Martín Weber: Under One Sky
How does the past dwell in the present? How is history made palpable? What kind of memory can objects and bodies preserve? A radical determination of beauty takes shape in artist Martín Weber's “Días peronistas” [Peronist Days] (2019). On the face of it, this is a series of horizontal-formatted rectangular papers in glass panels, papers that contain irregular daubs and stains – grouped or dispersed, variably intense or faint, more or less saturated – that may suggest the vastness of Turner's skies. Arranged on a scale that goes through distinct gradations of Prussian blue, these images create a play of alternation between sunrises and sunsets; they also resemble those digital applications for checking the climate by making fictive versions of the sky in various states. The title of the pieces Weber has given the works, “Día peronista #1” [Peronist Day #1], “Día peronista # 2” [Peronist Day #2] … play with a phrase firmly planted in the Argentine popular imagination, and these titles dissolve the contemplative ecstasy suggested by what we see on the surface. Because this surface, in effect, provides insufficient information to understand precisely the tragic and ironic charge contained in these sky-blue landscapes.
If we examine in detail the material nature of these works, we realize that these are cyanotypes, a 19th-century technique revived by contemporary photography for its rich expressive possibilities. The "Peronist Days" took as a starting point six Blindexes (laminated plates of glass) which protected the final resting place of Argentina's former president Juan Domingo Perón, plates of glass shattered by hammer blows in order to cut off and remove his hands, when someone in June 1987 profaned the casket that lay in an armored vault in Chacarita cemetery, in the City of Buenos Aires. Today these Blindex plates are carefully guarded in the city's Police Museum; to gain access to them, Weber had to be interviewed with the judge in the court case related to the profanation, who granted him authorization to make his cyanotypes. Thus, the artist could use the glass plates as negatives and emulsified the arranged strips of paper, one by one, in direct contact and exposed to the ultraviolet light, like the one the forensic police use, after which he developed them in a water bath.
If the "Peronist Days" conjure up some form of sublime feeling, it is not by virtue of presenting the unpresentable but rather by bringing into presence a trace or marking and its retraction. These cyanotypes are at once the gesture and the archive of a contact with a materiality that bears the memory of history. In this way, the thin paper sheets emulsified by Weber function like a cenotaph in the most literal sense of the term, as an empty funeral monument that does not contain the corpse but rather, in its stead, marks something that has occurred and then gone missing. Thus a presence emerges sedimented both in the very appearance of the glass sheets - subject to movements, abuses, more than three decades of physical and judiciary proceedings - and through the photographic device that has chemically recorded that arrested movement in a physical medium.
"Peronist Days" forms a part of Historias encarnadas, Una historia de la violencia, vol.1. [Incarnated Histories, A History of Violence, vol. 1]. This project centers on three of the emblematic figures in the history and political discourse of Latin America in the second half of the 20th century: Che Guevara, Evita, and Perón. Three bodies subjected to acts of profanation and concealment: Che's hands were cut off the night after his execution, in order to identify his fingerprints; Evita's body, kidnapped, disappeared, and returned fourteen years later; and the tomb of Juan Domingo Perón, which was profaned and his hands mutilated. In light of these sorrowful episdoes in Latin American history, Weber takes interest in the type of past that doesn't comes before the present but rather takes up lodging in it, emerging in varied aspects of anachronism. A past which, in instances of crisis and disintegration, suddenly overtakes us, as Walter Benjamin would say, in a "moment of danger."
Curator and adjunct researcher, CONICET