Departmental Collaboration Brings Memphis Cartonera to Clough-Hanson Gallery

various shelves of books and blocks of colorful art

This semester, Joel Parsons, director of the Clough-Hanson Gallery, and Dr. Elizabeth Pettinaroli of the Department of Modern Languages, along with the Memphis Cartonera fellows, have joined forces to produce “Memphis Cartonera: Cooperative Publishing, Art, and Action.” The project is designed to transform Clough-Hanson Gallery into a cooperative publishing house, library, and showcase.  The collaboration kicked off with an opening reception featuring the work of Artist-in-Residence Nelson Gutierrez and examples of Cartonera cooperative publishing on Jan. 27. A public exhibition of the works will remain on display until March 18. Throughout the month of February, Gutierrez will host a workshop and artist talks and Memphis Cartonera will host events focusing on the Cartonera publishing movement. 

Gutierrez, who is originally from Bogota, Colombia, now lives and works in Memphis. Since the early 1990s, Gutierrez’s main artistic focus has been on two- and three-dimensional artworks, conceptual objects, and installations, based on current sociopolitical issues. “His work often combines beautiful materials and forms and a really skilled hand with politically charged images and content,” says Parsons.

Emerging during the economic crisis of 2001 in Argentina, Cartonera publishing is an innovative movement dedicated to bringing together literature and art to offer a space to the voiceless, to democratize access, and to work in sustainable ways.  The originators of the movement devised a simple and effective model of purchasing recycled cardboard at fair prices and abandoning the notion of “copyright” as a natural concept. Instead, they adopt “copy-left” as their working principle, by which up-and-coming and established authors donate their literary work to participate in cooperative publishing. Cartonera publishing made its way to Memphis through the work of Pettinaroli, who has researched the movement in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Memphis Cartonera, founded through Pettinaroli’s class Community and Literature in Hispanic Memphis and Latin America, is a cooperative publishing house dedicated to democratizing literature and art, fostering literacy, working in sustainable ways, and rethinking the place of the humanities in the world.

The intersections between Gutierrez’s and Memphis Cartoneras’ distinct and innovative forms of expression are exactly what Parsons hopes will fuel the series. “I wanted to connect the work of the Cartonera [publishing house] with the work of a local artist as a way of complicating and contextualizing it, and also as a way of increasing the contact between students and professionals, and between these two kinds of expression,” he explains. “Nelson’s art complements the work of the Cartonera really nicely, and I’m excited to see how conversations develop between them.”

This interplay is also a key aspect of the project itself. “I try to collaborate with other departments and programs whenever I can,” says Parsons. “It makes the work I do in the gallery a lot more exciting, a lot more relevant, and much richer. Dr. Pettinaroli and Memphis Cartonera fellows brought new knowledge into the gallery, and they initiated some challenging and important conversations about what we do as artists or art organizers, and I think they were challenged by the new context as well. That’s what makes it a really exciting collaboration.”

The next event with Gutierrez will be a Spanish-language workshop on Art and Politics at 1 p.m. on Feb. 22 in Clough-Hanson Gallery. The gallery is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 11a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is free.

By Kenneth Piper ’17