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2023 LASA Visual Culture Studies Section Book Prize, Latin American Studies Association (LASA)

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I’m delighted that my first monograph has been published by University Texas Press. Written collaboratively with Lucy Bell and Patrick O’Hare, the book draws on eighteen months of fieldwork across Brazil, Mexico and Argentina to detail the transformative potential of the artistic gesture allied to the resilience and sheer creativity of of community networks in Latin America. 

A publishing phenomenon and artistic project, cartonera was born in the wake of Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis. Infused with a rebellious spirit, it has exploded in popularity, with hundreds of publishers across Latin America and Europe making colorful, low-cost books out of cardboard salvaged from the street. Taking Form, Making Worlds is the first comprehensive study of cartonera. Drawing on interdisciplinary research conducted across Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, the authors show how this hands-on practice has fostered a politically-engaged network of writers, artists, and readers. More than a social movement, cartonera uses texts, workshops, encounters, and exhibitions to foster community and engagement through open-ended forms that are at once artistic and social. For various groups including waste-pickers, Indigenous communities, rural children, and imprisoned women, cartonera provides a platform for unique stories and sparks collaborations that bring the walls of the ‘lettered city’ tumbling down. In contexts of stigma and exclusion, cartonera collectives give form to a decolonial aesthetics of resistance, making possible a space of creative experimentation through which plural worlds can be brought to life.

Praise for the book

“Imagine an academic library whose books, in an act of defiance, run riot, escaping their covers and spilling out their contents far and wide. Imagine all the cardboard, lying abandoned, having been emptied of the consumer goods it once contained. And imagine the joy of all the people who could never afford the goods or enter the academy, when they discover that by stitching fugitive words with salvaged cardboard, they could give new life to both. Welcome to cartonera! In this impeccably crafted study, Lucy Bell, Alex Ungprateeb Flynn, and Patrick O’Hare show how the collective practice of cartonera not only crosses the frontier between art and literature, but also has the potential to turn the stuffy world of letters upside down.’’

—Tim Ingold CBE FBA FRSE, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Aberdeen, author of Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description

“Bell, Ungprateeb Flynn, and O’Hare’s compelling interdisciplinary approach to the cartonera publishing phenomenon in Latin America brilliantly enmeshes process, product, and context. Their 'transformal' methodology threads together fieldwork, bookmaking, and interartistic 'encounters' in Brazil and Mexico, launching an original and powerful collective project. Taking Form, Making Worlds invites readers into the cartonera groups’ hands-on aesthetic practice, into their literary corpus, and into their local settings, with nuanced and sensitive analysis. The authors go beyond research and writing to become activists and advocates as they intervene in grassroots urban arts and literature collectives’ minoritarian social and political organizing.’’

—Marcy Schwartz, Professor and Chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Rutgers University, author of Public Pages: Reading along the Latin American Landscape

If handmade books don't immediately come to mind when thinking of 'objects of resistance' capable of breaking down prejudices and overturning the canon, they will after reading Taking Form, Making Worlds, a book about books. The authors beautifully recount stories of individuals who form collective bodies as they publish through the cartonera movement. A strategic reorganization of the systems of production and consumption turns into a lesson in everyday political practices, and we learn that separating an artistic project from its public function is a vain attempt to perpetuate the old dichotomies.’’

—Lisette Lagnado, chief curator of the 27th São Paulo Biennial, “How to Live Together" (2006) and chief curator of the 11th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (2019–2020)

auflynn [at] arts.ucla.edu

Alex Ungprateeb Flynn is an Assistant Professor at the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, University of California, Los Angeles. Working as an anthropologist and curator, Alex’s practice explores the intersection of ethnographic and curatorial modes of enquiry. Researching collaboratively with activists, curators and artists in Brazil since 2007, Alex explores the prefigurative potential of art in community contexts, prompting the theorisation of fields such as the production of knowledge, the pluriversal, and the social and aesthetic dimensions of form.