Invisible evidences. Towards
the appearance of the Other
A compared essay between "Plan
of Invasion to The Netherlands"
and "Reconstruction of the portrait of Pablo Míguez"
By Claudia Fontes
I will try to approach to the proposed topic -visibility and invisibility
in contemporary art- by analizing the conditions of appearance of the
image in two specific projects that I developed in the last five years:
"Plan of Invasion to The Netherlands" and "Reconstruction
of the portrait of Pablo Míguez ".
I related to the two people you see in order to generate the two projects
I want to tell you about: Lotty van der Voorn and Juan Carlos Míguez.
My relationship with these two people is at the same time the starting
and the finishing point of the processes of construction of both pieces.
In both projects I find it especially difficult to define the moment in
which a constituent unique image of the whole work appears. Both projects
work like a weft, from which certain images emerge while being weaved,
I will show you some of them. I like to believe that the definitive image,
the one that I want to convey as the object of memory -as it is loaded
with the motivation and intention of the work- is visually inaccesible
and is actually created in the spectator's mind by means of the evocation
of its trace. I would like at first to explain briefly the development
of the projects and to invite you then to join me thinking of a series
of characteristics that are important in the way I work.
The "Plan of invasion to The Netherlands" is a group of actions
of which I kept records in different formats. They work together as the
narrative structure of a classic tale: introduction, development and outcome.
My idea at the start of the project in 1996 was to misarticulate and to
put in crisis my system of work, in order to modify my relationship with
the spectator. I felt that the objects I had been making until that moment
were succesfully communicating ideas, but at the same time they kept me
at a safe distance from the spectator. Somehow I needed to recover the
emotional relationship that the work could generate as part of the creative
Therefore I focused in bringing to the world only those objects that were
absolutely necessary for my emotional survival in Holland, and that could
work as tools that helped me to embrace this new territory that I wanted
to confront as a visiting artist. This feeling of survival was not so
much related to a personal level as to a more symbolic need: to state
the contradictions that it implies, as an Argentine artist, to make art
in a context which in my opinion was unnecessarily luxurious and controlled,
a necessity that is directly related to the will of counteracting cultural
colonialism. Such an imposition needed an extreme and well studied strategy:
a plan of counter-invasion.
I felt in quite a strong way the threat of a process of de-identification,
which imposed the following question: in which way could I generate an
artistic action in this new context that wasn't complaisant and conformist
with regard to this new production condition that was being lent to me
by the context? How not to offer a quick digestion to a viewer avid to
classify my work into aesthetics and concepts already defined before my
I have not found the answer to this question yet, but the question itself
made me discard some possibilities defining, through what it isn't, the
identity of a possible project: being aware of this, I limited my action
field to Flevopark, away from the safe environment the Dutch art circuit
offered me, and I imposed myself to limit my communication language to
the objects I would show in the park.
I had to come out with an object with a very clear and specific function
in order to succeed. It had to be more effective than anything that I
had made before. I observed then that in Holland, as in Argentina, people
build a very special relationship with their dogs, the dog being another
member of the family. So I decided, in an absolutely fetishistic way,
to make a wooden replica of my dog that I had left behind in Buenos Aires.
This replica worked as a decoy to lure that spectator that would make
my work meaningful. A Dutch accomplice that testified to the main part
of my invasion plan, a skilled witness, an ideal spectator that could
sense my urgency. Almost a miracle
:it was not only a site specific
piece, but a spectator specific one.
Then I decided to walk it to the park and it worked
, and it worked
very well. It worked perfectly when I met Lotty
. I like to call
this first action "A good wooden dog".
As a following step, I had to carry out the effective invasion, the territorial
appropiation. Then I planted an ombú carved out of green wood in
a hidden part of the park.
I collected the wood needed to make it in the park itself, the remains
of the prunning of some local species. I wanted to grow a real tree from
this still alive wood, under Lotty's tutorship. I called this action "The
The tree and its potentiality of growing are the heart of the project
and it is the only image that you won't see. What I can show you are two
related images: the one that gave origin to it, and the only image that
I rescued after the disappearence of the tree thanks to Lotty.
The tree was planted there for a month, during which Lotty visited it
daily to register the advances of its growth. It didn't look as if it
would grow, altough it had been treated in my studio with hormones to
help it to take roots, but as Lotty told me wisely in a letter, "what
is not yet, has by definition the possibility of still being".
After one month it disappeared. Then I installed posters requesting for
its whereabouts all around the park. I received several phone calls in
my studio with information about its destination and finally the kidnapper
appeared but unfortunately didn't want to give it back.
After this result, I decided to ask Lotty one last favour: she should
tell me the story from her point of view. Now I learnt her story by heart
and it is the only meaningful text I am able to pronounce in Dutch
The third action and outcome was called "About sinking". It
seals my complicity with Lotty and my departure from Holland. This action
originated in the commitment to observe Lotty's words as they appear towards
the end of her story: "Now Claudia will show another thing in the
park, but even further away from the path, so that nobody can see it."
So I decided to hide my boat under the water in Flevopark's dike, I sent
Lotty a video documentating it, and I left The Netherlands forever, which
of course is not completely true: I left The Netherlands forever in a
The second project I want to tell you about also happens
in a park, but in a park that doesn't exist yet, it is being built: The
Park of Memory, in Buenos Aires.
"Reconstruction of the portrait of Pablo Míguez" is a
project still in progress that I presented for an international competition
of sculpture in homage to the kidnapped-missing people during the last
dictatorship in my country, Argentina.
The project is based on reconstructing -by the means of a sculpture- a
possible image of Pablo Míguez, an adolescent who was kidnapped,
tortured and murdered by the last military government at the age of fourteen.
We were the same age when this happened to him. I don't have any personal
relationship with him or his story, except for the one I decided to have
by rescueing his image.
The resulting piece will be a sculpture in human scale, made out of stainless
steel polished like a mirror that will be placed in the Río de
la Plata. It will be "supported" by the water, standing on it,
so that the image of the sculpture will merge into its environment when
reflecting it . The body has its back turned to the spectator, so that
it is not possible to see the face. The position of the body was taken
from this picture. This is Pablo's father at the same age his son was
when he disappeared. I'm interested in the fact that the father "donates"
the image of his own childhood to reconstruct his son's image, as if it
were an organ. This is the moulding image, on which other data are superimposed
to reconstruct the final image: the retellings of those who met him, an
investigation carried out with different software programs used in forensic
anthopology to read three dimensional information in two-dimensional images,
and the reference of different bodies, "donators of image".
The monumentality of the object doesn't emanate from its physicality but
from the intention of reconstructing the image.
In both projects the objects camouflage and become virtually their context.
The visible object is only the tip of an iceberg, a decoy or a hint. In
both cases the visual relationship between the material and its context
adjusts an image about to dismantle itself.
The election of the material is the first decision in the construction
of these images meant to be absent. The meaning of the existence of these
objects lies in their imperceptibility and capacity to dissolve.
In both projects, both of public nature, the conflict and the essence
of the work meet in the spectator's impossibility of acceeding to the
main key image of the project, and in the symbolic character of this impossibility.
We enter this way in the territory of the invisible and therefore in the
land of the memory
The fact of convoking the absence of the image, and specifically the absence
of the image of the body, is related in a direct way to certain topics
that interest me: memory and oral transmission, memory and historical
truth, the relationship between ethics and aesthetics and through it,
the construction of the other.
In the case of "Plan of invasion to The Netherlands" the image
of the tree -logistical key element of the invasion- only appears reconstructed
by Lotty's drawing and in her story.
In the case of "Reconstruction of the portrait of Pablo Míguez",
Pablo's face, body and attitude are reconstructed and materialized in
the most precise way possible but all the will focused in the appearance
of the image is denied by the position of the sculpture in its definitive
For me this is the representation of the condition of the missing person:
it is present, but it is forbidden to us to see them. Neither is it invisible
nor visible. It supports a process of de-identification, but it is still
possible to identify it though memory. The memory takes the place of the
In both cases a situation of belief is generated, believing in what exists
although it cannot be seen, or better, what exists because it cannot be
In both projects it is a process of reconstruction of an absent image,
almost in the same terms in which a crime is reconstructed. The visible
thing, assumes the function of evidence of a historical situation that
is irreversible and true as such. But as spectators we will never have
access to the reconstruction of the original image, although we can evoke
it and believe in it.
Both projects share a similar motivation, that is to find an instance
in which the meaning of the work is validated by an Other, emotionally
involved in the relevancy of the project and in the appearance of the
image. Maybe this is an attempt of legitimazing before my own eyes the
necessity of the work and at the same time to guarantee the ubiquity of
the project. The project is successful simply because it happens.
To end, I would like to tell you a little bit more why I selected these
two projects to talk about visibility and invisibility. I relate to these
two concepts in an attempt to cause, by means of the disappearance of
the object, hiding its visible aspect, the subject's appearance. Then,
the effectiveness of these works would not be given by the aesthetic value
of the significant object but for the ethical testimony -as a will of
remembering- of those people involved.
During the development of Pablo's project I read a statement about the
situation of human rights in my country written by Thierry Iplicjian,
president of Amnesty International in Argentina. There he proposes a possible
classification of individuals taking as a parameter their behaviour towards
the Other in a society. The text is called "Towards the construction
of the other", the title borrowed for this talk. I'm tempted to apply
these categories he talks about to the artistic practice, to the relationship
artist/spectator, therefore I want to share them with you. He proposes
three categories of individuals: citizens, tourists and idiots. These
categories would define the each of our relationships with the Other.
The citizen or politikós, is the one able to recognize the other
as an individual, he can abolish the distance with that other subject
and an identification with the other is produced. The tourist is the one
who recognizes the other as a subject, but he cannot shorten the distance
that separates them at all, cultivating a voyeuristic attitude towards
the Other. And finally the idiot is the one who not only cannot shorten
the distance, but neither identify the Other as a subject, but as an object,
as a thing.
I found this classification very useful to finally understand my position
as an artist in my social context.
If you want, the fact of exercising the memory through these projects
is a symbolic necessity to save the particularity of facts, people, and
lives. As an artist-citizen I would like to be in charge of making the
appearance of the other one possible, I would like to be responsible for
granting visibility to their unique, irreplaceable character.