Conservatism and scams. A word about Ismael Frigerio’s exhibits 100 días al sur del mundo and Entre náufragos y luces

By Iván Godoy

In an interview recently broadcasted by Bio-Bio TV about the sample Maestros de Papel exhibited at the Factoría de Arte Santa Rosa, that Uruguayan artist, Rimer Cardillo attended as a special guest, Ismael Frigerio qualified the Chilean art scene with two terms that shook the very core of the program’s kind host, Ezio Mosciatti. The first, and undoubtedly the most brutal one, was a word that he let slip, when he admitted that what many young artist do today is nothing but a “scam”. Imprisoned by a vile servility – Frigerio denounced- current artwork does not respond to any of the concepts or issues that are relevant here, today.

His second statement, which the artist had already made during the inauguration of the sample, is completely opposite to the previous comment. According to the Frigerio, he identifies himself as a “conservative” artist, which means he considers himself to be linked to a theoretical tradition in his artistic practices, involving both critical and speculative thinking.  Let us remember that the verb “to speculate”, comes from “to see”, “to look”, and it is directly related to the Greek theoros = spectator.

So, let’s say that scams are for scammers, which is pure fiction. A scam is pretending to be something that one is not. And most of the time, scams are not even entertaining. They become grotesque, especially when they deny something that is a part of us, when it is only a “longing action”, when the scammer tries to escape and become another, one who is only an illusion, a mask, a projected image.

Michael Onfray once said  that where there’s money it is necessary to promote cultural movements and critical thinking. “Where there’s [money], knowledge should be erected as a powerful force and social aspects should be undermined to prioritize lucidity and the conceptual cruelty of a violent intellectual enlightenment.” The French philosopher also adds that critical knowledge provides us with the tools to choose “which side of the barricade” we want to be in. “Even when the feasibility of a victory is none-existent  and unthinkable, a generalized aesthetic, at least in the realm of periods of revolt, rebellion, opposition, contempt or resistance that have left behind a stylistic impression characteristic to those desperate times, serves as means to join forces against the violences that govern us.”

The kritikós , critic in Greek was the one who was “able one to discern”, “to decide and to judge”, “to separate the wheat from the chaff”, and to differentiate the fundamental from the insignificant. The issue of identity is crucial in Frigerio’s work, and it is aimed at the very core of our post-dictatorship selfs and the intersection or overlapping between  “who you are”, “who you want to be”, and “who others want us to be”.  Asking about our identity, about the Chilean miscegenation process is a common element in Frigerio’s pieces, which goes as far as including autobiographical elements, to denounce the “paradoxical neoliberal simulation”, mocking the image of theLatin American rockers, Westernized identities that erase our history and origin.

What’s ‘fashionable‘ landed in art to stay, dominating art circuits and spaces, both private and public. A ‘silly’ piece of artwork, according to Camnitzer, is a piece “has an undeniable presence, sometimes even aggressive”, yet “it doesn’t say anything”. A ‘dumb’

piece is one that complies with the “$hilean way”, the ridiculous attitude of a neoliberal that’s buy into the government’s lies left and right. A ‘dumb’ piece is a deliberately brainless manifestation, intubated in an “induced coma.” Un ‘dumb’ artwork, is cosmetic, banal and flat, it has no texture or depth, it doesn’t question anything, it worries about nothing, it’s highly efficient, operational and functional in the system, and it mutates with current trends.

“Dumb art”, exists thanks to three key elements, which are all inherent to the neoliberal Chilean society: 1. State and private financing, precisely to avoid the state of affairs; 2. the disproportionate press coverage of art that does not question the state of affairs; 3. the scandal and spectaculization of art manifestations, highlighting the superficial and timeless, which doesn’t question the state of affairs.

The “state of affairs” – is not only the economy, to the neoliberal model’s dismay, it also refers to all the jobs, crafts and disciplines that constitute what’s “contingent” in this country. In the painting, the “state of affairs” designates, in addition to all of which is associated to the craft, the patrimonial and contextual. Art does not exist in one without the other two, and it alludes to “what the artist sees”, to “what they bring to the table”, in “the model that chooses ceases to choose, and portrays or lets portray.”

Solely seeing the artist and the “creating just because”is the bread and butter of the $hileanway. Emptiness is law when it comes to the policies that rule the images

shown in the public sphere. The sharpness of HD advertising images, suppresses all the symbolic depth of artistic images, making room for them only when they vow, they give in, when they are willing to quickly dispose of anything that could be problematic or too inquisitional. Incidentally, art is a stance, even when is claims it doesn’t have one, when it ignores it, or it avoids its position from where it speaks. The neo-colonialism does not only ‘squeeze the life out of our soul’, but it leeches on culture, displacing perspectives and practices.

Talking about Frigerio’s work is difficult, because Frigerio himself, with his extraordinary lucidity, is a great orchestrator of his work.  It would dare say, that even his explanation is a continuation of his work in the form of speech, of what he already stated in his images. In “100 días al Sur del Mundo/Homenaje a tierra del fuego”, Ismael once again confronts the protagonist and their context in a stage: being Latin American in relation to its territory, history and geography, and he sets them on fire both symbolically and literally.

The image burns — says Georges Didi-Huberman– when it touches reality: “It is impossible to speak of the contact between the image and reality without speaking of a sort of fire”. Therefore, one cannot speak of images without speaking of ashes.” According to the French theoretician, learning how to observe is to be “able to distinguish the place where the image still burns, the place where the beauty takes shelter after a ‘secret signal’, a ‘an unappeased crisis’, a ‘symptom’. The place, where the ashes are not grown cold.”

The 2017 Forum for the Arts, organized by the University of Chile, surrounding the theme: “Arts, policies and contingencies”, addresses the concepts of community, territory, inclusion, fairness, identity, etc., highlighting the mediating work of art in cultural processes. Jurgen Habermas indicates that generally the learning processes requires both a teacher and a pupil, and that there exists a reciprocity between them, “an interchangeability of the roles involved in the process”, where, I teach learning and I learn teaching.

Following this idea, artist and viewer should be one entity, so as to construct culture together. By entering the “game of the community knowledge”, seeking to broaden the aesthetic experience, by making it process in which the artist “creates by making it” and the viewer “creates by contemplating it”, avoiding a hierarchal relationship, one having power over the other.

I would like to take this opportunity to say that the work of my dear friend Ismael Frigerio promotes for viewers to be active, capable of burning and recognizing the ashes of their own being in the work that calls upon them.  If the image burn when in contact with reality, indifference freezes it.  I have nothing more to say for the moment. I hereby leave the stage to another viewer, someone who has something else to say.