Eloisa Cartonera

Cooperative Art and Publishing in Argentina

Last month I attended Philagrafika and the Southern Graphics Conference in Philadelphia. I’ve been writing several different reviews/reflections on the exhibitions and events I experienced.

Discovering Eloisa Cartonera was a highlight of my trip.

The Philagrafika exhibition in the Print Center extended upstairs where I found books by Eloisa Cartonera, a publishing cooperative from Argentina that uses recycled materials to create handmade artist books.,
They describe themselves on their website,
“We produce handmade books with cardboard covers. We purchase this cardboard from the urban pickers ("cartoneros") who pick it from the streets. Our books are of Latin American literature, the most beautiful we had a chance to read in our lives, both as publishers as well as readers.”

The books published by Eloisa Cartonera were extraordinarily unique. Every cover is hand painted in bright colors that combine with the unique patterns of the rescued cardboard. With mass publication, many forget the craft that goes into bookmaking. Their collective has revived the intricacies and individual charm of simple bookmaking that has been erased by corporate publishing.

Their story is inspiring, and works to challenge the economics of art making. Funding seems to be constant hurdle. However, should lack of funding and grants be an excuse give up projects? Further, can funding restrict our creativity? Are we using too many material resources when we print without looking at other options and researching recycled materials?
As a teaching artist currently working with a screen printing and design non-for-profit with limited funding, Eloisa Cartonera has inspired me to be more creative and conscious about finding new resources. Stop moping about what we don’t have; discover and utilize what we already do.

As I’ve been thinking about the future of GrapevineINK, I’ve been considering dynamics of the independent artist vs membership in a collective. It seems many artists engaged in social justice have been involved in collaborative and community projects. Yet, there are artists that produce their own political work, and contribute to a larger movement in that way.
Eloisa Cartonera is an example of a successful cooperative of artists and community leaders pioneering in arts activism.
My question is, what is the balance? How does one sustain a collective commitment while still respecting one’s own ambition and need to express as an individual artist? For artists that are exclusive to one, either group work or individual work- do you ever feel as though something is missing?

I take this quote from their website, which is primarily in Spanish, but has
an English page. As a former member of a living cooperative, women’s collective, and now member of GrapevineInk, I found this very inspiring and exciting,

“Overall, the best thing that happened to us, besides meeting all of you, was to become a cooperative. It was a true awakening to how work can become the best part of your life, and never an obligation, something unpleasant. It became a dreamcome true, to work in our project.
We learned to trustone another and to be better partners, to strive for a common purpose, for something more than our own bellybutton. Cooperativism showed us our strength. That was how we learned everything we now know, and we remain eager to learn more.

We now have a new project. We will buy a piece of land in Florencio, in Varela. One hectare of land. We will build a house and start an organic food garden, and in the future a school and everything that might come to take us ...”