The irreparable loss of a significant part of Helio Oiticica’s estate, documents and art works, under the care of the artist’s family in Rio de Janeiro, stored under inadequate conditions and inaccessible to the public, reveals the deep problem faced by Latin America. This is an issue that deals with its present, its past, and especially with the memories of experiences that reveal its critical strength.
The implications of this problem far exceed the field of art; they erode the Continent’s thinking processes.
It is not by chance that for several years now we have been witnessing the spread of a generalized process which canonizes, glamorizes and sterilizes artists’ archives and estates, and particularly those related to the production of the 60s and the 70s in Latin America. One of the main reasons behind recent interest in that period is that the poetic/political strength of art is now gaining new breath, it is re-establishing links with that heritage, resignifying and being resignified by a movement brutally interrupted by the dictatorial regimes that paved the road for Neo-Liberalism. Now, as art seeks new vitality from such movements, as it coasts along the tide in the process of re-elaborating itself and overcoming the toxic effects of such trauma, it once again is interrupted. This time by the exquisitely perverse seduction posed by the art market, under the aegis of a cultural capitalism, a force far more subtle than the crude and explicit violence applied by the State in our countries.
It is in such a context that the material eyewitnesses of said practices become a sort of Neo-Colonial booty, widely disputed by museums, collectors (including the families and descendants who keep works of art and hold the artists’ rights), as well as by diverse institutions which cash in on the global capitalization of non-tangible assets and present-day means of creating surplus value. A challenge arising even before what had been incubated by those artists’ proposals has began to germinate again - a new chapter in a history that is not nearly as post-Colonial as we would like it to be.
We can no longer postpone facing the disappearance of components of the very nerve-fibres of this legacy of contemporary art - those such as, undoubtedly, Helio Oiticica’s art and theory are; we must perforce strengthen dialogic and cooperative actions between the coordinating social agents involved in the defence of such sensitive issues, and call upon public and academic institutions, civil society, researchers, artists, etc… The preservation and reactivation of these legacies emphasizes the privileged chance we have to examine, with persistence, more complex and challenging ways of cultural experimentation.
Present circumstances call for a joint and precise answer from Latin American countries in cooperation with organizations, individuals and institutions of hegemonic nations effectively interested in creating horizontal public guidelines to help decolonize international copy- and author’s rights as related to the legacies and experiences now dispersed throughout the Continent.
In recent years, various cultural ministries in Latin American have indeed
made efforts to address the issue of intangible legacies, though none has
included any provisions whatsoever related to art archives. This is a paradox
worth discussing, if we are to make people aware that no political agenda may
treat artistic legacies as superfluous matter.
- to stimulate and support research, tracking, dissemination and preservation of existing documents, keeping in mind that these are political activities, not merely academic or professional ones;
-to seek the tools required to negotiate the preservation of and open access to artists’ files, including the possibility of allowing actions leading to the reactivation of the experiential memory that such artistic practices called for in the course of their original development (as in non-object based works that demand live experiences, and which cannot be based either on objects or documents); this would include the need to define strategies allowing for the reactivation of memory;
- to study political, legal and cultural conditions that would propitiate
passing a bill that would allow sharing the care and decision-making required
between government and civilian instances (posting files on the internet could
well help avoid the loss of documents and open access to them);
The above then would be but basic suggestions to be included in the topology
of our cultural heritage, basic required actions if we are to reverse a
situation that neutralizes the exercise of art, if not actually leading to its
irreversible destruction, as has been the case in the unfortunate experience
that we have just suffered in Brazil.