Popular Declassification (2015)
Popular Declassification is one of the artist’s most ambitious projects to date. It began in 2014 with the concern Francisco Papas Fritas felt toward the archives of the National Commission on Political Prisoners and Torture (known as the Valech Commission) which had been classified for a 50-year period. This commission was charged with investigating the crimes against humanity committed by the civilian-military dictatorship headed by General Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990.
In this context, the artist solicited the collaboration of the journalist Víctor Herrero, who with the help of journalist Javier Rebolledo set himself to investigating the commission that had been created by the government of Ricardo Lagos Escobar under the Law 19.992 that defined the reparations owed to victims of torture and imprisonment during the dictatorship. This law stipulates that the archives of the investigation of the Valech Commission related to hundreds of cases of torture carried out by the military regime would remain classified until the year 2054.
In the process of the investigation political scientist Javiera Campos joined the team, with which she realized a reinterpretation of Article 15 of the law. This article protects the right of each survivor of torture who was interviewed by the commission to access their own testimony upon request.
With these antecedents Francisco Papas Fritas began to design a project that would lead to the declassification of the commission’s secret archives.
The first phase of this project consisted in creating a system that would facilitate the declassification of as many testimonies as possible. This system was launched on a web site in September of 2014 and announced publicly during the premiere party of an artistic exhibit at the Cultural Center Matucana 100 in Santiago that informed the public about the project and dramatically illustrated its meaning and importance.
The exhibit consisted of a large tree uprooted and suspended in the air by steel cables that attached the tree to a large scaffolding. This disconcerting image represented poetically the tortured, mutilated and mended body of the survivor. Floating above the ground: this was a way of saying that the effects of torture remain, they are present, and that unless we are able to connect with our roots—historical memory—society will not be able to pursue justice on behalf of survivors and their families and to heal. In addition, we produced printed manuals that explained how former political prisoners and survivors of torture could request that their testimonies be declassified. Stacks of these manuals, placed on top of stones, spelled out the word “MEMORIA” (“MEMORY” in Castilian Spanish). During the run of the exhibit, as people took the manuals, the word slowly disappeared until it became entirely incomprehensible.
At the same time a video that placed in context and explained the mechanism of the declassification played on a monitor that was enclosed between an arrangement of wooden boxes. It was installed in this way to represent the limits of historical memory in Chile and also the limited access the people have to the hidden truths of our powerful institutions. On one of the faces of one of the boxes we wrote the phrase, “Historical memory is always threatened by oblivion / The truth is always threatened by the rich, by violence, and by lies!”
The second phase, which began in earnest in early 2015, has consisted in the dissemination and systematization of the project by a multi-disciplinary team which is in charge of facilitating former political prisoners’ official requests to declassify their testimonies by helping them to file formal injunctions with the Human Rights Institute, the legal custodian of the commission’s archives.
Through this mechanism we have managed to declassify a few initial case files, putting in doubt the secrecy and impunity that weighs on and attempts to shroud the Valech Commission and its findings. This archives will be made public for the first time in the exhibit 2054 and, simultaneously, on the website www.descalificacionpopular.cl in December of 2016, initiating in this way the third phase of the project, which is characterized by artistic detachment in order to make way for collective political transformation. The artist will leave the project and a technical team will take the reins, analyzing and triangulating information contained within the declassified testimonies, both in order to bring lawsuits with and on behalf of survivors and in order to promote a variety of investigations that will contribute to the construction of truth and justice and the restitution of historical memory.