A Weak Force: On the Chilean Dictatorship and Visual Arts
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A Weak Force
On the Chilean Dictatorship and Visual Arts


During the Chilean dictatorship, the military took complete political and juridical control of the country, which was first declared to be in state of siege (estado de sitio) from the day of the coup on September 11, 1973 until March 10, 1978, when the state of siege was replaced by a state of emergency (estado de emergencia) that remained in place until August 27, 1988. This allowed the government to pursue with total impunity its “war against communism” by means of assassinations, abductions, and terror.1 This war was carried out against everyone and every discourse that expressed any resistance to the regime: people, political parties, labor groups, artistic expressions, media, etc.2 The effect of these maneuvers was not only the virtual elimination of ideas opposed to the regime, but also the suppression of a narrative through which a large portion of the population identified itself. The symbolic elimination [End Page 99] of those identities, this symbolic war, was the counterpart of the other war that led to the military government’s assassination of thousands of persons in Chile.3

The censorship of symbolic production and art opposed to the regime resulted in new strategies of representation that sought to evade censorship while continuing to express some level of dissent. The value of these new strategies of representation (which perhaps are not so new, but which, as I will show, constitute the very possibility of representation in the first place) consists not only in the merit of eluding censorship and challenging ostensibly totalitarian authority, but also in showing the repressive regime’s fragility. In what follows, I want to underscore two aspects of this constitutive fragility. First, this fragility, or weak force—which makes of any appropriation or attempt to control language something fundamentally fragile, and thus open to its own subversion or reappropriation—is a characteristic that belongs to language itself. Hence, paradoxically, the same language was both suffered passively (as censorship and repression) and shared actively—which made it possible to manipulate and transform this language—by the people that the dictatorship tried to silence.4 Second, through the analysis of the autoimmunity of language and the citational structure of Quebrantahuesos (Bone Breakers)—the work upon which I will principally comment—I attempt to show how the control of language imposed by the dictatorship was transgressed. The citational structure of Quebrantahuesos also opens the discussion of art to the problem of context. Can we say that a work of art has a “proper” context in and from which its meaning is determined? The exploration of this idea leads to a discussion of the implications of Nelly Richard’s interpretations of the escena de avanzada’s art.

In 1975 the first and only edition of the University of Chile-sponsored magazine Manuscritos was published, after which it was suspended by the University administration. Although Manuscritos’s publication was suspended, the single issue of the magazine itself was not prohibited, thus allowing for its distribution and circulation (Fig. 1). Combining poetry, essays, and visual art, Manuscritos was a pioneer in the labor of re-establishing art’s capacity to say the unsayable, to say what was unsayable in Chile after the coup.5 [End Page 100]

Figure 1. From Manuscritos (1975).<br/><br/>Image courtesy of the University of Chile.
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Figure 1.

From Manuscritos (1975).

Image courtesy of the University of Chile.

The section of Manuscritos titled Quebrantahuesos re-exhibits (or cites) several different collages by Nicanor Parra—who participated in creating some of the collages and was the author of the idea—and the editorial committee of Jorge Berti, Roberto Humeres, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Enrique Lihn, Luis Oyarzún, and Jorge Sanhueza. These collages were first shown in 1952 in two strategic public locations in downtown Santiago. The collages consisted of fragments of newspaper headlines that formed new headlines, organized into a “newspaper” front page (55 × 40 cm), with the title Quebrantahuesos. Under the title was the following announcement: “to appear every Tuesday.” Every week for one year a new edition of Quebrantahuesos came out, that is, was put together and posted with the new “news.” Some 20 years later, in 1975...