The Island of Papas Fritas (2007)
The Island of Papas Fritas
January 22 to March 2, 2008 in the National Museum of Fine Art
1.1 Introduction to The Island
“A painting is made not by the artist by by those who look at it” – Marcel Duchamp
The Island was conceived as a series of interventions that sought to provoke collective participation, and offer a venue from which to observe and critically reflect upon that participation. The mise en scène and each of the actions that were orchestrated were intended to incite (re)actions.
This could have trapped the project in a simple abyss. But the reflections and analyses that followed each show established critical perspectives on the reality of the moment.
A phenomenological art rooted in concrete experience.
For twenty-five hundred years Western thought has attempted to see the world. It still hasn’t comprehended that you do not see the world, you hear it. You do not read it, you listen to it.
Our science has always wanted to supervise, count, abstract from, and castrate the senses, forgetting that life is noisy and that only death is silent.. The noise of work, the noise of men, the noise of beasts. Noises bought, sold, and prohibited. Nothing real happens without sound being present.
Today, our gaze is broken. We no longer see our own future. We have constructed a present of abstraction, senselessness, and silence. Nevertheless, you have to learn to judge a society by its sounds, by its art and its parties, more than by its statistics. Listening to its sounds, we will be better able to comprehend where the madness of men and monthly bills is dragging us, and what hope still exists.
– Jacques Attali
An island is a piece of land surrounded by water on all sides. Water is a tasteless, odorless, and colorless liquid substance whose molecules are formed by the combination of one atom of oxygen with two of hydrogen. It is the most abundant substance on the surface of the Earth. It is found in rain, in fountains, in rivers, lakes, icecaps, and in seas. It is a constituent element of every living organism and appears in a variety of organic compounds. But uncontaminated water is an ever scarcer resource.
An island that is not surrounded by water is a spiritual dryness and an affront to the animal being.
The fact that the museum goer does not have to wade through water to reach The Island of Papas Fritas is a reflection of a spiritual drought in which the citizen progressively loses sight of the sustenance she needs to survive and the social web that sustains her, along with her capacity for empathy.
An island in the middle of a dead, dry space where art is only something that records the history of conquerors. An enclosure that showcases a patriarchal history, where art does nothing more than generate wealth for the institution and its bureaucrats, and promote the status of the artists that show there. An island in the middle of a dead, dry space where the only thing art manages to do is prevent the cleansing death of already dead spaces that serve no popular or truly useful purpose. The institution and commodification resist in order to sustain official versions of history, the verticality of power, nationalism, the republican ideal, and patriarchy…
Art should be capable of utilizing the risk of being phenomenological to a certain degree and to seek out an operative, productive vein where it might risk losing its perceived condition as art, where the artist and the spectator co-construct the artwork, where the social subject can modify the work without this having to be explicitly interactive. Where she can transport the work and generate her reading of it in a heated quarrel of values and ideas. Which is to say: we seek to make a work of art that submits itself to a collective process that is sparked by an object (which in this case is the artist himself).
The risk of concrete reality consists in opening up the precious work to the possibility that the spectator might adjudicate it, transforming herself in the process into an artist. Allowing one’s work to be destroyed by another, the ego of the artist is made vulnerable. The call to attention is directed to the moribund and taciturn social subject, whose condition as spectator and consumer is paralyzing. The artwork is shed of its academic ethic. An ethic that smells of technical manuals. An ethic designed to serve the dominant order. In this other way art becomes a path that leads to destruction, to the loss of information, to copy & paste, to the remix. Created by anyone who says that what they do is art, this art fades away and dissolves the artist with it. An art that gets lost and disappears, that becomes tiny molecules and destroys itself in order to collaborate in the (re)creation of a social body.
An art in which the artista should be capable of finding her own ethic and explode herself, become degenerate, exceed her mental and ethical limits, and in this way carry the work to a vulnerable state. Produce a counter-ethic.
1.2 The context
The spent faces of a government demonstrate the internal fragility of the parties and the exhaustion of the political class. In the critical moments which provoke the replacement of officials, no one knows from which hat they’ll pull the new minister. Cronyism and the friendly patting of backs, totally obsolete, surrendered to the fatigue that maintaining a false, sectarian, and incestuous political class since 1990 all the way to the present day provokes. Even though Chile has become a formal, republican democracy, it is a democracy with a dictatorial character in which the people are silenced by repression, the social subject is conditioned to work and consume, and much of the government’s interaction with the public is pure theater. An oligarchic democracy in which people have one vote to choose from a narrow range of similarly hostile possibilities and the voice of society is more and more hoarse and sore.
In this museum space, I placed an island.
An isolated, segregated, egocentric and grandiloquent Santiago. An island within Latin America. An island, according to the standardized representations of each institution and each political structure in Chile, where memory is erased by a form of development that generates a historic fiction of a country that never existed. Chile, an island property belonging to large family estates and extractivists. The Chilean aristocracy in charge of a country where civil society, ever since the coup, has been castrated.
1.3 The insertion of The Island in the Biennial
The project was taken in by the curator Natalia Arcos, who understood that the proposal could be met with a preemptive no due to its content, which was fiercely critical of the authorities in the government and their neoliberal policies. We know how institutional authorities become difficult when faced with criticism of their own practices and values. What’s more, they are not capable of facing their own bosses to defend freedom of expression within the spaces they administer. We spoke of curatorial lines, of standard contents, of politicians and business impresarios driven by profit motive and business ethics.
In the National Fine Arts Museum—financed by the government, dependent on the Office of Libraries, Archives, and Museums (DIBAM), and under the direction of Milán Ivelic—cannot generate content that is critical of the government that finances it. For this reason, we only informed them of material aspects of the proposed installation. With this in mind, the artwork was presented to the authorities according to its basic esthetic characteristics and discursive features and so was able to duck the censuring gaze of the institution and managed to sneak its way in.
On January 20, 2008 the program of actions or experiences that we were to orchestrate within the museum as part of the project The Island of Papas Fritas was exposed to the public by way of an article published in the newspaper El Mercurio. The program of The Island was described under the heading “¿Can the Museum of Fine Art handle Papas Fritas?”… What at first glance may have appeared harmless was in fact a provocation designed to trigger a response from the museum’s governing body.
It worked. On Monday, January 21, one day before the show was to open, the museum became aware of the program and they called me to schedule a meeting. The museum’s director Milán Ivelic and head curator Patricio Muñoz Zarate attended, along with the artist and the curator of the biennial who had been acting as intermediary between the artist and the museum. In this meeting the two administrators from the museum attempted to dominate the situation in the hopes that I, being a young artist just 24 years of age, would be so anxious to show in their prestigious space that I’d accept whatever changes they proposed. They hoped that I believed that to be an artist it was necessary to have the backing of an institutional space that would improve my CV.
I refused to pursue a university degree that would fluff my artistic résumé, why would I think the support of a mausoleum of fine arts necessary?
Whatever, it’s a pardonable offense. They didn’t know me and, from what I could tell, they didn’t expect that I would not be eager to please. They hoped, I think, that I would cede before their solicited changes with the arguments that they offered and that I would retire a number of the actions proposed in the program. They also didn’t expect clarity in the defense of an autodidact.
In conclusion, the meeting ended with the director incensed saying, “Under my direction this museum will not permit, for ethical reasons, that you victimize victims, treating them like objects when they are human beings,” referring in this way to two of the proposed actions—I Permute a Pair of Peruvians and The New Mapuche Home—which they asked be removed from the program that was to be presented during the biennial.
This meeting was called in spite of the fact that in the proposal we presented through the press the political character of each work had been watered down so as not to inspire the ire and resistance of the censors, knowing all along that once the show was up and running I’d go for broke. Nevertheless, there was no subtle way of describing even the most basic aspects of these two interventions. They insisted that we remove both from the program. The strategy was not to say, “This is not happening,” but rather to attempt to convince me of the rightness of their misgivings and inspire me to say, “You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I hadn’t thought of it in that way. It’s better that I take them out of the show.” It’s as if they were obliging me to sign a letter of resignation and then write a letter describing why I had decided to quit. In this way they attempted to avoid taking on the risk of saying, “I’m censuring you. I prohibit this and that part of your proposal.”
In the end I told them, “If this is your stance, I’ll take my things and go. Nobody tells me what or whose ethics I should put in my work. I don’t tell you, Mr. Milán, how to direct your museum. The museum is unimportant to me, what matters to me is my work.” And, well, the director, reacting to the accumulated tension in the room, responded, “Alright. Get lost.” But the museum manager Patricio Muñoz interjected saying, “All right, cool it down. Let’s all stay calm, here.”
I was reminded of a case with Nicanor Parra and his work El pago de Chile (“Chile’s Payment”) that was shown at the La Moneda Palace Cultural Center and that resulted in the firing of the center’s director, Morgana Rodríguez, in response to her failed attempt to censor the work.
“Minister Paulina Urrutia told me that I should suggest to him that he not go through with his proposed show because it was going to bother a lot of people.” The anti-poet told me that he would not have any of it and that’s what I told the Minister, that Parra was against censoring his work and that I was, too, and that we’d have to study this. I couldn’t be giving directives to the artist and telling him what he can and cannot do and what he can and cannot say to the press. So I told her that we’d have to handle things in the board of directors, but she told me that “this is very delicate and there are people on the board that can’t know about it.”
In this case, the museum’s administrator, Patricio, was much more strategic, understanding that the program of the exposition was already in the press. He thought that it would be more problematic to censor the show than to let it happen and take on the consequences afterwards. A functionary at the museum asked me, “Haven’t you thought that this might cause big problems for the director?” To which I responded, “It’s possible that that is precisely my intention.”
At the end of the day they let me present the show as I’d planned it. But they asked me not to make specific calls to the press in order to avoid overshadowing the other works in the biennial. A request I questioned immediately, thinking that it was a strategy to silence the kind of politically charged actions I was going to take. I reacted by doing exactly the opposite, and I received the press with open arms for my second performance, I See Dead People.
The work resonated internationally. In spite of media manipulations and declarations from museum authorities, which were extremely ambiguous and which tried to lower the profile of the work. They portrayed it as a work by a young artist who, it seemed, didn’t know what he was saying.
On January 22, the same day as the show’s opening, the satirical weekly The Clinic published an article that included a description of the attempted censorship in the meeting we described above, generating even more tension between myself and the museum as well as increased public interest in the show itself.
1.4 The Island of Papas Fritas
(Text by Natalia Arcos, the show’s curator)
A shack as a platform, a video on loop, a program of performative actions, and the documentation of museum goers’ opinions covering the walls of the room: Papas Fritas’ proposal continuously evolved and extended its reach as it neared completion. The work revolves around the total subversion of any preconceived parameter; it explodes like a cluster bomb whose effects are felt well beyond the museum walls.
In formal terms you could say that, like Tiravanija, “its aim is not to question the limits of art; (he) utilizes forms that worked in the sixties to investigate those limits, but he seeks to produce very different effects.”[i]
Transformed into a creative machine, Papas Fritas touched on almost all the issues that puncture the mask of our democracy: from the National Arts Council to the Mapuche conflict, the sentence is that to be Chilean is to be fascist, as the voice on the video loop repeats. Willing to disseminate this critical content through every possible medium, including of course mass communications media, the work acted like a virus, beginning with the self-flagellated body of the artist himself, and spreading out like a virus to infect the body politic of the nation.
In this way, and as a work intended to generate activity, the room lent to Francisco became the site of a veritable storm of protest speech: a sculpture of a young protestor made out of scotch tape, a video collage with images from the NO Campaign and self-immolators in front of the Government Palace, the metaphorical auctioning of the Director of the National Museum of Fine Art in the closing ceremony of the Biennial.
The broad spectrum of contents and effects produced by this series of interventions is beyond the scope of the space allotted in this catalog—each piece provoked outcomes of profound sociological interest. But running through it all was the same acidic substrate: unlike many artists whose work addresses contemporary social and geopolitical themes in literal ways, Papas Fritas troubles the space that has taken him in. Lucid, his art is capable of transforming itself to challenge the forms of power that he chooses to take on. Without prejudice, he refuses to follow academic strictures and is especially equipped not to, given that he never went to art school or university.
The multiplicity of esthetic resources he appeals to makes Francisco’s work complete as both method and militancy.
It is a system of philosophic interpellation that pulls no punches.
-Natalia Arcos Salvo
1.5 The Six Actions
- The eternal radiance of a country with no memory
The public observed 27 minutes of a video, a flashback to a proposed discourse as the central gear of the actions, wherein Eduardo Miño is publicly remembered. Miño fell sick with pleural mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos in a slate panel factory.
After a series of denunciations that came to nothing, and having never really been listened to at all, Miño decided to self-immolate in front of La Moneda Palace in 2001. It was the same period during which our actual president, Michelle Bachelet, was Minister of Health, and from her official post she publicly refuted the discourse of Eduardo Miño, the reasons that he had given explaining why he had self-immolated. In this way, the meaning of that brave and desperate act was denied and obscured.
Within The Island there existed a sculpture of a man who inhales gas in order to burn himself alive. He carried in his hand a lighter and a black flag in honor of the Mapuche comunero and university student Matías Catrileo. Written on the wall is the phrase “eternal radiance,” which denounces the fragility of memory, the tiny false glimmers enunciated and learned in history classrooms whose books are purposefully manipulated to regulate a people through an ideological refracting of information, and the immediacy of corporate news media that speak continually in the present tense and ignore history altogether.
Written on another wall there is another phrase that reads, “We all have a Miño inside.” We all carry a wound, a pain fostered by the system and its irregularities. And we all are on the border of desperation when governments do not perceive us and don’t consider us as they make one incompetent decision after another.
- “I see dead people”
I see a dead society that does not respond to social events and does nothing to dignify its own lives. That does not protest, that imagines that lashing one person on their back will resolve their discursive necessity. That is where there fascism resides, “the magical fascism” of the spectator who participates in acts of brutality as a voyeur, making little off-handed remarks, but doing nothing to intervene as a person exposes himself to a whipping in exchange for a few measly coins.
- In which I exchange a clean-cut Spaniard for a down-and-out Peruvian
Here the public attacked the Spanish, angrily denouncing them as thieves. But a vast majority actually prefers Spain over their own Latin American lands. Because it is European, developed, beautiful and has Euros. On the other hand, the Peruvian, ugly and poor, is humiliated and abused. Some confabulators invented a far-fetched story that the Spaniard had robbed us of gold and thanks to that it was the rich country it is today. Others said that the Spanish had trampled on and raped the Mapuche. Some complained that Chileans had raped Peruvian women during the War of the Pacific, and that in light of these aggressions the Peruvian immigrants who come to Chile, so the chauvinist nationalist historiographic fiction goes, are the children of the martyrs of that war, descendents of Chilean soldier-rapists, Peruvian-Chileans at the end of the day.
- 4. Mapu Land
An amusement park. A Sunday spectacle at the entrance to the National Museum of Fine Art or the Museum of Contemporary Art. The public, with their attitude of benevolence and charity characteristic of Catholic countries, tried to collaborate with the Mapuche cause playing with “the Indian” only to humiliate him in the end in exchange for a quarter, making the figurine act as a slave to a Wingka (“white man” in Mapundungún). The Mapuche traveled by boat through his land made of sawdust (the waste cast off by the forestry industry). A repugnant satire that few understood. Instead they found this interactive art installation to be “fun.” Someone wrote on the wall of the gallery space marinchuweu (a misspelled deformation of the Mapuche word “marichiweu,” a common battle cry meaning “we will conquer ten times over”), because they don’t even know how it’s written. The Chilean, when the masses speak of minorities, tends to be condescending. He ends up validating the faux-progressive discourse only because he wants to be perceived as open-minded, even though he walks about with his perennially closed and chauvinistic world view. False appearances and disinformation about First Nations fill his head. Ignorant is what we are in the eyes of the serious Mapuche, who walks around the gallery space tranquilly, reading placards and observing as the staging ridicules and mocks his people and the public asks to have their photo taken with him, as if he were an animal in a zoo.
- Goodbye 90´s
Goodby 90s, ciao “transition,” goodbye realistic measures, goodbye fear. With this action I say bid farewell to the museum space, which is basically an empty, white lot. I bid farewell to the room with a mural, in which the academics from the Catholic University, lovers of the respectable trade and mostly hyperrealist painters, write opinions about my work as they walk about smelling of overpriced turpentine. They must have been terrified by my mural! Like that assiduous lady of prestigious lineage who placed a complaint with the museum because my room looked like a public bathroom in a dive bar! It’s all the same, it speaks to the same phenomenon: the museum is a dead institution and its art a sterile art.
You will of course then ask, “But why did you choose to show here? Did you even ask yourself that?” I am not showing, I answer. Like a used cars salesmen might say, “I’m not here to showcase, but to trick.” And I can kill two birds with one stone. The public will walk away having received a couple blows to the stomach and the work will live outside of the museum in the analyses that are made and other actions and works the show inspires. I took advantage of a platform to reveal the fascist underbelly of Chilean culture that nobody wants to acknowledge much less honestly examine.
The auctioning of the Director of the National Museum of Fine Art
Milan Ivelic, director from 1993 to date of the National Museum of Fine Art, transistor of the contemporary narratives that mask the neoliberal malfeasance of the Concertationist “transition,” of magical fascism, is an icon, an emblematic manifestation of the political structures that the transition to “democracy” have set in place and legitimized.
The final blow to that dead body that requires the insistence of death to learn what is written in stone and apparent to most, that it does not represent but rather supplant social reality. It is the last staging of the show. In it we point out that in the most recent presidential election, both of the major candidates had chosen the same person to be director of the museum (it is a politically-appointed position), the same man who has been in charge of the museum since 1993. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that much of the power that certain public employees wield is in the service of their own wealth and prestige.
We are putting a nail in the coffin of this icon. This is the end of the political culture of a “transition” that secured impunity for the criminals that rained terror and death down on the people during the dictatorship and assured the continuity of that dictatorship’s brutal neoliberal policies.
They are now more than dead, more than finished. May they rot in their definitive obsolescence.
3 Nicolas Bourriaud, “Postproducción”, Pág.16, Adriana Hidalgo Editora, 2007.
4 “La cultura católica está marcada por la desconfianza hacia los medios y el terror a la publicidad”. Jerome Anciberro in “La normalización de Opus Dei”, Le Monde Diplomatique, Marzo 2008.
5 An action similar to the kind carried out by the Costa Rican artist Regina José Galindo who according to Virginia Pérez-Ratton “uses the fragility of her tiny body and tranfigures it in a forceful and convincing manner into the social body that experiences a variety of aggressions on a daily basis.” 100 artistas latinoamericanos, Pág. 178, Exit Publicaciones, 2007.