Mail Art Chro No Logy

Geoffrey Cook: The Padín / Caraballo Project

Cook, Geoffrey: The Padín / Caraballo Project, in: Correspondence Art. Source Book for Network of International Postal Art Activity, Contemporary Arts Press, San Francisco, 1984, pp. 369-373

The Padín/Caraballo Project” is a report on the unfortunate circumstances that terminated the mail art careers of Uruguayans Clemente Padín and Jorge Caraballo. Geoffrey Cook was one of two prime organizers who attempted to channel the mail art network’s protest and outrage into constructive action.

In August, 1977 mail artists Clemente Padín and Jorge Caraballo were arrested and “disappeared” within the political prison system of their native Montevideo, Uruguay. It was not until February, 1978 that word reached me of these events.

Clemente Padín is an important contemporary aesthetician. Jorge Caraballo is an important South American artist. Their loss, in my opinion, could only be compared to the loss of a Lorca or a Walter Benjamin. Uruguay, as documented by Amnesty International, had one of the worst human rights records at the time. Torture and clandestine execution of political dissidents (which these artists were) was an almost daily occurrence.

I was greatly perturbed at the news and I initiated a mail art project, the immediate goal of which was to help Caraballo and Padín. In the first general letter distributed to my correspondents within the community, I described the project as “life imitating art.” Strangely, Clemente Padín had created the structure in his investigation of what he called the “language of action,” that is, art that offered direct social/political action.

At the same time, Julien Blaine in France instituted similar actions to help the South Americans. One of the most demanding challenges of this project was to coordinate the efforts of the Europeans and Americans.

The attack became two-pronged. 1. Popular: to get interested individuals to write letters to their governments and the Uruguayan government to influence the decision makers, and to circulate information and documents on the case. 2. Direct: to win the support of influential individuals, organizations, and governments to intercede on behalf of the artists.

The academic sections of the mail art community criticized the efforts of my co-workers as counterproductive. It may be true that rubber stamps with the legends “Uruguay is a Prison” or “Free Padín & Caraballo” didn’t carry much weight with the Uruguayan military, but they did serve to remind the mail art network of our colleagues’ plight.

This project involved the grime of real politik. As Americans we have to confess to our responsibility in Latin America. The generals and colonels who make life and death decisions in Uruguay are in power because the U.S. government gives them the “toys” that establish this power. The situation that Padín and Caraballo were protesting (in his conviction Padín was specifically cited for writing an anti-American tract) was the force that could exact pressure for their release, namely the U.S. government. Both the American and French (through the efforts of Julien Blaine) governments intervened diplomatically through the Uruguayan military. The artists were formally tried by a military court and convicted under Article 58, section II, of the Uruguayan military code for attacking the morale and reputation of the army!

Julien Blaine (top), L'Echo de Doc(k)s, two works published in issue no. 1 about the Padín-Caraballo imprisonment: Romano Peli, untitled, Italy, 1978; Jonier Marin, Padín/Caraballo. Colombia, 1978.
Graciela Gutierrez Marx and Edgardo-Antonio Vigo (bottom) Possibilities for a Platform, Argentina; 1978. Postcard.

Shortly after this event, Jorge Caraballo was paroled and is now out of prison. In the spring of 1979, after the American ambassador asked for further clarification, the Uruguayan government told the French and American governments that Clemente Padín would be paroled in the fall of 1979.

Padín and Caraballo are not communicating, and, as far as we know, are not allowed to produce their art under the terms of their parole. (For that matter, they may have been re-arrested.) What did we accomplish? We did what we could, and it may have convinced the Uruguayan government that whatever they did to the artists would not be done in the dark. We may have convinced them that negative actions would be counterproductive to their own goals. The project has shown us that structures exist within the art world through which we can effect change and influence larger forces. The project represents a small cry in a collapsing universe.

Jorge Caraballo, Original, Uruguay, 1975. Rubbert stamp imprint and writing on postcard.

Damaso Ogaz, Poema Anti-Fascista, Venezuela, c. 1978. Postcard.

Michele Perfetti, Poesia e liberta, Italy, 1978. Postcard.

Michele Perfetti, Poesia e liberta, Italy, 1978. Postcard.

Mail Art Chro No Logy

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