Buenos Aires

Fernanda Laguna, Vivir en la luz (To Live in the Light), 1994, painted wood, collage, light fixture,  9 × 10 5⁄8 × 13 3⁄4". From “Tácticas luminosas” (Luminous Tactics).

Fernanda Laguna, Vivir en la luz (To Live in the Light), 1994, painted wood, collage, light fixture, 9 × 10 5⁄8 × 13 3⁄4". From “Tácticas luminosas” (Luminous Tactics).

“Tácticas luminosas”

Pink is “the faggot color par excellence.” So Jorge Gumier Maier declared in the catalogue text for the 1997 group exhibition “El tao del arte” (The Tao of Art) at the Centro Cultural Recoleta in Buenos Aires. It was the last one he curated while serving as the director of the Centro Cultural Rector Ricardo Rojas at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, where, less than a decade earlier, he had founded the dimly lit, hallway-like space as a gallery; the small yet transformative gesture would effect radical change in Argentinean art. Whereas previous art-historical shifts had been tied to explicit social, political, and intellectual engagement, especially in the 1960s, or to neo-expressionism in the 1980s, the El Rojas artists, as they came to be known, were invested in beauty and frivolity by way of craft techniques, vernacular materials, decorative aesthetics, and kitsch, prompting the artist and art historian Jorge López Anaya to characterize their varied output as “light.”

This lightness was their politics. Even if it was not readily apparent to those who interpreted their work as superficial, the El Rojas artists were destabilizing traditionally held artistic ideals while queering gender stereotypes. Many of the figures involved were indeed queer and involved in the newly public LGBT scene, and Gumier Maier, who had been a gay activist in the ’80s, championed queer aesthetics. This has so far been the dominant lens through which El Rojas has been read, but that focus neglects what is arguably the basis of the group’s aesthetic in the “feminine.” And here lay the significance of “Tácticas luminosas” (Luminous Tactics), organized by Francisco Lemus at the Colección de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat: the first exhibition dedicated to the women who exhibited in and around El Rojas.

The “luminous tactics” of the title reflected a positive reappropriation of the “lightness” the artists were accused of (much like the adoption of the word faggot by the gay community), as well as a reference to the specific meaning the word light held, especially for women, in 1990s Argentina, when it had connotations of diet culture and body consciousness. Its attendant vanity symbolically manifested the neoliberal agenda of the country’s president, Carlos Menem, as the curator and critic Inés Katzenstein has noted. In addition to their subversive use of the pink—the girlish color of ribbons, roses, candies, and daydreams—the female artists of El Rojas deployed materials and motifs that embraced stereotypically feminine attributes, such as intimacy, cuteness, and tenderness. For instance, the whimsical poems, 1998–2019, and guileless collages, all from 1999, of Fernanda Laguna celebrate the creative space of a young girl’s bedroom or journal. And in Acomodo mi corazón (I Put My Heart Back Together), 1995, Ana López offers a three-dimensional cartoon heart rendered real by her placement of arteries on top of the emblematic shape.

Another tactic of these artists was to draw upon the domestic sphere; this strategy was particularly loaded given how recently the personal could finally be public (and political) after the end of the dictatorship, in 1983. Alicia Herrero, for example, puts a feminine twist on Minimalism with Repasando (Wiping Clean), 1992, in which three equidistantly hung bathroom towels serve as a riposte to masculine, Western art by way of the most private of private spaces. In another work by Laguna, Vivir en la luz (To Live in the Light), 1994, light shines through the windows and door of a quaint little sculpture of a house, its roof painted with sparkles and glitter stars.

Adriana Pastorini’s group of furniture sculptures (Pez espada [Swordfish], 1992; Sin título [Untitled], 1992; Jirafa (Giraffe), 1993; and four Sin título [Untitled] pieces, two from 1992 and one from each of the following years) are each covered in a different fuzzy, funky fabric, which were listed as “peluche” (plush), on the wall label. The word also means “stuffed animal,” the primary material in Cristina Schiavi’s La Torta (The Cake), 1993, a tea tray with blue and pink toy bunnies arranged in tiers. In its original installation, titled Te invito (I Invite You), 1993, the cake was set on a blue tablecloth among balloons and ringlet streamers in a sparsely furnished room, conjuring the sense of a depressing birthday party. Schiavi imagined the party as one for those who could not attend, or rather, those who could never attend again—for los desaparecidos (those who were forcibly and strategically “disappeared” during Argentina’s US-backed Guerra Sucia [Dirty War]), whom the peluches represent. It is a work perhaps most indicative of the spirit of El Rojas, smuggling critical politics, without ever announcing the fact, into its meaning through sweet innocence. As Gumier Maier exclaimed, “How easily people are kept happy!”