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Prosthetic Memories of Absence

The capacity of photography to playfully “reinvent” the past is clear in Quieto’s most popular work, Arqueologla de la ausencia. Carlos Alberto Quieto was disappeared five months before the birth of Lucila. In Arqueologla de la ausencia, she reconstructs the belated and inexistent encounter with her father by photographing the lifesize projection of his portrait and her self-portrait together as a means to “unify what was never meant to be separated.”18 In the images of this series, Quieto combines fiction and biography, performance and photography, extending this practice to other children of disappeared parents who responded to an advertisement she put in a branch of HIJOS that made a tempting offer: “Now you can have the picture you always wanted.” The photographer remembers, “I asked every son or daughter to look for a photograph of their parents, I then reproduced the images using slides. I projected these images on the wall and asked the children to insert themselves between the camera and the image.”19 The experiment resulted in thirty five black-and-white photographs that show a ludic and fictional family scene remade against the real destinies of those families (Fig. 6.3).

Lucila Quieto, Arqueologia de la ausencia, photograph, 1999-2001

Fig. 6.3 Lucila Quieto, Arqueologia de la ausencia, photograph, 1999-2001. Carlos Alberto Quieto used to work in the port of Buenos Aires. He was a member of Montoneros and lived in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Mataderos. He was kidnapped on 20 August 1976. Two days after his abduction he was seen for the last time in the detention centre located in the Coordination Federal police station, at the intersection of Moreno and Ceballo streets. He is still disappeared. Lucila is a photographer and lives in Buenos Aires.

By intervening in a situation from which they were originally excluded, the children of the disappeared create autofictional images and demand a memory and a time violently stolen from them. Thus we witness private scenes of everyday family life: a celebration, a furtive kiss in the street, and a lively and loving conversation between a couple. The figures of the parents appear projected on the skin of their children, on walls, everywhere. The use of light and shadow creates ghostly scenes. Faces, bodies, times and spaces become confused and raise a perplexing question for the spectator: Which are the parents and which the children? In addition, the choice of personal photographs for this intervention also reaffirms the importance of everyday life at a time when everything, even the family, was subject to politics.

In the images of Arqueologla de la ausencia there are at least five different times that are mounted in a single shot. There is the time when the photographs of the disappeared parents were taken; the (implicit) time when some of these pictures were exhibited in marches and protests during the immediate post-dictatorship period; the time when Quieto took the photographs of the children playing with their parents’ portraits; and the time when we look at the pictures, in exhibition halls or on the websites where they are circulated. But there is also a fifth, dream-like, conditional and sci-fi temporality—as if the images were time machines—that does not coincide with any historical dimension, summarized in the question “What if...?,” which animates the whole series.

Quieto’s photographs also evoke certain imaginaries ofthe science-fictional universe in another way: they are like transportable (invented) memories that can be shared as if they were commodities or goods, similar to what happens, for example, in the film Blade Runner (Dir. Scott 1982), in an episode of the BBC television series Black Mirror20 and in Ernesto Seman’s novel Soy un bravo piloto de la nueva China, which is examined in Chapter 8. In this sense they remind us of what cultural historian Alison Landsberg has called “prosthetic memories.” In contrast to those who see the commodification of mass culture in purely negative terms, Landsberg has suggested that the technologies of mass culture (cinema, comic books and photography) play a positive role in circulating “images of the past outside a person’s lived experience, creating a transportable, fluid and non-essentialist form of memory”21— what she calls an implanted or prosthetic memory. These technologies create shared archives of experiences and make it increasingly possible for people to take on memories of events not “naturally” their own. Prosthetic memories are crucial for keeping memory alive beyond the lifetimes of the survivors, and for constructing spaces in which people who did not live the events in question can engage and empathize with the traumatic past.

The prosthetic nature of memory in Lucila Quieto’s work is two-fold. First, by showing her artwork in public spaces—museums, the Internet and books—she creates the possibility for movable memories that allow anonymous observers to “experience” family events and reminiscences that are not organically their own. Second, these images are also prosthetic memories for the children of the disappeared portrayed in the images, artificial memories that attempt to fill the lacunae in their own childhood recollections, which often lack photographs (and memories) of everyday life with their parents.

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