The Jewish Museum’s exhibition series Sights and Sounds: Global Film and Video continues this fall with a lineup of monthlong presentations featuring recent works from around the world, one country at a time. Currently, works from Argentina explore the effects of living in a media-saturated world, but a theme as general as “media” can erase the specifics of a country’s identity. The apolitical nature of the internet, combined with the image saturation presented in the series, make it challenging to identify what is uniquely “Argentine” about these shorts.
Having grown up in Buenos Aires, I was alert for historical or geographical signifiers in the films, but I found few. Instead, the series thrives on either conceptual elements appearing in “Earlater” and “Insight,” while the other half of the selection focuses on the first person, whether through the testimony of voice dubbers (“Doubles”) or the using social media to grieve for an ex-lover (“Maru and I”). The exhibit was curated by Inés Katzenstein, who in 2004 published the anthology Listen Here Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s: Writings of the Avant-Garde, the first MoMA Publications volume, which became part of a larger program to translate and publish essays about Latin American art in Spanish and Portuguese. Katzenstein’s work in both the anthology and as a curator has involved placing ideas and arguments of contemporary Argentine artists in context for foreign audiences. But to fit into such international context, the shorts selected remain disconnected from the horizon of Argentine identity and politics. Although perhaps that’s exactly what media saturation creates.
“Earlater” (2010) by Fabio Kacero — one of Buenos Aires’s most eccentric artists and also a science fiction writer — shows fragments of city life woven together into a nonlinear narrative. The piece presents a series of “time loops,” where fragments of daily activities approach eternity and moments are organized before and after an event we will never know anything about. The beginning of the universe is there, along with a fencing class, a family eating at a table, and flowers inside a vase — these are all connected by an infinite chronology that escapes linear narrative. Due to the fragmentation and saturation of images in the short, it is difficult to avoid feeling indifferent about geography, which appears interchangeable. Such “time loops” could be taking place in Argentina — or anywhere else.
Leticia Obeid’s “Dobles” (2013) compiles a series of interviews with iconic Mexican voice actors who have reached Latin American television and film audiences since the 1960s. These figures tell stories about the art of dubbing while reflecting on their role in the process of translation, the questioned neutrality of language, and the relationship between image and sound. One of the actors Obeid interviews is Jorge “Tata” Avizu, the man famous for bringing Bugs Bunny to Spanish audiences, and the Spanish version of Maxwell Smart. “You cannot fool anyone with a voice,” he says in the film, when he confesses to having inserted his own political ideas into some shows during times of dictatorship. Defending the sociopolitical function of doubling, he adds, “There is a lot of noise that surrounds truth.” As part of the generation that watched The Simpsons and Agent 86 from Argentina, with Homer Simpson and Maxwell Smart speaking in Spanish from my TV, I thought that Obeid’s project of putting faces to these widely recognized voices behind the characters was a good attempt to resist media saturation.
For the newest generation of Latin American artists, Sebastian Diaz Morales in “Insight” (2012) explores the borders between fiction and reality, photography and film. During the film, a gigantic mirror shatters, destroying a reflected portrait of a film crew. Here is another short where Argentine geography and identity get lost as the conceptual elements take over. The mirror breaks, multiplying the possibilities of what is seen, and as perception becomes also a multiplicity, I wondered how many more possibilities a viewer could perceive, until indifference caused by image saturation took over.
Juan Renau offered some context-dependent elements in his short,”Maru y Yo” (2012), which begins with a group of Argentine friends, including the main character and his girlfriend, going to a concert in the city of La Plata. The short then tracks the young man’s personal online activities, which begin much later, after he and his girlfriend have broken up. Watching into a computer screen, the viewer is pushed into a private world facilitated by social media. The email received contains a video from that night of happiness at the concert, and the message ends with: “PS: Maru appears on it, but I imagine you don’t mind anymore…” From there, the rest of the short captures the feelings of nostalgia and longing that come up after separations. In solitude, the character watches the video, then goes to his ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page and finds out that she has met someone else. He then cuts and pastes her image next to his, trying to force a different ending than the real one.
Although this series avoided posing questions or capturing what is so unique about Argentine identity, the shorts spoke to and about media saturation precisely and originally, with an Argentine style worthy of viewing.
Sights and Sounds: Argentina continues at the Jewish Museum (1109 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side) until October 29.