Two times Mary - Text by Angelica Rivetti

A work that recounts the visual power of the reconstruction of someone else's memory, of a story never experienced directly but known through oral and written testimony. Maria Patricia Arendar is the mother of the artist, activist and political exile from the military dictatorship that took hold in Argentina between 1976 and 1982, during which thousands of political dissidents were persecuted, kidnapped, hidden and killed. What emerges from Valera Arendar's images, however, is not the didactic reconstruction of a dramatic story and a piece of history that is still too little told in its entirety. Rather, what appears is a precise desire to rethink and return to a new narrative starting from historical memory through the staging of situations in which the artist's body emerges and natural elements are filtered by artificial lights so as to return to a personal interpretation of the emotional and biographical story of the mother, through the construction of images that recall cinematographic frames.

The title of the project takes its origin from the story of the artist's mother, who was born Maria Patricia but has always been known as Patricia. When the time came to escape persecution by the regime and emigrate as a political exile, she decided to adopt only the name Maria, which no one would have taken her back to. Thus showing two versions, two moments in her life: before and after her forced exile.

 

In the history of the desaparecidos, one of the many disturbing elements is that of disappearance, the lack of news and information, the not knowing that haunts the families of thousands of young men and women taken by the military police and, in most cases, never returned home. This aspect of the loss of identity is implicitly recounted by Valeria through her desire never to show her face, the only one we see is that of her mother. The portrait of Maria Patricia marks the start of the exhibition, which unfolds through the narration of different moments and emotional states of the woman's experience. The first  wall recounts her origins: the presence of an old picture with Marx's face recalls the Russian origins of her great-grandparents, who emigrated from Odessa to Argentina at the beginning of the twentieth century; the pendant hanging on the artist's back is an object made by a Chilean exile activist, collaborator of Salvador Allende and friend of Valeria's mother. The story continues with a darker atmosphere on the next wall, with the image of the artist lying in the water like a dead body, a direct reference to the so-called "vuelos de la muerte", the strategy used by the Argentine regime to make many missing persons lose track of them by throwing them from military planes into the Rio de la Plata.

 

Alongside, four small frames present images of gloomy places, veiled bodies and the mother's passport used to escape. The more relaxed and luminous colour scheme of the isolated portrait, the artist standing along a street with his face still covered, this time by a scarf, is striking. It is an image that could refer to the mother's long journey on the run between Brazil, Uruguay and Mexico, telling the story of freedom and fear, immobility and movement, relaxation and tension, a clear sky and an identity that is still forcibly hidden, veiled, oppressed by the fear of being discovered.

 

Finally, the last five images conclude the narrative: a triptych in which the glow emerges (on the surface of the water and on the human figure tending almost towards transfiguration in order to still prevent the identification of a face) and the artificial red of the foliage, a colour which is found here for the first time and which may allude on the one hand to blood as a synecdoche of death, but also to the colour of the left-wing political struggle, of the revolution, and of how these ideals never faded in Maria even after her escape; Finally, a diptych in which an unnatural blinding light emerges forcefully from a bush and next to it, for the second time, the face of Patricia Maria. This, however, is the second Maria, the one after exile, the one who survived an armed kidnapping, the one who, despite being forced to leave her homeland, will never abandon the cause of the revolution and the incessant search for comrades and activist friends who have disappeared and been forgotten by history.

 

The room downstairs presents an extract from the archive collected by Valeria during her research with her mother: a group photo of the time highlights two young revolutionary activists, dissidents of the regime, who disappeared into thin air due to the armed forces. They are Carlos Acosta and Gerardo Álvarez, two of Patricia Arendar's friends and companions, to whom she dedicates the two letters on either side. The semi-dark, underground room recalls in some ways the anguished, oppressive atmosphere surrounding this entire historical, political and social event.

 

This is a project which, as the video installation also summarises, seeks to restore memories, faces, names, identities and dignity through melancholy, restlessness, sweetness and atmospheres that are both natural and artificial, taking the story to a new aesthetic, conceptual and emotional level that is at the same time familiar, intimate but universal, capable of recounting absences through new presences.

 

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This writing was part of the individual exhibition curated by Chiara Bandino & Angelica Rivetti at the Italian gallery Fonderia 20.9