A Theatre of the Present
Rhetoric and Power in León Ferrari’s The Words of Others
The Words of Others was originally produced by REDCAT/CalArts, with the support of the Getty Foundation. The performance was part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, in Los Angeles. A special thank you to the Fundación Augusto y León Ferrari. Arte and Acervo (FALFAA)
Expanded Theatricalities (MINECO. HAR2015-63984-P), by the research group ARTEA
León Ferrari (Buenos Aires, 1920–2013) assembled the literary collage Palabras ajenas (The Words of Others) between 1965 and 1967, his rationale driven by the violence and extreme cruelty that appeared in news reports of the Vietnam War. These reports heralded a way of exercising power which would soon be imposed upon vast swathes of Latin America. Yet this power-driven violence was in sharp contrast to the intentions and carefree rhetoric of the “shows” put on and headed by political leaders, who cynically justified the violation of human rights. The literary collage method enabled Ferrari to stage the false neutrality of the media, debunking fabricated narratives and laying bare the continuity between past — the Bible, Fascism — and present propaganda.
The Words of Others remains a theatre of the present because the condemnation of stances and modes is repeated, as are the authoritarian drift, inequality and segregation as forms of domination. It is no wonder that an artist hitherto focused on producing ceramics, sculptures and drawings ended up creating a theatrical collage with which to intervene in the present he faced: the real-time clash with the public sphere proved to be the most effective approach for a practice in need of becoming politically active.
With few concerns over being branded non-theatre or non-art, Ferrari’s work demonstrated how art and theatre could be performed as a committed action, an outcry in which war, economy and politics were already one big show.
The first day in this seminar will explore the distinctiveness of The Words of Others and its importance to the development of the thought and practice of its author. Moreover, it sets out to carve this and other Ferrari works into the historical and political contexts of the 1960s, punctuating the realm of Latin America, particularly Argentina. The second day will look at how the piece resonates in the present, thereby surveying the practices of different contemporary artists that stand at that sharp-edged junction of political action, reissuing modes of commitment that share similarities with those upheld by Ferrari throughout his life. On a further note and as an accompaniment to these reflections, an analysis will be conducted on the rhetoric of today’s media: how “post-truth” works and the possible critical alternatives.
The coda to the seminar will be a seven-hour presentation of The Words of Others in its entirety.
Miguel Álvarez Peralta. Professor of Political Communication and the Global Media System at the University of Castilla la Mancha (UCLM), with a PhD in Mass Communication from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM). Previously, he worked as a coordinator in the Scientific Culture Department at Spain’s National Distance Education University (UNED) and as a research fellow at Harvard University (USA) and the University of Bolonia (Italy). He is currently conducting research into the emergence of new narratives and political identities as a member of different R&D projects in Spain, for instance the Grupo CAPEP’s work on the Construction of Affairs in the Public Sphere.
Germán Cano. Head professor of Philosophy at the University of Alcalá de Henares, and a translator and analyst with an interest in social movements. He is also the author of Como un ángel frío (2000), Nietzsche y la crítica de la modernidad (2001); Hacer morir, dejar vivir. Biopolítica y capitalismo (2010) and Adoquines bajo la playa. Escenografías biopolíticas del 68 (2011), and is currently a contributor to “Cuarta Página” in Spain’s El País newspaper.
Ileana Diéguez. Research professor in the Humanities Department at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM)-Cuajimalpa, Mexico City, and coordinator of the programme Cartografías Críticas. Her work focuses on reflections connected to dismounting artistic processes, mourning and memory, and ‘necro-theatre’, and her most recent publications include Cuerpos sin duelo. Iconografías y teatralidades del dolor (2013) and Escenarios liminales. Teatralidades, performatividades, políticas (2014), among others.
Ruth Estévez. Curator, writer and set designer. She studied Fine Art at the
University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and obtained an MA in Art History from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Since 2012, she has been a director and head curator at RedCat/California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), a multidisciplinary space, centred on visual and performance arts, in the centre of Los Angeles (USA). Moreover, as an independent curator she has worked on projects at the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in Art and Architecture, in Chicago; the Los Angeles Public Art Biennial; Solo Projects at ARCO, Madrid, and the Palaix des Beaux Art Brussels.
Ana Longoni. Researcher, member of the Southern Conceptualisms Network, and incumbent director of Public Activities at the Museo Reina Sofía. With a PhD in the Arts from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), she is a specialist in the crossroads between art and politics in Argentina and Latin America from the middle of the 20th century to the present day. Her publications include: Roberto Jacoby. El deseo nace del derrumbe (2011), Leandro Katz (2013) and Vanguardia y revolución (2014). Moreover, she curated Roberto Jacoby. Desire is Born from Collapse (Museo Reina Sofía, 2011) and Losing the Public Form. A Seismic Image of the 1980s in Latin America (Museo Reina Sofía, 2012/Museo de Arte de Lima (MALI), 2013 /Museo de la Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero (MUNTREF), 2014).
Lucía Méndez. With a degree in Information Science from the Complutense University of Madrid, she is an editor-in-chief and columnist for Spanish newspaper El Mundo, where she has worked since it was founded. She previously contributed to the newspapers El Norte de Castilla and Diario 16, and radio station cadena SER. Moreover, she is a contributor and analyst with cadena SER’s Hoy por Hoy, TVE’s (Spain’s public service television) Los desayunos de TVE, and a number of news programmes on Spanish TV channel La Sexta. She is the author of Duelo de titanes (2008) and Morder la bala. Relato íntimo del gobierno del PP (2012), and editor of Cristina Alberdi’s book El poder es cosa de hombres (2001).
Isabel de Naverán. Stage and theatre researcher. With a PhD in Fine Arts from the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), she is a member of the Bulegoa z/b office for art and knowledge (Bilbao), part of ARTEA, and a lecturer on the MA in Performing Arts Practices and Visual Culture (UCLM and Museo Reina Sofía), and the MA in Research and Creation in Art (UPV/EHU). Furthermore, she has edited the books Hacer historia. Reflexiones desde la práctica de la danza (2010) and Lecturas sobre danza y coreografía (2013), among others, and, since 2016, has coordinated the dance series Elipsiak in AZ (Bilbao). She is also a dance instructor at the Museo Reina Sofía, in Madrid.
Marta Peirano. Deputy editor of Eldiario.es. Founder of CryptoParty Berlin and Elástico, multidisciplinary collectives with which she co-directed the project COPYFIGHt on free culture. The themes of her publications focus on digital art, surveillance, automata, and technological Futurism. Her most recent publication, El Pequeño libro rojo del activista en red (2015), with a preface by Edward Snowden, serves as an introduction to cryptography for journalists, reference material and the media.
José A. Sánchez. Researcher, teacher and the author of books and texts on contemporary artistic practice in the sphere of performance, cinema and literature. A professor in the Fine Arts Department of UCLM, he is the editor of the Virtual Archive of Performing Arts and director of the research group ARTEA. Furthermore, he has edited and contributed to publications such as Isadora Duncan. El arte de la danza y otros escritos (2003), Cuerpos sobre blanco (2003), Situaciones: un proyecto multidisciplinar en Cuenca (2003), Práctica artística y políticas culturales. Algunas propuestas desde la Universidad (2003), Artes de la escena y de la acción en España: 1978-2002 (2006), and No hay más poesía que la acción. Teatralidades expandidas y repertorios disidentes (2015).
Akira Takayama. Theatre director and founder, in 2002, of the project Unit Port B, a space for creating so-called site-specific performances. His work, shaped by this genre, is a theatre and performance hybrid, whereby interaction with the public is part of the mise en scène. His most recent works of note include The Complete Manual of Evacuation (2010), Referendum project (2011), Kein Licth II (2012) and Tokyo Heterotopia(2013).
Presentation – 4:30pm
Participants: Ruth Estévez, Ana Longoni, Isabel de Naverán and José A. Sánchez, with an intervention by Javier del Olmo (Fundación León Ferrari)
The Words of Others: A Research Account – 4:45pm
Lecture by Ruth Estévez
In 2013, Ruth Estévez embarked upon a research project that would last for four years. Her work explored León Ferrari’s literary collages, concentrating on his The Words of Others and its relevance as a pool of resources for the rest of his visual output. These colleges condemned the hypocrisy of political rhetoric and blew the whistle on the complicity of different bodies of military, political and religious power. Therefore, Estévez’s intervention sets forth a survey of this work in order to gain an understanding of the aspects underpinning Ferrari’s political thinking and critical viewpoint.
Art/Politics in León Ferrari and the Avant-garde in 1960s Argentina – 5:30pm
Lecture by Ana Longoni
The artistic practice of León Ferrari changed forever with the profound impact the Vietnam War and the US invasion of Santo Domingo had on him, and many others. From 1965 until the end of his life, one axis to intersect his work highlighted the complicity between the Catholic Church and Imperialism. When some critical voices railed against “Western and Christian civilization”, dubbing it propagandist, Ferrari replied: “It’s what I have to say and I say it with the tools available to me”. Experimental art devised as a political stance is integral to an interpretation of experiments such as The Words of Others and an understanding of the collective course of radicalisation, both artistic and political, undertaken by the avant-garde in 1960s Argentina.
Idea exchange – 6:15pm
Participants: Ruth Estévez y Ana Longoni
Moderated by: Isabel de Naverán
Tower of Babel – 7:30pm
A performance lecture by José A. Sánchez and artists and researchers linked to ARTEA
Participants: Ignacio de Antonio Antón, Amaia Bono Jiménez, Janaína Carrer, Cristina Cejas, Gisela Cortés, Andrea Dunia, Juan Pablo Fuentes Villarroel, Ksenia Guinea, David Hernández Vargas, Jessica Huerta, Katty López Soto, Ana Luiza Fortes , Fernando Mena, Eliana Murgia, Noemí Oncala, Laila Tafur Santamaría.
In 2017, after staging The Words of Others at REDCAT in Los Angeles, the same team of curators looked towards the appropriation of the Ferrari method to speak about what we are affected by today, subsequently giving rise to “Babelism”. Tower of Babel (1963) is a wire sculpture made by Ferrari two years before The Words of Others, and refers to the idea of: “Making something without unity, with different sensibilities […], or making something with several”. This premise led them to thinking that the author composed The Words of Others single-handedly, rallied by the gravity of the war, violence, and torture, unable to wait any longer to become the producer. With a little more time, he would have opted, as in fact he finally did, for Babelism. And if this “Tower of Babel” were to take shape today, what would our present-day wars be?
The Political Nature of Affection – 4:30pm
Lecture by Ileana Diéguez
How do we think and speak about what hurts? What can art do to hold up an injured body of work? Where do actions happen if there are no longer crowds? When a certain policy is exercised and curtails affection, artistic experience attempts to provide political forms in which this lost affectivity survives. Under such circumstances, political art must produce something other than subversion — it is not just about what can make us rise up; it is perhaps less epic that that: we stand to continue.
Theatre and Politics - 5:15pm
Lecture by Akira Takayama
In 2011, the biggest earthquake ever to strike Japan devastated the region of Tohoku. The magnitude of this earthquake unleashed a tsunami with up to 41-metre-high waves, destroying many towns and cities and causing a malfunction in the cooling systems of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Moreover, with a state of emergency declared, an explosion in the plant caused a wave of radiation within a 20-metre radius. These events prompted theatre director Akira Takayama to create a series of plays and initiatives, for instance the Referendum Project, Kein Licht II and Tokyo Heterotopia, through which he addressed the treatment of social trauma, political action and the effects on a community dealing with survival in their everyday lives. This lecture, therefore, will survey and explore these projects.
Idea exchange – 6pm
Participants: Rolf Abderhalden, Ileana Diéguez y Akira Takayama
Moderated by: José A. Sánchez
The Media Rhetoric. Post-truth, Fake News, Populism, Neo-censorship and Social Media – 7:30pm
Participants: Germán Cano, Lucía Méndez y Marta Peirano
Moderated by: Miguel Álvarez Peralta
In The Words of Others, León Ferrari reflects on politics-media logics and the relationship the rhetoric of journalism bears to the truth and smokescreens, key factors in the political conflicts of his time. More recently, the term post-truth (posverdad in Spanish), has entered the RAE, the Royal Spanish Academy Dictionary, and was voted Word of the Year by Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in 2016. This is testament to the validity, forty years on, of Ferrari’s concerns over media and political rhetoric and human rights. Consequently, this round-table discussion will focus on the role of the media — now digitalised and globalised — in the contemporary public sphere and will run through some of the focal points that galvanised Ferrari, issues we know today as controversies like fake news, which bring to bear new determining factors in political relations and the power of current societies.
For the first time in Spanish, the Museo Reina Sofía presents León Ferrari’s The Words of Othersin its entirety. The piece, seven hours in duration, encapsulates the history of violence meted out by and in the West as a result of the complicity of political and religious power, an issue Ferrari explored throughout his career.
This presentation seeks to raise awareness of a key piece in the artistic oeuvre of León Ferrari, and to pay homage to Ferrari as an artist, as well as constituting a gesture in defence of culture, democracy and human rights — issues which were imperative to Ferrari.