A genealogy of affective politics

Visual practices of dissidence in post-dictatorial South America

Habeas Corpus vs. Poner el cuerpo

By appearance policy (politicas de apariciòn) here, I refer to the actions of all those movements and artistic and/or activist groups that do use a direct dialectic for overturning the status quo in their visual strategies. The Overturning Dialectic is used as a methodology of denuding the hidden mechanisms and contradictions of the status quo. Denuding happens by contrast and opposition – so for example the siluetazo make the crimes against Humanities of the Videla’s military regimes visible. In the majority of the cases it occurs in the form of actions or performance events in the public space. Thus, these actions produce a resistance as they show what should not be shown, shout what must be hushed and remember what must be forgotten. Using one’s own body, or better, borrowing one’s body, in an operation that resembles a syncretic ritual, the appearance of someone who has been made to disappear is simulated.

The enforced disappearance in Latin America has been developed and tested in order to establish a wild neo-liberal system (e.g. Operation Condor*9 *( 9 )), on a continent that has always had a strong anti-imperialist tendency advocating for “tercermundista socialism”. In enforced disappearance the person (in this case transformed into a “subversive”) is deprived of its legal status and placed outside every legal rule. Thus, as explicit consequence, the goal is to erase the person from history.

In order for it to happen, it is essential not only to establish a state of exception, the state of exception has to become the norm itself up until the point that it produces (or opens) the space of the camp, to follow Agamben’s argument (Agamben 1995: 188star (* 1 )).

During the last military dictatorships in Latin America, the camp has become the common paradigm of society. Designed as an “improvement” of the Nazi camp, the Latin American concentration camp is a continuous, diffused camp. Unlike the Nazi camp, which is located outside of the city, clearly defining a space for “civilization” and a space for “organized brutality”, the Latin American camp does not know this geographic frontier. The camp was everywhere. It could be the basement of a sequestered house, a garage or a military school, etc. Also torture methods and instruments are dematerialized: water and electricity are enough, that’s why the “picana”*10 *( 10 ) becomes the most widespread method of torture in Latin America.

Also when it comes to get rid of the bodies, they do not need to build a gas chamber, they simply exploit nature itself. The prisoners’ bodies are made to disappear in the Atacama desert (in the case of Chile), or great military aircrafts would throw them in the depths of the river. And little by little nature will erase every trace of those bodies. In short, the camp is dematerialized and fragmented. There is no evidence of a crime or of a victim. At least this is how disappearance was conceived as a technique. Of course, the history of the last military dictatorships in Latin America is extremely complex and articulated, mainly because it develops in the frame of the Condor Plan. What interests me and circumscribes this short article, is to look at disappearance from a bio-political perspective. At this point Agamben is of great help.

In the last section of his book, Agamben explains the evolution from the ancient conception of freedom, which is mainly focused on the figure of the subject, to the modern one, which instead focuses on the Homo Liber or citizen; until the current one, which is characterized by the transition from homo (or citizen) to pure corpus. He writes: “[…] the fact that the legal form of habeas corpus has been given such importance in law, might probably be a coincidence, but from that moment on it becomes inseparable from the history of Western democracy, which in so doing […] placed at the center of his struggle with absolutism, not bios – the qualified life of the citizen – but zoé bare life in its anonymity […].” (Agamben 1995: 137star (* 1 ))


Agamben, Giorgio (1995): Homo sacer: Il potere sovrano e la nuda vita. Giulio Einaudi editore.


Alberro, Alexander/Stimson, Blake (1999): Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.


Avelar, Idelber (1999): The Untimely Present: Postdictatorial Latin American Fiction and the Task of Mourning (Post-Contemporary Interventions). Duke University Press.


Calloni, Stella (2006): OPERACION CONDOR: Pacto criminal. Editorial Sciencias sociales.


Camnitzer, Luis (2009): Didáctica de la liberación. CENDEAC.


Colectivo Cultural Entreletras (2006): Memoria, Verdad y Justicia. A los 30 años x los treinta mil:.Editorial Baobab.


Hollander Nancy (2010): Uprooted Minds. Surviving the Politics of Terror in the Americas Caro. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.


Longoni, Ana/Bruzzone, Gustavo (2007): El Siluetazo. Los Sentidos Artes Visuales.


Longoni, Ana (2007): El Siluetazo (The Silhouette): On the Border between Art and Politics. Sarai Reader 07 Frontiers.


Margulies, Phillip (2006):The Writ of Habeas Corpus. The Right to Have Your Day in Court. The Rosen Publishing Group.


Taylor, Diana (2003): The Archive and the Repertoire. Performing cultural memory in the Americas. Duke University Press.

ESMA’s (NavyMechanicSchool) history from detention camp to human right headquarter and museum, online: http://www.memoriaabierta.org.ar/eng/camino_al_museo3.php.

According to Camnitzer this redefinition of the guerrilla practice passes through art performativity (Camnitzer 2009: 79–83).

Grandmothers association; online: http://www.abuelas.org.ar/english/history.htm ; Mothers associations, online: http://www.madres.org/navegar/nav.php and Mothers funding line, online: http://www.madresfundadoras.org.ar/pagina/whoweare/85.

“Tucumán Arde” is the name of a project by an artist collective in Argentina which started in 1968. The artists conceived art as an effective instrument for social change, and through the Tucuman Arde project they sought to bring the distressed social conditions of the Tucuman province to the attention of a large public. The project was conceived of as an intervention in mass communication, a circuit of counter information against the official one of the dictatorship (Alberro and Stimson 1999).

Actually, nowadays it would probably be more correct to talk about post-dictatorial fiction(s) rather than
politics of memory as Idelber Avelar (1999) suggests.

Grupo Etcetera, online: http://grupoetcetera.wordpress.com/about/

Instead of the ritualistic protest and mourning of the Madres, H.I.J.O.S organize carnivalesque escrache or acts of public shaming. The word escrache is etymologically related to scracè= expectorar, meaning roughly “to expose”. (…) Because H.I.J.O.S entered the public arena more than a decade after the fall of military, they can afford to be more confrontational in their use of technique and public space.(…) Still their tactics serve to identify individuals responsible for gross crime against humanity. The performatic interruption, no matter how unwelcome, does not threaten their life. Like the Madres and Abuelas, H.I.J.O.S claim institutional justice, not private vengeance. (Taylor 2003:p.180-183)

The H.I.J.O.S (sons and daughters of disappeared people) association, online:http://www.hijos-capital.org.ar/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=21

Arde!Arte group, online: http://www.ardearte.com.ar/

An author that extensively wrote about this subject is Stella Calloni (2006) which is strongly recommend in order to further deepen investigation on the Condor Plan. For more general information please consult: Explanation of the Condor Operation and the United States: A Network of Southern Cone Assassination and American Avoidance 2005, online: http://www.oocities.org/thadoc78/Operation_Condor.htm and Deep politics forum community, online: https://deeppoliticsforum.com/forums/showthread.php?963-Operation-Condor.

The picana (was) an electrified prod used on sensitive body parts such as genitals and temples (…)
The Picana symbolized their (the torturers) eroticized violence and power. Just as weapons in every culture have symbolized masculinity, the picana crystallized the phallocentricity of the torture ritual. (Caro  Hollander 2010: p.115)

The writ of habeas corpus is an order written by a judge, demanding that a prisoner be brought to the
court so that the judge can decide whether the person is being lawfully imprisoned. (Margulies 2006: p.7)

Giulia Cilla (2013): A genealogy of affective politics. Visual practices of dissidence in post-dictatorial South America. In: p/art/icipate – Kultur aktiv gestalten #02 , https://www.p-art-icipate.net/a-genealogy-of-affective-politics/