The work of Cecilia Vicuña (Santiago, 73 years old) is exhibited for the first time in Spain to illuminate, says the title of the exhibition, failure. Cecilia Vicuña. See failure enlightened brings together more than a hundred works by the poet, visual artist and activist at CA2M, the Centro Dos de Mayo de Móstoles, in Madrid. The failure in this case has several meanings: the end of democracy in Chile in 1973, after the coup to the presidency of Salvador Allende; that of colonialism, which, like dictatorships, tries to erase the words of the people without succeeding; even that of the artist herself, the silence or indifference to which she was subjected until her participation in Documenta14, one of the most important contemporary art exhibitions in the world, when she received the well-deserved recognition. Then, the prices of his works soared in the market and in 2019 he won the Velázquez Prize, endowed with 100,000 euros. “I thought I was going to die as a secret author,” said the artist in an interview in EL PAÍS in 2020.
When entering the exhibition (from February 20 to July 11), you have to go through huge waterfalls of unwound Andean wool, some of which are more than 10 meters high. The facility is called Menstrual quipu (the blood of the glaciers) and it marks the beginning, but also the intention of the ecofeminist journey of her work. These wools are the representation of the rule, but also of the melting of the glaciers by mining. In this way Vicuña received Michele Bachelet in 2007, when he assumed the presidency of Chile. As it passes between them, the wool sticks to clothing and shoes. When those responsible for the art center and the artist designed the montage by video call with the help of three cameras, due to the pandemic, they warned her that the wool could fall and disappear. That was the goal, Vicuña told them on the other side of the screen, from his home in New York.
The show, like the red threads that mark a large part of his production, returns again and again to the same themes throughout more than four decades of work. The Allende government appears on a recurring basis. To such an extent that Vicuña invites everyone who comes to Móstoles to look through his eyes at the installation The abstract ruca (Allende’s eyes), in which the portrait of the politician has hollow glasses.
On the other side is the imagination of each one. Vicuña and the CA2M have placed a large poster of a Vietnamese guerrilla and a young Chilean woman who exchange a weapon and a book The august revolution, on the uprising of the Vietnamese against the French colony. Many of these pieces were presented in London in 1974, just after Vicuña left his country where he has not returned. In that exile that is inside and outside. It was in the British capital where he hung, with the help of a collective of artists, a large canvas with the motto Chile Will Win which the Labor Party would later use in a political act.
The weapon of the word
Vicuña identifies the dictatorship as an act of violation of the right to the truth. For this reason, his WORDS, one of his first works, consists of resignifying words to load them with a lethality that impacts without damaging. It is their way of political resistance. “Words are weapons, perhaps the only acceptable weapons,” wrote the artist. In this way, the truth becomes glasses through which to look and solidarity is divided into three words to be sun and the verb to give in a forest.
Allende’s murder marked the end of her career as a painter, Vicuña acknowledges. At CA2M, a small sample of her pictorial production has been brought together through which she represented naked women, folklore, icons of the left and feminist activism such as Lenin or Angela Davis. There is a naive point in his line that is loaded with depth with each of the texts that accompany his works.
In almost a hundred precarious who have arrived in Madrid is this dichotomy. These are small sculptures created with waste that she called “waste altars”. They are the result of uniting elements of nature in varied, delicate and colorful arrangements, but also of the remains left by capitalism. In this way, the exhibition comes to an end but at its beginning. The red thread of Andean wool that runs through it in search of the vindication of indigenous peoples -the first postmodern, for the artist-, feminism, environmentalism and popular struggle is established in an infinite loop with pieces that always seem to are about to disappear. But that although a large part of Vicuña’s production was destroyed by order of the Chilean dictatorship and another was lost in its movements around the world, it always finds a way to remain and rivet its message of resilience.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.