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Art Systems

Art Systems
Brazil and the 1970s

Mapping the varied artistic practices in Brazil during the most repressive years of the nation’s military dictatorship, this illuminating study draws on information theory, art history, cultural studies, and the social sciences to trace how artistic practice redefined the role of art in a highly politicized society.

Series: Latin American and Caribbean Arts and Culture publication initiative

January 2016
Active (available)
$29.95
238 pages | 7 x 10 | 32 color and 41 b&w photos |
ISBN: 
978-1-4773-0858-5
Description: 

From currency and maps to heavily censored newspapers and television programming, Art Systems explores visual forms of critique and subversion during the height of Brazilian dictatorship, drawing sometimes surprising connections between artistic production and broader processes of social exchange during a period of authoritarian modernization. Positioning the works beyond the prism of politics, Elena Shtromberg reveals subtle forms of subversion and critique that reinvented the artists’ political terrain.

Analyzing key examples from Cildo Meireles, Antonio Manuel, Artur Barrio, Anna Bella Geiger, Sonia Andrade, Geraldo Mello, and others, the book offers a new framework for theorizing artistic practice. By focusing on the core economic, media, technological, and geographic conditions that circumscribed artistic production during this pivotal era, Shtromberg excavates an array of art systems that played a role in the everyday lives of Brazilians. An examination of the specific historical details of the social systems that were integrated into artistic production, this unique study showcases works that were accessed by audiences far outside the confines of artistic institutions. Proliferating during one of Brazil’s most socially and politically fraught decades, the works—spanning cartography to video art—do not conform to an easily identifiable style, form, material use, or medium. As a result of this breadth, Art Systems gives voice to the multifaceted forces at play in a unique chapter of Latin American cultural history.

Contents: 
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Currency
  • Chapter 2: Newspapers
  • Chapter 3: Television
  • Chapter 4: Maps
  • Epilogue
  • Appendix: Artist Biographies
  • Notes
  • Index
Author: 

Salt Lake City, Utah

Shtromberg is an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Utah.

Excerpts: 

Introduction

The work no longer exists. Art is a sign, a situation, a concept.

—Frederico Morais

During a six-month period in 1971, renowned art critic Frederico Morais organized Domingos da Criação (Sundays of Creation), a series of six events held the last Sunday of every month on the grounds of the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro. These events were hugely popular and drew thousands of participants across class, age, and gender divides. Each Sunday, the public was encouraged to let their imagination run wild as they interacted with a single material structuring the event, including paper, string, fabric, bodies, dirt, and sound.2 The traces of these creative and temporary encounters were quickly erased the following Monday morning when the museum returned to business as usual. Following “O Tecido do Domingo” (The Fabric Sunday) on March 28, 1971, the widely read Jornal do Brasil newspaper described the event as “O livre exercício da criação” (The Free Exercise of Creation), claiming that the Sunday episode and the museum were cultivating freedom and creativity. What is uniquely noteworthy about the creative freedom that these artistic events inspired was that they coincided with a dark political period in Brazilian history known for military repression, censorship, and the attendant curtailing of personal freedom. This political moment is often referred to as the “leaden years” (anos de chumbo), a reference to the iron-fisted rule of General Emílio Garrastazu Médici’s presidency from 1969 to 1974, a five-year interval during the twenty-one-year military dictatorship (1964–1985). Remarkably, the morose tenor of this period, captured in images depicting clashes between the military and civilians, posters for missing persons, and a preponderance of army tanks on the streets, is absent from the documentation of these events. Instead, the Sundays are remembered for their jubilant and wildly inventive collaborations between artists and their public, highlighting the creative and cathartic possibilities of artistic encounters whose parameters were set only by the choice of an object from everyday life. Indeed, the ephemerality and suppleness of the materials used, such as string, dirt, paper, or sound, were diametrically opposed to the overbearingly oppressive and unyielding administration of President Médici, positioning artistic production as an antidote to hard-line military tactics.

Morais’s proposals for the interactive engagement between the museum, art, and the public resonated with the utopian energy espoused by the Brazilian avant-garde during the 1960s, when participation in artworks became de rigueur among artists and thinkers who eschewed the passive consumption of art objects. Opting instead for the creation of situations requiring spectator participation, Brazilian avant-garde artists, like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, saw such partnerships between the artist and the viewer as catalysts for the building of a better world. By assimilating activities into the artistic experience, aesthetic “situations” would thus not only allow more people to relate to—or live—art but would also stimulate a collective consciousness from which collective progress was fathomable. While such aspirations were dimmed by the oppressive political state in Brazil during the 1970s, the legacy of the avant-garde was channeled into the commitment to art as a site of collective and creative freedom. According to Morais’s criteria, “The museum has to bring the act of creation to the broader public, generating the conditions necessary for everyone to exercise their creativity freely.”

The Sundays of Creation provide a small glimpse into the artistic energy of the 1970s, when the shape of aesthetic freedom underwent a number of significant changes, including the expansion of materials defining artistic production (many of which were now drawn from everyday objects), and the reconfiguration of how and for whom art circulated. These Sunday events foregrounded a pressing concern for artists working during the 1970s, which was to mobilize artistic expression in the name of creative and political freedom by engaging a broader public outside of the confines of artistic institutions. This was achieved by integrating artistic production into social communication outside of the art world, using strategies drawn from systems outside of traditional conceptions of art, in particular those associated with media and communication.

This book details the story of art as it infiltrated four central systems of communication, exchange, and representation, each explored in its own chapter: “Currency,” “Newspapers,” “Television,” and “Maps.” The choice of these systems allowed me to focus this investigation on the core economic, media, technological, and geographic conditions that circumscribed artistic production, without limiting my analysis to the strictly political perspective that has dominated the interpretation of the artworks from this period. By extending the notion of “systems” as a framework for investigating Brazilian art from the 1970s, my objective was not to expand on the existent scholarship on systems theory or its application to the art world, but rather to examine the specific historical details of the different social systems with which artistic production was irrevocably integrated.5 This book, then, proposes a unique and widely applicable framework for theorizing artistic practice that is bound to be useful to historians working with cultural production and its intersection with social and political life in the latter half of the twentieth century.

My adaptation of systems as a theoretical framework owes a partial debt to the theory proposed by the Austrian-born biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy in his groundbreaking article from 1950, “An Outline of General System Theory.” 6 In the expanded 1968 book version of his work on general systems theory (or GST), von Bertalanffy defined “open systems” as a means to approach life’s phenomena as a web of intersecting relationships, rather than as discrete wholes.7 His claim that an organism should be approached as a complex system in interaction with its environment (including its researcher) rather than as an isolated entity caused a paradigmatic shift that was felt not only in the sciences but also widely within the humanities. During the 1960s, a systems outlook was experienced in the art world, both by practitioners and critics, and in 1968, the New York City–based art critic Jack Burnham published “Systems Esthetics,” one of the seminal essays on how a systems perspective reconfigured the art object.8 Burnham’s claims were that art “does not reside in material entities, but in relations between people and between people and the components of their environment” and that the artist “strives to reduce the technical and psychical distance between his artistic output and the productive means of society.” 9 Burnham suggested that an understanding of art should not be limited to art objects inside an artistic institution but rather should view art as a network of relationships.10 A systems perspective thus affected not only the configuration of the art object but the whole critical apparatus surrounding artistic practice more broadly, shifting the terms of how art should be approached, displayed, viewed, and written about.

While I have not found direct evidence that Burnham’s work was read or circulated in Brazil (although it is possible, given the international popularity of Artforum as a publication that featured concept-based work for artists), it is clear that the ideas he expressed in his essay were applicable to a number of international artistic contexts. In neighboring Argentina, for example, the exhibit Arte de Sistemas (Systems Art), organized by the art critic Jorge Glusberg, united a group of international artists at the Center for Art and Communication (CAyC) in 1971.11 Glusberg did not cite Burnham in his writing about Arte de Sistemas, but he was well aware of international trends in the art world and would likely have encountered systems esthetics during his many travels.12 In his writing, he emphasized that artists were no longer interested in art objects but rather in artistic projects bridging technology with social and community interests, a position that echoed a systems perspective.

The idea of art as an open system, a site that is the matrix of social exchange, is one that I have adapted for this book, a study that excavates the constellation of economic, legislative, and aesthetic activities surrounding artistic production during one of Brazil’s most socially and politically fraught decades. At its core, this book offers an in-depth social history not only of a select group of artworks but also of what they reveal about the historical moment they emerge in and the social systems they navigate. The social systems organizing this study—currency, television, newspapers, and maps—are important for a number of reasons. Not only were they the site of widespread economic, communication, technological, and geographic reforms, they also definitively altered the cultural landscape of Brazilian art. A study of these systems provides a window onto important historical factors, such as Brazil’s economic boom, monetary inflation and the art market; the heavy-handed presence of censorship in the press; the role of Brazil’s largest television network, TV Globo; and the military regime’s expansion into the Amazon—all of which shaped the place of art in society. Further, all four systems played a role in people’s everyday life and thus presented the artist with the opportunity to reach a more widespread public and, even more significantly, to engage with audiences outside the confines of artistic institutions. While Brazilian artists were not the only ones to look to these systems—in fact, during the 1970s, all four were highly visible in artistic practices within many different international contexts—a close examination of how they surfaced in Brazilian art allows the reader to fully grasp the ethos and the stakes behind artistic practice at this time.

As an art historian, my own history with this topic is closely related to the systems I have chosen to examine for this book. During my initial research trip to Brazil, I first needed to obtain national currency, read newspapers to be aware of current events, watch television to learn popular visual codes, and finally use maps to navigate the cities where I conducted research. Little did I know that this first trip would change the course of my academic life and pave the way for this book. During the course of my travels to Brazil, my original objective to study Brazilian modernism was derailed by meeting artists who lured me away from working in archives to listening instead to living memories of their works. Invited into artists’ homes, I conducted as many interviews as I could, amassing countless anecdotes along with photocopies from personal archives of photos, newspapers, reviews, critiques, pieces of paper, and other textual misfits. I relied heavily on testimony from many of the artists and poets who figured prominently in Brazilian art in the 1970s, among them Sonia Andrade, Artur Barrio, Gabriel Borba, Augusto de Campos, Antonio Dias, Wlademir Dias-Pino, Iole de Freitas, Anna Bella Geiger, Ferreira Gullar, Nelson Leirner, Ivens Machado, Anna Maria Maiolino, Antonio Manuel, Cildo Meireles, Ana Vitória Mussi, Décio Pignatari, José Resende, and Regina Silveira.14 Oral and anecdotal traces of their stories inevitably shaped and enriched my understanding of this historical period. Many of the artists opened their files to me, allowing me the opportunity to amass invaluable documentation not available elsewhere. However, what I most sought out during these conversations was an understanding of the texture of the social life in which their art was conceived. This book is my attempt to narrate the details of this texture and the social relationships that artworks cultivated, by piecing together the existing written histories with the anecdotal fragments of memory and text culled from diverse sources.

Although the title of the book refers to artistic production of the 1970s, the point of departure for this study is 1968, a year that is often considered to have prematurely ushered in the 1970s. Echoing unforgettably within the national and international psyche, the year 1968 invokes painful memories of human rights abuses in cities across the world—Mexico City, Prague, and Paris, among others—as well as mass student manifestations, political agitation, and increased demands for social justice. In Brazil, it was a year full of political strife following the passage of the institutional amendment AI-5, which significantly curbed political and social freedoms. Around this time, artists took their practice to new and often indefinable aesthetic heights by adapting the anti-authoritarian energy of political rebellion. Within this social sphere, art as a platform for defiance to existent aesthetic, political, and social agendas was prioritized.

Examining how visual artists adapt to and navigate repressive conditions, including censorship, is an important facet of understanding civilian resistance to authoritarian regimes, as much a pressing concern of society during the 1960s and 1970s as in the present moment. Brazilian artists working in the 1970s are a unique if underanalyzed case study in such an inquiry, especially because their work was part of a broader civilian response pressuring the military regime toward “abertura” (opening), a transitional phase that preceded democratic elections. Uncovering the different layers that influenced Brazilian artistic production at this time will give scholars of Latin American art and contemporary art a distinctive frame of reference from which to understand one of the most important epistemological shifts in art, the transition of the artwork from its object status to a set of experiences shaped by everyday social systems.

When I began this journey over a decade ago, only a handful of publications broached the topic of artistic production in Brazil during the 1970s, a decade that has been notoriously difficult to classify using recognizable art historical parameters, such as style, medium, theme, or materials, as organizing categories. That is not to say that the artists included in this book were unknown; in fact, it was quite the opposite, and many of the artists I write about—Sonia Andrade, Artur Barrio, Paulo Bruscky, Anna Bella Geiger, Antonio Manuel, and Cildo Meireles, among others—are not only renowned in Brazil but are internationally recognizable figures. Artur Barrio and Cildo Meireles, for example, were featured in Information, the Museum of Modern Art’s seminal exhibition of international conceptual art tendencies that were closely aligned with systems theories in 1970. The art historian Aracy Amaral discussed many of these artists in a 1985 essay on non-object-based art for an exhibition catalogue titled Arte novos meios/ multimeios: Brasil 70/80 (Art of new media/multimedia: Brazil 70/80). Years later, the art historian Gloria Ferreira featured these as well as many other artists in two of the most comprehensive exhibitions on this period: the first in 2000, Situações: Arte brasileira: Anos 70 (Situations: Brazilian Art, the 1970s), and the second in 2007, an expanded version, Arte como questão: Anos 70 ( Art as a Question: The 1970s). Both exhibitions and their catalogues stand as important visual documents of the decade’s artistic production. In this vein, the art historian Cristina Freire’s works Poéticas do processo: Arte conceitual no museu (1999) and Arte conceitual e conceitualismos: Anos 70 no acervo do MAC, USP (2000) described the institutional practices of the Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of São Paulo in cultivating works that challenged accepted artistic parameters. However, the corpus of publications in this field is still largely dominated by exhibition catalogue essays and monographic studies, all of which provide important biographical information but little in-depth analysis of the materiality of the artwork or details of the specific historical moment in which it emerged.

In the past fifteen years, as publications detailing the grim history of the dictatorship have proliferated, the political dimension of artistic production during the 1970s, that is, art as a response to the dictatorship, has received much-needed attention.16 This has been particularly true with regard to the study of concept-based artworks in Brazil and, more broadly, in Latin America.17 Most recently, the publication by the art historian Claudia Calirman titled Brazilian Art under Dictatorship: Antonio Manuel, Artur Barrio, and Cildo Meireles (Duke University Press, 2012) contributes to scholarship on this topic, using the lens of the political dictatorship to situate the artistic production of three of the best-known artists from this decade. While there is no question that the political dimension of art is of exceeding importance, my examination has revealed the complexity of this political period and the instability surrounding the conditions of the dictatorship. In my research on Brazil, I have found that the dictatorship rarely stood for a singular and stable notion of authoritarian abuse. Avoiding strictly causal interpretations between art and politics enabled me to uncover the multiplicity of relationships surrounding art production during this time. This was confirmed by my conversations with artists, who rarely relegated their work solely to a political cause, although all claimed to be politicized in their approach to making art. It is the task of future publications to build on the scholarship available today with more nuanced attention to the aesthetic and historical details surrounding specific artworks and what facet of the military dictatorship they engage. In Brazil, the complexity of political rule and the number of competing factions within the dictatorship demand that military rule be considered in its different phases, addressing the presidents in power and the legislation passed during their administration. For example, the first president elected after the coup in 1964, Marshal Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, was aligned with the Grupo Sorbonne faction, a more intellectual group of military men, who described themselves as conservative democrats. The Grupo Sorbonne envisioned an imminent return to a democratic system and saw their objective as temporarily defending the country from the threat of a communist takeover. The other dominant faction in the military was the linha dura, or hard-liners, who believed in iron-fisted rule and proposed a long period of dictatorship in which violence and repression could be freely wielded. Marshal Artur da Costa e Silva, who came to power in 1967, was affiliated with the hard-liners, and it was under him that the Ato Institucional Número Cinco (Institutional Act Number 5), known as AI-5, was issued in 1968. General Emílio Garrastazu Médici replaced Costa e Silva in 1969, initiating one of the most repressive periods of the dictatorship, but ironically, the day after he was elected, the newspaper Jornal do Brasil featured the headline “Médici assume a Presidência prometendo ao povo a volta ao regime democrático” (Médici assumes the presidency promising the people a return to a democratic regime).18 By 1974, General Ernesto Geisel, affiliated with the Grupo Sorbonne, came to power. Geisel’s rule was characterized by what historians call distenção, or a relaxation of authoritarian control, and a move toward democratic rule. This period initiated the move toward abertura, or political opening, a gradual and slow process that would lead to a softening of repressive government measures, including censorship, and democratic elections in 1985. The dictatorship, while unquestionably authoritarian, was neither united nor consistent, and each president’s rule was riddled with myriad contradictions, as I demonstrate.

Such contradictions were especially notable with regard to the administration of censorship, one of the dominant forces of control imposed by the regime. This was particularly true of who and what was targeted by censorship laws, many of which were so arcane and ambiguous as to be arbitrary. In 1971, the journalist Zuenir Ventura detailed instances of censorship within the arts, stating that the prohibitions targeted plays, films, songs, and actors working in television and radio. At the same time, countless books were removed and placed into police vaults. Ventura and his coauthors described one instance in which Sophocles and even Michelangelo were censored because a poster of the latter’s David was considered immoral.19 When determining prohibitions, censorship decrees often invoked language such as “immorality” and “bad taste,” terms that were not only difficult to define but essentially made everything suspect. Contradictions abounded even within the terms the censors defined. For example, while Michelangelo’s David was censored on the grounds of nudity, a new film genre called pornochanchadas, sex comedies featuring explicit sexuality, not only proliferated during the years of the regime but were supported by the state film organ, Embrafilme.20 The irregular treatment of the visual arts by censors, unlike that of music, literature, cinema, and theater, often provided artists a pocket of creative freedom in which they could evade certain restrictions by adapting and transgressing the obscure and bureaucratic language of the regime.

In Art Systems, I have included information on specific political situations and legislation, particularly with regard to censorship, that affected the system in question and, as a result, the artist engaging that system. To do so, I leaned heavily on scholarship from outside the discipline of art history, probing the social sciences and the fields of history, economics, sociology, political science, geography, and communication. Thus, the research and organization of the book is also modeled on a systems perspective, positioning the object of study as a complex organism to be addressed as a network of relationships. No one dominant theoretical voice structures the narrative, as each chapter presents a series of different historical considerations and methodological problems based on the artworks in question. This book is thus a radical departure from the more conventional biographical, artistbased model of narrating art history, and is instead focused on the relationship between the select system and the artworks engaging it. It became clear that employing a traditional art historical approach with works whose ontological existence depended on opposition to existent artistic paradigms would betray the range of the artworks’ interpretive possibilities. Additionally, the works featured in this book do not conform to an easily identifiable style, form, material use, or medium, nor do they coalesce under prevailing artistic tendencies. While I do not want to suggest that artists were not in dialogue with more internationally prominent artistic movements such as conceptual art, arte povera, performance art, and others, affinities that I address throughout the book, I have found that these tendencies are limited in addressing the full scope and impact of the artworks in question. Appropriating Morais’s claim from 1970, I have instead positioned the artwork as “a sign, a situation, a concept,” allowing for a broader range of analysis.

While this book attempts to expand on the narratives and meanings surrounding both renowned and lesser-known artworks during the 1970s, it by no means attempts to be encyclopedic or comprehensive in scope, a task that goes beyond my objective and is futile at best. The artworks selected for this study illustrate different facets of the social systems structuring this book, and this has meant that countless other artworks and artists, many of whom are critical to artistic production during this decade, have been left out. I, like others who attend to a decade’s worth of artistic production, struggled with these decisions, particularly in those cases where I truly admired the artist and recognized that their works deserve to be written about.

The narrative in each of the chapters unfolds by establishing the circumstances surrounding the designated systems—currency, newspapers, television, and maps—chosen because of their importance as agents in shaping and communicating information. Many artists working at this time adapted, mimicked, and attempted to transgress the mechanisms of these systems through their art practice. While each chapter presents a separate system, there is significant overlap between the systems and the ideas they broached, and therefore they are never situated as fully circumscribed or closed entities. Instead, all four chapters were guided by a series of questions, such as: What would it mean to understand the inner workings of these systems, both at this time and historically? How did artists adopt the internal operational logic of these systems and what did that do to expand accepted ideas about an artwork? What can an artwork and its integration into a broader social system tell us about that system? What does it mean to interpret a work of art as a network of relationships?

The first chapter, “Currency,” investigates Brazil’s monetary policy, economic miracle, and rampant inflation by turning to a series of artworks using currency, both real and proctored, by artist Cildo Meireles. Throughout the 1970s, Meireles produced a number of projects in which he employed banknotes to circulate alternative and subversive information as well as poignant commentaries on commercial and artistic value. Meireles’s use of money as a material support for an artwork encourages an exploration of Brazil’s volatile numismatic history. Marked by rampant hyperinflation and multiple currency changes spanning the decade under consideration, banknotes pointed to both the instability of economic institutions and the complexity of determining economic and social value. Positing banknotes as an alternative circuit for information exchange, Meireles’s work provides a compelling case study to address the paradoxes defining this period and to further illuminate the shift from the work of art as a static art object of display to one relying on existent exchange mechanisms.

Chapter 2 examines newspapers, a social system that presents and represents all manner of commentary on the political, economic, and cultural life of the day and its intersection with artistic practice. In this chapter, I present detailed information on specific censorship measures enacted after the passage of AI-5 in 1968 as a means to understand the political stakes of communicating in print media at this time. The newspaper featured prominently in artistic production during the 1970s. Embedded in the newspaper’s graphic space is a unique texture, pattern, layout, and iconography, as well as an inexpensive and inexhaustible source of content on everyday life. Given its daily circulation, easy reproducibility, and portability, the newspaper provided an attractive material and graphic space to those artists who sought to elude any association with artworks as precious objects. This chapter focuses on those artists who not only adopted the graphic aesthetic of newspapers but also went further by inserting their work within the pages of the newspaper, using it as a mechanism for circulating their work. This was the case in the work of artists such as Antonio Manuel, Cildo Meireles, and Paulo Bruscky, who uniquely negotiated graphic experimentation within the conditions surrounding newspaper censorship. The easy accessibility of the newspaper and its detachment from both art institutions and the art market fulfilled the reigning desire on the part of artists to reach and communicate with a broader public outside of a capitalist system that emphasized culture as commodity. Given that newspapers were manipulated to shape the ideological needs of the military government during the 1970s, artists’ appropriation of the newspaper’s mechanism became a subversive undertaking. Thus, at the crossroads of information and censorship, the newspaper embodied a productive tension between the limits of freedom of expression and its sublimation into alternate forms.

Chapter 3, “Television,” explores advances in communications and satellite technologies that accounted for the ubiquity of television in even the most remote of Brazilian households. By the 1970s, television became the most effective system of communication, a focal point of interest for both artists and the military regime. This chapter reveals the points of divergence and convergence in the relationship of political and artistic spheres with regard to television, foregrounding how an emphasis on communication provided the context for the widespread expansion of television and later video art in Brazil. Despite their decidedly different agendas, both the regime and artists sought to exploit television’s capacity as a mass media mechanism. For the regime, rigid control over television programming served as a means to disseminate its propaganda and conservative principles, thus expanding the reach of the military complex. This was made possible by a complicity between the military and TV Globo, which rose to staggering prominence during the 1970s. Not only will the history of TV Globo be addressed but also how its programming strove to create a model Brazilian citizen through the introduction of “The Globo Standard of Quality.” The appropriation of the televisual apparatus in the visual arts at this time, particularly through the medium of video art, presented artists with the possibility of creating an alternative to mainstream television programming, a “countertelevision,” as one critic called it, where dissident voices could be heard.22 This chapter details the history of the emergence of video art and includes in-depth analyses of several key artist videos by Leticia Parente, Sonia Andrade, Paulo Herkenhoff, and Geraldo Anhaia Mello. As part of this history, I also address why women artists played such a prominent role in early video art and visual art more broadly. In contrast to TV Globo’s and the military’s initiatives for television, Brazilian video artists offered viewers an alternative to prescribed identities. Rather than continue to support the broadcast of content promoting depoliticized subjects, Parente, Andrade, Herkenhoff, and Mello stage uncomfortable and often tortuous confrontations with their bodies to communicate and denounce the violence of the regime and activate the viewer to reflect on their surroundings. While early artist videos did not constitute an artistic movement per se, when analyzed within the context of television as a system dominating social life in Brazil during the 1970s, they reveal the ways in which artists absorbed communications technologies into their work.

Chapter 4, “Maps,” elucidates how cartography was deployed in the service of the regime’s expansionist ethos at the same time that a pronounced mapping impulse influenced artistic production. As a point of departure, the chapter positions three crucial events as transforming the spatial orientation of the Brazilian citizen. First among these events was the speedy construction of the new capital city, Brasília, between 1957 and 1960 on the formerly barren scrubland of the interior central plateau, directing political as well as economic and cultural attention inland away from the more densely populated coastal regions. Second, the eagerly anticipated moon landing by the United States’ Apollo spacecraft in 1969, broadcast globally to millions of television viewers, expanded the possibilities for navigating and dominating space. Finally, the forced resettlement of the Amazonian rainforest in the 1970s, carried out by the military government through the construction of the Trans-Amazon Highway in 1972, among other initiatives, extended the physical and conceptual boundaries of the Brazilian nation with grave consequences for the region’s inhabitants.

Foregrounding a diversity of mapping strategies, this chapter hones in on the technological, cartographic, and aesthetic apparatuses surrounding the definition and representation of territories. Maps have a long history in Brazil, having paved the way for fifteenth-century European colonization. The vestiges of historical mapping projects resonate in the regime’s integrationist politics of exploiting the vast and isolated Amazonian territories during the 1970s. In contrast to the maps generated for government purposes, artworks incorporating maps and mapping operations, such as those by Cildo Meireles, Anna Bella Geiger, and Sonia Andrade, signal the ways in which artists advanced alternative forms of understanding territorial identity. Merging a variety of media, including drawing, sculpture, video, and installation, the artworks featured in this chapter propose unique models for the organization and depiction of space within urban, regional, and national boundaries. Central to their mapping practices is an attempt to adapt and subvert official modes of mapping space by introducing different strategies for representing topographic data.

Reviews: 

“In spite of being intended for art historians and the specialized academic community, this book is also accessible to all those who are interested in Brazilian cultural and art history, thanks to its clear structure. It contributes significantly to its field by providing both absolutely exquisite, detailed analyses and an extensive number of documentary sources from the 1970s and numerous testimonials collected over years of research.”
Hispanic American Historical Review

“In prose that is engaging and clear, Elena Shtromberg proposes a novel approach to the study of Brazilian conceptual art during the 1970s, the most repressive period of military rule. By analyzing works in relation to larger systems of communication, she sheds light on vast realms of social life in Brazil during a phase of authoritarian modernization. While Art Systems explores works that explicitly expressed dissent, it also reveals more subtle forms of critique that effectively reimagined the terrain of political intervention through artistic practice.”
Christopher Dunn, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, Tulane University, and author of Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture

“An engaging, creatively organized text, Art Systems offers thoughtful and amply researched historical contextualization of a generation’s philosophical and aesthetic motivations.”
Claire F. Fox, Professor of English/Spanish and Portuguese, University of Iowa, and author of Making Art Panamerican: Cultural Policy and the Cold War