Buenos Aires

Alberto Heredia

Instituto de Cooperacion Iberoamericana

Since the mid ’60s, Alberto Heredia has been creating a series of objects he calls “toys,” which maintains a double and organic relation to the rest of his work. They are, at once, the intimate version of his large sculptures, but made entirely of humble materials—wire, cardboard, blindfolds, industrial paint, and found objects—and the presentation of the formless through a play of materials that constitutes, above all, a political statement. Since 1963, when Heredia presented his Cajes de Camembert (Camembert boxes, 1961)—15 circular boxes that when opened revealed an intimidating collection of fragments, including bones, hair, and celluloid dolls—this Argentinean sculptor has developed a coherent esthetic exploration of the residual: the wretchedness of materials and the wretchedness of the contents that those materials are forced to express.

While many of Heredia’s sculptures invite the spectator’s active participation, this series of toys rejects it flat out. Untouchable because of their threatening appearance and manifest fragility, they seem to contradict the essence of the objects that have lent them their name. The toy, an indeterminate artifact, polymorphous, ambiguous, allows the child to establish his first links with the world through a delicate and complex process: the child recognizes himself in the toy, admitting at the same time the toy’s relevance to the outside world. The toy functions, then, as the fold in which the limit between the world and interiority is established, the fragile partition on which the subject is structured. Above all, the toy must be soft, susceptible to manipulation and contact with the body of the child who uses it. Otherwise, the risk is run that its delicate function will be dangerously inverted: the interior could suddenly turn strange, the intense sensation of intimacy could turn into the neutral extension of fear. Thus Caballito (Horsey, 1985) is nothing but the kitsch. nightmare version of one of the most popular toys for infants: a wooden frame, wrapped with blindfolds painted with brilliant-green industrial paint, whose head is “decorated” by two eyes bulging out of their sockets and a protruding tongue the color of blood.

El hombre del balero (The man of the ball game, 1980–81) is perhaps the addressee of this entire group of “toys”: a headless child, who holds up a balero with both hands as if it were a lance or a ruler’s staff, is seated high up on a precarious black chair with pompous golden backing, presiding over the series as if it were a small dictator on an absurd imaginary throne. Produced in a geographically isolated country in a painful, marginal position, governed with excessive frequency by dictators or caudillos, Heredia’s toys expose the crisis of the supposed distinction between the public sphere—the country’s tragic political history—and private life. These rough toys, untouchable, out of control, are like the delirious amusement of a subject who has been stripped even of his own interiority. In a toy country governed by child despots it is only possible to recognize oneself in the irrevocable presence of despoilment, in the unsalvageable precariousness of the residual.

Carlos Basualdo

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent T. Martin.