Ayer y Hoy
Archival pigment ink on 310grs. Canson cotton paper.
53 parts, each 40.5 x 30 cm.
Ed. 1/3 + 1 AP
Yesterday and Today
by Cesar Gabler
Yesterday and Today was one of the many publications edited during Pinochet’s military dictatorship that tried to publicise the benevolence of his regime. With a “before and after” logic, the book-form album promoted the drastic, and of course favourable, changes that the military administration brought to Chile. Yesterday was chaos, today order reigns. It was that simple. The photos and short texts, translated into English and French, tried to suggest universality in the message, in an attempt at disproving the brutality of the hundreds of images documenting the attack on the Moneda Palace and the illegitimate detentions.
The visual language of the publication was similar to a late example – oh, the Historical irony – of the language developed by the constructivists to promote the revolution of the young Soviet Union. Nicolás Franco’s Yesterday and Today appropriates this publication and effects on a simple cut and paste operation of on it. Removing the central image on each page, the artist folds the page – regardless of the language – in order to expose the words “Yesterday” and “Today”. The effect is curious. The shapes created are reminiscent of the sign for infinity, and the presence on the same plane of the terms we use to designate the past and the present, seem to move towards it. Franco, by folding the page, coerces time and, much as Picasso does with his cubist guitars, reveals the structure of his object. The page of the book, with the photograph removed, becomes the frame of an empty space. This editorial geometry reminds us how close grids in design are to the solid models of early geometrism.
The followers of De Stijl and constructivism interpreted painting and the idea of the frame as a project model that extends itself naturally to the home and to the printed page. The colour plane could be an empty room or a half-page photograph. The geometry should be both order and a model: plastic and social.
Something already characteristic in Franco´s practice is to refer to photography from the textual quotes that usually accompany them. Captions that explain the photos, describe them or simply present them. And on some occasions do all three, rendering the images themselves almost unnecessary. Much of Nicolas Franco’s photographic material comes from printed pages. He is, in the first instance, a consumer of images, not a producer. Franco doesn’t make new images; he reuses, rearranges or modifies existing documents. Almost always archive material or documents that are out of circulation. It’s a work that presupposes a notion of the archival, but which shies away from an orderly exhibition of collected material. One way or another Nicolás Franco denies the spectator easy access to the source material that he himself is discovering. In Yesterday and Today he has cut out and torn the pages, working with scraps.
The artist seems not to trust the images and he resolves the issue of their presentation in ways that seem almost violent.
The images return to us cut-up or rejected, perhaps much like the history they belong to.
Yesterday and Today
by Paz López
Two years after the military coup in Chile on 11th September 1973, and as part of the anti-Marxist propaganda promoted by the Pinochet dictatorship, an interesting editorial object was published. It is economic in terms of visual and textual material, but symbolically highly efficient. On the left side of each double page a series of photos on a black background claims to show the country as it was during Allende’s time, with images of disorder, chaos, economic crises, empty shops, international communist influence (especially Russian) throughout the country, violence in the public universities, terrorism and frenzied mobs. On the right side, against a white background, are photos that were taken in the same location as those on the left, but this time showing order, peace, cleanliness, economic wealth and prosperity. On the left above each photo is the word “Yesterday”. On the right, “Today”. Both words are translated into English and French, characterising by this gesture the gradual establishment of the global neoliberal model that the dictatorship imposed on Chile.
This identification between the image and the text –a strategy of conceptual art– suppressed the perception and imagination of the reader –the citizen–, identifying the communist utopia as the enemy of wellbeing and development, and the logic of individual consumption as central to an endless and enjoyable future. This propagandist recodification is similar to what other totalitarian regimes of the 20th century did, where the subordination of life as a whole to a single organising structure relied on a series of artistic resources used to educate the masses.
Yesterday and Today is precisely that, an artistic procedure put at the service of the denunciation of state crimes, an object of art turned into a political object, an inverted ready-made. Nicolás Franco’s visual perspicacity not only rescues from oblivion this archive material of propaganda financed by the Chilean dictatorship, it also shows the clash between a semiotic system and an artistic system, between artistic intention and the aims of power, enabling in this gesture a reading of the relationship between the avant-garde and politics.
Boris Groys, testing a reading of soviet social realism, risks a radical hypothesis: it would be the art of social realism that would achieve what was only imagined by avant-garde art, that is to shift from a representation of the world to its transformation. Claiming this, Groys invites us to distinguish between the avant-garde and soviet realism. While the latter was always at the service of an ideological message, the avant-garde –identified as prior to the 1917 revolution– was not only resistant to the idea of technological progress, but also accepted the destruction of the world as an irreducible fact of progress.
Yesterday and Today, Franco’s work, appears to take the same path as the avant-garde before its ideological adjustment. The operation is modest but highly effective (just as the original publication was, just as the spirit of the ready-made is: minimum resources, maximum impact). Franco cuts and folds the pages of the original publication so that the words “yesterday” and “today” are presented on the same plane, destroying with this action the rest of the image. The effect is similar to Malevich’s famous avant-garde Black Square: by removing the images of an earlier world, all visible shapes have disappeared without a trace, opening up the possibility for a new world to be born. But Franco is more nihilistic than utopian. Leaving those two words visible, juxtaposing them, he fractures lineal time –past, present and future– to leave apparent circular time, in which the past and the present seem to be made of the same material. Post-dictatorship Chile is not a present tense experience of complete democracy, but rather it is a wound in which, in every fold of existence, the tragic passions unleashed so efficiently by the 1973 coup, continue to exist.
Ayer y Hoy. 2013.
Installation views, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zürich, 2015 & Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Santiago, 2014