Several of the texts and projects in this new issue of ARTMargins underscore the role of photography and performance in rendering visible our “ways of seeing” and what they occlude: forms of imagining and inhabiting urban space that are suppressed by official discourse, clandestine archives that simultaneously register and obfuscate the humanitarian crimes of the last Brazilian dictatorship, and deaths forgotten or naturalized as part of the AIDS epidemic, among others. The insistence of that which is alternately invisible and reified—illegible and overcoded— runs like a thread through this issue, raising questions about the nature and stakes of the interpretations the articles call forth. In this sense, it is perhaps pertinent to consider how our approach might change if we were to view such torsions of appearance and meaning in terms of not only a labor of restoration but also an interpretation of a desire. Stated slightly differently, what if our work were not simply to document the crimes—which is to say, the suppressions, exclusions, and fetishizations—of the past but to sustain a desire in the present?

Marina Bedran discusses Brazilian artist Rosângela Rennó's use of photography as part of the artist's “counter-archival” practice. Her article, “Art of the Counter-Archive,” focuses on two of Rennó's books— dedicated, respectively, to a group of photographs stolen and then returned to the National Archive in Brazil and to a collection of photographs documenting the transformations of early 20th-century Rio de Janeiro, which were stolen from the Arquivo Geral da Cidade do Rio de Janeiro (General Archive of the City of Rio de Janeiro). In Bedran's view, Rennó's photo-books become legible at the intersection of two sets of practices: the methods of Conceptual artists like Cildo Meireles, who sought to draw attention to the state's administration of clandestine practices under dictatorship, and inversely, the precarious and negligent care of state archives and collections under neoliberalism.

Echoing Bedran's attention to absences made present, Vladislav Beronja analyzes the representation of Yugoslavia's post-socialist landscape in the work of Berlin-based photographer Boris Kralj's photo-diary My Belgrade (2011) and writer Dubravka Ugrešić and photographer Davor Konjikušić's photo-essay There's Nothing Here! (2020). Citing the reification of the socialist landscape at work in the “‘detached’ and globalizing institutional lens” of what Beronja observes in the Museum of Modern Art's 2019 exhibition Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980, the article explores two recent photo-essays that evoke the affective and sociopolitical context of Yugoslav socialism. Just as Kralj's color photographs call forth poetic moments in the semiosis of Belgrade's urban space, the visual dialogue between Ugrešić's essay and Konjikušić's photographs unfolds the presence of absences in the ability of the local landscape to render the passage to global capitalism meaningful.

In “Barbad Golshiri's Acts of Alterity,” Sandra Skurvida analyzes artist, writer, and translator Barbad Golshiri's recent cycle of works referencing Kazimir Malevich's Suprematist Room at the Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 0,10 (Petrograd, 1915). The article argues that Golshiri's performances underscore how Malevich's works “altered the trajectory of artistic signification, calling for an end to the European tradition of painterly representation—and eventually, by 1920, to art as such,” while also evoking potential historical parallelisms between the Soviet Revolution and the experience of repression in contemporary Russia and Iran. In Skurvida's view, Golshiri explores “artistic signification” after the exhaustion of illusionistic representation in art by interpreting it as a question whose meaning is at once overdetermined by the literary and visual history of Persian manuscript painting and best expressed through different forms of nonsignifying writing, through evocation of the photographic negative and literal scarring of the artist's body. Skurvida argues that the nondialectical mediation of this writing both restores a register of flesh or embodied experience to Malevich and animates the historical relevance of Golshiri's engagement with that artist's work.

Amelia Jones reviews Avram Finkelstein's After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images (2018), a first-person account of ACT UP and its New York–based predecessors, and Brian Getnick's edited collection Final Transmission: Performance Art and AIDS in Los Angeles (2021), which transcribes a series of conversations organized by the editor in 2016 around the topics of Los Angeles–based performance art and of art and AIDS activism in the broader US context. According to Jones, “these two books exemplify different solutions to the problem of how to represent, perform, or historicize—or even just think about—the visual and performance elements of the AIDS epidemic.” In her view, to different extents, both volumes acknowledge or attempt to remediate the absence of Black, indigenous, female, and working-class actors in the art activism of the AIDS movement, while also signaling, perhaps unintentionally, the extent to which those same groups have been excluded from official discourse regarding the racist and classist effects of COVID in the United States and transnationally.

Kathy Yim King Mak's review article, “Grounding the Global: Pathways to Elucidating Tensions in Chinese Contemporary Art,” discusses two recent studies, Sasha Su-Ling Welland's Experimental Beijing: Gender and Globalization in Chinese Contemporary Art (2018) and Jenny Lin's Above Sea: Contemporary Art, Urban Culture, and the Fashioning of Global Shanghai (2019). In Mak's view, both works highlight how, contrary to once-dominant assumptions about the deterritorializing and homogenizing effects of global capitalism, the integration of Chinese artists into the global art world, beginning in the 1990s and early 2000s, mobilized temporal and ideological tensions specific to the unfolding of Chinese politics and history since the Cultural Revolution. As Mak signals, rather than culminating the marketization of China's post-Mao economy in the 1980s, the works and discourse surrounding the global emergence of Chinese art in the following decades proceeded in parallel with the return of a Maoist revolutionary discourse among Chinese Communist Party leaders, “despite the nation's rising position as a shareholder in the global capitalist economy.”

Our roundtable in this issue focuses on John Clark's volume The Asian Modern (2021), which attempts to account for the history of thinking about art in Asia since the 1850s. The Asian Modern considers modernism and modernity in Asian art in an attempt to counter assumptions about European influence, the parochial universalism of European definitions and periodizations of modernity, and nationally bound art histories in former colonial contexts. Saloni Mathur invited five historians of modern and contemporary art (Monica Juneja, Gao Minglu, Chaitanya Sambrani, Nora Taylor, and Ming Tiampo) to reflect critically on the methodological and scholarly implications of Clark's undertaking for the narratives of art history in Asia and beyond. As Gao Minglu notes, echoing Mak's critique of globalism, the ambition of Clark's volume to reveal “an integrative and diverse Asian modernity” may run the risk of overshadowing the concrete experiences and discourses it wishes to name and theorize. The roundtable on The Asian Modern reflects on the kinds of discourses and experiences that find themselves simultaneously over-and underinscribed in so-called global and regional art histories from outside Europe.

In the Document section, Megan Sullivan prefaces and translates two texts—Tomás Maldonado's “The Abstract and the Concrete in Modern Art” and Alfredo Hlito's “Notes toward a Materialist Aesthetics”—published in the August 1946 first issue of Arte Concreto-Invención, the magazine of the Argentinean Asociación Arte Concreto-Invención (Association of Concrete Art-Invention, or AACI). As Sullivan notes, the short-lived but highly influential AACI “promoted a radically materialist understanding of painting that aimed to reveal the concrete foundations of abstraction.” As she goes on to explain, Maldonado and Hlito viewed the work of the AACI not as a regional contribution to the univeralist ambitions of European modernism but as the culmination of the latter's attempt to overcome the illusionistic paradigm of representation and the irrationalism of Romantic notions of artistic creation and the self. The Documents attempt to define a program of materialist aesthetics—one perhaps best illustrated by Maldonado's conception of the “coplanar,” a three-dimensional, sculpture-like structure composed of two-dimensional planes and hung on a wall. Sullivan argues that the Documents’ attempt to formulate a more rational, purportedly dialectical unfolding of art's history is one that remains at once blind to and tangled within the very psychic and social contingencies that the historical ambitions of the AACI had sought to overcome.

Sean Smuda's Artist Project, Memory Zero, presents a series of collaged images of forced displacement and conflict based on the artist's own family of immigrants. The project interpolates incomplete and partially or fully obscured narratives that oscillate between a sense of historical belonging and a radical sense of its opposite, of displacement and alienation. The work starts with the drawn impression of a story whose elements are then collaged so they can figure the fragmentation and refraction often associated with the immigrant experience.

When we sat down to write this editors’ note, Chileans were voting on a constitution that promised to guarantee rights to abortion, gender equality, education, health care, collective bargaining, a dignified retirement, the promotion of indigenous languages and cultures, and a sustainable environment, among other rights. The document promised alternately to open an era of intensified struggle—to reappropriate the social wealth that would make possible the constitution's juridical guarantees—or to foreclose the very same potential by marking itself, as if retrospectively, as a merely formal change in the history of Chilean society. Chileans voted overwhelmingly to reject the new constitution. Leftwing analyses have speculated on the collective desire that it purportedly ciphered and have criticized the arrogance of the left's own ventriloquism of the wishes expressed in the massive, months-long protests of 2019. Celebrating the end of neoliberalism in the country that first implemented its policies would be a pithy and fitting message for a journal concerned, historically, with the world's multiple and ongoing transitions to global capitalism. The ARTMargins editors wish to express our solidarity with the process of Chilean self-determination.

But to do this in a meaningful way, we must also reflect on the stakes of the historiographic and interpretive work that we do here. Returning to our initial question, what can we do to sustain a collective desire? What kind of work might ask after the cause at work in such processes without presuming to know their ultimate goal?