Wednesday, June 4, 2014

“It's over. You are all free of debt.”

My favorite artwork of 2014.

Democracy Now!

and others reported a couple of weeks ago on the work of Chilean artist, Papas Fritas (Francisco Tapia). In the context of the occupation of the (now closed) for-profit University of the Sea, Tapia retrieved the papers on which student debts were recorded. He then burned them and displayed the pile of ashes in his van.
Tapia said his plan was hatched after reading press accounts that Universidad del Mar students were being forced to pay debt even after the university was shut down.

In a statement delivered to a Chilean court, Tapia defended his action. He claimed to have smuggled the documents to Santiago, where he began to investigate the credit files, case-by-case, student-by-student. By day Tapia would investigate the financial situation and life struggle of a single student. Then in the evening, he would destroy the documents related to that particular debt. “Every night, like a ritual, I burned the documents that detailed the debt.”

...The ashes have since been converted into a mobile art exhibit built into the sides of a Volkswagen camper van. The back window of the van holds a video screen so that Tapia's message can be played to crowds of curious onlookers.

The van, laden with ash, has toured the streets of Santiago and Valparaiso, and even went on display at the GAM – a prominent Santiago art gallery and cultural centre. When Chilean detectives, wearing white body suits, attempted to confiscate the fine grey dust as evidence, they too were incorporated into the exhibit's PR blitz and listed as “media partners.”
It’s a wonderful political act, but a beautiful work of art as well. The best art challenges what Theodor Adorno called the “hegemony of the existent,” making people aware of new possibilities of freedom. This work accomplished that both symbolically and materially. Symbolically, the ashes represent not destruction but liberation from a necrophilous system that denies living human possibilities in the name of profit and power (Chile’s current educational system has its origins in Pinochet’s authoritarian, neoliberal regime). Materially, his actions offer students the possibility of freedom from the grip of unjust debt.

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