Under Conditions of Urgency:
From ‘Buena Memoria’ to ‘The Poetics of Resistance’

Essay for Marcelo Brodsky – Poetics Of Resistance, B. Kuehlen Verlag, 2019

Like many art historians of my generation, I first came across Marcelo Brodsky’s work through ‘Buena Memoria’ (1996) and since then have been keenly following the evolution of his work with photography and text. I still cannot fully explain why I was so drawn to that first image of Brodsky’s schoolmates, scribbled and commented in such a way that instantly became the testament of a generation. Although the use of text to accompany photography in his work was by no means new, this project was perhaps the seed of his later work, emphasizing his handwriting and graphic gestures with the use of colour. Brodsky is present on the surface of the photographic image in all the works part of this book-the hand writing takes the part of the man- telling us of his experiences during of the dictatorship years in Argentina, and more recently about his work as a human rights activist, his love for family and friends, and his never-tiring excitement about history and visual images.

In 2013 the Fondation Cartier in Paris opened what would become a milestone exhibition for Brodsky and many artists of his generation, entitled “América Latina, Photographs, 1960-2013”[1]. Seeing his work share the same space with many of his contemporaries from Argentina to Mexico, allowed me to understand its relevance in a wider context. Through this exhibition I was able to connect his practice with the work of artists like Guillermo Deisler and Eugenio Dittborn from Chile, Leon Ferrari from Argentina, Óscar Muñoz from Colombia and more especially Felipe Ehrenberg from Mexico, with whom Brodsky was to maintain close correspondence until Ehrenberg’s death in 2017. The catalogue to the 2013 exhibition also includes two short essays, one by Alfonso Morales Carrillo and the other by Luis Camnitzer, highlighting the use of text and photography in Latin American art in the 1960s[2]. Both authors coincide in noting this generation’s interest on communication, media and what Camnitzer calls ‘an empowerment under conditions of urgency’ referring to the political ‘high voltage’ of the time. One can hardly find better words to describe Brodsky’s practice and specifically the works on this book.

Just over twenty years have passed after ‘Buena Memoria’ and forty since the rise of the regime that inspired it. We find Brodsky really settled in his work as an artist, travelling all over the world for his research, keeping that same sense of urgency of his first experiments with images and text. His use of text and colour has emboldened, so too have the scope and ambition of his projects. Although his practice is still very much rooted in photography, over the last decade Brodsky has also worked on many collaborative actions linked to his work with human rights. There are plenty of examples, most notably at the ‘Parque de la Memoria’ in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and an action in Ayotzinapa, in solidarity with the victims of the killing of 43 students in this rural state in Mexico.

2018 celebrated 50 years of the summer of 68, a year that saw student and workers protests across the world, demanding social and political change. This was the perfect catalyst for Brodsky’s multiple interests to come together, in a project he called “1968: The Fire of Ideas”. Contacting archives and photographers across the globe, Brodsky tracked the rising of the student-led movements across the main capitals of the world. Blowing up these photographs – mainly press and documentary images – he then intervened them by annotating them with political and historical keywords and facts, also highlighting details with the use of coloured pencils. The stark black and white of the press images is complemented by Brodsky’s unabashed use of colour, bringing the atmosphere and energy of 68 to life. In what seems the closing of a long journey, the catalogue to this series is accompanied by a short extract of the correspondence between Brodsky and Felipe Ehrenberg, distilling the essential bond that they share. (Marcelo – would you like to choose a quote from Felipe’s text or correspondence for here?)

The Poetics of Resistance adds to this series, by investigating more into different political revolutions across the world, and lately about issues of migration and refugee crises. Thinking about the works in this book one could label Brodsky as an agitator; he is someone who will not keep quiet in the face of oppression and social injustice. As an art historian, and especially as one interested in photography, I celebrate Brodsky’s method of activating history and questioning the nature of images taken from the media. Many years heading a well-known image bank, Brodsky is aware of the potential and power of the images he chooses. His coloured pencils give us a hint of what his eye is looking for: fists in the air and waving flags but also fractions of clothing, graphic patterns on scarves, even the details of ferns and trees in the background. The photographs are enlivened by the use of colour, and their urgent messages made more effective by the use of text.

The protest slogans of the student movement and the cries of refugees resound across the images written with Brodsky’s now staple penmanship. ‘Make love, Not War’ ‘Stoppt Den Vietnamkrieg’ ‘Soyez realistes, Demandez l’impossible’, ‘Todos somos inmigrantes’. He is there with them, echoing their pleas in many languages, in different places around the world. The messages are simple and effective and his footnotes, although personal and heartfelt, keep to facts and dates with rigour. Brodsky’s work presents major political and social issues to a new generation, condensing ideas into keywords and making bold and impactful monochrome images more compelling by a very personal use of colour.

I met him recently to talk about this book during one of his exhibitions in London. With the excitement and energy that characterise him, he told me about another discovery, one that will certainly materialise in his forthcoming work. “Berger” he said. “Berger had seen my work! And was planning to write about it with Amarjit Chandan”. Unbeknownst to him, a copy of ‘Buena Memoria’ had travelled the world, changed hands many times until it finally reached John Berger, writer, political activist and icon of the left-wing movements of the 1960s. One can only hope this book has the same fate. That it travels the world, changing hands and igniting urgent conversations and debate. This is a personal testament of the political and social issues of our time and their connections to a history of social struggle and revolution: the ‘poetics of resistance’.

Rodrigo Orrantia, London 2019

[1] Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain and Museo Amparo, Mexico, “America Latina 1960-2013 Photographs” Book published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name at the Fondation Cartier Pour l’art contemporain in Paris, France from November 19, 2013 to April 6, 2014 and at the Museo Amparo in Puebla, Mexico, from May 15 to September 17, 2014

[2] Camnitzer, Luis “Imagination Redirected: Photography and Text in Latin America 1960-2013” and Morales Carrillo, Alfonso “New Pictographs, Ancient Palimpsests: Notes on the scribal uses of photography in Latin America, both in Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain and Museo Amparo, Mexico, “America Latina 1960-2013 Photographs” 2013