- Intersections of Politics, Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Life in Contemporary Chilean Criticism and Art
Willy Thayer opens his book Tecnologías de la crítica with the provocative statement that criticism—which connotes critical thought, critique, and theory as well as art—is inevitably related to life: "As though criticism and life always belonged, in each case, to the same band" (2010, 11). Indeed, the figure of life has been a central concern of critical theory, from discussions of the relations between life, history, representation, and power in the work of such thinkers as Heidegger, Benjamin, Foucault, Derrida, Butler, Esposito, and others, to more recent considerations of technological advances in biopower, different configurations of the posthuman, and the unforeseeable extremes of the anthropocene. Such reflections have been [End Page 23] attentive to how life appears as a kind of raw material of different forms of sovereignty, including the sovereignty of knowledge, which demarcates it into properties that can be dominated and controlled by sociopolitical forces, or protected from them. Chilean critical thought has responded and contributed to these discussions in relation to the legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship, which exercised extreme forms of control over life and death to transform the nation into a streamlined instrument of late capitalism. The front line against this process was constituted by the traditional Left and its epistemological manifestation in the left-leaning social sciences, which sought to combat political and economic expropriation with an enlightened defense of the proper, including ideals of the nation, the People, and, more generally, truth and its revealability. 1 A vigorous intellectual and artistic environment spawned alternative forms of critique, which sought to respond to the effects of state and capitalist sovereignty without repeating their economic structures of power, and in which, as Thayer puts it, it is "as if the potencies of life break through [ como si las potencias de vida se abrieran paso], eroding borders, every time, similar to how criticism open its own path [se abre paso], between closed roads (áporos ) or the vertigo of open roads (pantopóros)" (2010, 11). 2
Amid the vertiginous paths of these alternative approaches to life and thought, discord grew and hardened into an enduring debate. Although primarily identified as a dispute between Thayer and Nelly Richard that took place in a series of antagonistic essays in the mid-2000s, it has a much longer history extending back to the reception of Richard's influential book Márgenes e instituciones: Arte en Chile desde 1973 (Margins and Institutions: Art in Chile Since 1973 ), especially the critical assessments of Thayer's former teacher, Pablo Oyarzún. This long-standing disagreement echoes familiar tensions between poststructuralist philosophy and the intersections between criticism, culture, and society that culminated in cultural studies, and ultimately concerns nothing less than the nature of critical thought and the relationship between art and politics. 3 With so much at stake, it is not surprising that the debate has continued to have repercussions in Chilean criticism ever since its inception in the 1980s, including Federico Galende's Vanguardistas, críticos y experimentales: Vida y golpe en Chile, 1960–1990 (Avant-gardes, critics, and experimenters: life and visual arts in Chile, 1960–1990), published [End Page 24] in 2014. 4 Galende's book makes explicit a relationship between art, criticism, and life that is recurrent throughout the history of this debate. My objective in the present essay is to trace some of the ideas about crítica and life as they have developed in Chilean thought over the past 35 years, starting with the initial differences between Richard and Oyarzún in the 1980s, then turning to Thayer's polemical account in a series of texts published between 2001 and 2010, and subsequently to Galende's perspective on this critical history. Finally, I consider these different critical positions in relation to two art installations by the renowned artist Lotty Rosenfeld and suggest that they open paths, as Thayer describes, through the apparent impasses of contemporary criticism.
Perhaps the first chapter in the Chilean discussion of art, criticism, and life is an early essay by Pablo Oyarzún, titled "Arte, vanguardia y vida" (1982...