Report of the seminar “Spectres of others ’68” (Barcelona, January 2019)

Spectres of others ‘68: Aesthetic Genealogies and Global Activism

9 and 10 January 2019
Universitat de Barcelona, Facultad de Geografia e Historia


by Anita Orzes and Pablo Santa Olalla

The Seminar Spectres of others ‘68 dealt with the development, reception and consequences of the historical events -conflicts, revolts and social transformations- occurred around one of the 20th century’s key moments: 1968. This date was relevant, not only in the short and medium range, that is, in individual subjectivities and local spheres, but also through a long-range influence that demands a broad view of History. The approach taken by this Seminar aims to decentralise and reinterpret some of the preponderant phenomena in the global imaginary of social revolt, such as the French May, the Vietnam War or the Prague Spring, among others. It does so either by the revision of local chronologies, the inclusion of other geographies habitually treated as subalterns, or the review of the current revolt processes that have their roots in the political and cultural imaginary of the 1960s.

The first day, 9th of January, the Seminar focused more on a historical review of the 1968 phenomenon, without leaving aside, on the one hand, the analysis of the consequences of “the sixties”, and on the other, its updating from interests that currently have special relevance, such as ecology or coloniality.

After an initial presentation by the directors of the seminar, Anna Maria Guasch and Paula Barreiro López, this second introduced the first panel of the seminar, which took place during the morning under the heading of “La internacional 68, presencias y agencias del otro”. To promote a broader understanding of the historical moment of 1968, Barreiro López placed special emphasis on the importance of local chronologies in an enlarged world geography beyond the United States and northern Europe. The analysis of 1968 must take into account some of the sociopolitical phenomena that occurred previously, as well as their subsequent consequences during the first years of the 1970s.

The first lecture, by Carolina Rito (Nottingham Contemporary / Universidade Nova de Lisboa), “The Portuguese Revolution is an African Revolution: a counter-genealogy of Western Revolutions”, began by proposing the double denomination of some armed conflicts between Portugal and its African colonies, such as Cabo Verde, Mozambique or Guinea Bissau. These wars were called “colonial wars” or “wars of independence”, depending on whether the standpoint was metropolitan or from the colony. Through her father’s personal case, Rito told how May ’68 was important for the Carnation Revolution (1974), but she also described the way in which other revolt imaginaries, including “other” geographies -Palestine, Rhodesia, South Africa- became obligatory references for an international stream of socialist thought. Focusing on cinema and documentary practices in Guinea Bissau through the study of the country’s Film Archive, the Portuguese art historian described a communicational network within revolutionary cinema that fostered solidarity in and across different geographies. This network connected Angolan Mario Pinto de Andrade, and Guinean Amílcar Cabral, to French Chris Marker, for example. To do so, Pinto used some theoretical references, such as the term “cinegeographies” proposed by Kodwo Eshun and Ros Gray in “The Militant Image: A Ciné-Geography” (Third Text, vol. 25, Issue 1, 2011). Finally, she concluded her intervention by responding to what is missing in the narrative on the Portuguese Revolution: the social exhaustion of colonial wars, the importance of the racial notion, or the need to get rid of a western genealogy of revolution, among other aspects.

The second lecture, done by Giulia Lamoni (Facultade de Nova Lisboa), had the title “Who were our mothers in 1968? Historical traces, art and feminism”. This researcher started from a personal case too, that of her mother, to focus on the subject, thus offering a theoretical-practical example of situated knowledge from a personal and affective standpoint. The paper established a journey through female representation in the artistic practices of the sixties and seventies in Italy, from Pop to Conceptual Art and Arte Povera. However, the geographical range did not only focus on Italy; the framework was extended to Portugal, Brazil and other territories, with references to artists such as Iole de Freitas or Ana Maria Maiolino, who established cultural contacts across the Atlantic. Cases such as Giosetta Fioroni and Laura Grisi in Pop Art, or Marisa Merz and Ana Maria Boetti in experimental and conceptual practices were reviewed. Lamoni traced a genealogy of the relationship of feminism with student and social action movements, paying special attention to the representation of women, in many cases invisible for not complying with the patriarchal standards of the artistic field. Her intervention circulated at all times in the triangulation between art, student protests and feminism.

The last intervention of this panel was given by Jaime Vindel (Complutense University of Madrid): “Sobrevivencias del 68 y crisis ecosocial: legados y límites”. Vindel established a genealogy of the relationship between social revolt and ecology from 1968 to the present, expanding the work space in a long cycle that spanned from the Paris Commune to May 1968 in Paris, on the one hand, and from the early 1970s to the present, on the other. This way he placed “petromodernity” as the 3rd Industrial Revolution on the plane of analysis, and raised the need to rethink the “68-ish cycle” from the interrelation of social struggles, the production and reproduction of capitalism and the wear and tear of the planet. Vindel not only posed an analysis of the development of the social revolution until today, when communication technologies are not sustained by any energy revolution -on the contrary, they are more dependent than ever on scarce natural resources-, but he related this whole process with the recent world appearance of populisms and the emergence of a global far-right. Finally, the researcher proposed, in a prospective manner, a series of possible actions to be considered, among which it is worth to highlight the need to rethink cultural studies from an ecosophycal perspective, as well as the ecological revision of the theoretical critique of the Western cultural project.

In the afternoon, the viewing of two films and a subsequent round table with Mariano Lisa, Sonia Kerfa, Jaime Vindel and Paula Barreiro was held, under the general title of “España 68-78: política e imagen”. The films were Spagna 68 (el hoy es malo pero el mañana es mío (1968), by Helena Lumbreras, and Lo que no puede ser visto debe ser mostrado (2010), by María Ruido. Lisa offered a summary of the life of Helena Lumbreras, contextualizing her professional career with her personal experiences. One of the highlights was how her work as a teacher is reflected in the pedagogical themes that permeate all her work.

After an overview of how the documentary film is a film-manifesto, a text that stands up for and announces issues, Kerfa stressed that Maria Ruido is an artist who makes the personal political and the political personal, working with images and history to question them through cinema.

Her work is a visual essay that is halfway between scientific work and literary work, accompanied by a subjective voice that adopts a critical stance that she defends. Barreiro and Vindel highlighted the continuity established in Spagna 68 between the Spanish Civil War and the period of the 1960s. Vindel indicated that it is significant that the cultural references (eg Miguel Hernández or Antonio Machado) that appear in the Helena Lumbreras film are references from the context of the Civil War. This is related to the feeling of the militant supporters of the left that the civil conflict was an unfinished conflict or, at least, a conflict that could be reactivated. Vindel considers that it is an interpretation of the moment that contrasts with the one that the leadership of the party was promoting from exile, since the fifties, with the doctrine of national reconciliation, and that it is important to highlight how these political tensions are manifested in Spagna 68. The question of what the perspective of Helena Lumbreras instead of Pere Portabella would have meant in Lo que no puede ser visto debe ser mostrado was also highlighted, considering how the conflict between the social and political classes during the transition is reflected visually. The transition is transferred to the visual policy. Barreiro highlighted the power of the image for the construction of the context analyzed and represented, since when working on the Franco regime and the 60s, there are few images of student and worker dissidence in 1968. She concluded by linking the work of María Ruido with that of Helena Lumbreras, returning to Paul Klee’s quote “Art does not reproduce the visible but rather, makes it visible”, and by highlighting the encounters of the students in Spagna 68 through a comparison between the spoken discourse and the visual imaginary (as were the popular print posters that the students in the film had hung at the university).
The afternoon session ended with the presentation of Atlántico Frío(ed. Brumaria) and Redes y circulaciones en la Guerra Fría: Diálogos y practicas interculturales en el sur global (1957-1991), issue 5 of REG / AC, Journal of Studies Globales & Contemporary Art (University of Barcelona).

The second working day, January 10th, started under the title “Ecos del 68 y activismos en la era de lo global”. The first presentation was given by Anna Maria Guasch, who indicated that the panel would provide and insight to 1968 not so much historical as theoretical, focusing on the study of contemporaneity through the revision of the phenomenon of “artivism”, or political activism related to art and culture.

The first lecture, given by Julia Ramírez Blanco (University of Barcelona), was entitled “Social Movements´ Aesthetics and Communitarian Practice. The Construction of Activist Spatiality between ‘Centre’ and ‘Periphery'”. It dealt with ways of producing internationalisation in social movements, especially in reference to art and culture. To this end, the researcher pointed out three general processes: cross-border dissemination, international mobilisation and organisation, and “modularity”. They arise when a given form of action becomes part of a repertoire of actions applicable in disparate contexts. Ramírez also carried out an interconnected genealogy of the different social movements from the 1990s to the present day, while problematizing the modes of international diffusion of the revolt through the revision of processes such as the colonization of the narrative by global power centers or the uniformization of discourses. The Via Campesina (1993) of Belgium, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN, 1994), the counter-summits of the 1990s and other activist and festive movements in America and Europe -such as “Reclaim the Streets” (1995) or “Carnival Againsta Capital” (1999)- were mentioned as case studies, until finally reaching the international movements of occupation of the squares, which began in the Tahrir Square in Cairo (2011), went through the 15-M in Madrid (2011) and ended in Occupy Wall Street (2011) in New York. In this line of connections, Julia Ramírez Blanco established a series of aesthetic, procedural and political links between movements.

This presentation was followed by a lecture by Mieke Bal (Universiteit van Amsterdam) “La agencia de la imagen: ¿Activa, activista, o activando?”, illustrated through several video projections of fragments of her work. Bal began her talk by recalling her experiences as a spectator in Paris’ May ’68, although she only participated in a somewhat decentralized way with respect to the protests. She then raised her personal interest in the theory and practice of art, but focused more on what it “does” rather than what it “is”. Doing a brief terminological revision, he noted “activator” as a more desirable adjective -for art- than “activist”, since the former implies mutuality and performativity, allowing us to work in a more communal and horizontal way. This “activator art”, therefore, would question the historicity of the present, in a temporal multiplicity, or heterochrony, that would allow binary oppositions to be forgotten and complexity to be accepted. Mieke Bal thus postulated the need to in-form trauma, for which it is necessary to “rethink abstraction”. In this process, form is key, since human trauma does not seem to have a concrete form. But not just any form is valid; it is necessary an abstract form, as long as it does not repeats again fixed or preconceived forms, but responsibly offers other possibilities of con-forming. This abstract form, freed from its own history’s “guilt”, could work with “productive anachronisms” that would allow memory to be reworked from its own failure. Bal illustrated hes presentation with works of art by Doris Salcedo, Ann Veronica Janssens, Marlene Dumas, Nani Malani, Eija-Liisa Ahtila and Fernando Sánchez Castillo, as well as his own. All of them embody, for the speaker, the need to rethink memory in favor of a historical porosity that goes beyond the formal, in an assault on human subjectivity that finally will overcome trauma.

The afternoon session, with the title “En esos lindes”, began with a presentation by Martí Peran, in which he indicated that they were going to present three projects that extend the geographies of the ’68 genealogies that are being proposed in the seminar as well as in the speech “El 68 desde la retaguardia” by Iván de la Nuez.

The first project presented was “Taquería de los vientos” by Domènec, a production of the Alameda Art Laboratory with the collaboration of Arte In Situ / Torre de los Vientos, carried out in 2003 in Mexico D.F. It consists of the construction of a scale model of the Tower of the Winds (a structure with which Gonzalo Fonseca represented Uruguay in the Olympic Games of 1968 in Mexico) turned into a traveling taquería. For a few days the reproduction at Fonseca’s tower scale became a place for food buying and selling, a device for a banal and domestic experience that hides, in the papers that are used to wrap the food, scenes of the slaughter of students of October 2, 1968 in the Plaza of the Three Cultures (on October 12 the Olympic Games were inaugurated) and of subsequent citizen demonstrations. Doménec highlighted the difference between May 68 in Europe and the other 68 in Latin America, taking Mexico as a starting point, and offering an overview of the Argentine and Chilean realities, ending with the position adopted by the United States and the CIA. He stressed that he was interested in playing with the subtext of the images, the gesture of wiping his hands with the paper, the reaction of the people and the moment that was being lived in Mexico at the time, since, for the first time and 35 years later, discussion about the killing of students and the determination of those responsible were just beginning.

The second project presented was “Gráfica canalla” by Oscar Guayabero, a project of graphic documentation that is growing and whose purpose is to create a common storyline between the images and events in Paris and elsewhere. The image of ’68 is an image of war, created at night in workshops, distributed clandestinely or stuck to the walls in Paris. It is characterized by the simplicity and precariousness of the media, so much so that predefined graphic elements, found in these night-time workshops, were re-used, re-contextualizing their elements. To clarify how there is an aesthetic that has been repeated, the speaker presented some examples of posters, brochures, flyers from Russian Constructivism to Punk, as well as citing Potlatch magazine. Guayabero highlighted the presence of what he defines as an “underground current” that transcends the art sphere and operates in a direct social environment, using “ugly, deranged and rogue” visual imagery which seeks to make the viewer uncomfortable and make a world in friction and permanent convulsion visible.

The third project presented was “Proyecto Supermax – Stuttgart” by Alán Carrasco. The setting is Germany in 1968, but begins in June 1967 around the student protests, which lead to the founding of the 2 June Movement and later to the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF). The project begins with the place where, in 1975, several members of the Rote Armee Fraktion were assigned: the Stammheim prison in Stuttgart, a Supermax-type prison (maximum security). As a result of his arrival, the architecture of the penitentiary block was modified, adding a special pavilion for the prisoners and a courtroom, to avoid the displacement of the accused. After giving examples of laws made to measure, elements of the trial and the night of their death (October 18, 1977 when, according to the State’s version, the three leaders of the RAF appeared to have committed suicide), Carrasco highlighted the paradoxes and inaccuracies of police reports and the stories constructed and disseminated. The artist also explained the refusal of the federal government to cooperate whenever he tried to approach the issue: the justice department denied him permission to document the interior of the prison, he was not allowed to use the materials that had been provided from the archive of the House of the History of Baden-Württemberg, nor allowed to print Foucault’s “Networks of Power” in the printing press workshop. Finally, Carrasco indicated that the impossibility of carrying out his project on the networks of power became the project itself, materializing in a visual story without images: an installation that establishes a dialogue between Robespierre’s phrase “Punishing the oppressors of humanity is mercy, forgiving them is barbarism”, the descriptions that should accompany the images that have been censored, and a thousand granite stones (referring to the phrase “To throw a stone is a punishable action. To throw a thousand stones is a political action” by Ulrike Meinhof member of RAF).

Iván de la Nuez was responsible for the last intervention of the afternoon: “68 from the rearguard”. In order to address other genealogies of ’68, the Cuban essayist and art critic took as his point of departure facts and key aesthetic events of 68 (the death of Duchamp, the year in which the Lord’s photograph of Che Guevara is released, the Soviet invasion of Prague and the massacre of Tlatelolco) to then approach the experience of the revolution and this bloody 1968 in Latin America as opposed to “festive” Europe. De la Nuez, after emphasizing that the origins of the Cuban Revolution are usually dated to 1968, emphasized a Cuban cinematographic landmark as the film Memorias del subdesarrollo (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea) and its ideological continuity with the Tricontinental, also considering the Biennial of Havana as the Tricontinental made art and culture.

See the seminar’s program