I had the good fortune of meeting María Verónica San Martín at the recent Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair. Ms. San Martín was showcasing her work at the Fair, and the quality was very impressive indeed. Ms. San Martín was born in Santiago de Chile in 1981. In 2006 she graduated of graphic design from Universidad Finis Terrae with high distinction and complements her studies with a Diploma at the MAC Academy. She then received an MA in Art and the Book at the Corcoran College of Art and Design sponsored by a scholarship from the government of Chile. The variety of printmaking techniques she learned at Corcoran allows her to apply her design vision towards the construction of hand made books using a variety of mediums. Focusing on such hand made books allows her to “gather her thoughts, her identity and her aesthetic style through a mix between the art and graphic design.”
Ms. San Martín bases her work “on the construction of memory through visual layers to articulate how Chile made its history during a time of dictatorship and upheaval of Pinochet from 1973-1990.” Her work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group shows including the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, The French Embassy in Washington D.C., the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Arsenal Center of Letterpress in Massachusetts. Her work is part of the collections of Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, Yale University (Art of the Book Library), Harvard University Art Library, The New York Public Library, Stanford University (Special collection), University of California- San Diego (Special collection), the Athenaeum Music & Art Library, as well as other special collections within the United States, and private collectors. She was a finalist of the National Museum of Women in the Arts Fellowship 2012 and interned at Hand Print Workshop during the summer of 2012.
Ms. San Martín tells us:
As a printmaker I have focused my work on creating artist’s books and prints that tell the political history of my country, Chile. My main goal is to observe and reflect on socio- political events. I base my work on the construction of memory through visual layers to articulate how Chile made its history during a time of dictatorship and upheaval of Pinochet (1973-1990).
I have dealt with themes exploring Western culture, and once established in the U.S. I have had the distance to observe the differences between the local world and the periphery. My work is a representation of history through arts, and an exploration of crossings between the world of human rights and the process of printing in itself.
I attempt to relive the experience and visually explore the atmosphere that existed in Chile during troubled years by using techniques such as silkscreen, woodcut and etching where the identities of the victims and landscapes are represented by drawings. To me, the printmaking process itself creates an analogy to that of a dictatorship changing to a democracy. The image disappears (limestone etchings or screen washes) and reappears (printed on paper) as a renaissance in search of justice and truth.
In addition, I complement my body of work with the representation of landscapes, specifically with the horizontal lines and how these constitute a composition. I attempt to bring a specific moment to the present and provide the viewer with a shared perspective. I try to decontextualize a specific moment and bring it to the present by seeking the intersection between two scenarios and different times through the juxtaposition of layers to create a new atmosphere. Lithography and woodcuts allows me to merge these two stages by mixing color photo plates with the hand drawings on limestones, and with the reduction technique and multiple color wood blocks.
When asked about whose works have inspired her, Ms. San Martín responded:
I love the work of Ken Campbell, maybe because of his conceptual approach and all the risk he takes in the moment to run the press. It all ends up in a very interesting image made about lot of layers and passion. I also like the books by Anselm Kiefer which has the proximity to the subject of the Second World War. I admire the way he interprets the topic through his experience, materiality and dark colors.
While Ms. San Martín has spent the last four years in Washington DC, she has just now moved back to Chile, where she is currently setting up shop. What follows is a quick look at two of Ms. San Martín’s works.
In Their Memory
In Their Memory is…:
…a book of resistance that carries forward the protest begun by the families of the disappeared in Chile during the military dictatorship (1973-1990). More than forty thousand political prisoners were victims of torture, execution and exile, and 35,501 people disappeared. Nameless crosses are all that they have received by way of a burial. It is to honor the missing and their families that this object-book seeks to disseminate and communicate human rights’ violations in Chile. By documenting the identities of the victims, ‘In Their Memory’ also invites reflection and puts forth a message of hope founded in truth.
The structure –flag book– was conceived so that the piece could be read both in a conventional and sculptural manner; it was also designed to provoke the visual impact that an issue as painful as that of the abuses committed in Chile deserves. My goal was to produce something powerful –something that could create a response commensurate with the horror of the injustices perpetrated in Chile. The images of the victims’ faces draw attention to the suffering and despair of those who have not yet been able to find their disappeared relatives. The protest, then, involves names and naming, identity, the right to life and death.
The portraits were found in memoriaviva.com and, using Photoshop, mounted over the original photograph of one of the many demonstrations that have taken place in Chile. On the back of the accordion, the image of the Government Palace, “La Moneda”, directs the protest at the State and exposes it as responsible for the abuses. The text of the book lists the names of a group of missing prisoners. The names are divided into eighteen columns, alluding to the various memorials erected by the families of the disappeared to remember their relatives and fellow militants.
The binding was made by hand, using white bookcloth for the front and back covers; the title and name of the author were screen-printed on both covers. Each page was sewn with a red thread to the structure of the accordion, leaving a space in between the two sides of the page. Bits of red thread symbolizing the blood of those killed were left hanging out at both ends.
The book consists of eighteen pages printed on both sides. The images of the Government Palace and of the victims’ faces were screen-printed in one and three colors, respectively. The text was printed digitally using an Epson plotter and was written in Courier font so as to suggest a reading of the book as document of historical facts.
The format is vertical and measures 71/4 x 121/4 inches when closed. Once it is open it is 7 inches high x 40 inches wide. Each page comprises three ‘flags’ of 4 x 6 inches.
Here are some pictures:
Memory and Landscape: Unveiling the Historic Truths of Chile 1973 – 1990
Memory and Landscape: Unveiling the Historical Truths of Chile is…:
…a book about the disappearance and murder of people in Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Human rights violations are represented in the book trough etching techniques by building an alternative visual medium to indicate the injustices committed in between 1973 and 1990.
The book is divided into two parts: the first one, hand-sewn with a French seam of red crosses, tells the history of human rights violations through a chronological timeline of the historical accounts, fourteen biographies of the disappeared and executed (randomly selected), and the full list of victims from according to the Rettig Report (National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation) in both English and Spanish; the second part is an accordion structure printed on both sides. Through silkscreen and the inclusion of charcoal powder on one side of the accordion we can see the faces of those printed biographies that were previously indicated by the text. On the other side we see seven historic facts in chronological order made in wood engraving and printed in black ink on Japanese paper.
The front cover, back cover, and the center page, which divides the book into two sections, have been made by prints in dry point and aquatint with four colors printed on Reeves BFK cream paper. Here we see landscapes like mountains and the ocean, where the bodies were thrown. The book is contained within a clamshell box covered with black linen. This box contains two engraved etchings; the outside one made with color and the inside printed in black and white.
The book is designed to be read as a conventional manner and also as a sculpture. The accordion structure allows a second reading where the book becomes three-dimensionally with the intention of achieving a greater visual impact. The book format was chosen as an artistic medium to be part of the collective memory of Chile. As a book will always remain open and, therefore, ontologically means a struggle for the dignity of the victims of the dictatorship and their families.
In summary, images are etchings dry points, aquatint, woodcuts, and screenprints printed on Rives BFK heavyweight cream paper. The binding has a French stitching and an accordion structure, contained inside of a clamshell box covered with linen book cloth. The text was printed in two languages; English and Spanish. The typeface is Courier and Elemental Sans. The book is limited to 10 copies.
To see a short video on the making of Memory and Landscape, see the following video:
What is Next?
Ms. San Martín’s plan for the next two years is to print a trilogy. This volume will include the political story of Chile from 1973-2014. It will be called something like “Memory and Landscape: (I) Dictatorship, (II) Transition and (III) Civil Society Awakening.” While her objective is “to print, publish, and disseminate work related to socio-political issues all over the world“, I asked her if she ever intended to expand into publishing books in the realm of literature, poetry, etc., and she responded with:
I am now setting up my studio and press in Santiago-Chile, and would be great to print some Chilean literature, poems, essays or stories aside of my personal projects, which involve more socio-political issues. I am always open to collaborate or print any kind of material which I feel compelled to disseminate.
I hope so, as from the quick look I had at here work, she has a huge well of talent, and clearly an artistic sense that gives her vast potential to explore literature. Chilean literature/poetry, and in fact such from all of Central and South America, provide a fantastic set of opportunities for someone willing and able to publish great works in finely done editions. Ms. San Martín is represented by Brooklyn Artist Alliance and Joshua Heller Rare Books in Washington D.C.