As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being. Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1962.
The centre of Buenos Aires has an abundance of formal and heroic stone and bronze liberatadores on horseback, and some detached contemporary sculptures and a bridge by Santiago Calatrava in the new Puerto Madero waterfront. But the most significant sculptural experience is the Parque de la Memoria de Buenos Aires, opened on 7 November 1997, as a public space with a continuing programme of sculptural commissions commemorating the victims of Argentina’s military junta and ‘Dirty War’ from 1976 to 1983. 30,000 people disappeared as a result of the Argentinian state’s war on its own citizens, through Operation Condor – a brutal campaign of political repression and terror, kidnapping, torture and murder in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, supported by the USA Government and the CIA. Military archives relating to death squads throughout South America counted 50,000 persons murdered, 30,000 ‘desaparecidos’ and 400,000 incarcerated, with the real figures in excess of the available records.
Image: Que digan dónde estan. (Let them say where they are) Poster of disappeared persons compiled by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
La Parque de la Memoria, located on a 14-hectare site to the north of the city on the broad estuary of the Rio de la Plata – where many of the victims disappeared – is not a glamorous art destination. Surrounded by a wire fence, weeds grow freely, and a workman’s hut serves as an office and reception for it’s fifteen staff. The site is twinned with Hiroshima, and a formal orchard of cherry trees is a gift from the Embassy of Japan in Argentina. While it is funded by the city of Buenos Aires it runs on limited funds and volunteer labour. It is not promoted as a tourist experience, and there are political adversaries who would rather the park did not exist. But it is a place of global importance attempting to present an alternative approach to concepts of morality and humanity. The artworks help to create a visual space that is sombre and moving, an emotional guide for memory and reflection to remember the past, and consider the present and future, with great dignity.
The Memorial Park – Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism – Conceived and designed by Estudio Baudizzone-Lestard-Varas and associate architects Claudio Ferrari and Daniel Becker. It is a public space containing the names of the 30,000 Argentinian disappeared on the Monumento a las Víctimas del Terrorismo de Estado / Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism; a group of commissioned sculptures; and la sala PAyS (Presentes Ahora y Siempre) (Present Now and Forever), an information archive on the victims and as a centre for educational, artistic and cultural activities.
Parque de la Memoria – Sculpture and Artworks – The Monumento a las Víctimas del Terrorismo de Estado is the dominant presence; a 400-metre long wall that zig-zags through the park. The wall has a total of 30,000 individual concrete plaques. 20,000 are incised with the names and the age, where known, of the ‘desaparecidos’. A further 10,000 plaques are blank – representing the homeless and poor inhabitants of the streets and shanty Villas whose lives were undocumented. Seven permanent works have been commissioned from William Tucker, Dennis Oppenheim, Marie Orensanz, Nicolás Guagnini, Claudia Fontes, Roberto Aizenberg and Grupo de Arte Callejero.
Grupo de Arte Callejero. Cartales de la Memoria. 53 iconic graphic images on street signs placed along the waterfront. 2.6metre x 2.6m, galvanized and reflective steel
William Tucker. Victoria, 2001. White concrete and crushed rock. 6 x 7.60 x 1.30 m
Dennis Oppenheim. Monumento al Escape Steel, coloured glass and various materials. 6 x 7 x 2,80 m
Marie Orensanz. Pensar es un Hecho Revolucinario. 1999- 2009. Corten Steel. 6x2x0,80m
La sala PAyS (Presentes, Ahora y Siempre) (Present, Now and Forever) displays temporary exhibitions. Uruguayan conceptual artist Luis Camnitzer’s exhibition, Memorial, 26 march – 26 June 2011, rewrote the phone book in a minimal and modest conceptual gesture by digitally inserting the names of those who disappeared during the military dictatorship in Uruguay. By literally “making room” between the names of current Uruguayan citizens he creates a “living” presence for those who died and are missing.
Philosophy – The legacy of terror is strongly felt and injustice still has to challenged. The initiative to accompany the Monumento a las Víctimas del Terrorismo de Estado / Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism with a programme of contemporary art is in the belief that art promotes freedom of thought and reflection, in opposition to the authoritarianism and social trauma caused by state terrorism in Argentina. The objective is to present art, not purely as aesthetic discourse on memory, but to provide a platform for critical thinking about the complex issues caused by state terrorism and its legacy. The role of art as a social practice is seen as an important symbolic cultural process to remind and maintain memories of the last military dictatorship. The sense of memory associated with the location is not intended to close wounds or supplant the procedures of truth and justice. It acknowledges that it cannot bring peace to the families who will never know the fate of their loved ones; and nothing can replace the vacuum left by their absence. The site is a place of memory and testimony for present and future generations. The names of the murdered and disappeared are cut in stone to evoke their presence and as permanent tribute to the ideals of freedom, solidarity and justice and as a statement – NUNCA MÁS – NEVER AGAIN.
History – In 1999 an International Sculpture Competition Parque de la Memoria led by an international jury: Marcelo Pacheco, Enio Iommi, FabiánLebenglik, Carlos Alonso, Estela Carlotto, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Paulo Herkenhoff, David Elliot and Francoise Yohalem, selected eight winners: Claudia Fontes (Argentina), Rini Hurkmans (Netherlands). Marie Orensanz (Argentina). Grupo de Arte Callejero (Argentina), Nuno Ramos (Brazil), Marjetica Potrc (Slovenia); Germán Botero (Colombia), Dennis Oppenheim (USA). And four honorable mentions: Per Kirkeby (Denmark), William Tucker (USA) Nicolás Guagnini (Argentina) and Clorindo Testa (Argentina). Six artists were invited to create temporary works: Roberto Aizenberg (Argentina), Juan Carlos Distefano (Argentina), Norberto Gomez (Argentina), Leo Vinci (Argentina), Magdalena Abakanowicz (Poland) and Jenny Holzer (USA).
Organisation – El Departamento de Arte del Parque de la Memoria – Monumento a las Víctimas del Terrorismo de Estado / The Department of Art of Memory Park – Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism Board of Management is responsible for the programme of sculptures in public space and the coordination of artistic and cultural activities that take place in la Sala PAyS . The Parque de la Memoria is managed by one representative each of the City Government of Buenos Aires departments of Human Rights, Culture, Education and Public Space and Environment, the University of Buenos Aires and the ten human rights organizations involved.
Director: Nora Hochbaum / Visual Art Coordinator: Florencia Battiti, Parque de la Memoria, v. Costanera Norte Rafael Obligado 6745, Buenos Aires, Argentina. T: (+54) 4787 0999 / 6937. Free entry – open 10am to 6pm daily.
The official website (in Spanish) includes information on all of the art and a database of victims.
Man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites – day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. If it were not so, existence would come to an end. Carl Jung, Man and his Symbols, 1964