ELOISA CARTONERA - Publishing House

From February to July 2009 I joined Eloisa as a volunteer, where I conducted field research for my work on Social Design Theory.
Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Eloísa Cartonera is a special publishing house - "the most colorful publisher in South America".
Eloísa buys the cardboard at $1.50 a kilo when the market price is $0.30, and uses the material to create unique covers for a series of books, which they sell to finance the purchase of more cardboard. Some cartoneros are also employed to help print the texts and paint the covers.

This social and community artistic project is settled in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The central office is a cardboard store – a place where cardboard and paper is sold – named “No hay cuchillo sin Rosas” (“There’s no knife without Roses”). There, the "cartoneros" exchange ideas with artists and writers. The "cartoneros" (cardboard collectors) is a South American phenomenon, born out of ravishing economic conditions. When Argentina’s economy collapsed in 2001, thousands of people were forced out of work. Some made a meager living by scavenging for scraps of cardboard and paper, which could be sold to recyclers. The scavengers became known as “cartoneros” - or the cardboard people.

Early in 2003, a group of artists and writers came together to figure out a way to help the cartoneros earn a better wage or find them a more regular employment, by means of publishing hand-made books, and promoting people's creativity and community engagement.

TreeHugger once made a colorful portrait of the team:

"People involved in the project include David, Daniel y Alberto Ramos, Gastón y Augusto, who paint and bind the books, cut cardboard and play ‘cumbia’ very loud; Javier Barilaro, a plastic artist who ‘orders’ the beauty of ideas; plastic artist and writer Fernanda Laguna, who manages, gets, asks and gives; inspirer, poet, editor and street seller Wáshington Cucurto, who has and realizes great ideas; great urban collectors who select first class cardboard; Pablo Martin, who “translates everything to ‘internetic’ language”, as they claim; and Tomás Colombo, who registers everything in video. Clara Domini, a plastic artist and cartonera; Alberto Franco, who drives everyone crazy with spiritual lessons; Christopher Pimiento Zúñiga, who does everything nobody wants to do; and curator Victoria Ojeda, complete the group.
The authors, on the other side, give their writings to be published and also a hand for everything that’s needed.

One of the many premises of this publishing house is to make Latin American authors known. Unknown, border and vanguard material of Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Brazil and Peru is published. Namely, Ricardo Piglia, Cesar Aira, Gonzalo Milan (Chile), Luis Chavez (Costa Rica) and many others. The catalogue is Latin American: Basically, there are authors from Peru, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

Each book is unique. The covers are painted by hand, with temperas and paintbrush. This gives an artistic and human value to the work.

The cardboard is bought at $1.50 a kilo when the market price is $0.30. The kids have an income of $3 per hour (1 American Dollar) for carrying out these tasks. The project tends to generate more genuine manpower supported by the selling of books. There is no other way of financing this project.

This project has now spread to several other South American countries.



Much more than books,
The "cartonero" publishing phenomenon in Latin America

[ download pdf ] - [ go to online link ]