Lucila Quieto’s Ludic Gaze
On 23 March 2013, a day before the 37th anniversary of the coup, the photographer Lucila Albertina Quieto, born in 1977 and daughter of Carlos Alberto Quieto, a Montonero militant disappeared in August 1976, inaugurated Filiation (Filiation) in the Centro Cultural de la Memoria, located in the former ESMA. The exhibition comprised puzzle-like collages made with pieces of photographs of her relatives that combined to form monstrous, humourous and grotesque family portraits.1 In a text that accompanied the exhibition, Mariana Eva Perez stated that “Lucila plays (if one can play without joy) at mixing family features as a means of imagining what her father looked like.”
Referring to a different set of collages, inspired by photographs of traitors, prisoners, raids and popular movements taken during the 1960s in Argentina, for which she transformed the portraits of real people and weapons into comic-like characters and toy-like firearms (Figs. 6.1 and 6.2), Quieto has explained that she wanted to temporarily remove the dramatic weight of the pictures, “as if by taking these photographs outside their context of document, of something that happened and that was tragic, I could not laugh at that history but rather play with it.”2
As illustrated by these observations, the ludic is indeed one of the most important attributes of Lucila Quieto’s images, from her celebrated 1999-2001 series of montages, Arqueologla de la ausencia, to her most recent collages. By playing with photographs of the past, Quieto creates memories and images located somewhere between the © The Author(s) 2016
J. Blejmar, Playful Memories, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40964-1_6
Fig. 6.1 Photographs that formed part of the exhibition Archivos incompletos, ARGRA, 2008
Fig. 6.2 Lucila Quieto, El traidor, collage, 2008/2009
documentary register of real past events and places—the 1969 popular uprising known as el Cordobazo, the disappearance of her father, the clandestine torture and detention centres—and an (auto)fictional and polytemporal time, alternative to the chronological, linear and “tragic course of history.”3
Thus the other key feature of Quieto’s montages and collages, closely linked to their playful spirit and identified in the Introduction as one of the shared characteristics of the works addressed in this book, is their anachronistic quality. Anachronism is the disarming of the chronological disposition of events and the creation of a new, artificial arrangement of time that refers to what has happened in the past but most importantly what could have happened in a conditional temporality. The images of Arqueologla de la ausencia, for example, are answers to a disturbing question: What would have happened if the disappeared were still alive? Quieto’s hybrid images—made of reframed photographs, papier glase, old newspapers, stamps and other materials—speak of a time that is neither in the past nor in the present but in what she calls “a third time,” an invented, dream-like temporality, a dimension where even an encounter with her father and the rewriting of the past seems plausible.4
It is my contention that the playful spirit of Quieto’s anachronistic images bears witness to a new (generational) relationship between the photographs of the disappeared and their materiality. The treatment of the pictures of the disappeared and of the photographs of the dictatorial past as three-dimensional, material objects (and not just as two-dimensional images) in her work is indeed one of the main differences with previous uses of these photos, which mainly treated them as transparent “windows onto the past” rather than as constructions and material objects.
In this chapter I look first at the way the pictures of the disappeared have been exposed in the public sphere between 1977 and the 1990s in marches and commemorative notices published in newspapers. Through these practices the relatives of the disappeared in particular aimed to make the absent present in public by showing photographs that proved the existence of individuals denied by the military regime. In this period the manner in which the photographs of the disappeared were exhibited contributed to the construction of a “memory of victimhood” that dominated the first two decades of the post-dictatorship era, a period marked by the need to make the victims of the dictatorship visible and to counter the state’s decision to either ignore or pardon the crimes that took place, particularly during the neoliberal 1990s.
Second, I look at Quieto’s images as a means to illustrate a paradigmatic shift in the way these photographs are treated and exhibited by post-dictatorship generations. I focus on the ludic spirit of Quieto’s work and the way she includes herself in scenarios of the past (and invites others to do the same) to create autofictional encounters with the absent. The consideration of photographs as material things that invite play and artistic intervention is different from the way that photographs taken during the dictatorship and portraits of the victims are often treated in public—that is, with solemnity and gravity—as if the only thing we can do when confronted with these images is to contemplate them with awe and passivity. Instead, Quieto plays with these pictures to appropriate them and to engage with the traumatic stories behind them with an unorthodox gaze. In reference to the series of collages mentioned above, for which she used pictures taken in 1975 of weapons and political material found following forced entries made by the Triple A (Anticommunist Argentine Alliance), the artist said, for example, that she was shocked by these images but also wanted to do something with them, to “possess” them: “I wanted to appropriate the photos. Even when I knew I could have them in my computer in digital form, I wanted the pictures to be mine in a different way, I wanted to truly own them.”5 Through collage, transfer, montage and other visual techniques, Quieto proposes an alternative gallery of memory, highlighting the need to reinforce the evocative power of these images for future generations.
Third, I link Quieto’s visual strategy of memory to two nineteenth- century traditions that also attempted to “photograph the invisible” by, paradoxically, exhibiting the material condition of photographs. And, finally, I briefly mention the work of other artists, many of them also children of disappeared parents or members of that generation who, like Quieto, use montage and collage in their own exercises of memory. Ultimately, the use of the same visual techniques, similar (autofictional and polytemporal) scenarios, the shared focus on the materiality of pictures and the way they highlight both the political and the family life of the disappeared all prove the generational aspect of this new way of remembering the disappeared in photography.