1.) Description of your country, including relevant political, geographic, economic and cultural issues.
Argentina represents one of the leading federal republics in South America, covering over 2.8 million square kilometers in the continent’s southern cone as the world’s eighth largest country. It’s national stability, market size and increasing share of the high-tech sector has the country classified as a “middle emerging economy” with a “very high” rating on the Human Development Index, the internationally-recognized composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income indices.
Argentina’s political history, though, has been rife with instability. From 1810–1820, the country endured its Argentine War of Independence in an attempt to secede from the Spanish Monarchy. And between 1814–1880, Argentina fought a series of internecine wars over the excessive centralism advanced by Buenos Aires leaders and, for a long period, the monopolized use of the Port of Buenos Aires as a sole means for international commerce. After several political revolutions and coup d’états, in 1946 the minister of welfare of the military dictatorship, Juan Perón, was elected president. He married Eva Perón and the two helped found the political movement, Peronism, which championed social justice, economic independence, and political sovereignty. Eva — who tragically died of cancer at age 33 — was known for fighting on behalf of women’s suffrage, founding and running the charitable Eva Perón Foundation and jumpstarting Argentina’s first large-scale female political party. The 1960’s and ‘70s included the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional and the military junta’s “Dirty War,” a period of state terrorism in Argentina against political dissidents and anyone associated with socialism. Argentina’s Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas during the 1980’s investigated the fate of the desaparecidos (victims of forced disappearance) and other human rights violations. Today, the country’s government is defined as a federal presidential representative democratic Republic.
Argentina’s alternations between military dictatorships and short-lived democracies during the mid-20th century caused significant economic problems. The depression, which began due to the Russian and Brazilian financial crises and worsened after the dot-com bubble burst, caused widespread unemployment, riots, the fall of the government, a default on the country’s foreign debt, the rise of alternative currencies and the end of the peso’s fixed exchange rate to the US dollar. Between 1998-2002, the Argentine economy shrank by 28 percent and over 50 percent of Argentines were deemed poor.
2.) Description of your pavilion’s art at the 2013 Biennale.
The Argentinian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale features Argentinian artist Nicola Constantino and her exhibition, “Eva – Argentina. Una metafora contemporanea,” a visual exploration of the late Argentinian First Lady and cultural icon, Eva “Evita” Perón. Through two video-installations, an object-machine in motion and an abstract sculpture, Constantino explores the story of a woman who was many women at the same time. “Eva los sueños” shows six Evitas living together in distinct, though simultaneous, time layers: the sick Evita, Evita on a Sunday morning, Evita in a flowered dress, the tireless Eva with the tailored suit and bun and Evita the people’s queen dressedfor a theater gala. All are choreographed in the same panoramic space, shot with three different cameras and shown through six projectors and personified by Constantino herself. “Eva el espejo” shows a bedroom mirror’s reflection of Eva preparing herself to step on a stage, sharing a less publicized, more tender side to Evita’s character.
The immersive, lightheartedness of the two video installations contrasts with the mechanical, brute darkness of Constantino’s object machine and abstract sculpture. “Eva la fuerza” is an iron machine-dress moving erratically on wheels in a walled, octagonal corridor, inspired by the myth that the gravely ill Evita wore a similar construction to maintain a stiff posture during her final public appearance. “Eva la lluvia” concludes what Constantino sees as Evita’s “rapsodia inconclusa” with the Argentinian historical consciousness, depicted inside a brightly-lit autopsy or embalming room. A stainless-steel table is covered with a mountain of ice tears which, when melting, offer rain-like pitter patter reminiscent of the Argentinian people’s never-ending sorrow for Evita’s unfulfilled promise as a political and spiritual leader.
3.) Analysis of the “success” of your pavilion: why and how was this particular artist selected? Was the choice politically-motivated? Do you think the exhibition was a success overall?
In challenging one of the most emblematic political figures of the 21st century through the unique lens of contemporary art, Constantino’s exhibition at the 55th Venice Biennale successfully destabilizes Argentina’s cult interests in the history, the myth and the life of Eva Perón. Since her passing over sixty years ago, the former Argentinian First Lady’s figure has been reduced to partial and biased images, traversed by positive or negative evaluations, but always through either categorical or stereotypical perspectives.
Through politics, Eva’s character was split between spiritual adoration and ideological distrust. Seen as a willing bridge between the Argentinian people and her husband, President Juan Perón, Eva was glorified for being a selfless, strong-willed woman serving the interests of trade unions, charity, and women’s suffrage. By contrast, critics of Peronism and the political movement’s proletarian platform suggested Eva — who, at an early, pursued a career as a stage, radio and film actress — shared selfish motivations in desiring the national spotlight and leveraging political coercion to earn public support. Each perspective paints Eva through extreme generalization, suggesting she was either one caricature or another, everything or nothing. And by dividing public opinion along politics, Eva’s memory is decided in the public spotlight without considering the quiet humanity of her private life.
And for Constantino, her exhibition studies the “greyness” found behind-the-scenes of Eva’s life and captures through images the multiplicity of her character, something dogmatic representations wrongly frame. The first installation, “Eva los sueños,” removes Eva’s exhausted image from the single-dimension of biased single perspective and uses video to project a dreamlike superimposition of six Eva’s. for Constantino, Eva was in part all people she was characterized as being by the public, not one or another. The second installation, “Eva el espejo,” recovers Eva’s private figure and approaches her larger-than-life persona from a more intimate, relatable perspective beside a bedroom mirror. The third installation, “Eva la fuerza,” admits to the despair that possessed even Argentina’s spiritual leader, alluding to the tragic destiny even her strength and determination can’t avoid. And in the fourth and final installation, “Eva la lluvia,” Constantino uses glass sculpture to suggest the desolate helplessness millions of Argentineans felt when they waited in the cold, unwavering rain to pay their final respect during the fourteen days of Eva’s funeral.
Through the silent language of art, Constantino avoids embellishment and proclamations but, instead, allows the symbolism of video installation and sculpture to ask new questions of Eva’s character. Moreover, akin to her past interests in relating paradigmatic subjects to personal experience (e.g., the role of animal products in fashion relating to Constantino being raised in a factory), Constantino’s exhibition unravels her own repository of childhood memories regarding Eva’s life and death into a creative commentary of cult figures and their unfinished effect on national memory and storytelling.
4.) Brief biography of artist(s) exhibited in pavilion.
Nicola Constantino was born in Rosario, the country’s third largest city, in 1964, where she studied Fine Arts at the National University in Rosario. Raised by a mother who worked in a clothing factory, Constantino was immersed in design culture from a young age and the “haute couture” technique, or the construction of hand-made, fitted clothing with often unusual materials. Her research would cover new artistic techniques and craft in workshops and factories, often with macabre effect. She earned international notoriety for her two animal sculpture series, “Chanchobolas” and “Friso de nonatos,” showcasing enwrapped fetuses of horses, cows, pigs and sheep.
In 1995, Constantino left the Barracas Workshop in Buenos Aires to participate in the Core Program for Artists at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. During her residency, she produced silicon skin from erogenous parts of the human body to design dresses, footwear and fashion accessories. And while a New York Times review deemed her exhibition, “Peletería humana,” to be “tasteless,” Constantino’s blending of Surrealist displacement and aesthetic realism inverted boutique culture’s troubling relationship with animal products. Moreover, the selection committee at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art would add Constantino’s “Male Nipples Corset” to their official collection. A few years later, twenty mannequins she adorned with her trademark skin represented Argentina at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1998 and the first Liverpool Biennial in 2000. And finally, in 2004, Constantino presented “Animal Motion Planet,” a series of orthopedic machines for unborn animals, and “Savon de Corps,” a body soap produced with a small percentage of her own body fat. In earning worldwide attention for her slogan, “Take a bath with me,” Constantino took pointed steps in becoming more of a protagonist in her own work.
In 2006, Constantino adopted photography and juxtaposed the identities of the art voyeur and creator. She challenged preconceived notions of past famous works while reconciling her own history by balancing multiple identities, from glamorous and feminine to hardworking and maternal. In her 2010 movie, “Trailer,” Constantino jumped from metaphor to recreate her body through sculpture to form a co-protagonist. And in 2013, Constantino was represent Argentina at the 55th Venice Biennale and portray the famous Argentinian First Lady, Eva Peron, through the lenses of the contemporary art.