The road to Utopia

The road to Utopia: Chilean artist explores Latin American history

Imagine a road paved with the tatters of your failed hopes and dreams. Imagine standing upon that road, your failure unfurled before your eyes. Now imagine that your dreams had once inspired a movement, a revolution. What emotions does such a road evoke? Despair? Resignation? Determination?

Now let us step from the realm of imagination and into reality. For members of failed Latin American revolutions, such a road exists and, for one night, stretched out along a Toronto street.

Fallen Flags, the work of Chilean artist Arturo Duclos, depicts the flags of fallen left-wing movements as a big carpet. The piece was included in this year’s Nuit Blanche festival on October 1, 2016, along the John Street Corridor from King St. W. to Front St. W. It was curated by Paco Barrágan for the exhibition area entitled Militant Nostalgia. “The 21st Century has brought about on the one hand a moment of profound crisis, despair and deception; and on the other a discrediting of the big theories and ideologies (metanarratives) that have provided a solid and comprehensive explanation of our world,” says Barrágan.

Duclos’ art is alarming and thought-provoking. Fallen Flags is part of Duclos’ larger piece Utopia’s Ghost, which explores the concept of the Utopian state and the fallen revolutions that sought to create it. “I want to challenge the traditional perspectives of history and rebellion, colonization and democracy, dictatorship and Marxist doctrine,” says Duclos, who was born in Santiago, Chile.

He succeeds. The piece is a sombre reminder of Latin America’s tumultuous and violent political history. The flags, ranging from Tupamaro in Uruguay and Venezuela to the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR) in Chile, belong to movements that fought for the Utopian state using armed struggle and terrorism. Take Tupamaro’s slogan, for instance: “Words divide us; action unites us.”

Duclos’s work is controversial in historical and contemporary context. You need only look at the current situation in Venezuela to see the horrific consequences of socialism. This, and the long line of flags running down John St., forces us to ask a big question: does the end really justify the means?

Despite the violence of the revolutions that he employs in his piece, Duclos sees a similarity between the revolutionaries and artists. At their core, the revolutionaries had the same messianic roots as artistic vanguards. “They were like artists on the forward edge of contemporary art practice, they are challenging and effecting change to the status quo,” says Duclos. And they are not beaten despite the failures. “I think the spirit of Utopia is still present in the struggle of art.

Arturo Duclos has received several prestigious awards including the Guggenheim Art Grant.

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