The TPS phenomenon – Magdalena Jitrik
I would like to explain the impact of the TPS (People’s Printing Workshop) and also the lack of it. Looking back, it was full of paradoxes as well as disputes.
To begin with, the association’s name was the first mistake, though the word workshop was right: it was the name used by Mariela Scafati and Diego Posadas to provide an open printing workshop during an event held by the People’s Assembly of San Telmo, which we had joined in early March 2002. Setting up a workshop anywhere and printing an image depicting the moment was the first good thing these two artists did, because indeed printing becomes hypnotic, first reproducing the image and then directly handing over the most accurate document that one could have at an historic moment, printed on paper or T-shirts. The idea of printing T-shirts was one I had held for a long time with Diego and Mariela and that is why I rushed to join the team. At that early stage it was not done so much as an association but as members and friends of the association’s “culture committee” attending the cry of “you are the artists, do something”.
One thing is that the very idea of coining a name had something to do with a joke, because in the world of associations, groups began to attend the meetings week after week, they introduced themselves as members of an association and with this they practised politics. That is why we wanted to have our own little sect.
However, the word “People’s” (popular in Spanish) was more difficult. It referred to several groups, France’s Atelier Populaire of 68 and the Taller Gráfica Popular in Mexico in the 1940s…. As I had lived in Mexico I wanted to attribute this country with an influence of making political engravings. But to tell the truth I did not know anything about the history of TGP which I thought was linked to the Mexican Revolution when in fact it was much later, the graphic version of the world of wall paintings or murals, of which TPS later sought to distance itself from. We called it “Popular” because it was the adjective included in the association’s name.
It might even be said that at first we avoided our knowledge of art. For instance the design of the first works was done by a companion who did “filete porteño”, a decorative technique for signs typical in San Telmo, La Boca, Boedo. We thought it a good idea to use a design which had sprung from the Association.
But soon we began to produce “author” pieces: Diego Posadas made a drawing from a photograph of Rodolfo Walsh, I made a design based on a conference by the philosopher Enzo Traverso and we used the typography of a poster by Roberto Jacoby, and little by little tiny signs began to appear.(1)
The fourth poster included a “collective work”. We prepared it for May 1st, a recurring theme in my personal work, and history provided me with the opportunity of experiencing it by demonstrating in the streets. We used the logotype of the former Federación Obrera Regional Argentina, which depicts two hands together, on one arm the year 1876, the year it was founded, and on the other 2002, depicting the past and present which are found in a movement of associations… Mariela and I modelled the hands, Diego made the drawing, Mariela drew the numbers, I don’t recall if I did the rest of the letters or if it was Diego. It could be thought of today as a half musical structure of work. We prepared this poster for the assembly meeting and the following day outside the Brukman factory, one of the emblematic places at that time because it was a factory that had been taken over and received support from all the assemblies, all the political parties and movements. Everybody supported this struggle. Mariela Scafati managed to design a second poster for the following day in line with the slogans attached to taking over the factory.(2)
This began a way of operating, where each of us contributed a part of the design, but we never completely gave up the “author” posters, i.e. 100% designed by just one artist. Nor did we give up the posters made to order. There were some things we did not accept though, such as making a Che Guevara… it’s not that we didn’t like him, but he seemed too demagogic, we didn’t want to appeal so much to the masses, or maybe we did, but we never failed to lose sight of the chance of making images depicting that time and we wanted to take part in the movements. From the outset we decided not to put the group’s name on the posters. It didn’t seem worthwhile to us.
Meanwhile picket movements were on the rise, and they dominated the scene. It was stunning to see them in their huge columns, a true image of the “hunger legion”, men and women of all ages, walking hundreds of blocks, looking up at the buildings in the capital, being watched by the untrusting middle classes worried about their lost deposits, but not all that insensitive to the other extreme reality (just like now).
For us the flags of these associations of unemployed people were unique: made with minimum resources, and showing the enthusiasm, the emergency of a situation of identity, a joy of belonging. I can’t explain how. The workshop took a lot from these, the design of the letters and also making flags. This might be why the idea of drawing the typographies took root rapidly because this idea stood in almost all our productions. Besides we could prepare the images with pencils, scissors and paper, at the most a photocopy or some tracing paper.
A key event in this period and also humbly the history of TPS, was known as the Massacre of Avellaneda. I was there at the demonstration. It was really one of the most extreme experiences of my life. During the demonstration, when the Pueyrredón Bridge was blocked on 26 June 2002, the police killed two kids at point blank range, two pickets, one of whom, Darío Santillán, was both a phenomenal politically active leader who every so often history provides us with and whose name will be carried by future associations. The other was Maxi Kosteki, an art student, painter and poet.
The crime scene shows Maxi first lying on the ground with Darío giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation, in the next picture he is seen with his hands in the air saying “don’t shoot” and the next picture shows Darío falling and in the last the two boys lying in the entrance to the hall of the Avellaneda train station. At first the government issued the version that there had been a clash between associations but there was so much evidence that it led to a political crisis which culminated in the resignation of president Duhalde who had been appointed to complete De La Rúa’s presidency, who had resigned at the December meetings of 2001.
But the response from the victims’ supporters was colossal. That night barricades were set up in the city and an improvised demonstration was held in Plaza de Mayo, and immediately the following day and all that week and the following the bridge was blocked again one month later, this time coinciding with a huge cultural meeting which kept the bridge closed overnight.
Diego Posadas attended these meetings to coordinate the event, the TPS was called in particularly because some people had seen and taken part in the action. Diego who brought to this meeting a sketch of work being made by a group of wall painters, had chosen one for the station, another for a wall on the bridge, and for the third he decided to print T-shirts. But the night before, Darío’s friends contacted him and they met at Mariela’s house to order two more posters, one with the letters MTD (Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados), and another with a picture of Darío stretching out his arms in the shape of a cross. We took these pictures to this event. (3 / 4)
We printed almost 500 T-shirts that afternoon. It was epic. From then on until 2006 we kept up the practice of carrying out a picture and every 26 June this was always the workshop’s core activity. We also took interest in the work by Maxi Kosteki in an exhibition held a year later. (5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10)
Soon after, tensions began to rise in the assembly. Until then we had been a group specifically there to “serve” propaganda. By the way, I was delighted with this kind of propaganda, something I had done anonymously in earlier works. In this case a dispute arose when the assembly decided “not to approve” some of the workshop’s pictures and other projects which I was personally trying to do.
I don’t aim to tell the whole history of the workshop, what interests me is the fact that the TPS was an improvised project that arose in that period with all the defects which then existed. We passed from being fanatics of associations to electing an “independent collective”, which other artists who were not members of the association but wanted to contribute to that period of profound change would later join. In this new stage Carolina Katz, Karina Granieri, Leo Rocco, Horacio Abram Lujan, Eduardo Arauz, Fernando Brizuela, Catalina León, Guillermo Ueno, Julia Masvernat, Christian Wloch, Verónica di Toro, Pablo Rosales, Juana Neumann joined, and later Daniel Sanjurjo.
We organised our first show at the Belleza y Felicidad gallery in December 2002, the anniversary of the 2001 meetings, a high spot in the workshop when we produced a vast amount of actions and printed in Plaza de Mayo for the first time. There was a great profusion of pictures which are all classics in the workshop. (11 / 12 / 13 / 14)
This “super collective” did not last long, like all sects. It suffered its first injury, if I remember rightly, in 2003 when Eduardo Arauz, Julia Masvernat, Catalina León and Guillermo Ueno joined the MTD activities in Lanús and left the workshop. Fernando Brizuela also gradually began to distance himself though he still contributes from time to time bringing us paper, material and printed cloths he finds in the streets.
From that moment the workshop became independent from the assembly, and began to be coordinated within all the sectors involved in the activity: pickets, recouped factories, workers’ strikes, Mesa de Escrache Popular, Movement for the six-hour working day. (15 / 16 / 17 / 18)
We met once a week with one of these sectors and each of us built up a link with them as much as we could and depending on our personal interests, and somehow coordinated this activity alone. And then we held a weekly meeting, sometimes two, because in 2003 the “big drawings” began which consisted of sketching during a meeting, brainstorming and making drawings, then someone would scan the pieces which had been chosen by all of us, and this led to the next design.
It was quite a successful period as regards collective work, though from time to time someone came up with a “hit” and there was the camaraderie to publish every product no matter how individual… this idyll also lasted little, but it was fruitful.
The production of pictures became more and more sophisticated and this combination of group and individual work proved difficult, it can always occur that a drawing is not to one’s taste. What can one do when someone wants to include a bad drawing, with all the work that was required to make a printing? Well one can follow an “anti art” ideology so that it doesn’t matter, but this is where I think the basic conflict affecting the workshop arose and which I suppose all collective undertakings involve… I believe in art, I am an artist, I cannot maintain an “anti art” ideology because I don’t consider art as just a system of real, unfair, capitalist, elitist economic relationships; I also see it as my life’s task and if I have decided to give up everything to dedicate my time and energy to creating pictures for others who don’t represent me or which, artistically speaking, I don’t particularly like, I think I should have lost my sense of being. In other words, I cannot give up art and nor I believe could a few at TPS. We defended artistic ambition in such a way that complete equality was impossible, at least as regards the contribution of images. Often the tyranny of the majority existed. But we wanted to remain members and we skirted the problem with the idea of not creating so many pictures but working over and repeating images so that they would set in, and from there came posters that were defended, such as the 1st of May series, the map, or reusing pieces of an earlier poster in the next, and so on. (19 / 20 / 21 / 22 / 23)
Soon the second great crisis of TPS arose, in which the personal discomfort between the members and other reasons gradually scared away Wloch, Scafati, Rocco, Rosales, Abram Lujan, Posadas and thus the workshop lost its most active and skilful artists.
The TPS had gone far beyond my expectations. Before it appeared I had no intention of building an art group. But in 2001 I felt that the moment had come to be politically engaged, I was beginning to feel the call for something I had begun to notice. I didn’t know where to go, I searched around. But a collective art group never entered my head. The only thing I knew is that I was beginning to think about political themes in my work to turn them into art.
The possibility of practising politics was decisive for my continuing in the workshop in that moment of inflection in 2004. And after joining the 6 hour movement workshop our work became more varied in the shape of bulletins (and illustrations), flags, offset… This is where a hegemony on my behalf began, perhaps an even worse tyranny than the last, imposing the agenda of my political interests, particularly the Movement for a Six-Hour Working Day, which provided me with experience of working in a political movement where I could voice my opinions with trade unionists and political activists, although they allowed me to talk, it was a challenge to include our sensitivity in the political programmes. Some things were achieved but only partly. Often these interlocutors looked on in astonishment at the projects we presented.
Our background as political activists was poor, but frequenting all those areas was an amazing school. We began to shape our political arguments based on our experience from those meetings; I had access to a lot of information and this allowed us to position ourselves and decide whether we would join one fight or another, and how! We did produce objects of art, but along the way we practised politics.
Now all that’s left are the objects of art. It can’t be said that our causes were successful or even that a socialist hope was born. But this wasn’t defeat but an experience that I feel ready to repeat whenever it is necessary.
The third great crisis in TPS arose around the time of the biennial in Sao Paulo in 2006. A team was left made up of Katz, Di Toro and Granieri.
Daniel Sanjurjo, who had spent a long time in participative art groups, then joined and tried to provide the workshop with this kind of character. One important result was that on 24 March 2006, the 30th anniversary of the military coup, we took part in the event called “Starving to Death” and as regards printing we prepared some pictures, but the press was completely occupied by the theatre event being held and we couldn’t print that day.
My discomfort began to grow because I felt I was doing something that didn’t really interest me other than participating in public, I don’t know how to explain this, I am in favour of these events but not to the extent that I have to give up my own work on behalf of the group. Daniel Sanjurjo became a nuisance for what I wanted to do and to a certain extent for the rest of the group too. Yet I felt that Daniel didn’t like the work we were doing either, but he so persisted to lead away from the course the workshop had taken up till then. The group was arranged with equal hierarchy or the openness of the group meant he was “entitled” to propose changes, otherwise the group would have refused to change, and would have taken on a rigid conservative structure. This duality of arguments presented me with a huge dilemma. While we were working on a giant flag on which there appeared many sentences and of which we shared out the diagrams of each text, the contributions by both Daniel and Hernan Dupraz, another person who had joined, in my opinion were not up to our standards, this amounted to discord in what was already a painting, where another kind of sensuality was involved and which these fellow members completely lacked. The theme of this work was strongly promoted by me, its symbols and operations were backed by Vero Di Toro and myself who have always been fans of the workshop’s activities, the chance of working on a painted piece also took us back to our days as painters; Carolina Katz and Karina Granieri, Juana Neumann and other friends also painted, it was luxury, once again we had a great team. (24)
I think this is one of the worst acts I ever committed against the principles of group work, and what is worse, I don’t regret it: I threw out Daniel Sanjurjo and Dupraz from the group and painted over everything they had painted. Not long ago, while I was hanging this same flag in the Salón Nacional de Artistas de Colombia, I felt a great urge to continue retouching parts of it, a work that had been finished, exhibited and documented in the 6th Biennial of Sao Paulo, The 2nd Biennial in Moscow and the 41 Salón de Cali, a collective work that I would feel no remorse in repainting, however I would condemn it if another person tried to do it. Another paradox of an artist’s personal works.
Regarding the break up of TPS I have often thought that it was our bursting onto the scene of international art that led to this, and this indeed showed up other differences in the group which, had the invitations not arrived, would not have happened. Yet differences existed. We must bear in mind that the context had also changed, the association movements and pickets had folded, the workshop’s lack of understanding of many sectors, serious conflicts with other associations and parties who we challenged and disobeyed, political agreements, a series of things that raised a new question, can we allow an association to decide on what art work to do?
In the end the group workshop wound up being a manager of ideas, we do this one, and this one no, this we will do, and this not… this is how things which should have been thought out a little more were disregarded. Later I did many of these things differently. Throughout my life as an artist, many institutions and people have told me, or suggested “don’t do that” for me to be in a group I founded where this situation was repeated.
What I am saying is madness because it might seem as if the workshop is one of my frustrations. Quite the contrary. At the same time I still cannot believe that both the pictures and practices still cause such an impact and feeling of belonging, but I also wish to play down the heroics and illustrate a little how arbitrary and unfair it can also be, where no member is free, neither victim or actor. We all had different expectations and backgrounds and each took part according to his or her possibilities. What is clear is the workshop entered into the history of political illustrations and this was a result of something we had worked for, not luck.
The workshop no longer exists but its works remain, we still get invited to exhibitions. I receive most of the invitations and accept the ones I am able to do. In Cali we exhibited the workshop in the way I always wanted to, a duo with Mariela Scafati, with much more theatrical installations and less documentation. There we presented several “individual author” works: of which worthy of mention is a collage by Scafati based on pieces of a sticker we had made in our exhibition at the FM La Tribu, stuck on again with the images reconstructed with the bits and pieces. (25 / 26)