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09 October 2023
This month's topic: Poetic Recodification of Collective ImaginationResident Editor: Constanza Mendoza


Conversation with the collective ICONOCLASISTAS Julia Risler and Pablo Ares


CM: I wanted to invite you to talk about the concept of “Cosmopolitics” above all because I was interested in the ways, tools and processes you activate in your workshops, critically questioning the idea of truth in the development of alternative cartographies. In another interview, you explain how traditional cartography is a key tool that power has used to construct an idea of truth, while you, on the other hand, use similar tools to generate counter-narratives in processes of collective creation.

JR: We criticize the idea of truth with a capital letter, that is, as a single, universal truth usually constructed by different dominant powers, such as the State, the media, public opinion, a truth of historical construction that is made in relation to a particular subject. What we work on, in relation to that image, are situated truths that are partial truths. They are subjective truths that have a lot to do with the information, knowledge and experiences that each of those who are participating in the construction of that collective knowledge contribute. These are not positioned as a unique story but rather it is always a partial story and, above all, a subjective story, where what is translated are the specific interests of the participants in relation to the territory and the theme of the workshop. It becomes very clear where people are coming from, with what objectives and for whom. This does not ignore the fact that the map has a truth effect towards the outside that is perceived as something that is really a scientific or technical narrative about a territory. However, the way we work has nothing to do with that but rather about questioning the maps that circulate most frequently, the ones we know from educational, cultural or political contexts.

PA: Maps and graphics appear as something sacred, as if what they say is true and there is not much we can do about it. It is in eyes of those who see it. We play with that, too, because it increases the message and the political power that the map has, of the sacredness people ascribe to maps. It’s hard to believe that maps still have that aura.

Mapamundi, 2019. Research that highlights the work of rural and peasant women who produce 70% of the food we eat, and of whom only 13% own the land.

JR: As if the map really were the territory.

PA: This is neither good nor bad. People believe in maps, graphs, charts, graphics and statistics.

CM: It is fascinating how your work challenges the ideological weight of the production of truth by using collaborative tools to generate counter-narratives. Is this discussed among the participants during the development of the workshops?

JR: It is something that we always discuss, because apart from that I think that there are always very diverse subjectivities. In the same workshop you can have the affected community, the technician who is trying to resolve the issue, activists who are trying to raise awareness in the community, researchers who are speculating, and people who don’t agree that this is even a conflict. So, in fact, we work from very diverse perspectives, but the workshops always have common horizons. They usually have to do with transformative views of a territory and with people who want to make a diagnosis in order to be able to say: What can we do with this? What resources does the involved community have? The process is always very corporal and people can talk about the territory but can also intervene in that territory in very diverse ways, whether it be in a pedagogical, territorial, social, or cultural way. We always accompany the workshops with small interventions based on presentations we make about the importance of the map. There is the question of ideology in a map (a map is always created from an “interested” perspective), and we work from what Donna Haraway calls “embodied objectivity” [1]Haraway, Donna ”Situated Knowledges. The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” (1988). Donna Haraway defined the term “situated knowledges” as a means of … Continue reading, that is, the point of view from which we are looking. It’s very important that this is clear. We always return to the famous phrase that “the map is not the territory.” We make maps, but the map is going to be put together from the knowledge, experience and understanding that the participants bring with them and which they manage to express in three, four or five days of work. There will always be many things left out, that is why the map is always situated and partial.

PA: The participants are sometimes key people in the community and, sometimes, there are also community interests that are not expressed in the workshop, but it is important that people know what the map will be used for later. That is, perhaps it is in order to question the government, perhaps not, but people can always dialogue with the government and with institutions, and a map can help them question their interests. There are people who participate, who have a vision, a particular way of seeing, and sometimes they are the ones who lead the workshop. That is, the workshop can be led by these people who are working and who are shaping the map, they give the map content, and these people already know, or at least they already intuit, more than we do, what it will be used for. We may have a general idea, but they already know what the map will be used for. This is what makes it so powerful, that since there are people who know what the map will be used for later, they can appropriate it, they can feel it is truly theirs and they take it back. It stops belonging to the creators or the institution that promotes it and the people appropriate and distribute it.

JR: They always use it. They understand that it is a work-in-progress and that the map has to be continually added to.

PA: They appropriate it, it’s amazing!

JR: After the workshop, all this information takes shape in the form of a map or any other type of device that we design. This is not the case in all workshops, but it is in some. Obviously, there is a process of our mediation, editing, and curating. Beyond the previously established objectives, the what, why and for whom, there is always our contribution, a graphic, aesthetic proposal, a form of communication, based a lot on the sensibilities displayed in the workshop and on what we felt. From experience, we tend to intuit where to go, what to focus on, what type of images, symbology, and cosmovision represent the community so that they feel identified with that tool, and they can take it back and reappropriate it.

PA: The participants feel empowered and they keep it going afterwards! In our experience, we realize that if we give someone a greater say, that map will have greater legitimacy.

JR: Usually these are figures that represent the community and obviously have a lot to do with female figures, with the women organizing in the territory and who have established networks. We try to find a historical figure or some figure that we can stereotype in a good way, whether it be a peasant, a woman from a native village, or a domestic worker related to the workshop. We understand how this can be a singer’s voice to visually represent and to produce this form of identification with the participants in that workshop. Obviously, this varies depending a lot on the composition of each workshop, the process carried out and the objectives it has.

CM: The fact that they appropriate it is a sign that the workshop has been a success, right?

JR: Totally. It is our greatest pride and pleasure to hear people say: “we did the job well, we are pleased, we will take it in this direction now.” A successful objective for us is when the participants make it their own, that is what we strive for.

CM: It’s not just about making the map, it’s about making it useful.

JR: That’s the key word, useful. I remember the exhibition at the Reina Sofía Un saber realmente útil (A Truly Useful Knowledge) [2]Exhibition Un saber realmente útil (A Truly Useful Knowledge), Museo Reina Sofía:   which I identified with. For us, it has a lot to do with that. It really is a contribution, a small grain of sand in a process that is already underway in the territory. It’s great when our maps work in that way.

Anagrams. Schemes to dynamise and systematise workshops. It consists of chains of analogies triggered by a powerful graphic image that facilitates critical reflection on different themes and territories, by affinity or similarity with the central figure. Iconoclasts

CM: After so many years working with so many social groups, how do you think more processes of collective imagination could be developed as a transformative force capable of resisting the attacks of the right and the serious political polarization that we are experiencing?

JR: (…) Yes, I do think in terms of political imagination, but very territorialized, very much from the micropolitical point of view in order to create networks, to find elective, group and collective affinities, and not the other way around. Not going from big to small but starting small and moving up because it really is another world. Not just because we are in 2023, but also because of everything the pandemic left us that we still can’t see. I haven’t read anyone really analyzing the subjective and mental health effects which I see a lot in my 20, 22-year old students. Mental health, a rejection of the other, a fear of meeting others, the impossibility of building ties, these are all structural issues and so we have to think about them in terms of political imagination, and when this is happening at the grassroots level it is difficult. First, we must do something about this, see if this is really a constitution of a new subjectivity or just something temporary that must be given space and time. With both political radicalization and with people who are afraid and who cannot or find it very difficult to connect and establish bonds, not only emotional ones in terms of couples but also in terms of friendship and in groups. We are in a very complicated moment, so I prefer to return to the micro level, to look at the small things to see what we can do here, how to build them here, what to do here.

PA: I’m more geopolitical, that is, I’m more European, which is why I like maps. For example, there are going to be wars in different places because of the amount of weapons manufacturing there. If they make more weapons, there will be more wars. Yet, there are no anti-war marches in Europe, something that was very common 20 years ago. Back then, we all got together, all types of collectives, anti-capitalists, feminists, indigenous peoples, all the collectives mixed together and we were there together, even if there was some “I don’t think like you.” It was the same anti-Vietnam War tradition that continued until not so long ago, but now I don’t really understand what’s happening.


[Cover image: Salud (Health), 2021. Map and body diagram that reveal the impacts on the health of communities in different South American regions as a consequence of the existence of extractive industry projects. Carried out from an online training workshop with participants from Latin America within the framework of the “Introduction to the Analysis of Health Processes in Extractivist Contexts.” Organized by INSSA, with the support of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, September-December 2020.]

1 Haraway, Donna ”Situated Knowledges. The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” (1988). Donna Haraway defined the term “situated knowledges” as a means of understanding that all knowledge comes from positional perspectives. Our positionality inherently determines what it is possible to know about an object of interest. Understanding situated knowledge “allows us to take responsibility for what we learn to see.”
2 Exhibition Un saber realmente útil (A Truly Useful Knowledge), Museo Reina Sofía:

Duo formed by Julia Risler (Province of Córdoba, 1973) and Pablo Ares (Province of Buenos Aires, 1965). They develop projects combining graphic art, creative workshops and collective research.

In 2008 they began to hold collective mapping workshops and in 2013 they published a manual, where they share methodologies, resources and dynamics for their self-organization. Since 2017, they have provided training workshops in this type of tools and continue to develop workshops in situated research processes, many of them culminating in the creation of cartographic devices that synthesize that journey. They developed workshops in Latin America and Europe, and participated in exhibitions in museums in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Spain, the United States, France, Holland, Lebanon, Mexico and Portugal, among others.

They were awarded the Curry Stone Design Prize (United States, 2017) and the BID12 prize in Graphic Design and Audiovisual Communication (Spain, 2012).

Constanza Mendoza (Chuquicamata, 1971) Visual artist and researcher based in Berlin. Through multimodal and multisited collective practices, my research responds to the need to overcome the disciplinary structures of the division of labor and the subjugation of subjectivity to the control of capital. In this context, artistic practices serve me as processes for acquiring and producing knowledge, while allowing me to cross the margins of the regime of truth that imposes servitude to the ideology of capital.


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