Acción directa: Estrategias políticas del arte hemisférico en el siglo XXI



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Since the beginning of the 21st Century, Mexico has been in a deep political, economic and social crisis. Although art has reacted to this context in a myriad of ways—from neglecting it to making it its only subject—these dissertation focuses on social practice or socially engaged art. Intertwining symbolic protest and direct action, effectively erasing the boundaries of art and activism, this kind of performance practice has created some of the most appealing aesthetic pieces of recent times, which are simultaneously some of the most valuable examples of sociological and ethical imagination. Although Mexico remains the anchor of my work, I create a conversation with pieces done both in South and North America, in an attempt to recognize the international dynamics of contemporary art, which are hardly constrained by geopolitical boundaries. With the concept of encuadre [framing, understood as an interpretive framework] as my main methodological tool and that of the Americas as my geographical scope, I map and examine the different strategies artists and activists have used in said context. As socially engaged art could be defined by the possibility of being interpreted alternatively (or simultaneously) as art and activism, I argue that some activist efforts could also be interpreted as art under the appropriate framing. Thus, each chapter will focus on a work deliberately placing itself in the tradition of socially engaged art, and it will be compared with one example that presents itself at first as an activist endeavor. In the three chapters of my dissertation, I analyze works that try to tackle three different direct consequences of capitalism: deforestation, mass migration, and disbelief in political representation. The first chapter compares two pieces that seek to address deforestation at different scales: Palas por Pistolas (2007-present), by Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, and the Instituto Terra (1998-present), founded by Lélia Deluiz Wanick and the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. La Escuela Panamericana del Desasosiego (2003-2010), by Mexican artist Pablo Helguera, is the starting point of the second chapter. This pedagogic art project traveling from Alaska to Patagonia is compared with the representation of the 2014 American Immigration Crisis, depicted in Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions (2017), one of the few examples where conventional literature intersects with socially engaged art. In chapter number three, I discuss two opposed strategies that address the crisis of political representation: the creation of a political party with no intent to ever win an election, and the refusal to create a party in order to win one. Cuban artist Tania Bruguera’s participation in the Mexican federal process to create el Partido del Pueblo Migrante, during 2013 and 2014, served as a strategy to make migration issues more visible. Whereas in 2015, Pedro Kumamoto, using his autonomy from the political establishment as his main asset, successfully ran for a congressional seat in Jalisco, becoming the first independent congressman in this Mexican state.



Socially engaged art, Hemispheric, Framing, Pablo Helguera, Tania Bruguera, Valeria Luiselli, Pedro Reyes, Sebastião Salgado, Pedro Kumamoto