Trama's contribution to next Rain's publication.
The English idiom "Chinese whispers syndrome"
is a metaphorical reference to a communication phenomenon that takes
place when a message gets distorted before reaching its intended
receiver. The distortion may be due to either jamming or misinterpretation,
which may or may not be deliberate. This trope has originated in
a game played by children all over the world. The players sit in
a ring, and one of them whispers a long utterance into the ear of
another player beside him/her; this procedure is repeated until
the utterance reaches the last player, who voices aloud what he/she
believes to have heard. In countries where more than one language
is spoken, the game includes an alternation of languages, thus making
up a chain of translations and counter-translations that speeds
up random changes to the original message, while letting through
meanings that are characteristic of the narrative rhetoric pertaining
to all the languages involved. Metaphors, body language and other
forms of non-verbal communication also find their way into the message.
When the common knowledge shared by both sender and receiver has
been depleted, the syntax loses accuracy, and body language, together
with the physical experience of the act of whispering, becomes the
most important feature of communication.
I feel drawn to compare the phenomenon described above
to the art exchanges that we experienced in Trama. It might be wrongly
thought that such an analogy arises from some negative experience
during the exchanges, and that I mistrust the fact that true communication
may occur among participants. Far from it, I intend to examine the
reasons that lead us to categorize our inclination to misunderstanding
as something negative, when it is in fact just the natural expression
of what we gather from the first exchange stages in a programme
In the closing debate for Trama 2001, Reinaldo Laddaga reached the
"The level of uninterrupted contact that we have been able
to preserve (throughout the debate) amid the general misunderstanding
strikes me as both thrilling and amazing. I think such a situation
is exciting precisely because of the high levels of misunderstanding,
which would not be generated in more formal contexts; say, a class,
an academic seminar, or a social gathering . No doubt our misunderstandings
are related to the fact that each of us is contributing a large
number of thought and speculation chains revolving around such
terms as institutionalization, institution, or globalization.
It stands to reason that every one of us understands these notions
in quite different ways, in accordance with our own intellectual
background and origins, not only in the long term, but also in
these times and, above all, with our different evaluations of
local political values related to the use of the words in question".(2)
When tackling our activities in the net, we artists involved in
the Rain programme propose an exchange of artists and ideas through
several geo-political axes: south-south, south-north, north-south.
In brief, it would seem as if we were talking about an attempt at
fluent exchanges among dissimilar contexts, taking for granted that
these exchanges will, by themselves alone, be equally beneficial
to all parties involved.
Nevertheless, if we bear in mind that each activity is suggested
by a specific host, who brands the proposals with geo-political,
artistic, cultural and intellectual circumstances ruling the hosts
own context, we might be able to improve our analysis by trying
to descry how these exchanges vary depending on the host, since
every exchange will be conditioned by his/her own self-conceiving
capacity, the capacity to conceive the other, and the capacity of
action and achievement regarding his/her exchange hypothesis.
Going back to Trama, which is the issue I intend to examine: what
specific features tinge this exchange when the host, the one that
makes the proposal, comes from a context like Argentina, where the
processes of attainment of contemporary art ( modernism, post-modernism,
and the ensuing globalization) are "processes that appear on
our horizon in a traumatic, repressive fashion"?
(Post-modernism and globalization) " appeared after a dictatorship
that lasted ten years and that either decimated or sent into exile
a large number of our most brilliant brains. It was inevitable,
then, that these movements should have appeared as an overriding
imposition of such times, whose urgent pressure did not allow
for critical thought any more than it fostered the development
of an arena where some kind of confrontation was possible. It
was sheer take it or leave it, and leaving it meant
excluding oneself from history.
) There were no chances to enter a discussion; in fact,
there were practically no chances to understand how globalization
and post-modernity- both of them foundational phenomena of the
era- had managed to develop. Thus, it was also impossible to define,
in some way that could be adequately grasped, the kind of conditioning
and determining factors that they brought along , thrusting us
into a new, irreversible landscape of an epoch that caught us
unawares no less than distrustful." (3)
I shall now go on to describe two projects that originated in Trama,
where they were also discussed. The first project will enable me
to describe certain ways of thinking that pervade young artists
local practices at the same time as they provide information about
some of the strategies of artistic survival that are typical of
our region. These practices are related to irregular assimilation
processes resulting from post-modernism and globalization; namely,
appropriation, narration, contingency and parody(4)
might be useful mechanisms to build up thought in a scenario dominated
by uncertainty, where artistic practice needs to be negotiated one
day at a time.
The second project I will deal with is a proposal of artistic exchange
devised for Rain and respecting the exchange features defined by
Trama in keeping with the local circumstances.
The body as context
During the Encounter for the Analysis of Works of Art organized
by Trama in Buenos Aires in 2000(5).
Tucumán artist Sandro Pereira (1974-
a work in progress which he entitled Stamps of Life, although
he himself calls it "the Marilyns". That year Sandro decided
to have his back tattooed with a series of pictures of Marilyn Monroe,
based on a reproduction of Andy Warhols famous work published
in a mass-circulation book about American pop-art. For every landmark
in his life, every time Sandro feels that something has become a
highlight in his private life, he has a new Marilyn tattooed. The
outcomes do not resemble one another, not only because of the unpredictability
of the tattoos, which is explained by the fact that the supporting
material is organic human skin, in fact- but also because
different tattoo artists perform the different works, thus producing
different Marilyns who bear no resemblance at all to the real divas
features. All in all, it could be said that the figures are likenesses
of women from Tucumán in a parody of Marilyn: their bobbed
hair dyed blonde ( just like Monroes), a mole on the left
side of their faces, between the cheek and the upper lip, a half-open
mouth, false eyelashes..
When faced with this work in a private encounter(6)
that could be compared to a situation where one is presented with
the unpalatable display of a wound after the patient has undergone
a complicated surgery, I cannot help wondering why Sandro has chosen
Warhols Marilyns for his tattoos. Why is every significant
event in his life represented by a Marilyn on his back? And last
but not least: why is he showing this to me?
If a tattoo is generally regarded as an explicit, eloquent mark
identifying and celebrating the social group where someone feels
he belongs, what kind of identification process does Sandro originate
through his Stamps of Life?
In this project, the artist links a long list of transformations
into a chain: the image of Norma Jean Mortenson, dyed and disguised
into Marilyn Monroe, turned into a serigraph icon by Andy Warhol,
appropriated by Sandro through some sort of existentialist sentimentality,
transformed once again by the accident that his skin forces on the
sign, transfixed by the tattoo artists imaginary, and repeated
in the serialized images on Sandros back. The images are always
different, none of them is Marilyn Monroe, but they all are Sandros
own Marilyns. Each of them stands for an excuse to begin a narration,
to reach some private story that needs to be retold and that, every
time it is actually retold, strengthens his identity while strengthening
the contingency of the operation.
What Sandro seems to be doing through this alchemical attempt that
seeks to transform an emblematic character of American pop into
a "stamp of life" is to achieve some sort of visual translation,
where the unavoidable rhetoric nature of every existing language
a nature that all translation processes tend to obliterate
for the sake of accurate syntax- literally becomes embodied in his
body. If, according to Spivak, it is true that "translation
is the most intimate act of reading" and that " the translators
job consists in facilitating love between the original text and
its shadow" (7)
then reader/translator Sandro offers his body not only as an interface
but also as a guarantee that the said rhetoric will become explicit.
The context as text
A cooperation-and-exchange project among artists, Context
will be taken to several cities where activities following Rains
guidelines are carried out: San Miguel de Tucumán (Argentina),
Jakarta (Indonesia), Bamako (Mali), Durban (South Africa), Belo
Horizonte (Brazil), Mumbai (India), and Duala (Cameroon).
Los proyectos planteados por los artistas invitados en cada una
de estas ciudades investigarán la relación entre texto
The projects presented by guest artists in each of the above mentioned
cities will examine the relations between text and context.
The work will be shaped as a collaborative chain between pairs of
artists. Every participant will perform two roles: in their own
city, they will act as hosts and assistants to guest artists for
the development of the latters project, whereas they will
be assisted by local artists in the completion of their own project
in a foreign city.
Contexts activities started in San Miguel de Tucumán
in July 2002 when guest artist Germaine Kruip (Holland, 1970-
performed her Punto de Vista, aided by local artist Jorge
Gutiérrez, drama group La Baulera, managing artist Carlota
Beltrame and philosopher Jorge Lovisolo(8).
The collaborative chain proposed by Context implies the use of resources
that are typical of narration and oral tradition. The narration
transferred from one context to another is built up through body,
visual, textual and gestural languages.
A proficient reader is able to regain implicit notions and to do
what it takes in order to understand a text. Reading could be thought
of as a social transaction where the readers participation
is as active as the writers. If we define a text as a set
of particular and contingent references acting upon a given context,
the narrator of the text as the host artist who encourages the exchange,
and the reader as the guest artist, we may start to examine how
proficient we artists are when we become readers of our own context,
and also find out how much of our context we succeed in translating
when confronted with a different context from the one which calls
for our work.
When the text available is not only read but also narrated so that
the listener may retell it to a third party who, in turn, will become
a new narrator/reteller after having read or listened to the text,
we are faced with "an interaction between drives that contrive
shape and definition, and counter-drives that create and spread
according to Karl Kroebers description of oral narration.
In Rain, what each participant knows about the context he/she is
visiting comes from the stories and readings provided by the works
and ideas of the participant artists. This may arouse misunderstanding;
still, we should not think of it as a failure in communication,
leading to non-objective generalizations, but rather as a desirable
point of strength and exchange, since it generates so much certainty
The possibility of an encounter with guest artists channels a desire
to tell stories, in the hope of finding in the other a likeness
that we can recognize as something familiar; a likeness that will
enable us to weave a net of associations and meanings that may not
only shape up and strengthen our individual efforts but also challenge
and question them.
This particular text started by describing a phenomenon that accounted
for a failure in communication. It seemed then that there was a
compelling need to articulate proposals aiming to avoid the consequences
resulting from inaccuracy in the course of an exchange of knowledge.
However, there seems to be an exception to the syndrome: when it
comes to articulating an exchange of thought in the field of art,
perhaps gestures, skin, and body, with their particular contingency
and special characteristics, will overcome syntactic logic and succeed
in communicating the only thing that can be truly communicated.
After all, perhaps murmullos chinos are not merely a childrens
Brighton, May 2003
Translation: Marta Castillo