During a visit in Buenos Aires Esther Schwertasek discovers a building complex on one of the arterial roads of the Argentinian capital. It turns out to be the ESMA building, an illegal detention centre where people were tortured and from where they vanished during Argentina’s 1976-1983 Dirty War. Insignificant on the outside, this is a place tainted by sheer horror. This is exactly what Schwertasek paints: she unveils its secret spaces.
When Esther Schwertasek visited the ESMA building in Buenos Aires she shuddered when she saw a small button lying on the floor in a fenced-off area. Was it from the pyjama of a child or from the clothes of the child’s doll?
The ESMA building was originally designed as a Naval Mechanics school, but during Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship became a torture and detention centre. It is now a human rights museum and open to the public. With its dirty and old, empty spaces it seems an unremarkable place. But it becomes sinister by the fenced-off areas and the adhesive numbers on the wall. They are put there by the Argentine Forensic
Anthropology Team that still tries to identify human remains and gather evidence for ongoing trials against ESMA torturers.
Schwertasek is interested in urbanism, especially in the relationship between people and their environment. In the past, she painted a series of the so-called ‘Plattenbau’ buildings in Berlin. She was struck by the rhythm, repetition and regularity in the design of the exterior.
In the ESMA series she focuses on similar characteristics in the interior, such as the beams in the attic. There, stolen possessions of detainees were stored. Through the act of painting, Schwertasek not only recreates but also personalizes these black pages in Argentina’s history.
Argentina hosted the World Cup Soccer in 1978, but the atrocities of the Dirty War continued in the ESMA building. Holland hardly blinked an eye at this, but shuddered when Robbie Rensenbrink hit Argentina’s goalpost in the last minute of the final.