Thinking About Exercise through "Los Ejercicios de Enlace"

November 3, 2014

Exercise usually stands for a kind of experimentation, and it is an integral part of the artistic process allowing for new meanings, speculation, or for testing new material realities. It is a combination of experimentation with systematic method. I definitely understand exercise in art as an experiment that can be modeled in accordance with a goal that needs an outcome in order to be evaluated in objective terms (or also in more subjective terms as often happens with visual art, even in the teaching of art). That said, in my context the notion of exercise has taken on a different meaning, as it reminds of a political method that was designed to be implemented during the first years of democracy. The goal of this type of exercise was to protect the power of Pinochet.

In November 1990, only 10 months after democracy was re-established in Chile after 17 years of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, pro-Pinochet members of the military  carried out a political pressure campaign. Pinochet, who was still Commander in Chief of the army, announced the so-called "Ejercicio de Seguridad, Alistamiento y Enlace" (Exercise of Security, Recruitment and Connection), a euphemism used to describe the imprisonments that had happened because of investigations made by parliamentary commission into checks for a total of 3 million dollars paid by the army to Augusto Pinochet Hiriart, eldest son of the general, for the acquisition of Valmoral, a provider of the Chilean army.   

These "Ejercicios de Enlace" testified to the lack of control of the democratic government over Pinochet during the first years of the democratic transition. The political arena was extremely fragile especially in situations that clearly revealed the operations of institutional and political ties created by the dictatorship. The "Ejercicios de Enlace" started a systematic experimentation that, more than tying some troops internally to Pinochet, cretaed a network of connections in the parliamentary, judicial and communicational realms that undermined the democratic reconstruction project due to the fact that they made people believe that democracy could actually be short-lived. Over the years, the "Ejercicios de Enlace" only proved to be the last breath of the dictatorship, but that notion of democracy's fragility did remain because of the great debt the military has with the disappeared and those who were executed for political reasons. For the history of Chile, these "Ejercicios de Enlace" are an isolated moment in time, but it is necessary to say that, though minor in comparison to other facts, they still have a subjective relevance for Chilean society. It was a type of exercise developed by a dictatorial power so that it could survive under other circumstances.

What I just explained only introduces my reflection about exercise.  From my position as a visual artist, I have tried to deal artistically with these political topics, or more precisely with issues in relation to memory. That is why I call my own work method "precisions to history:" with accounts like those of the "Ejercicios de Enlace," I have searched for an experimental and systematic mode of research that could be classified as an exercise because the heart of this work, a space for what Sarat Maharaj calls "knowledge through the visual," refers to small, well precisioned traces of history that exhibit their value as document and image.