Narrating the Archive

Alberto Madrid Letelier

Lotty Rosenfeld’s work, “Estadio Chile I, II, III” (Chile Stadium I, II, III), was realized within the curatorial frame of Chile’s 2009 Triennial which, according to general curator Ticio Escobar, “took as its point of departure the figure of the map of the country [Chile], considered as a border-making image, a vertical line that condenses different limits and that, by moving virtually, projects a border (franja) covering the Southern Cone. This map, in turn, was segmented in three zones that do not purport to represent regions, but rather mark those points most apposite to the development of the concept of the Triennial. Each one of these zones is subject to historical and political contingencies and to its own cultures…”

This quote allows me to interpret and contextualize Rosenfeld’s work by being mindful of the figure of the country’s verticality in relation to the traffic sign that she initially worked with and re-signified. Similarly, Rosenfeld’s temporal occupation of the territory that is enacted through the inter-crossing of material drawn from the archive of her work produces a lesson in geography,1 not only about the representation of the territory in its morphology and topography, but in relation to the residual events that are left outside discourse of official history, analogous to the edit that she offers of the “making-of of her work. This explains the selection of institutions and places that triangulate power, economic activity, and spectacle as another form of putting the limits of contemporary art in critical tension.

In order to examine this work, I recall the territorial demarcation of that initial gesture enacted by Lotty Rosenfeld in 1979 when, through a minimal action, she altered a street traffic divider line to produce another sign: +, a sign later re-elaborated in a video that recorded the action that has become the archival matrix of Rosenfeld's work, a matrix that she has re-signified over space and time, crossing borders, cross-cutting significations, where new meanings are constructed from the artist’s body and from the work.

That sign, initiated as a solitary act that altered the order of traffic as a transgressive gesture in the context of a military dictatorship, also demarcated the limits of the outside of the picture frame through the photographic and video recordings of actions of occupation and interventions that displace borders.

Rosenfeld has continued to mark and traverse territories to the present day. A cursory overview reveals the 1983 action by the group CADA, No +, followed by individual works that extend until 1998 as part of the activist campaigns around the plebiscite, as well as in the next decade, in Documenta 2007.

We can characterize Lotty Rosenfeld’s work as the re-tracing of the memory of this sign, constituted by the hypotext and the intertextuality that she constructs of the image in the new iterations through which she recycles her own archive.


Rosenfeld carried out three performance occupations within the national territory: two in Santiago and another in Lota, designated as “Estadio Chile I, II, III.” The three versions can be understood as a lesson in geography in their geopolitical character. The spaces were chosen as vessels for the experience of reception and for their charged memory, which is re-activated through sound and images.

The lesson begins with “Estadio Chile I” where an image with the name “Lotty Rosenfeld” and the date 1982 is projected onto the perimeter of the Santiago Stock Exchange building. This date can be considered a citation whose archeology must be reconstructed given that it works intertexually with an earlier work, “Una herida Americana” (An American Wound). The latter corresponds to a crossing of two registers: two monitors situated at the counter of the Stock Market, one with a video-recording of the Pan-American Highway at the level of the Atacama desert, and on the other monitor a recording of a performance intervention with the sign + in front of the White House in Washington DC. “Una herida amerciana” operates as a mise en abîme of the citation of a citation, the recording of a moment of financial activity in analogy with the performance trans-action, exhibiting actions in a symbolic crosscutting of the space of economic speculation with that of discursive speculation.

The projection of the inscription of the name and date was amplified by other remissions of sound installed in the space. The audio recording of the video “El empeño Americano” (American Pawnshop) was re-used—a 1998 piece by Rosenfeld with strong political-economic associations, that recorded and recycled images from the security camera of the government agency known as “la Tía Rica” or “the Rich Aunt,” where citizens pawn their goods in times of economic crisis.

“Estadio Chile II” was enacted along another perimeter of Santiago, in the sports arena formerly known as Estadio Chile, but which since 2004 has been renamed Estadio Víctor Jara.2

The entrance to the site is through a small side door—a detail worth noting in light of the themes that Rosenfeld is interested in posing. The space is empty and dimly lit. If in the first version the chiaroscuro was played out against the exterior façade, here the sports arena’s interior is occupied and there is no projection of images.

As the piece moves through the space, it is invaded by audio recordings of earlier works that accompany the spectator during the hour-long route, altering the history of the space. The stadium is a polyphonic space of stories that intermingle with sounds from inside and outside. The most poignant sound, which travels through the spectator’s body, is of a woman panting, reproducing the sound of physical effort during a race or childbirth, or of another woman trying to articulate a sentence, interrupted by the bell and voices of an auction, along with the counting of votes. The spectator is interrupted in this labyrinth of voices only by an audio recording that asks for name, age, and occupation. The interior is thus a resonance box in which the spectator deciphers the information and meanings of mental images in his or her own memory and in history.

The need for physical traces required to activate the spectator’s memory is translated into this staging of light and sound. The event that Rosenfeld invokes/convenes on this route, far more than a return to the past of the Stadium as a site of detention, torture and death, is the sound of history produced through the audio, making the space equivalent to a battlefield. If what called us yesterday was ideological violence, today it is the violence of consumption.

On the other hand, Rosenfeld complicates the literal meaning of the place by challenging the possible expectations of the spectator, as is the case of the arrival at the site of Víctor Jara’s death, where no representation exists. (We know from Adorno the impossibility of representing pain.)

The pilgrimage continues through other areas of the stadium in which the audio recording of Rosenfeld’s work stages and makes contemporary the unresolved events of memory.

“Estadio Chile III,” Lota. Analogous to the focus of the Triennial on territories and the limits of art, this work decentralizes the Triennial’s reading of geography by relocating to the city of Lota, in the south of the country. An area historically linked to coal mining, an industry which was discontinued in 1997. The memory of the place is illustrated in, among other works, the stories of Baldomero Lillo, who also worked in one of departments of the mines.

The chosen site was the mine El Chiflón del Diablo (roughly, “The Devil’s Avalanche”) that, following its closure, now functions as a tourist site. In the mine one can still see parts of the set for the film Sub-Terra, shot on site, all of which is now undergoing a process of ruinification and re-conversion to other uses under the supervision of the miners.

To enter the space where “Estadio Chile, III” is staged, one needs to wear a hard hat with an attached lamp, and then descend in the cage that once transported the miners to their workplace in the subsoil of the mine under the sea.

Once at the bottom, the head lanterns are lit, giving the spectator the vision of a Cyclops. The first blurred referents are the loss of daylight and the glimmering of the chiaroscuro that slowly recondition the perception of darkness and humidity to give way to hearing as the dominant sense.

The history of Rosenfeld’s videographic work is brought in through the incorporation of the audio from some of her earlier videos as sound. The spectator attends a sonic occupation; yesterday’s voices of the miners’ activities are interrupted by symbolic sounds, operating like another form of knowledge. The accommodation of the senses ends when we are asked to turn off the lanterns, producing a darkness and absence of reference that coincides with the silence of the audio.

The blindness is compensated by the signs of breathing and by the unconscious fumbling in search of support, provoking the emergence of mental images from our personal archive.

The return of the Cyclops’ vision is regained in silence and recollection as we return to the cage zone, and as we share first impressions. As noted elsewhere, it was a referential deformation that made me then recall the title of José Balmes’ exhibit, “Lota, el Silencio” (Lota, the Silence, 1997), which made total sense to me from the experience. With the passing of time, I have re-read Baldomero Lillo’s stories that serve to evoke images of this journey and as a primary source for the interpretation of Rosenfeld’s work.


In “Estadio Chile I, II, III,” Rosenfeld produces her occupations in the logic of the making-of. Through recycling and by recontextualizing her work, she puts the archive of her videography in motion. The making-of functions as a metaphor since the spectator ideally has heard more than seen, thus generating an interpretative system different from the images that he already understands.

The work functions by remission; images are evoked through sound, like the activity of memory, which is translated in the editing for each location. Sonic occupation should be understood as the spatialization of the story.

The first occupation establishes the inscription of the narrator in the projection of authorship and the date on the façade of the institution, and along with the audio, assembles an intercrossing of readings.

In the second, the narrator gives way to the character, but within the paradox of the unrepresentability of the event. The effect is reiterated in the third story with the absence of the bodies in the inactive workplace, returning to the spectator the labor of constructing meaning from the available materials.

The characteristic of Rosenfeld’s narration is intercrossing, which enables a polyphonic narrative in her performance occupations, thus creating dynamic links to each of the performance spaces which can be read intertexually through the sound of the panting body, which acts as the shared narrative of the experience of the three. Likewise, part of the interpretive frame is the figure of the chronotrope of spatial relations—exterior/interior, up/down, surface/subsoil, displacement/emplacement—used to stage the geography lesson on the representation of the events and spatial demarcations that power leaves in its wake.

In the re-tracing of more than three decades of the + sign, we can appreciate that the dynamics of power and its economic strategies continue, through accumulation, to produce ever more instability. Thus the date 1982: a citation intended to reconstruct the archeology of the sign and a current resignification of a model of well-being based on inequality and the stimulation of greed in the consumer.

The trilogy “Estadio Chile” is a state of the national condition in the intercrossing of temporalities and spaces remitted through geopolitical events, triangulating narratives through the overlap of those memories that are rendered invisible through the oversaturation of media images.

This essay was prepared for the Chile Triennial 2009.

Albert Madrid Letelier is a scholar at the Facultad de Arte de la Universidad de Playa Ancha Valparaíso in Chile. He also develops curatorial projects on contemporary Chilean visual art in national and international publications. He is author of La línea de la memoria (1995), Desplazamiento de la memoria (1996), Ensayos sobre el grabado Chilean contemporaneo, and "Libro de obras. La habitabildad del arte (2000).