Issue 15: Gunpowder Body

Cracky Rodríguez

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01.07.2019

Introduction to Ignorance

The artist Cracky Rodríguez reflects on his collective practice in El Salvador, in which he uses art as a tool to question and redefine the Salvadoran imaginary of conflict through different forms of expression.

Introduction to Ignorance

In 1932, the uprising of Salvadoran farmers and indigenous peoples in response to their exploitation on coffee plantations and the expropriation of communal lands under the government of the then-president Maximiliano Hernández Martínez became the catalyst for a conflict which resulted in more than 30,000 casualties. Since that Nahua ethnocide, the right-wing government, particularly the National Guard, its armed sector, associated anyone who identified as a farmer or indigenous person with communism and the insurgency, making the visual expression of that identity a recipe for annihilation. As a result, their language, traditional clothing, and customs disappeared almost entirely.
In the 80s, the Salvadoran guerilla Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) [1]—which gets its name from the “communist” leader Agustín Farabundo Martí, an important figure during the 1932 uprising—was at the forefront of the fight for better social and economic conditions. During its twelve years of existence, the massive rallies in the streets [2] and the war fronts in the countryside and the city became sites of encounter and disagreement where Salvadorans communed in the rugged terrain of binary thinking: Right or Left. In this way, we inhabited a zone of silence and absences that transformed itself over the years, ending with the signing of the Peace Accords in Mexico City in 1992. However, although peace and the construction of a new social fabric were envisioned in that political agreement, they never fully materialized. As history has shown, that dialogue was merely an instrument for the solidification of the armed social movement into a political party.
For the first time, in 2009, the Left won the presidential elections, and to the disappointment of many, it preserved the inequality and silence. The FMLN party, which promised to be an agent of change, sold itself and became one more cog in the machine of corrupt parties, just as the unions, which in prior years had shown themselves to be advocates for labor guarantees and protections, had.
This long and imbricated historical path provoked, again, an absolute imposition of silence, as well as the bifurcation of two extremes that originated out of the legacy of dictatorial dynamics and ideologies of polarization inherited from the Cold War, and which triumphed for many years.

Cracky Rodríguez, El afecto, 2016. Fotografía por Fernando Herrera. Imagen cortesía del autor

Generally, this cycle of facts led me into the field of art in order to understand and explore, through different expressions, the possibility of redefining the imaginary of conflict; an imaginary that mutated with the many injustices the guerrillas caused in recent years in the community.
Confronting a redefinition of the imaginary of a conflict implies understanding the different layers that make it up: exacerbated racial and class inequalities, the feeling of a constant state of war, and the structural violence that all feed the practical aspects of life in El Salvador. This imaginary is further encouraged by a new notion of the Right disguised as a conservative Left, the result of a neoliberal system imposed through collusion with the media that perpetuates social upheaval as a form of terrorism. In the midst of all these layers is a society wracked with ignorance that has been fostered by the education system and the media [3], and which defines the limits and possibilities of collective corporeality.
Out of this arises the need to reappropriate corporality through the field of art in order to translate symbols and insert questions, to create a kind of protolanguage for understanding what is happening and to respond to the adversity imposed by capitalism. What kind of channels of communication can be effective for generating a link to Salvadoran ignorance?
Out of that exploration of communication and back at the beginning of this story, an event which responded to the asphyxiating Salvadoran reality emerged. In 1930, Prudencia Ayala ran for the nation’s presidency at a time when women still did not have the right to vote. At the time, she wrote for a national newspaper, Redención Femenina [Female Redemption], where she envisioned her future proposals. There, she expressed her interest in creating labor unions; in regulating weapons, alcohol, and competition in public administration; in taking a critical position in the face of North American interventionism; and in the promulgation of rights and autonomy for women. This intervention into politics by a figure excluded from the public sphere occurred without trouble or fanfare at the time. However, the absence of figures with clear intentions in contemporary life makes me recognize in her actions a political act that disrupted the quotidian life and logic of the time—an act that shares with action art and political art the capacity to break into life and the collective. Action art as a precise and direct occurrence that accentuates the possibility of change.

With the aim of creating new symbols based on old ones, I have proposed to understand communication in collective manifestations and organizations, specifically in the popular movement. A concrete example is the paradigmatic march of May 1, International Labor Day. In El Salvador, this expression of popular struggle has been stigmatized as a result of the political polarization we have inherited. [4]
Coming out of this, the march as vindication of coexistence is reflected in Tácita (2018). Organized in collaboration with Los siempre sospechosos de todo [Those Who Are Always Suspicious of Everything] [5], this work was a march of protest, moving backwards, silently, with people dressed completely in black, holding black banners without slogans, and determined to abstain from destruction, even from staining a wall. Called to appear on May 1, 2018 via social media and following a logic totally contrary to the collective, the bodies turned their backs on a phantom tradition in order to question an event that, supposedly, is at the forefront of the fight for better living conditions.
In this march, nothingness challenged the adult-centrism that not only damages the generational succession, but that also resorts to its advocacy of war through the use of pyrotechnics to perpetuate the sounds of violence. It also questions the romantic ideal of a bourgeois Left and its social movements: the pretentious insistence on intellectual ability as that which entitles one to attend a march that stigmatizes those less fortunate, who are not all Marxists, Leninists, or Trotskyites. No, they just want better economic and social conditions!

As an artist, I navigate between the imposition of such false individual identities as collective—the “knowledge” presented by the media—and a pedagogy of violence and the street, territories where the possibility of feedback is not glimpsed unless it comes through aggression. Under this imperative of action, I seek to generate discordance between what has been established by hegemonic, polarizing, and extremist knowledge, and the contents and objectives adopted by a popular fight that exists outside of those logics.
A body can initiate public dialogue through its individuality only if there is an identification of power that makes its direction susceptible to disruption. This allows for the creation of new languages which do not depend on tradition, but that arise out of necessity, from an experience that could be focused on the language of a shared corporality: the (re)verbalization of the body, of movement, of the gestures relative to an object or space without giving way to spectacle in order to create a public dialogue that we reach with the resources we have. If these resources emanate a continuous nothingness, something impoverished that we must use and channel out of absence and emptiness, how can we try to manipulate nothingness as a tool for communality? If ignorance is the resource we have, do we make it more complex, or do we simplify it in order to channel, catalyze, or materialize it?
Ignorance is governed, dogmatized, and institutionalized as a periphery of knowledge by a classist system. Even so, that very ignorance intersects with knowledge and becomes the capacity or abstract space that has the ability to flow, to create inconsistencies and possibilities of questioning hegemonic forms of knowledge.
Inherited failure is a principle of both my individual and collective performance practices that, along with superficial relationships, limit the generation of communicative spaces. In this world subjugated by misery, we share an addiction to consumption that is closely related to loneliness, with the spectacle of piracy as part of the basic package that has become a form of pleasure. The social need for the greed of affection is satisfied at a distance through the networks formed between mobile devices. Likewise, we congregate around artificial drinks and foods that do not discriminate because of their price. Only a cynical consciousness could detect, admit, and correct the pain and will of a body. It is not easy to expose oneself through individuality. Who would be interested in being outside of and stopping to participate in these dynamics that provide us with wellbeing like an IV?

Being present with this inherited failure, on the other hand, could bring us closer to achieving a harmony or frequency of communing that matches the communicator’s need. But what happens if our channel is aesthetic? If we assume that the Salvadoran collective identifies with our language, we will hardly succeed in communing.
It is out of this context that the collective The Fire Theory, comprising of artists Melissa Guevara, Ernesto Bautista, Mauricio Kabistán, and myself, emerged. TFT is an organization that directs its actions to curatorial, investigative, and artistic practices, based on the development of a diverse range of projects that stem from collaboration and the economy of friendship. Initially, due to a lack of curators, we worked on the development of exhibitions and other activities from what we called “our pentagon,” the Museo Municipal Tecleño (El Mute), a former detention center for political prisoners of war. This allowed us to generate the languages with which we wanted to work as well as to redefine participatory spaces through the opening of a different platform for the arts and the circulation of ideas using strategies such as role-playing activities, in which different members of the collective exchanged positions.
Over the years, a change in the dynamics of the organization towards the redefinition of corporality in the context of political phenomena led us to generate projects such as El juego [The Game] (2016), a dialogue between ex-combatants of the Salvadoran guerrilla army and the Armed Forces of El Salvador, who were rivals during the war. This time, they were scattered between two teams in a soccer match, thus making possible a reconciliation through camouflage. As one of the most important anchors of cultural consumerism, soccer provided the backdrop for the emergence of a recognition of possible shared languages among “opposites,” as well as for a revaluation of historical memory. All of this occurred within the framework of the Central American Isthmus Biennial of Visual Arts (BAVIC) and in collaboration with the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (MUPI).

Likewise, in the search for other logics of communing and activating languages from the collective, we generated Tiro de gracia [Coup de grace] (2017) with Los siempre sospechosos de todo. Once again we had a station at the May 1st march, during which there were several police officers from the Unidad de Movimiento del Orden (UMO), to whom we started passing a soccer ball. This was intended to provoke an rapprochement with the police; in response, some played along, others ignored us, and some just moved away. This space of coming together through soccer—a sport that is very culturally significant in Latin America—questions the police’s actions and abusive behaviors toward the civilian population from our own place of power. Making passes and throwing balls, our coup de grace.
Having lived these series of experiences, mostly conceived for public space, I am interested in constantly reevaluating their scope. Is it possible to materialize or embody incidences in public spaces? The incidence of art is not necessarily found in the places where it hegemonically occurs, but rather, for me, within its dynamics. It is here that I think the struggle within a zone of activism and art must be aware of social languages; how we identify and make use of them leads us to communicate and probably to the generation of critical logics. I am not referring only to places within the rule of law; we must also go to those spaces defined by the absence of human rights, as well as those that are restricted.

Concretely, I believe that we should continue polluting, intoxicating, and mutating the discourse that we ourselves propose as artists.

Perhaps positioning ourselves in a place of “post truth”—the reality nowadays—can lead us to understand our own ignorance, which I, as an artist, want to dislocate from hypotheses, speculations, and perhaps, from the most evil of thoughts, or even from the most childish of actions. Improvisation and indignation are also valid, and when I see the things that happen in the government—the acts of corruption that are allowed to pass, the abuses of power, and the arbitrariness—I ask myself: How can one redirect this feeling of impotence? That feeling, which in the end, is the only thing one has.

Notes

  1. The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front was created on October 10, 1980 as a body that brought together the five politico-guerrilla organizations that participated in the civil war against the military government of the time from 1980–1992.

  2. These marches were crowded and dressed themselves with an air of communitarian mysticism. The participants marched to the rhythm of popular folk songs with banners and signs that demanded better working conditions as well as an end to repression and the fall of the bourgeoisie. And although they were not part of the left, slogans of Marxist ideology appeared in conjunction with standardized verbal and body languages.

  3. Works like Teorema de la dislocación (2013) and Lines (2013) reflect on this.

  4. In the last decades of the twentieth century under military repression, unions, university students, and sympathizers leftist organizations shared spaces of struggle in the street with political parties like the Salvadoran Communist Party (PCS) and its divisions, which led to the construction of new expressions of militancy.

  5. The group Los siempre sospechosos de todo was founded in 2017. From that moment on, it positioned itself as an artivist organization that defends and sheds light on illegal imprisonments and abuse of power on behalf of state institutions against innocent people who live in areas of gang conflict. After joining with artists, it built alliances with the families of illegally detained people in order to produce actions that would reveal government abuses. Currently, we view this project as a space of openness for transdisciplinary work as social integration.

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