One of Fernando Bryce’s (Lima, 1965) most consistent and reiterated lines of work is that which reveals the existence of a potential history. A history that, repeating the same images, documents, and events that were useful for narrating it in the past, is able to generate a new narrative. However, that empowerment with respect to the past is produced through an unexpected politics that consists of deploying extensive series of drawings: overlays that reproduce the magazines, newspapers, and publications of a historical period situated before and after World War II, a time marked by the hegemony of print media. Today that enormous quantity of printed paper that had such a major influence in shaping a new world order—that both offered the world a universal declaration of human rights and a new geopolitical distribution—constitutes an enormous source of archive material. That “documentary universe” that, as the artist says, he converts “into a new reality through drawing,” is the foundation of what many of his critics have called “mimetic analysis.”
It is not a coincidence that these concerns began to forcefully emerge in 1999, when Fernando Bryce’s work started taking shape and he became prominent. Following the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO)—in which social movements ousted hegemonic forms of politics from their central role—the protesters took ownership of the logic of the event. That radical change, which recognized the multitude as the subject and agent of new forms of political action, made it possible to think that the event was something that could be “produced.” It was no longer necessary to wait for it to happen. Global citizenry held the power in its hands to make something occur. That new agency is, undoubtably, what Fernando Bryce evokes in his work. In his case, the repetition of history is what produces a new narrative that empowers us against consolidated interpretations of the past.
The project, Allende-Apollo XI, that was shown in the UNAM’s Geology Museum for inSite/Casa Gallina in 2018–19, adds additional complexity to his mimetic analysis. On that occasion, Bryce not only repeated history, but also summoned two highly significant events that occurred in 1969 in places very far from each other: the arrival of Apollo XI on the moon in July, and the arrival of a huge meteor that fell to the ground on the outskirts of the city of Allende, in the state of Chihuahua, northern Mexico, in February. Together they form an assemblage of events with unexplored consequences. The first, despite the poor images transmitted from the Apollo Lunar Module, became a media event. As one television report proclaimed, “all humanity was participating.” The second filled newspaper pages and attracted the attention of the scientific community. A large number of chondritic rocks, some of which weighed nearly two tons, were distributed among several laboratories, which made the Allende meteorite one of the most documented in history.
The confluence of the two events not only calls into question forms of media attention and their enormous influence on the construction of the events that go on to form part of history. As Hayden White would say, assemblage has repercussions in “the way history is narrated.” However, what is at stake this time is not the management and monitorizing of attention that can bring one event to steal the spotlight from another. Fernando Bryce has correctly highlighted “the similar methods of work” used to gather both the moon rocks and the meteorites: a technology that, since the Renaissance, has been linked to extractivist policies. These policies not only lead to a North-South confrontation, but they also revert to those historical mechanisms that legitimize a conception of the nation, from which the museum is not exempt. This is how the revenue of an institution hosting the collections of meteorites multiplies its capacity of ideological radiation. Lucero Morelos Rodríguez synthesized that process, explaining that “the appropriation of the meteorites, as an inalienable resource belonging to the Mexican nation, has also been a process of forging and authenticating territoriality and, to a certain extent, nationalism.”
While Morelos Rodríguez was referring to the history of the Mexico City Mining Palace with its famous portico flanked by meteorites, her observation can be extrapolated to this era in which the exploitation of natural resources has reached a scale that defies planetary limits. The new axis of injustices revolves around a systematic dispossession brought to light by the assemblage of these two events referenced in Bryce’s work. Two caricatures brought together in one of the fifteen serigraphs that form part of the Allende-Apollo XI signal perplexity in the face of that extractivist tendency. They do so in a humorous tone that follows the perceptions of common people. In response to news headlines that announced that the rocks were being moved to the United States to study them “within a strictly controlled environment” – by scientists at the Smithsonian Institution – one says, “Not even what falls to us directly from the sky is ours!” And the other, in front of an exposed meteorite, reflects, “that is the difference: what is nothing more than a big rock for us, is a true treasure for them.” In equivalent terms to that which Robert Nichols denominates as the “theory of dispossession,” it would be like asking yourself: “What is it like to lose something that you never had,” or, similarly, “What is it like to reclaim something that was never yours?”
However, this logic through which events, places, and times are assembled has generated images that have as much of an impact as that which Mabel Loomis Todd noted in her diary. Accompanying an expedition to observe the surface of Mars from the Atacama desert, she wrote “Although winter in Chile, it was summer on Mars,” an example of the poetics resulting from the juxtaposition of the events, as we have referred to in Bryce’s work. But that was in 1907. A few months later, and a few kilometers from the Alianza Office—from which the telescopes were installed—a massacre would occur in the Domingo Santa María School in Iquiqui. A tragedy that would remain inscribed in the history of repression of the labor movement whose claims inaugurated a period of struggles guided by the same questions with which Robert Nichols would define the theory of dispossession, demands that could also have been those of those brutally massacred workers.
The assemblage of events always hides another event that has not deserved our attention—an event that could be more violent and determinant that those with which it is first compared.