Traces & Infiltrations
Just like every weekend, on one Saturday morning in March 1979, the people of Lima sat down at their breakfast tables to devour the cultural section of El Comercio, the most important daily newspaper in the country. More than one reader would have held his eyes over some dozen words published on the border between the news and the advertisements. Many would have jumped at the novelties that surrounded them, that would be then, the next day, thrown away in the trash. A precious few–maybe some seventy people–responded to what, though far from being one, took on the form of a classified ad: an unnamed artist, giving only his telephone number, was looking for a patron (mecenas), a protector of the arts. It was the first of three ads, a work that sustained itself, incorporating other words and moving from anonymity to an association: the search for patrons–a very improbable search in the Peru of that time–had culminated in the formation of the group Paréntesis (Parentheses) by uniting those who had responded to a work that had no image and was realized in a widely circulated newspaper that Peruvians used even to wrap up their eggs at the market. Avant-garde recycling.
The group fired off of a set of collective urban interventions, known as Contacta 79, that represented not only a turning point in the practice and the space of the arts in Peru, but also served as a means of questioning and challenging the artistic production in the country. Here, art didn’t merely take to the streets, but rather took the streets. Combined with political activism, Paréntesis created powerful pieces, which at the same time posed the crudest question of the artists’ survival and that of their work. Arte no catalogado (Non-codified art) was the name chosen to group together these interventions made in the public sphere. This work produced and generated new forms and ideas that would return to Argentina with their generators.
Given the ephemeral character of the actions as well as the materials that were used, those events left behind few traces. Some of their protagonists came back to Buenos Aires early in the 1980s (namely, during the years in Peru marked by The Shining Path) and the events from 1979 became a kind of fact scattered in the fragments of second-hand experience which, since then, has created new stories and identities both in Peru and in other Latin American contexts. This occurred to such an extent that when proponents of Paréntesis returned to Peru early in the 1990s, they faced a reconstructed past from which they were almost erased. They were there but just as mere phantoms, vague stains created by the subsequent historical events which can be easily related to any other situation characterized by the physical or symbolic suppression of people, looting, and mystification of one’s own history.
The work by Fernando “Coco” Bedoya, who was the artist that did not sign but conceived of and paid for the publication of Avisos Mecenas (Patron Wanted), has been, in fact, a consistent reflection on the “phantoms“ and “blind zones” created by conflict, disappearance, catastrophic incidents and social turmoil. He had learned and been taught how to work with phantoms, with the traces left somewhere by the ephemeral, with those invisible marks that impact on our present and future. Working with phantoms–as his Argentinean Siluetas (Silhouettes) show–implies the capacity to survive and grow in the face of pain and loss, a tool for dealing with the volatile and the fleeting that characterize our societies, for understanding how the dynamics of history are imprinted on our bodies and, on the other hand, how the traces of our actions are engraved in the course of history.
This historical examination was also explored in Trepanaciones peruanas (Peruvian Trepanations, 1991-1993), a collection of Peruvian archaeological replicas made for tourist consumption that were intervened by Bedoya in the early 1990s, when he returned to Peru after fourteen years of living in Argentina. By sawing off the handles that characterized pre-Columbian pottery, Bedoya created two holes in the vessel, in the same way that the Ancient Inca cranial surgical operation created holes in the skull. In this way, the faked pottery vessels became trepanned heads. By closing one of the holes with a Coca Cola bottle cap, Bedoya’s trepanations reflected upon recent Peruvian history, which had been eroded by the Coke/coca(ine) empire. This work is part of Cultura Trepa-Nación (1993), a wordplay in Spanish that exploits the meanings of similar-sounding words; in this case, “trepanación, which refers to skull surgery but hyphenated (trepa-nación) means “climbing-nation”, a colonized nation trepanned by opportunism, exploitation and by the ongoing tension between popular and fine art.
The pun and its use are indispensible resources in understanding Bedoya’s work. The pun is used not only in the Avisos Mecenas (mecenas, meaning patron; and me-cenas, meaning ‘eat me for dinner’), but also in the Homage to Envar el Kadri series (1983). El Kadri (1941-1998), a former cadet turned militant who had been forced into exile in France during the years of the Argentinian dictatorship, is the individual to whom Bedoya attributes the materialization of the figure of the disappeared person in the sign of the silhouette. This connection came about through Juanita Meller de Pargament (1914-2016), one of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the May Plaza), who in 1981 passed on to Bedoya the catalogue for an action led by Geneva-based group A.I.D.A. (Association Internationale de Défense des Artistes Victimes de la Répression). Bedoya began working with the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo that same year and quickly became involved in their political battles. This genesis of the silhouette would unite the marks left by the corpses of Hiroshima with the shadows of the disappeared Argentines, and the letters with which newspapers and histories are written with the outlines which detectives trace around the bodies of fallen victims. The use of DECAdry Letraset transfer paper sustains, in this case, the form of absence, similarly to how the stenciled outline of the body of Dalmiro Flores, a worker killed during a demonstration against the dictatorship, was traced on the pavement in the Plaza de Mayo in 1982.
All of these comings and goings show the artist as a go-between, or broker, between a variety of worlds and traditions. As it so happened, “non-codified art” was a new category created for “Contemporary Propositions”, the only section of the XIV São Paulo Biennale (1977) in which awards were given. Granted to “experiments and propositions without classification by critics, which might raise new fields in aesthetic creativity, and might generate new inquiries into aesthetic behavior”, this prize –widely debated- was presented to the Argentine collective CAyC (Centro de Artes y Comunicación). This passage, far from being a connection defined by the artist’s biographical itineraries, shows how, in yet another example, the media -without god or country- shape our lives. Bedoya, recognizing this power, has conceived of his practice as a collective and cooperative enterprise, in which sharing, recycling and exchanging represent an essential part of the creative process. The work of Bedoya, in all senses, is a work about words, the media and the contingencies that have made of all of us ‘faces drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.’
Del Valle, Augusto, “Zona ciega”. Lima: ICPNA, 2015
Longoni, Ana M., “La conexión peruana”, in Fernando Coco Bedoya. Mitos, acciones e iluminaciones, Lima: MALI, 2014, pp. 64-79
Sarti, Graciela, Grupo CAyC, Buenos Aires: Centro Virtual de Arte Argentino, 2013, available at: http://www.cvaa.com.ar/02dossiers/cayc/ 03_intro.php