Born in Santiago in 1956, Alfredo Jaar (1956, Santiago, Chile) grew up in Martinique until the age of 16, when his parents decided to return to Chile in order to personally experience the socialist experiment installed by Salvador Allende, which would be brutally interrupted by the coup d’état a few months later. Until 1982, when he moved to New York, Jaar remained in Santiago, studying cinema and architecture and beginning his artistic production with artworks extremely critical of the current moment the country was going through, such as the notorious series Estudios sobre la felicidad [Studies on Happiness] (1979-81), an ambitious and multidisciplinary work (including field research, outdoor projects, video and photography), which already indicated the artist’s interest in the production and circulation of information and for an engagement with the political questions of his time, which until today have continued to be central axes of his practice.
In recent decades, Jaar has been constructing an extremely broad and diversified body of work in which a utopian desire of “changing the world,” as he himself puts it, is a pervading element that lends consistency to his works using a wide range of techniques and media, often going out of the aseptic white cube and occupying the streets. On the one hand, the artist seeks to be an eyewitness of momentous historical episodes, recording the slavelike conditions of workers in the mines at Serra Pelada, the humanitarian disasters in Ruanda and Angola, or visiting refugee camps in Asia. On the other, he carries out a rereading and updating of the lessons of great political thinkers such as Antonio Gramsci and Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose works he has revisited at various moments. In an effort to expand and deepen his knowledge about places he considers emblematic, Jaar has repeatedly visited some countries and regions, as Angola or Hong Kong, to where the artist travelled for the first time in 1991, with the purpose to know personally the life conditions of the Vietnamese refugees who were facing threats of repatriation. Through the following years, he would come back many times, creating a set of works collectively identified as "The Hong Kong Project", from which 100 Times Nguyen, a work included in the 34th Bienal de São Paulo, is probably the most emblematic one. When visiting the Pillar Point "detention center for refugees", the artist was followed by a girl, Nguyen Thi Thuy, of whom he took five pictures. The massive repetition of this compact set of images displayed along an enormous installation became an elegy in honor of Nguyen and of all the refugees and the wretched of the earth.
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).