December 2021 will mark the 20th anniversary of the 2001 social outbreak in Argentina. Proyecto Filoctetes [Filoctetes Project] —the urban intervention created by the interdisciplinary artist Emilio García Wehbi, who took the streets of the city of Buenos Aires “by storm” for eight hours on November 15, 2002— was an aesthetic response to the devastating neoliberal experiment launched during Menemism, which resulted in the most dramatic political, economic, social, and institutional crisis of Argentina’s recent history.
Proyecto Filoctetes challenged and shocked the social fabric from an artistic perspective, and made visible what seemed to have been naturalized and assimilated by the city’s passers-by: the bodies of those who had fallen off a system that had left them scattered throughout the urban landscape.
Close to situationist practices, García Wehbi’s action —which also took place in the cities of Vienna, Berlin and Krakow— inscribes itself in the traditions that deepen the critical reflection on contemporary society. But as the artist has expressed himself in the project foundations, the intention had never been to carry out a study on social behavior. Proyecto Filoctetes was, above all, an aesthetic irruption where the poetic and the artistic event blended in with reality to burst in on what was precisely being intervened, the public space.
The idea that triggers Archivo Filoctetes [Filoctetes Archive] is not only to preserve the memory of a temporary artwork or ephemeral art but also to develop a platform for the production of critical thinking and the study of certain contemporary art practices, arising from a work that was carried out in another time and different contexts but challenged by questions of the present. The power of this project carried out by the artist between 2002 and 2008 is activated and enhanced by the actions of this archive.
As a collection of heterodox materials —photographs, videos and audios, journalistic articles, interviews, papers, critical essays, and testimonies of those who participated in the experience— the aim is to create an archival fabric to draw connections between the documents that recorded the action itself and those who can reflect on it. We have conceived the Archivo Filoctetes as a device capable of activating present sensitive experiences with the same critical density as originally generated by this work. This is what the philosopher and cultural critic Suely Rolnik means when she talks about the “poetic dimension” of archives. That is why our work will not only focus on the digitization and technical preservation of records but also on the creation of a series of activations for the visibility and democratization of this document collection.
In June 2020 and under the motto “An Archive Is”, the International Council on Archives celebrated the International Archives Week inviting us to reflect upon such questions as, “What is an Archive? What does it mean to the records and archives community? What does it mean to our users? How do we empower knowledge societies in the 21st Century?”
Archivo Filoctetes is a body of diverse works whose multiple layers of meaning allow us to reconstruct the memory of a work of ephemeral art. Its free and unlimited access to its corpus is a way to contribute to the democratization of knowledge. The launching of this website is the first step of a journey we hope to continue with many others.
MARICEL ALVAREZ →
Archivo Filoctetes Curator – Buenos Aires, November 2020
Curatorship: Maricel Alvarez – Graphic Design: Leandro Ibarra – Video: Martín Antuña – Sound: Marcelo Martínez – Translations into German: Mariana Alvarez – Translations into English: Casabest Communications – Website Programming: Sebastián Pöthe
The launch of Filoctetes Archive website has been possible thanks to the support of Fundación Medifé.
The Filoctetes Project
We could mention Marx’s most quoted statement from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon where he quotes and corrects Hegel when he remarks that history repeats itself twice “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce,” sometimes not as precise or as adequate.
I started to conceive and design Proyecto Filoctetes in the midst of a socio-economic crisis in December 2001 as an artistic approach to the problems that were pervading us through: the evidence of poverty and social exclusion embodied in the street dwellers who survived in the urban landscape of the city of Buenos Aires in an undignified manner. At that time I thought that the nation had reached the highest levels of poverty and inequality ever.
Today, twenty years after that time and of the creation of said artistic experience, our society’s poverty rate is even higher. In our country, the repetition of facts is not a farce but a recurring tragedy. Thus, Marx’s theoretical quote clashes against history’s reality.
Philoctetes, the one with the festering foot, suddenly becomes an outcast from Greek society, and since his stench was unbearable he is left stranded on the isle of Lemnos. This mythical character serves as a metaphor to reflect on marginal lives in major cities from an artistic perspective. Contemporary cities are the new Lemnos, overcrowded by thousands of outcasts and immigrants who, like Philoctetes of rotten and stinking feet, spoil the landscape. Broadly speaking, there are two types of subjects on our city streets: passersby, who go around the city making use of those services and benefits the city provides; and those who actually inhabit them: street dwellers, beggars and the destitute, who have been expelled to them.
As an artist, the idea was to develop an aesthetic project that would allow me to poetically question the connection between both groups, exploring beyond the obvious indifference of the former towards the latter, so as to examine the reactions and considerations of the privileged when confronted in a hyper-realistic way by death and misery as part of everyday life.
To this end, 25 bodies – made of latex and with clothing – were located simultaneously in 25 specific sites in the city where the project was carried out (in addition to Buenos Aires, the cities of Vienna, Berlin and Krakow were intervened). The bodies were placed at dawn in such a way as to be found from the beginning of the working day by an unaware audience who would find them in different positions: lying in the street, sleeping at the entrance of a museum, sitting, kneeling, simulating an accident, etc. Each body was supervised by a group of two to three artists who participated in the experience so as to record passersby’s reactions. The days prior to the intervention, the artists involved held a seminar where they reflected on the relationship between artistic domain and reality, and in the following days, another in order to analyze the material they had gathered and prepared it for a public exhibition.
The project sought to delve into a certain type of suspicious normality that prevailed in cities at the end of the 20th century beginning of the 21st, before the rise of a new social landscape, where the bodies of those who had been left out of the system as a result of migratory waves, famines, wars and epidemics, were exposed and hidden at the same time.The intervention transformed the city into a huge stage area when the 25 hyperrealist dolls took different city sites by storm. The lifeless bodies thus simultaneously converged on the same space, the everyday-social reality and fictional-poetic arena.
Twenty years after the first performance of the Proyecto Filoctetes, the creation of an archive is an auspicious way to set the experience in motion once again, not only in document terms but also as a way to spark the reflection upon the artistic practices in connection with the environment, since we are subjects of the present, and our urban responsibility calls for our commitment so that history does not repeat itself ever again, neither as tragedy nor as farce.
EMILIO GARCÍA WEHBI →
Buenos Aires, November 2020
Original idea and direction: Emilio García Wehbi – Executive production and documentation: Maricel Alvarez – Puppet design and creation: Norberto Laino – Artistic assistance: Julieta Potenze