Dittborn, a painter, printmaker, and video artist, is perhaps best known for his Airmail series, to which this screenprint belongs. In 8 Survivors, the artist has used an eclectic mix of sources, including newspaper articles, police photographs, children's drawings, and excerpts from ethnographic textbooks. Like the other works in the series, the large sheet of paper is folded, sent by mail, and finally exhibited unfolded and pinned to the wall alongside its envelope. Dittborn began his Airmail series in 1983, when Chile was under military dictatorship, and, initially at least, it was a means of addressing and transcending problems of isolation and censorship. The faces in these works have also been interpreted as reminders of the thousands of political prisoners who "disappeared" during this time. The artist has likened the envelopes to a protective skin or womb, and the process of uncovering the artwork is akin to unfolding a lost or forgotten story.
Gallery label from Printin', February 15-May 14, 2012.
Living in Chile during the harsh military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Dittborn made his artworks look like letters or correspondence to circumvent official scrutiny and potential censorship. Among the earliest of Dittborn's Airmail Paintings, 8 Survivors, like the other works in the series, is meant to travel. This large sheet of butcher paper, printed with images from found photographs and texts from criminology magazines, anthropology textbooks, newspapers, and other sources, can be folded for easy transport from one exhibition venue to the next via international post. The envelope listing title, date, final destination, and postage is always displayed alongside the unfurled "painting" (actually a screenprint), indicating that it has been on the road. Dittborn, indifferent to the creases, tears, and other marks of wear the work accumulates while in transit, has explained, "The traveling is . . . the political element of my paintings." Dittborn's subterfuge has facilitated the passage of his artwork around the world; it allowed the "eight survivors" pictured in this work to slip through national borders as surrogates for the many less fortunate victims of Pinochet's regime. Discussing this work, Dittborn has described it as a "Noah's Ark — a place of connection, reunion, and transport that gives the possibility of survival."
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 80.
A painter, printmaker, and video artist, Eugenio Dittborn is best known for his "Airmail paintings," which are folded, mailed, exhibited, and then remailed to another recipient. In these works, found photographs from criminology magazines, anthropology textbooks, and other sources, along with handwritten texts, children's drawings, and other elements are screenprinted on or otherwise attached to large sheets of brown paper or fabric. Pinned to the wall in a way that emphasizes their creases and physical vulnerability, the works are always shown with their envelopes, concrete reminders that they have been traveling. Printmaking is a significant aspect of Dittborn's oeuvre. The artist studied lithography and other techniques at various institutions in Chile and in Europe, and he has self-published numerous prints in small editions since 1978. For the "Airmail" works, he uses photo-screenprinting as an alternative to traditional painting and printmaking since it lends itself so well to reproducing appropriated images. While many of the "Airmail" pieces are unique, some, such as 8 Survivors, are produced in small variant editions. Dittborn's format and imagery are meant to operate on several metaphorical levels. Situated within a tradition of contemporary Latin American art concerned with social and political issues, his work specifically emphasizes the distances—geographical, historical, and psychological—that separate post-colonial Latin America from the world's social and cultural centers. He began making the "Airmail" works in 1983, when Chile was under military dictatorship, and, initially at least, they were a means of addressing and transcending problems of isolation and censorship. The faces in these works have also been interpreted as reminders of the thousands of political prisoners who "disappeared" during this time. The artist has likened the envelopes to a protective skin or womb, and the process of uncovering the artwork is akin to unfolding a lost or forgotten story.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Starr Figura, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 213.