Academic journal article Hispanic Review

New Media, Cardboard, and Community in Contemporary Buenos Aires

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

New Media, Cardboard, and Community in Contemporary Buenos Aires

Article excerpt

"a modification of the fabric of the sensible, a transformation of the visible given"

-Jacques Rancière, "Art of the Possible" (264)

Cardboard is hardly a material we associate with new media or digital technology in general. And yet in considering a series of recent editorial projects in several Latin American cities-editorial projects whose last name is always Cartonera and whose denning attribute is a trash aesthetic of handpainted books made from recycled cardboard-it seems difficult to avoid confronting the present media ecology characterized by these technologies. These editorials produce, on some level, a kind of "new media," although the mere novelty of their enterprise is only the most superficial of their affiliations with this concept. On the contrary, it seems clear to me that these projects also enact a form of production that should be interrogated within a discussion of the forms of sociality associated with new media and the politico-economic landscape they inhabit and condition.

The principal project I have in mind was founded in 2003, is based in Buenos Aires, inhabits a modest space down the street from the soccer stadium in La Boca, and bears the name Eloisa Cartonera. The project was launched in post-2001(1) Buenos Aires and has recently opened a sister workshop in São Paulo, while also inspiring similar groups in Lima (Sarita Cartonera), La Paz (Yerba Mala Cartonera), Santiago (Animita Cartonera), and Mexico City (Lupita Cartonera). The project has attracted increasing attention since its inception, as much from the world of the visual arts as within the literary sphere proper, a trend visible in its participation in the exhibits "Civilizacion y Barbarie [argentinos contemporáneos] " (2004) and arteBA (2004), both in Buenos Aires, and "Lo Material No Cuenta" (2006-07), in Madrid. Perhaps as a consequence of this notoriety, the editorial recently published, in conjunction with the Akademie Scholss Solitude, a text titled No hay cuchillo sin rasas. Historia de una editorial latinoamericana y antología dejovenes autores, which, as the title indicates, offers a retrospective glance at the project. No hay cuchillo sin rasas, also the name of Eloisa Cartonera's workshop, is a collaborative text whose introductory section both presents the project's theoretical justification and describes its functioning in some detail. "Making the books," the text tells us, "is simple: We buy cardboard in the street. From it we cut out the books' covers. We paint the title and the author's name with tempera and stencils. Then we print, staple, and bind the originals" (s).2 This activity is regarded as both an educational process-"we learn the different stages involved in making a book: graphic design, printing, binding, cutting, and painting the covers. We also learn to do other tasks like distribution, diffusion, and the sale of the books at fairs, poetry festivals, and other places we are invited to attend" (5)-and an attempt at constructing an alternative economic ethos through which "we learn to work cooperatively" and "generate genuine work" (4). The theorization of the project is more fully developed on Eloisa Cartonera's website, which describes the editorial as an "artistic, social, and community project" that "seeks to invent its own aesthetic, regardless of the origins of each participant, attempting to inspire a process of collective learning." It "publishes unedited marginal and avant-garde works" from all over Latin America, pays five times the market price for the cardboard that it uses, and claims that the process of physical elaboration allows the participants (who are the cardboard-collectors themselves, referenced in the editorial's name) to "stop being cartoneros while they work on the project." The page for orders advertises the texts as "handand brush-made" and proudly announces that "no 2 covers are the same!" In these aspects, the editorial attempts to produce works that graphically maintain the physical traces of their elaboration, symbolically incorporating the social divisions incarnate in cardboard both as a potential material support for literature (and other cultural endeavors) and as refuse that can be collected and sold for a relatively dismal price. …

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