There is nothing necessarily spontaneous or unconscious about the disruption of habit, and dehabituation can be taken on as a conscious strategy. Indeed, it is the avant garde gesture par excellence. During the Pinochet dictatorship, the Colectivo Acciones de Arte (Art Action Collective or CADA), comprising several prominent Chilean artists and writers such as novelist Diamela Eltit, poet Raúl Zurita, and visual artist Lotty Rosenfeld, staged a series of performances designed to intervene in and interrupt the establishment of everyday habits of neoliberal consumerism.
As Robert Neustadt’s CADA DÍA (literally, “Every Day”) documents, these actions included the October 1979 “Inversion of Scene” that aimed to “underline the transparency of everyday repression” by cloaking Santiago’s Museum of Fine Arts with a white sheet on the one hand and renting ten milk trucks on the other while taking out an advert in a daily newspaper that consisted in nothing more than a blank page (31). CADA’s purpose was literally to screen off the museum while touching upon familiar objects and practices (the newspaper, drinking milk) so as, in Nelly Richard’s words, “to modify both the customary perceptions of the city [. . .] and the social norms which regulate the behaviour of the citizen” (Margins and Institutions 55). Other CADA actions included showering the city with 400,000 fliers dropped from the air, in the name of “a fusion of ‘art’ with ‘life’” (Neustadt 35), and Lotty Rosenfeld’s conversion of the broken white line in the middle of streets and highways into a series of crosses. These are classic shock tactics of artistic defamiliarization, undertaken on a massive scale. Especially in their willful disarticulation of the signs of normality that the dictatorship wanted to convey for both national and external consumption they set out to force “the gaze to unlearn what the press habitually teaches it” (Margins and Institutions 56).
At the same time, and beyond the fact that the artistic avant-garde is all too easily recuperated into a familiar tradition of provocation that can never quite escape the aestheticizing gaze, surely any artistic shock tactic could be no more than pale reflection of the effects of the coup itself. If art is defamiliarization, then like it or not Pinochet was its greatest Chilean practitioner.