, was signed by the “Visual Artists of the Avant-Garde” and was no doubt written by Roberto Jacoby (b. 1945), among others. It is interesting to note the similarity between the signatories’ attitude concerning whether their proposal is or is not art (“art is everything that mobilizes and agitates”) and León Ferrari (b.1920)’s 1965 response to the challenge issued by Ernesto Ramallo, the critic at La Prensa newspaper.