In Masacre de Puerto Montt (Puerto Montt Massacre, 1969), Luis Camnitzer transferred not only the sociopolitical contradictions in Latin America over to the exhibition space, but also, upon placing the visitor in the crossfire, reactivated a violent episode from the body. Presented in 1969 in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago de Chile, the installation recreates a massacre that occurred during the eviction of 90 families from the Pampa Irigoin farm. Nine farmers were shot dead by the carabineros and a baby died of suffocation. From conceptualism, Camnitzer addressed the unequal distribution of the land’s property and violent repression.
The New York Graphic Workshop group, of which Camnitzer was part from 1964, overhauled the technical medium of print-making to the contemporary world as they sought to develop it in the face of its traditional subordination to drawing and painting. Camnitzer focused on text to delve into the spatial meaning and context of the art image; basing his work on the idea of reproducibility and the seriation of printmaking techniques, he took an interest in the descriptive and evocative role of language. As he would write in the exhibition catalogue in Chile, he was looking for the keys to liberate creation, turning it into public property and revaluing the perception of reality “without escapism or opiates”.
In the Puerto Montt Massacre, text is treated in accordance with the spatial concepts of minimalism, yet the work moves away from reductionism to concentrate on meaning. Words are written in pencil on the walls, while on the floor there are nine bullet trajectories, created from a series of pencil-drawn dotted lines, each one with the inscription “horizontal projection of the bullet trajectory…” and the corresponding number to count the shots. The phrase keeps the descriptive coldness of a sign, in the same way as the wall texts provide information on the embrasures, the weapons and the soldiers that riddled the farmers’ huts with bullets in the middle of the occupied land.
As Camnitzer recalls, Puerto Montt Massacre was misunderstood: “the Right dismissed the work as biased and the Left due to a lack of bloodstains, a detail required in order for it to be dubbed political art”. The installation was made in a context where a generation of Latin American artists asserted themselves to make influential art on political reality, and at a time in which an interest in the conceptualism of semiotics and linguistic structuralism was the prevailing focus. The conceptual rigour of the installation has been a determining factor for the Museo Reina Sofía to include it in this section of the Collection.