text by Yudi Rafael
No one will hear you in the country of the individual
In Desentranhando futuros, Suely Rolnik discusses the conditions set forth in the context of certain art proposals, in 1960s and 1970s Latin America, for the overcoming of a chasm between micro and macropolitics, conventionally embodied by the figures of the artist and the militant. The author identifies those conditions in how, in those productions, “the political question is enmeshed in the entrails of poetics themselves”, as inner tensions compel the dictatorship to befall the body in the form of an oppressive, omnipresent, diffuse day-to-day atmosphere which translates into a force of contagion within the artwork.
In Mario Ishikawa’s output, and symptomatically so, the image of the body is ever-present: it might be fragmented into hands and communicating gestures, in organs, like eyes, brains and penises; in the athletic body, the fetus protected within the womb, the aggressor with the baton, bodies in the crosshairs of a weapon, demonstrations and insurrecting bodies that populate the entirety of Brazil’s map, the traces of a fingerprint; it might be translated into ‘biotypology’ studies, or even identified in cards ‘for the use of the postman,’ which allude to vanished, imprisoned, or dilacerated bodies.
During the 1970s, amid the military government’s heavy political propaganda on mass media outlets, in its optimistic celebration of social harmony, integration, pride and national grandeur, Mario Ishikawa created a series of graphic works by appropriating slogans, images and symbols of the regime, through decomposition/recomposition operations, and then recombining them into different configurations. Through this process, the artist critically made them, their uses and intents open to deviant interpretations and to other signification possibilities.
As the country lived through the peak of the ‘economic miracle,’ the repressive machine of censorship and torture grew stronger and also made its presence felt in the art galleries, salons and biennials. The Brazilian art market was booming from speculative investment and the hyper-pricing of artworks by celebrated artists from the past, creating a situation where the logic of the management of assets and signatures prevailed. Mario Ishikawa veers away from the mainstream, devotes himself to teaching, and sets out experimenting with low-cost reproduction techniques and alternative ways of single-handedly spreading his work. Under the aegis of the underground, the artist’s coded messages would circulate through a trusted network, from hand to hand and by mail, journeying through transnational artistic and affective circuits to establish underground communication channels. Through these, the artist found peers and constituted a living ‘linguistic community.’
The possibility of new dialogues establishes itself in the present as his work gets revisited in the face of the experiences of a new generation of artists who, in confronting the forces of mercantile and media logic in art, its institutional boundaries and other dilemmas of contemporaneity – with analogous intensity and inventiveness – reconnect the political and poetical realms in their practices. As Rolnik notes, one must inquire about such a fusion today, since its strategies of response to the impositions of the new regime of oppression upon the terrain of art involve extra-disciplinary drifts. An exodus, she argues, in which the collaboration of artists and activists enables a work of critical interference whose transversal effects make themselves felt on both terrains, breeding “other means of artmaking, as well as other territories for life.”