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  • Decolonial Temporality in Alfredo Jaar's The Kissinger Project
  • Florencia San Martín (bio)

From Heraclitus to Karl von Clausewitz and Henry Kissinger, "war is the origin of everything."

—Enrique Dussel1

In 1984, two years after moving from Chile to New York, alfredo jaar (b. Santiago, Chile, 1956) created Searching for K, an archive made out of appropriated pages of books.

Compiled of photographic reproductions and their corresponding captions from the first two volumes of Henry Kissinger's memoirs (published separately in 1979 and 1982), Searching for K exposes a twofold political, historical, and cultural phenomenon.2 On the one hand, it makes visible Kissinger's central role during his tenure as U.S. National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford (1969–1977) in plotting the overthrow of Chilean democracy and engendering the dictatorship that followed (1973–1990). On the other hand, it highlights [End Page 345]

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Figure 1.

Alfredo Jaar, Searching for K (1984). Eighteen panels (13⅜ × 32⅛ in. / 34 × 81.6 cm) and one pigment print (14 × 16 in. / 35.6 × 40.6 cm). Courtesy the artist, New York (image of the work in full page, as suggested by the artist).

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the fact that efforts to denounce Kissinger for crimes against humanity had hitherto failed. When Jaar made the work, Kissinger was not only a free man, but also a political figure who wielded significant political and economic power and even moral authority.3 For Jaar, the work of denunciation was therefore an ongoing project that had to continue until Kissinger could be brought to justice for his human rights violations and the other political, social, and economic repercussions from his oversight of imperial interventions into Latin American politics. Jaar represents this twofold historical, cultural, and political phenomenon—that is, Kissinger's accountability for crimes against humanity and the fact that he has not yet been punished legally. By intervening in images and texts regarding Kissinger, and by organizing these images and texts in a conceptually specific manner, Jaar's aim is to expose Kissinger's crimes and the fact that he has not yet paid retribution for them.

Jaar's use of language is a key conceptual strategy for this twofold aim. The use of a present participle in the title of the work, for instance, indicates the extent to which the task of the artwork is unfinished, incomplete, and in process. As a linguistic decision representing an action happening in the present, Jaar's "searching" speaks of a task that is underway, rather than resolved. Indeed, this task is what motivates Jaar's larger series for which Searching for K was made. Titled The Kissinger Project, Jaar's ongoing series is itself a decolonial project that exposes the conceptual continuity of modernity's coloniality of power in current social orders and forms of knowledge from the starting point of Kissinger's interventionism. A global paradigm, first taking shape with the conquest of the Americas, colonial modernity began with the "constitution of a new world order culminating, five hundred years later, in a global power covering the whole planet," as the late Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano explains; modernity's matrix of power has remained the same ever since.4 By this logic, independence does not undo coloniality. As Quijano and Immanuel Wallerstein put it: independence "it merely transformed its outer form."5 The task of decoloniality thus remains unfinished.

Decoloniality is a way of doing, thinking, and being that challenges modernity's progressive notion of historical time. As literary critic Walter D. Mignolo explains, the Western project of modernity emerged in the sixteenth century as a simultaneous colonization of both time and space: the colonization of time through the invention of the Middle Ages in the process of conceptualizing [End Page 347] the Renaissance, and the colonization of space by means of the conquest of the New World.6 A project with "cumulative" rather than "successive" phases, as Mignolo tellingly puts it, modernity names a persistent historical practice of destruction and revision.7 On account of this cumulative historical logic, the project of decolonialization, which has existed since...


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