Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmann

18 May 2022

The Potosí Principle and its Archive

In 2010, the exhibition “The Potosí Principle”  (curated by Alice Creischer, Andreas Siekmann and Max Jorge Hinderer) was shown at the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. In 2011 it went to the National Museum of Art and the National Museumof Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz. 
The starting point for the project was the city of Potosí, a mining town in today’s Bolivia that at the end of the 16th century is said to have been larger and more magnificent than London and Paris. It is said that the silver that was extracted and went from Potosí to Europe would be enough to build a bridge across the Atlantic to the port of Cadiz. However, the Spanish king was so indebted, that before reaching the port the silver was transferred to other ships and off to the stock exchanges of all Europe. The silver caused a decisive dynamic for the development of industry, banking, colonial trading companies, their warships and slave ships, and for the displacement, pauperization, and disposal of people to labor – simultaneously in Europe and in the colonies. The silver of Potosí is the beginning of a principle that has always acted globally. This project was about realizing the fact that modern European society and its economic system can never be thought without its colonial conditionality and its crimes. It was about showing how this conditionality continues until today. In this conditionality, a production and circulation of images is unleashed, which are first shipped from Europe to the colonies, to then produce their own images there. In the exhibition ten years ago, some of these images were shown as witnesses to the fact that cultural hegemony is not a symbolic quantity, but a form of violence. We had invited friends and fellow artists to respond to the baroque images from Potosi from this perspective. In the discussions on a postcolonial artistic and institutional practice that followed in the following 10 years and continues until now, the project became a kind of landmark .    10 years later, an archive has been developed for this project. It is not an archive in the strict sense. We were more interested in the blind spots of the project, such as not being able to address the financial crisis that began in 2008, at the same time as the project, the omitted references to the history of silver mining in Europe and to the 16th century Peasants’ War, or why the topic of neo-extractivism, which was so obvious, was hardly addressed. And we wanted to see how the artists who participated in this project had continued with their practice. In the Principio Potosí exhibition and catalog, some of the works – especially if they were themselves archive-like works – could never be properly represented. This was another blind spot we wanted to investigate. Initially, we planned and wished for the archive to be developed together with all the institutions that had been involved in the project. But the coup d’état in Bolivia and the pandemic did not allow this to happen. Instead, these events reflected themselves in the archive – like more blind spots.  The archive now consists of 36 booklets divided into four chapters. These chapters are the structure of the contributions:  Artists’ booklets, booklets on topics such as extractivism, labor, debt, inquisition, the coup d’état in Bolivia in 2019, machine capitalism, enrichment from the 2008 crisis, decolonization practices.  We first assumed that there would be about 12 brochures, but they quickly became more and more, and finally grew into three times that number. Why the archive ends with a booklet on utopian structures in the community of writers, hackers and the club scene, and why it begins with the arrival of Viceroy Morcillo in the Imperial Village of Potosí, is more intuitive than systematic. Readers may be able to figure out the reasons by using the archive like a treasure trove that can be mined according to their own interests. 

Required Reading:

Issue No 0 and the four introduction booklets (The Potosí Principle)

Alice Creischer, born 1960 in Gerolstein, artist, is living in Berlin.

Andreas Siekmann, born 1961 in Hamm, artist, living in Berlin.