Carlos Amorales, Archive Hybrid (detail), created on the occasion of An Image Bank for Everyday Revolutionary Life, curated by Lauri Firstenberg and Anton Vidokle at REDCAT, Los Angeles, California, 2006

An Image Bank for Everyday Revolutionary Life

An Image Bank for Everyday Revolutionary Life, organized by Lauri Firstenberg and Anton Vidokle, was a multi-phase project that began as an online photographic archive that made publicly available for the first time over five thousand images from the 20th century. The source for this material is the collection of Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, who compiled the photographs over the course of his own extraordinary life.

The archive—unique in structure, content and intention—was explicitly meant for the use of fellow artists as a means of inspiration and a source of found imagery. As Siqueiros wrote, “Nothing can give the [artist] of today the essential feeling of the modern era’s dynamic and subversive elements more than the photographic document.” In keeping with his wishes, the contents of An Image Bank for Everyday Revolutionary Life were organized for access by artists and researchers. The custodians of Siqueiros’ project intended to introduce the archive to contemporary art audiences and to extend the useful life of its photographs.

The content of the archive, which spans the 1930s to the early 1970s, offers cultural and social portraits of several eras and nations. The collection contains photographic documents that capture a range of events from political protest to film and theatre performances, from anti-fascist demonstrations in New York and riots in Los Angeles to moments in the Russian stage and Mexican cinema. As the title of the project suggests, the archive offers a politicized vision developed in the context of revolutionary struggles in Mexico and abroad.

The photographic archive, approximately half of which is now available as a digital image bank, is organized according to Siqueiro’s original categories, which include “Architecture,” “Objects,” “People and Historical Figures,” “Models,” “Painting,” “Sculpture,” “Workers and Industry” and “Misery.” The original archive, from which An Image Bank for Everyday Revolutionary Life is drawn, is housed at Sala de Arte Publico Siqueiros (SAPS) in Mexico City. In the 1960s, while Siqueiros was engaged in both art and activism, he converted his house in the Polanco district of the city into a public art space. The house now functions both as a museum for Siqueiros’ work and a contemporary art venue.

In 2006, Firstenberg and Vidokle organized the exhibition An Image Bank for Everyday Revolutionary Life at REDCAT in Los Angeles, California. Artists Carlos Amorales, Julieta Aranda, Mark Bradford, Daniel Buren, Santiago Cucullu, Minerva Cuevas, Allan deSouza, Ken Gonzales-Day, Gabriel Kuri, Ken Lum, Mark Manders, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Mona Marzouk, Ruben Ochoa, Rubén Ortiz Torres, Martha Rosler, and Anri Sala were invited to respond to and elaborate upon the archive, resulting in new works that were presented at REDCAT as well as public interventions presented as billboards across the city. In this way, the original archive project and its reuse by contemporary artists was integrated with the dynamism of Los Angeles in a fulfillment of Siqueiros’ goal to combine the historical, social, and artistic.

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