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The distortions are proportional to the tensions I, II & III is a triptych comprised of three works executed in pencil on paper. Each drawing depicts a map of the southern cone of South America, focusing on the area occupied by Argentina and its close neighbours Chile, Uruguay and Brazil. It derives from one of Zabala’s two principal series, both of which were executed in the context of the two periods of military dictatorship in Argentina (1966–73 and 1976–83) and during the tense interim years. In these works Zabala intervened in the geography of the continent by distorting the area of Argentina and, more specifically, the Rio de la Plata, the widest river in the world. Formed by the confluence of the Uruguay and Paraná Rivers, the Rio de la Plata lies between Uruguay and Argentina and was to become notorious as a site of atrocities during Argentina’s Dirty War. More unusually, in this triptych, a box which is divided into a grid is superimposed over the area of distortion.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1943, Zabala received a degree in architecture from the Universidad de Buenos Aires. He held his first solo exhibition in 1967 and began to published his theoretical and art writings in 1972. He has also curated numerous exhibitions. The first of these, organised in 1975 with Edgardo-Antonio Vigo, was entitled Última exposición internacional de artecorreo (The Last International Mail Art Exhibition) and took place at the Galería Arte Nuevo in Buenos Aires, with 210 artists from twenty-five countries. Zabala emigrated to Europe in 1976, living in Rome, Vienna and then Geneva for a total of twenty-two years before returning to Argentina in 1998. He currently lives and works in Buenos Aires.
Zabala is a key representative of Argentinean conceptualism, in particular the art that emerged after the demise of the Di Tella Institute and the actions of the project Tucumán Arde in 1968. From 1972 he was affiliated with the Grupo de los trece, later called Grupo CAYC, which addressed political and social systems in Latin America from the perspective of scientific and technological models. In the case of Zabala, the programmatic aspects of architecture as well as the particularities of architectural representation became characteristic of this conceptual practice, which he materialised through models provided by drafts, blueprints and project-based proposals.
Zabala’s Jail works, dating from the early 1970s, operated on this basis, articulating a subtle critique of the dictatorial regime by way of his projects for diverse architectures of confinement. The skills of the draftsman are also key to Zabala’s series of maps of Latin America, which highlight particular relations between geopolitics and power; the image of the map is in some cases interrupted by rubber stamps and in other cases distorted to convey fictional geographies. His series of deformed maps reflects on the traumas inflicted by conflict and repression, not only on the social fabric of a given society but also in the way it conceives of, uses, and organises its territory. The ‘deformed’ geographies of conflict-ridden places, such as Argentina during military dictatorship, speak of a disembowelled and disjointed country.
Alongside the Jail series, works such as The distortions are proportional to the tensions I, II & III constitute a singular approach to conceptual practices in Argentina. These drawings from the early 1970s have also been reinscribed in recent debates on memory and justice, as Argentina comes to terms with the years of dictatorship and a legacy of violence, repression, disappearances and assassinations.
Horacio Zabala: Anteproyectos (1972–1978), exhibition catalogue, Fundación Alon para Las Artes, Buenos Aires 2007.
‘Horacio Zabala’, undated, http://www.horaciozabala.com.ar/english/bio.html, accessed November 2009.
Julieta Gonzalez and Tanya Barson