The Way Things Go: Theorizations and Resistances

A headline in an archived edition of The Art Newspaper caught my attention – ‘2,000 works by Hélio Oiticica destroyed in fire.’ Below the opening statement is an image of the artist lying on the floor of his studio in Rio de Janeiro, surrounded by his artworks. This particular image-text combination got me thinking about absences and resistances within critical discourses on Art of the 20th century.

 Often it is through microscopic observation that we begin to re-assess the conditions that produce and perpetuate larger trajectories of creative thought and action. In this case, it is the dialectic structure of this news piece, which I wish to address as a text rather than a work (i.e. finished object). While the article occupies web space, it also circulates as citation, as echo, as an intertexual being. The virtual presence of the artist and his work alongside the textual narrative on the destruction of his works in a fire is fundamentally a discussion on ‘the fact of being present.’ The photograph stands as documentary proof that Oiticica as ‘the artist’ who created a significant body of works exists. Conversely, the words that surround the image speak of loss – the destruction of the artist’s presence via the ruin of his creations.

Oiticica himself was critical of ‘authorial presence,’ he challenged established conventions by framing his work around presence(s) governed by interactive vocabularies and sensorial aesthetics. His works embraced conceptual plurality while appearing as body-centered environs probing haptic impulses. If we are to treat the disappearance of an artist’s tangible corpus as an erasure, then this explicit erasure is one that has a material cause – a fire; nonetheless, the effects that follow are not one-dimensional facts. They disperse and become part of a wider field of cultural inquiry.

This episode prompts a visit to other kinds of erasure that function in a convert fashion, often as sterilizing devices within canonical Western Art history and criticism. While related sets of practitioners and theorists are (self) assigned the task of sifting through hemispheres of visual culture to direct and assign a place to certain modes of art-making and thinking, there are many others that are left out – consequently, occupying a ‘no-place’ theorized by dominant institutional forces as periphery, outsider, derivative, exotic, subaltern and so on.

One could argue that theorizing of this sort is most often a complex exercise in power-play and co-option; a mechanism that wishes to suppress retaliation by closing gaps from which self-assertion could generate ruptures.


(Article Excerpt)


Picard, Charmaine. 2,000 works by Hélio Oiticica destroyed in fire, The Art Newspaper (21 Oct. 2009, Published online)

Ramirz, Carmen Mari and Olea, Hector. Inverted Utopias – Avant-garde Art in Latin America. Yale University Press& The Museum of Fine Arts , Houston, 2004.


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