Proyector presents lalulula.tv, a video archive that has been working since 2010 with a curatorial approach that investigates the phenomenon of the presence of contemporary art in the popular media. A collection of stereotypes and clichés that shapes the popular imagination about the art world that for this occasion presents the film “El mural” (2017) to reflect on the limits between fiction and art history.
2017, video HD, 1:51
Watch the whole movie through the lalulula.tv channel
The Betrayal of the Imagination
When we speak of the future, we are not only referring to a mere temporal moment. We also refer to the stories, tales, and imagination needed to think the unthinkable.
Once upon a time, there was a lost mural, forgotten in the basement of the mansion of an Argentinean tycoon. It is believed to have been painted by a Mexican artist who had taken refuge in the south. With the help of a group of young artists from the region, he used unknown techniques and ideas that would never be repeated in the country.
“Fiction” is a synonym for imagination, and this tale of the forgotten mural gives rise to one of my favorite films. Released in 2010 the feature film cleverly titled El mural directed by Argentine director Héctor Olivera, is not an Oscar-worthy film (as if it meant something) but it has that which I love and have been collecting for 11 years at www.lalulula.tv; a tremendous melodrama.
The story portrayed in this documentary is “based on real facts,” that is, on a lot of gossip and rumors. The facts are the following: Siqueiros in the thirties takes the opportunity that is being politically persecuted and he takes a South American tour.
Under the fictitious name of Mr. Suarez, Siqueiros arrived in Uruguay in 1928. During his stay in Montevideo, Siqueiros fell in love with Blanca Luz Brum, a very young and beautiful poet who also had affinities with the political left. They returned to Mexico and lived there for a couple of years. Then he was imprisoned for five months, they lost a son and were deported to Los Angeles where they would remain in 1932 and where they would marry. But the relationship between them was tragic, a passionate love, according to the documents, of enormous violence, beatings, and alcohol, which made her plan a separation, slowly but surely.
The United States denied them a visa renewal, leaving them no choice but to return south. Historians say that she organized activities for Siqueiros in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, hoping to get rid of him when they arrived there. In Buenos Aires, Siqueiros wrote a long series of articles on art and revolution for the newspaper Crítica (the best-selling newspaper in Argentina), and later the newspaper’s owner, Natalio Botana, asked him to paint a mural in his house.
Working for a person like him, although it solved his economic difficulties, put him in an ideological conflict: he worked for the local oligarchy, and moreover, he did it in a kind of basement in his private residence. To create the mural, Siqueiros hired four young artists who already stood out in the local context: The Argentines Lino Spilimbergo, Juan Carlos Castagnino, and Antonio Berni, as well as the Uruguayan Enrique Lázaro.
And while we already have a Mexican soap opera in full swing, this is when the story starts to get spicy, and the film’s dramatic narrative comes in to add chili to the story.
Working almost in the medieval manner (a genius and his disciples), Siqueiros and friends filled the basement with undulations and gigantic naked bodies that swaddle the space and tried out never-before-seen techniques using unusual materials. But while it was going on (#spoileralert!), behind the scenes a twisted erotic soap opera was unfolding, featuring Botana, his no less mythical and apparently insane wife (the feminist, anarchist militant, and convinced occultist Salvadora Medina Onrubia), Siqueiros, Blanca Luz, an infiltrated policeman disguised as a gaucho (synonymous with “Argentinian Cowboy”), a lesbian nanny and even Pablo Neruda. Everyone with everyone, and against everyone, under the same roof.
Now, the central conflict of the film is that of betrayal, Blanca Luz supposedly slept with everyone (I wonder who spread that rumor?) and betrays Siqueiros. Although everyone betrays each other, in reality, the most treacherous is the protagonist himself. The muralist betrays himself by agreeing to do this commission that goes against all his principles. Why would he do it? For the money? Out of spite?
Cut! Let’s return to the actual facts… In spite of the change of course in this mural by Siqueiros (and perhaps for that very reason), according to some, it is the masterpiece of muralism in America. It is entitled Ejercicio plástico [Plastic Exercise] where David Alfaro had the opportunity to put into practice many of his experimental proposals that he conceived after his contact with Eisenstein. The painting covers absolutely the entire space, walls, ceiling, and floor, and was conceived as an organic complement to the architectural space, conceived as a function of a spectator enveloped by it. With this proposal, Siqueiros imagines the future and anticipates the Kinetic art of the second half of the 20th century.
The work, freed from the formal ties of Socialist Realism, became a lyrical song to his wife who was separating from him, and it’s said that the image refers to a tragic scene in his life: the time Siqueiros hit Blanca Luz in public with such violence that he made her fall on the table in a restaurant, an episode that would inspire their separation. However, in his spitefulness as a male batterer, he painted himself dressed in short pants (like a child), but she was naked and with horns on her head.
For Siqueiros, this was a step backward in his militancy, and in fact, he later tried to give it a political tinge by saying that the naked woman symbolized the proletarian victim. However, this ideological detour was for him a weakness that was best forgotten.
And so, it was. After completing the mural in 1933, the artist was expelled from Argentina. Blanca Luz stays (and maintains a relationship with Botana for a while), and years later, with the sale of the property and the disdain of the new owners for the piece, it is buried for decades. Fortunately, after many battles and negotiations, it is now restored and can be visited and toured in the city of Buenos Aires.
As an archeologist of cinematic dramas about the romanticization of the art world, this film fantasizes about the past and presents a juicy soap opera full of clichés and testosterone-filled fantasies, wherein the midst of an era convulsed by dictatorships and repression, men play revolutionaries and are victims of their wives (a madwoman and a whore). But in the end, history, the past, and the future are made of gossip and soap operas.
I am one of those convinced that every work of art is political, even the more aseptic it seems, but anyway, I personally like it better when militancy and art are separate because otherwise, I feel that they often cancel each other out.
And this “slip” that Siqueiros had — this emotional and apolitical outburst gave rise to an experimental laboratory full of imagination and freedom— produced a unique work of muralism never repeated by him or by others. For local art, it was an absolute novelty, which generated not only the Argentine muralist movement but also helped to modernize and propose the future of local art. That is thousand times more revolutionary and transforming than any political pamphlet.