Arte es Vida – Life is Art

27 April 2015

Through its internal Research Funding Line I, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) provides support to various research projects. Among these is an unusual undertaking that focuses on the Chilean artist collective C.A.D.A., its members, and their global links to other avant-garde movements. This is the particular interest of Liliana Bizama of the Faculty of Translation Studies, Linguistics, and Cultural Studies in Germersheim.

There are several pages of recently translated texts by Raúl Zurita on the table. Students have worked long and hard on them – it was no easy task. Professor Cornelia Sieber of the Faculty of Translation Studies, Linguistics, and Cultural Studies in Germersheim then adds a flyer from an exhibition: last year's "Beuys Brock Vostell" retrospective at the Karlsruhe Center for Art and Media.

What does the great Chilean poet Zurita have in common with the three most important German postwar action artists? The Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Cultural Studies points out some initial common characteristics, which are not immediately obvious. "This is not an art form that is easy to digest. It gets stuck in the throat, it makes everyone uncomfortable."

Uncomfortable art

And uncomfortable art is the subject of the research project "Arte es Vida / Art is Life. The C.A.D.A. artist collective (1979-1985) – aesthetic irritant of the Chilean military dictatorship and paths of translation between the avant-garde of Europe and Latin America." The title may seem to be rather unwieldy but it serves to illustrate the broad spectrum of the field that Sieber's assistant Liliana Bizama intends to explore in her next few years as part of her doctoral studies.

"Last year we were able to provide support to some 280 projects," says Dr. Ewa Vittorias of the staff unit Research and Technology Transfer at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. "Sometimes young researchers just need their trip to a conference being paid or they get financing for a research stay," explains the coordinator of JGU internal research support services. However, sometimes a bit more is needed – as in the case of Bizama.

In the form of the internal Research Funding Line I, the university administration has created a means of flexible promotion of research at JGU. The range of topics of proposed schemes is enormous. Research projects into the lifestyles and life designs of women in Rwanda, into tourism in the Arab Gulf states, or into improvements to the efficiency of chemotherapy are just a selection of the subjects on Vittorias' extensive list.

Diversity of projects

"We see an extraordinary lot of different things here," emphasizes Professor Wolfgang Hofmeister, Vice President for Research at Mainz University, talking of the applications from the various faculties. Resarch Funding Line I is also about improving project visibility. The university wants to demonstrate in what research areas it is currently active and also particularly make the achievements of its young academics more evident.

"We also see our support as a type of start-up funding," explains Hofmeister. It points to research projects that the university recommends for further support from the EU or from institutions like the German Research Foundation (DFG). "What we do in effect is point out that a certain project has potential and that it deserves closer attention." However, if the sum required exceeds EUR 15,000, the university does not make the decision alone but calls in external consultants.

The proposal regarding the artist and action art collective C.A.D.A. is of particular interest to Hofmeister. "Germersheim is primarily noted for training interpreters. However, over the past few years the faculty has made a name in other areas, too. They are taking completely new directions in translation research."

Colectivo Acciones de Arte

Liliana Bizama has ambitious goals. She is personally acquainted with the artists of the Chilean Colectivo Acciones de Arte, which produced daring action art material that was designed to challenge the regime of the dictator Pinochet. In 2012 she invited Zurita, who is one of the C.A.D.A. founders, to Germersheim. Students had translated his volume of poetry "Las ciudades de agua" (The cities of water), and Bizama helped find a German publisher.

"One of Liliana Bizama's tasks will be to document the artistic works of the movement," explains Sieber, who has submitted an application to Mainz University for funding and will also shortly be submitting one to the German Research Foundation. The C.A.D.A. material is spread widely across various archives and parts are also in private hands. Old video recordings by the media artists Lotty Rosenfeld and Juan Castillo might well have already disappeared forever.

Another of Bizama's assignments will be to interpret the art of C.A.D.A., a process that has already started at Germersheim. This is why the poem is on Sieber's table. It comes from Zurita's volume "A memorial of desolation." "Our students have been translating his poetry for quite a few semesters. It was not easy for them to develop the necessary rapport." Zurita's texts are full of references to his time in prison during the dictatorship, to the culture of the indigenous peoples, and much more.

Conference in October

In 2014, Bizama and Sieber unearthed a surprising fact about C.A.D.A. In the exhibition of action art by Joseph Beuys, Bazon Brock, and Wolf Vostell, they found links to the avant-garde art scene in Chile. "Vostell is famous for his maxim 'Life is art'", Sieber points out. This very maxim also represented the precept of the C.A.D.A. movement and in the 1970s Vostell even had an exhibition in Santiago de Chile.

This is a brief indication of where Bizama's research is heading. She aims to undercover the connections between avant-garde movements around the globe, looking in particular detail at the work of C.A.D.A., at art as a form of political protest.

"If a project is well designed and shows potential, it has a good chance of receiving financial support through Research Funding Line I," emphasizes Hofmeister. The project "Arte es Vida / Life is Art" clearly falls in this category. It will not only help Bizama in her career as an upcoming young academic; the students and teachers in Germersheim have shown great interest in the project.

"We are planning to hold a conference here in October 2015," mentions Sieber almost as an aside. "And we expect the C.A.D.A. artists to attend." Dr. Andreas Beitin, director of the Karlsruhe Center for Art and Media and initiator of the "Beuys Brock Vostell" retrospective will also be there. The old but newly discovered connections will be on the agenda – and may actually be reestablished thanks to this project.