Olympic-Scale Subversion: Poster Art, Architecture, Performance, and the Afterlives of Mexico 1968

Nathan J. Goldberg

On October 2, 1968, only ten days before the opening ceremonies of the highly anticipated 1968 Olympics, the Mexican army surrounded and penned in students at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. The Plaza, holding remnants of Mexico’s past—an Aztec pyramid and the Spanish church of Santiago Tlatelolco—would soon become the site of state massacre. After months of strife between the government’s single-party regime and student protestors in the leadup to the games, the tensions reached a crescendo: snipers mounted the surrounding apartment buildings of Nonoalco-Tlatelolco—the new modern housing complex designed by architect Mario Pani—while armed plainclothes troops, distinguished by white gloves, seamlessly assimilated into the crowd. On that night, in the space of Mexico’s Aztec and Spanish ruins yet surrounded by its modern present, temporal and spatial order was contested and disrupted.

This paper examines both the official culture crafted by the government in anticipation of the 1968 Olympics and countercultural practices that produced a lasting fracture in the temporal and spatial order of modern Mexico—those that effectively permeated the afterlife of Mexico 1968. As I argue, the legacy of the student movement resides in the 1968 foundation of oppositional strategies—such as poster art and street performance—which promoted an active engagement with public space. While most analysis of remembrance strategies following the massacre focus on the archive of memory, I focus on spatial ruptures that overcame the limitations of testimonial and archival documentation. In doing so, I trace the student movement’s confrontations with space from 1968 to Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s 2008 installation, Voz Alta, which continued this practice by channeling October 2, 1968 amidst ruins of Mexico’s Aztec, Spanish, and modernist past.

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NATHAN GOLDBERG is a Ph.D. student at Emory University studying Modern and Contemporary Art and Architecture. His research interests range from the mid-nineteenth century to the late twentieth century and center around the relationship between artistic production and social conditions, the intersection of art and architecture, the politics of space and sites of memory, and temporality. His MA thesis considered Camille Pissarro’s depictions of rural markets and their significance as reflections of the larger social dynamics between Paris, its urban avant-garde, and the countryside in nineteenth-century France.

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