Irene Kopelman, one of the two artists exhibiting this week at the MALBA (photo via Christian Kryl).

Last Thursday saw the opening of two new exhibitions and, as ever, the museum did not fail to impress. Perón, a collection of over a hundred black and white photographs by Argentine photographer Sara Facio can be found in the Silvia N. Braier room, a room which, since 2015, has been host to a cycle of exhibitions highlighting the work of female Latin American artists.

Facio’s photographs will be the last exhibition part of the Silvia N. Braier program, but it does seem to have left a strong legacy. The first exhibition to follow it is Córdoba-born Irene Kopelman’s Puntos cardinales, which can be found down on level -1. Though very different in medium, both bodies of work seem concerned with the same thing: the documenting of Argentina at one point in time, in one way or another.

Sara Facio: Perón

Perón is made up of photographs taken between 1972 and 1974, a period of two years spanning Juan Domingo Perón’s return to Argentina from his exile in Madrid, to the day of his death. Correspondingly, the exhibition’s photographs are full of faces, with expressions ranging from pure joy to mute grief, depending on the state of their beloved president.

A photograph by Sara Facio which she refers to as 'Los muchachos' (photo via Malba's website).
A photograph by Sara Facio which she refers to as ‘Los muchachos’ (photo via Malba’s website).

 

During the exhibition’s inaugural talk at the MALBA last Wednesday, Sara Facio spoke with photographer Silvia Mangialardi and the curator Ataúlfo Pérez Aznar. When asked what were her main intentions during the years in which she took the photographs, she maintained that she was not a political person and neither was the agenda of her work political. In that sense, her aim was simply “to record the contagious happiness of the Peronist era and, equally, the mass grief across all ages and classes upon his death”.

Sara Facio captured the emotion of an era (photo via the Malba's website).
Sara Facio captured the emotions of an era (photo via the Malba’s website).

 

Facio’s love for photography as a medium is in part born of a deep appreciation of its capacity to preserve a moment in time. She likes to think of it as being more accurate than history itself: the latter can be subject to interpretation, whereas photography directly mirrors reality. The factual nature of her photographs does not mean that they lack feeling, however. Indeed, even ones that don’t feature people engage the viewer’s empathy; photographs of posters and buildings are still somehow seem charged with emotion.

During the selection process, a problem arose when Curator Ataúlfo Peréz Aznar was attracted to a certain kind of photograph. He wanted to feature pictures with “man’s things”, as the artist referred to them: weapons, soldiers, and police; in short, scenes of conflict. But the photographer explained that to her, the Peronist era was about much more than that. Her aim was to document things, happenings, people, their actions and interactions, “because they were there, and they happened”.

Perón bunting (photo via the Malba's website).
Perón bunting (photo via the Malba’s website).

 

They did agree, however, that the order of the photographs should be chronological. Thus in spite of the tension between depicting the era in strong, dramatic photographs according to the curator’s taste and Facio’s desire for objectivity and photographs of technically sound composition, it seems that there was no doubt as to the historical value of her work.

Another nod towards Facio’s role as documenter can be found in the cabinet in the middle of the room, containing contact sheets with shots from the more than thirty rolls of film she used to record the eventful two years, along with the press passes which allowed her first-hand, front-row access to their most potent moments.

Irene Kopelman: Puntos cardinales 

Slump (photo via Malba's website).
Irene Kopelman’s ‘Slump’ sculpture (photo via Malba’s website).

 

Puntos cardinales is Irene Kopelman’s first solo exhibition in Argentina. Born in Córdoba in 1974, Kopelman has been living and working in Holland since 2002. For her latest exhibition, however, she turns her mind towards her homeland, specifically towards the provinces of Córdoba, San Juan, and Chubut, where she embarked on various scientific expeditions in each region. Over the course of two years, she collaborated with scientists and experts to create an extensive body of work consisting of drawings, paintings, field notes, a sculpture and an installation.

Mesocosmos, a representation of the ecosystems where the artist completed fieldwork for her artistic project (photo author's own).
Mesocosmos, a representation of the ecosystems where the artist completed fieldwork for her artistic project (photo author’s own)

Kopelman has always had a keen interest in the natural sciences and, as an artist, her work is concerned with the overlap between science and art as tools for understanding our environment. For her, the appeal of a scientific approach to observing nature lies not only in the aesthetic study of minerals, organisms, and such, but also in the technical methods involved in scientific investigations of the natural world.

As a result, her work is consistently meticulous. Attention to detail is as evident in her delicate sketches of plants, roots, and seaweed as in the two-meter long canvas displaying a chromatic scheme based on the analytical study of the colors of rocks found in a certain location.

'Slump' sculpture: a ceramic cast of a three hundred and twenty million year old slump, a folding layer of earth due to deformation (photo author's own).
‘Slump’: a ceramic cast of a three hundred and twenty million year old slump, a folding layer of earth due to deformation (photo author’s own).

She also frequently employs scientific apparatus for the creation of her art. For her collection of drawings “Cuadrata,” for example, she used a quadrate, an instrument used to delimit an area for the exploration of an ecosystem. And this penchant for scientific method is prevalent in her artistic process as much as in the presentation of her work: the drawings are framed between two square glass panels reminiscent of microscope slides.

For the exhibition’s opening, the artist came along to give a walking tour of her work, accompanied not only by the curator Carina Cagnolo but, aptly, by scientists Natalia Pérez Harguindeguy, Emilio Vaccari and Alejandro Bartolus too. Kopelman highlighted the importance of their role in the creation of her work: “It’s a language, what the layers in the earth say. To decode the information that nature conveys and how species function, I needed these experts to read the language of nature for me.”

Artist Kopelman at the MALBA, with the team of scientists and experts which helped inform her work (photo by Ariel G. Iturbide).
Artist Kopelman at the MALBA, with the team of scientists and experts which helped inform her work (photo by Ariel G. Iturbide).

 

Both artists succeed in documenting a part of Argentina, whether that be its past and people, or its wildlife. But although the artists’ motives seem near identical, Kopelman consciously avoids photography- which would be the most accurate, mathematical method of depicting her subject matter- since her interests lie in the grey area between fact and its artistic representation.

Thus whereas one body of work forms a kind of social and national memory, the other observes the current state of the natural world and offers her interpretation, as an artist, of Argentina’s natural landscape.

The exhibitions will be showing in the MALBA until July, Puntos cardinales until the 23rd and Perón until the 30th.