Skip to main content. You are here Home. By Rachel Bierly. The Avant-Garde movement began in the French military among French left-wing radicals in the late 19th century. The Avant-Garde movement, once exclusively European, migrated to the western hemisphere post World War 1 and adapted to the culture and people of the Americas.
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Despite its intense dialogue with the visual arts, however, the movement primarily has been considered in relation to literature. I posit that, rather than being the passive recipients of an imposed modernity, Mexican artists played a critical role in defining its contours, thereby challenging hegemonic notions of Western modern- ism.
I draw attention to the contentious debates around modernism and the avant- garde in post-revolutionary Mexico and trace how the locus of avant-gardist activity transferred from the individual to the collective over the course of the decade. Refo- cusing the inquiry from discrete objects of art or literature to the interdisciplinary collaborations and experimental approaches that questioned the very limits of art, my study provides a richly textured account that contextualizes the artistic devel- opments that came to be known as the Mexican Renaissance.
This study is framed by two intersecting narratives: one, already mentioned, emerges with the distribution of Actual No. Both of these actions were rebellions against academic forms of expression, and their in- terrelation bears emphasizing. The strike at the academy initiated an era of alterna- tive approaches to art education that would reach its apogee in the second half of the s.
The treintatrentistas thirty-thirtyists , so named after a type of ammu- nition widely employed during the revolution, banded together to support the pro- gressive post-revolutionary legacy in the arts, increasingly under threat by unsympa- thetic factions in the government. They mobilized similar strategies of provocation and championed pedagogy and collective action. In the following pages I examine the interconnections between these artists, writers, and intellectuals, especially in relation to the myriad and contested ways in which they sought to define modernity and the avant-garde in Mexico.
I pro- vide in-depth analysis of the works of art and literature related to the two move- ments, including print media, murals and easel paintings, sculptures, and exhibition practices.
This study also expands on the literary and artistic canon of Estridentismo to include journalism, art education, and political activism, which challenge the es- tablished boundaries of art and literature. I weave a multifaceted narrative with a large cast of characters, stylistically dis- parate works of art, and a cacophony of outlooks. The crux of the first part of the story is Manuel Maples Arce, group leader, whose vision shapes the early develop- ment of Estridentismo.
As the voices multiply, the material becomes harder to rein in; thus, subsequent chapters depend on earlier ones for coherence. In addition to the recurrence of key figures, one unifying thread is the concept of historical avant- gardes; another is the centrality of the visual arts.
The Savage Detectives is divided into three parts. He drops out of school, leaves home, and divides his time between visiting friends, wandering around the city, reading, writing poetry, drinking in sordid canteens, and having different sexual encounters. In an action-packed conclusion to his narrative, the four of them escape from Alberto and his gang by borrowing a car and driving off in the di- rection of Sonora northern Mexico. The following part, which is also the longest, consists of a series of individual tes- timonials that take place over a twenty-year period.
The episodes, structured as in- terviews, are fragments of a history about two different poetry movements: realismo visceral from the s and its earlier incarnation, also known as realismo visceral, from the s and s. The peo- ple being interviewed are asked to remember Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano. They in- clude former girlfriends, collaborators, acquaintances, adversaries, and well-known authors who may have only met them in passing.
The narratives piece together their lives in fragments, following them through Mexico, Europe, Israel, and Africa. The unidentified interviewer would appear to be a literary researcher who is interested in tracing their biographies and reconstructing the history of realismo visceral. Tinajero would have been the only woman in the group, but she disappeared from the historical record. Salvatierra, a first-generation real visceralista, offers Lima and Belano the first clues in solving the mystery of this unknown poet.
Though we spent the first hundred-plus pages by his side and became acquainted with many of the same people who are now offering testimonials about Lima and Belano, he seems to have been forgotten. Or perhaps the interviewer is not posing the right questions. The young poet and his posse are heading north until they eventually reach Sonora. Belano and Lima use their flight from Mexico City as the opportunity to seek out Tinajero, who was rumored to have settled there.
They visit small towns and interview the locals in their efforts to find her. Meanwhile the group is informed by friends in Mexico City that Alberto is hot on their trail. They narrowly escape him, and by sheer luck end up in the town where Tinajero lives. On a deserted highway, they have the bad fortune of coming upon the pimp and his friend.
He and Lupe continue on their journey across the small towns in the north with no definite purpose. A week later he stops writing in his diary, and the novel ends. Many different themes run through The Savage Detectives. Disci- ples of Marinetti and Tzara, noisy, crazy, tacky, their poems engaged in battle in the terrains of the simple typographic arrangement and they never surpassed the level of childish entertainment.
Monsi was talking about the estridentistas, but the same thing could apply to the real visceralistas. Real visceralismo is remembered by eyewitnesses as somewhat frivolous and arbitrary; even those who were sympathetic to it believed that it lacked seriousness.
But for all their shortcomings, Belano and Lima are committed researchers who go to extraordinary lengths to locate a lost poet.
They succeed but are not able to tell the tale as a result of their unwitting involvement in a crime. There is much with which to identify in The Savage Detectives in investigating the estridentistas and treintatrentistas. All the while, the movement continued and continues to be elusive. For years, Irradiador, the second estridentista journal, was nowhere to be found, and Horizonte, the third, was extremely hard to come by.
I was not able to trace the steps of all thirty members, many of whom simply disappeared from the archive. Indeed, there is a maddening dearth of archival sources, and the ones that do exist never seem to address the questions that one wants answered. This may not matter to most people, but the gaps remaining in the story will continue to plague my thoughts.
Only other researchers know the satisfaction of discovering new information. Belano and Lima are such unsympathetic characters at times that it is difficult to be- come invested in their movement.
What makes real visceralismo worthy of remem- brance? Knowledge is produced, accumulated, and critically used everywhere. Nothing would have pleased Manuel Maples Arce more than to witness the celebration of the turn of the millennium in Mexico City, validating, as it did, his predictions in Ac- tual No.
Lozano-Hemmer pre- sented the interactive installation Vectorial Elevation: Relational Architecture 4 fig. Once these had been programmed, they would be placed in a queue, waiting their turn to be pro- jected in real time and space. The user had no idea when his or her pattern would appear. A new design became visible every six seconds, and each would be held long enough to be photographed. The photographs would then be posted on the Internet, alongside the original prototypes.
Passersby witnessed a unique light show, most of them unexpectedly, and Internet users were able to try their hand at programming and later examine the results. By the end of its two-week run, over , people from eighty-nine countries had designed light patterns for the in- stallation, and countless others had viewed it from the ground.
In his engagement both of masses of locals and a global audience, Lozano-Hemmer achieved a mile- stone in Mexican art. With this use of cutting-edge technology, technical prowess, and his ability to conceive of and execute projects on a global scale, Lozano-Hemmer has expanded the boundaries of the visual arts in unexpected and unprecedented ways. These connections add depth and nuance to his work while transforming our very understanding of the past.
Before the consolidation of muralism, however, other aesthetic proposals existed in Mexico that addressed the experience of an urban modernity, stylistic innovations inspired by models in European art, and socially conscious concerns. Unbeknownst to him, Lozano-Hemmer was fulfilling the promise of a text, Actual No. The light would hit a nearby building, the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was then relayed by three powerful searchlights to significant points in the city, where they could be seen over a nine-mile radius.
Memorial for the Tlatelolco student massacre, Mexico City, Mexico. Photograph by Antimodular Research. Some of the participants remembered the massacre with moving words, while others made no reference to it in their speeches.
The speeches that emanate from them give the masses different perspectives on their priorities as citizens. The public remains an ab- straction, restless and bored. He employs it to make his art accessible to the greatest numbers of people and approaches the work as an open text to be infused with meaning by the spectators, and which exists only in relation to them.
But once the viewers animate the work, they often lack control over it, and engaging with it is not necessarily an uplifting experience. Themes of surveillance, uneven power relations, and loss of privacy recur in his work. Rather than being a vehicle toward utopia, technology is simply a medium through which to express the contemporary condition of a globalized world. With Icaza, the inverse holds true. Whereas the expectation is that the estriden- tista text constitutes a celebration of technology and a blind belief in its utopic po- tential, Magnavoz shows us that this was not always the case.
The author calls atten- tion to the radio as a tool for demagoguery and the manipulation of mass mentality. The masses are always just that, never individuals with hopes, dreams, or opinions. They are skeptical of the radio, however, refusing to listen to the disembodied voices; only when Diego Rivera makes an appearance do they become animated. Lozano-Hemmer demonstrates that these concerns continue to be central in the twenty-first century. Private col- lection. Chapter 1 addresses Actual No.
Actual No. Because Actual No. One of the fundamental contradictions of Actual No. I highlight the radical questioning of academic values in art education that began during the revo- lution and the importance of the newly established open-air painting school, both in fostering an artistic community and in exposing artists from middle-class back- grounds to the Mexican populace.
How Estridentismo became a formal movement and incorporated different voices is the subject of chapters 3 and 4. These two chapters examine the complex relationships among modernity, nationalism, and cosmopolitanism as viewed through the work of these authors and in the art of Revueltas and others.
Chapter 4 calls attention to critical issues that are more specific to literature, such as the function of poetry ver- sus prose, the role of humor in avant-garde aesthetics, and the problematic gender politics of estridentista texts. The two revealed the eclectic and contradictory nature of estridentista modes of expres- sion, constantly oscillating between modernist forms and socially conscious content.
Mexican Avant-Garde: What is Estridentismo Mexicano
If Rivera and Kahlo dominate the imagination of publishers and the public, they no longer overshadow scholarship focused on this dynamic period. Estridentismo was launched by poet and law student Manuel Maples Arce in December , in the immediate post-revolutionary period, a time of tremendous intellectual ferment. Flores shows how this irreverent group became increasingly concerned with political and social problems, seeking wider audiences and fighting—like the more famous muralists—to create an art that would benefit the working class. She discusses how the movement incorporated an expanding field of artists, including Edward Weston and Tina Modotti chapter 3 ; reexamines some aspects of Estridentista writing chapter 4 ; and interrogates issues of primitivism chapter 5.