Heliografías, the Architecture of Madness
León Ferrari (1920-2013) was an Argentine conceptual artist whose practice was often ironic, absurd, and above all anti-institutional. Throughout his career he experimented with different mediums such as sculpture, video, drawing, writing, collages and assemblages, in a process of research but also of activism. He has questioned different themes related to power, such as the western world, religion, justice, the state, violence. For instance, he explored these themes in the Heliografías series. Sometimes very controversial, he was censured by Pope François (then Archbishop of Buenos Aires) during a retrospective exhibition of his career in Buenos Aires. After that, in response to criticism, he affirmed his incomprehension of how Christians could spend nearly 2000 years condemning the suffering of Jesus at the time of the crucifixion, while simultaneously ignoring the suffering of millions of marginalized people around the world.
Political and urban nightmare in Heliografías
The dictatorship in Argentina (1976-1983) marked the artistic production of León Ferrari. At the very beginning, he went into exile in Brazil and later began to produce numerous works criticizing the political and social situation in Argentina. He began a period of print production with his series “Heliografías“. For this, he used heliography, a printing technique from the 19th century, which was used by architects wishing to reproduce their plans. These drawings, very urban, combined different patterns that are repeated almost tirelessly. They are composed of urban plans, highways, building typologies, furniture, and many identical inhabitants, in order to form an aggregation without much coherence. However, the repetition creates an absurd labyrinth from which it seems difficult to escape. From the viewer’s point of view, chaos and confusion seems to reign. But from the point of view of the inhabitants of these cities, the perspective is different and they seem to live a normal daily life, while moving around in this urban nightmare.
Therefore, the artist criticizes both architectural and political uniformity. With this idea he uses the highly metaphorical figure of the labyrinth. Firstly, as a synonym for architectural loss. But also to denounce how the inhabitants of Argentine society blindly continue their lives in this homogeneous pattern. Above all, this pattern locks them in their daily actions, confining them more and more, alienating them from the reality to which they are subjected. The labyrinth is transformed into a prison, a critical form of the dictatorship and of the uniform architecture that expresses itself in this context.