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In the Declaration that accompanied the Tucumán Arde [Tucumán is Burning] exhibition, the artists denounce “the hidden truth behind this Operation”: the attempt to destroy the unions and guilds of the northeastern part of Argentina through the fragmentation of workers’ groups or by obligating them to emigrate to other parts of the country; the artists also refer to the nature of the “pilot program” pertaining to this official policy for the Tucumán Province, “with which an attempt was made to gauge the strength of the workers’ resistance.” From the artists’ perspective, the regime paired the so-called “Operativo Tucumán” with a publicity campaign that, on the one hand, attempted to hide or qualify the social effects of the crisis and, on the other, publicized the measures taken as well as their supposed achievements in the face of the evidence to the contrary. This was meant to convince the public that the initiation of industries as well as agrarian diversification served as a mitigating influence on the situation that had developed due to the closure of the sugar mills. The text states: “This Tucumán Operation is reinforced by an ‘operational silence’ organized by governmental institutions in order to confuse, distort and silence the grave Tucumán situation, to which the so-called ‘free press’ has been joined for reasons of common class interests.” Before this operational silence, the vanguards “assume the responsibilities of artists committed to the societal reality” and respond accordingly with their work. As such, Tucumán Arde sought to place itself in opposition to the governmental campaign; its most basic intention was “to promote an image of solidarity with the reality of Tucumán province carried out through the means of mass communications.Given this objective of counter-information, all the artwork’s stages are carried out within a general creative strategy that the artists call an “excess informational circuit.” This notion of excess information refers to the attempt to impact the public by means of redundancy—intending to counteract official information with another type that would surpass it in quality and quantity. The quantitative aspect alludes to the abundance of “true” information for an audience fed by “false” information; the qualitative aspect refers to the multimedia strategy put into play during the various stages of the artwork.
Tucumán Arde [Tucumán Is Burning] is the most famous collective production of emerging vanguard art in Argentina, both in Buenos Aires and Rosario, and it took place at the turning point of the artists’ political and artistic radicalization in 1968. Its design implied a complex process of research and counter-information as well as a mass-media campaign. Given the fact that they were an integral part of the investigation, roughly twenty artists (mostly from Rosario) traveled to Tucumán for a second time in October 1968. It was in that province that, with the support of trade-union members, journalists, and other collaborators, the artists developed an underground registry of work pertaining to the social situation of sugar mills (closed by then), schools, hospitals, and so forth, seeking information that would evidence the official campaign’s deception respecting the so-called Operativo Tucumán. A variety of media was used, including recordings, photographs, and films.
With the results of their research they mounted a show/denunciation at the headquarters of the workers’ opposition to the dictatorship of General Juan Carlos Onganía. This exhibition was not restricted to a particular area of the building; it was predicated on the idea of occupying it. The artists appealed to multiple media forms: photographic panels, movies, recorded testimonies, graphics, clippings, letters, and so on) in order to make the public aware of the dire social consequences produced by the closure of the sugar mills.
The artists disseminated an extensive declaration on mimeographed copies during the show in Rosario. It was called simply “Tucumán Arde.” It was written by two Rosario intellectuals that had approached the Grupo de Arte de Vanguardia de Rosario, with which they would collaborate frequently. They were María Teresa Gramuglio and Nicolás Rosa, both literature professors who had resigned or been fired from the University in 1966 after the dictatorship’s violent intervention into the campus during the event known as “Noche de los bastones largos” [the night of the long clubs].
The incorporation of intellectuals, who were not artists, into the realization of Tucumán Arde alludes to the artists’ theoretical viewpoint of their profession; but it also speaks to the intense connection between artists and intellectuals. The latter nexus was very distant from the anti-intellectualism that would predominate shortly thereafter.