International Seminar A Theatre of the Present. Rhetoric and Power y Leon Ferrari’s The Words of Others.

12th to 14th April 2018
Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid
See the information on MNCARS's website León Ferrari (Buenos Aires, 1920–2013) assembled the literary collage Palabras ajenas (The Words of Others) between 1965 and 1967, his rationale driven by the violence and extreme cruelty that appeared in news reports of the Vietnam War. These reports heralded a way of exercising power which would soon be imposed upon vast swathes of Latin America. Yet this power-driven violence was in sharp contrast to the intentions and carefree rhetoric of the “shows” put on and headed by political leaders, who cynically justified the violation of human rights. The literary collage method enabled Ferrari to stage the false neutrality of the media, debunking fabricated narratives and laying bare the continuity between past — the Bible, Fascism — and present propaganda. The Words of Others remains a theatre of the present because the condemnation of stances and modes is repeated, as are the authoritarian drift, inequality and segregation as forms of domination. It is no wonder that an artist hitherto focused on producing ceramics, sculptures and drawings ended up creating a theatrical collage with which to intervene in the present he faced: the real-time clash with the public sphere proved to be the most effective approach for a practice in need of becoming politically active. With few concerns over being branded non-theatre or non-art, Ferrari’s work demonstrated how art and theatre could be performed as a committed action, an outcry in which war, economy and politics were already one big show. The first day in this seminar will explore the distinctiveness of The Words of Others and its importance to the development of the thought and practice of its author. Moreover, it sets out to carve this and other Ferrari works into the historical and political contexts of the 1960s, punctuating the realm of Latin America, particularly Argentina. The second day will look at how the piece resonates in the present, thereby surveying the practices of different contemporary artists that stand at that sharp-edged junction of political action, reissuing modes of commitment that share similarities with those upheld by Ferrari throughout his life. On a further note and as an accompaniment to these reflections, an analysis will be conducted on the rhetoric of today’s media: how “post-truth” works and the possible critical alternatives. The coda to the seminar will be a seven-hour presentation of The Words of Others in its entirety.

Thursday, 12 April / Nouvel Building, Auditorium 200 

Presentation – 4:30pm 

Participants: Ruth Estévez, Ana Longoni, Isabel de Naverán and José A. Sánchez, with an intervention by Javier del Olmo (Fundación León Ferrari) The Words of Others: A Research Account 4:45pm Lecture by Ruth Estévez.In 2013, Ruth Estévez embarked upon a research project that would last for four years. Her work explored León Ferrari’s literary collages, concentrating on his The Words of Othersand its relevance as a pool of resources for the rest of his visual output. These colleges condemned the hypocrisy of political rhetoric and blew the whistle on the complicity of different bodies of military, political and religious power. Therefore, Estévez’s intervention sets forth a survey of this work in order to gain an understanding of the aspects underpinning Ferrari’s political thinking and critical viewpoint. Art/Politics in León Ferrari and the Avant-garde in 1960s Argentina – 5:30pm Lecture by Ana LongoniThe artistic practice of León Ferrari changed forever with the profound impact the Vietnam War and the US invasion of Santo Domingo had on him, and many others. From 1965 until the end of his life, one axis to intersect his work highlighted the complicity between the Catholic Church and Imperialism. When some critical voices railed against “Western and Christian civilization”, dubbing it propagandist, Ferrari replied: “It’s what I have to say and I say it with the tools available to me”. Experimental art devised as a political stance is integral to an interpretation of experiments such as The Words of Others and an understanding of the collective course of radicalisation, both artistic and political, undertaken by the avant-garde in 1960s Argentina. Idea exchange – 6:15pm Participants: Ruth Estévez y Ana Longoni Moderated by: Isabel de Naverán Tower of Babel 7:30pm A performance lecture by José A. Sánchez and artists and researchers linked to ARTEA. Participants: Ignacio de Antonio Antón, Amaia Bono Jiménez, Cristina Cejas, Gisela Cortés, Andrea Dunia, Juan Pablo Fuentes Villarroel,  David Hernández Vargas, Jessica Huerta, Katty López Soto, Ana Luiza Fortes , Fernando Mena, Eliana Murgia, Noemí Oncala, Laila Tafur Santamaría. In 2017, after staging The Words of Others at REDCAT in Los Angeles, the same team of curators looked towards the appropriation of the Ferrari method to speak about what we are affected by today, subsequently giving rise to “Babelism”. Tower of Babel (1963) is a wire sculpture made by Ferrari two years before The Words of Others, and refers to the idea of: “Making something without unity, with different sensibilities […], or making something with several”. This premise led them to thinking that the author composed The Words of Otherssingle-handedly, rallied by the gravity of the war, violence, and torture, unable to wait any longer to become the producer. With a little more time, he would have opted, as in fact he finally did, for Babelism. And if this “Tower of Babel” were to take shape today, what would our present-day wars be?

Friday, 13 April / Nouvel Building, Auditorium 200 -

The Political Nature of Affection – 4:30pm Lecture by Ileana Diéguez How do we think and speak about what hurts? What can art do to hold up an injured body of work? Where do actions happen if there are no longer crowds? When a certain policy is exercised and curtails affection, artistic experience attempts to provide political forms in which this lost affectivity survives. Under such circumstances, political art must produce something other than subversion — it is not just about what can make us rise up; it is perhaps less epic that that: we stand to continue.

Theatre and Politics - 5:15pm Lecture by Akira Takayama In 2011, the biggest earthquake ever to strike Japan devastated the region of Tohoku. The magnitude of this earthquake unleashed a tsunami with up to 41-metre-high waves, destroying many towns and cities and causing a malfunction in the cooling systems of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Moreover, with a state of emergency declared, an explosion in the plant caused a wave of radiation within a 20-metre radius. These events prompted theatre director Akira Takayama to create a series of plays and initiatives, for instance the Referendum Project, Kein Licht II and Tokyo Heterotopia, through which he addressed the treatment of social trauma, political action and the effects on a community dealing with survival in their everyday lives. This lecture, therefore, will survey and explore these projects. Idea exchange 6pm Participants: Rolf Abderhalden, Ileana Diéguez y Akira Takayama Moderated by: José A. Sánchez The Media Rhetoric. Post-truth, Fake News, Populism, Neo-censorship and Social Media – 7:30pm Round-table discussion Participants: Germán Cano, Lucía Méndez y Marta Peirano Moderated by: Miguel Álvarez Peralta In The Words of Others, León Ferrari reflects on politics-media logics and the relationship the rhetoric of journalism bears to the truth and smokescreens, key factors in the political conflicts of his time. More recently, the term post-truth (posverdad in Spanish), has entered the RAE, the Royal Spanish Academy Dictionary, and was voted Word of the Year by Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in 2016. This is testament to the validity, forty years on, of Ferrari’s concerns over media and political rhetoric and human rights. Consequently, this round-table discussion will focus on the role of the media — now digitalised and globalised — in the contemporary public sphere and will run through some of the focal points that galvanised Ferrari, issues we know today as controversies like fake news, which bring to bear new determining factors in political relations and the power of current societies.

Saturday, 14 April / Nouvel Building, Auditorium 400 - 2:30pm

The Words of Others. A Literary Collage of León Ferrari

For the first time in Spanish, the Museo Reina Sofía presents León Ferrari’s The Words of Others in its entirety. The piece, seven hours in duration, encapsulates the history of violence meted out by and in the West as a result of the complicity of political and religious power, an issue Ferrari explored throughout his career.
Through words, The Words of Others visualises scenarios ranging from the punishment and redemption in the Judaeo-Christian doctrine and the horrors of the Second World War — Nazi Germany, concentration camps, the Nuremburg trials — to contexts closer and more contemporary to the artist, for instance the Vietnam War and the imperialist expansion of the USA during the Cold War. The artist created an extensive dialogue between such far-flung leading figures as Adolf Hitler, Pope Paul VI, God and the US President Lyndon B. Johnson, along with the voices of war correspondents, local and international journalists, servicemen, prophets and political advisors. These figures converse by way of quotes taken from history books and literature, the Bible, and particularly the printed press, magazines and national newspapers, as well as international agency cables.This presentation seeks to raise awareness of a key piece in the artistic oeuvre of León Ferrari, and to pay homage to Ferrari as an artist, as well as constituting a gesture in defence of culture, democracy and human rights — issues which were imperative to Ferrari. Organized by: Museo Reina Sofía and ARTEA In the frame of the project: Teatralidades Expandidas (MINECO. HAR2015-63984-P)