Cecilia Vicuña at the UA Poetry Center’s Poetry Off the Page SymposiumPosted on: April 4, 2012 in Creativity & The Arts
The word ‘precarious’ appears in much of the writing about Cecilia Vicuña’s art. Many of her fleeting installations are created in nature, or rural communities, far from the art world’s centers of ambition. She uses humble materials, such as water and yarn, which are interrelated in Andean culture.
Vicuña creates site-specific installations and improvises lectures widely in Europe, Latin America and the US. She comes to Tucson to create new work and participate in the Poetry Off the Page Symposium at the UA Poetry Center.
Poetry Off the Page, the center's third biennial symposium, will be held May 18-20, with performances, panel discussions, classes and other presentations. Tickets are discounted until April 18 at $50 for students and $120 for the general public, and can be purchased online via the UA Foundation website.
Although Vicuña’s work is delicately poetic, her creative impulse is muscular and expansive, embracing ancient presences, contemporary social concerns, time, space and politics. Here she talks with Tucson-based artist Noah Saterstrom about some aspects central to her art.
NS: In your work there is a communication between the remote past and the current social and political scene. Can you speak a little about how you regard time?
CV: I was a young girl, studying architecture in Santiago when I had the sudden realization that "time" as we know it didn't exist. I experienced time as a fluid transforming movement, realizing I could be simultaneously in what we call "past" or "future" at once. Consciousness moves not just in time, but through it, as through water. Time became a great mystery to explore, one of many dimensions available to being.
NS: Your exhibition that just opened in Santiago is an homage to a mummified Incan boy discovered in 1954. What is it about this child that resonates with you?
CV: I "met" the child, el Niño del Plomo when I was 9 years old, when he was "exhibited" at the Museum of Natural History in Santiago. He was also 9 years old. This meeting was perhaps what opened me to the ancient Andean world as alive, because the child was buried alive, and he looked alive 500 years after he was buried! Not long after that I discovered the quipu (a pre-Columbian writing system consisting of colored yarn encoded with knots) and began making them. I am a quipu, and I see Andean culture as a living quipu, a web of interconnectedness.
NS: I was just listening to a talk you gave at Naropa University in 1994 and you said Andean Poetics are ‘darkly hidden within themselves’; what have you inherited from Chilean or Andean culture?
CV: I think the main inheritance of Andean/Chilean culture is a multidimensional sense of space and time as a reciprocal exchange. This is a state of mind, where you know you are participating, shaping what is through your senses and behavior. It is a poetics that generates an ethos, or is it the other way around? They grow each other in perpetual exchange. I experience it as ever-lasting fun, ever-lasting playfulness. But this way of being is hidden, because it is suppressed by the dominant colonial culture. In order to find it, to become aware of its power and beauty, you have to engage in a deep quest, a desire to go deeper into yourself. It is to be part of this beauty that I return to Chile every year, to work with the people that embody this way of being, usually in remote places, away from the big cities, among the peasants, indigenous peoples and children.
NS: What was your engagement with Chilean politics when you first started making work? What is it now?
CV: I was born to a very political family. My grandfather Carlos Vicuña Fuentes was an extraordinary writer, historian and politician, a fighter for civil rights, who was often in jail, persecuted for his ideas. He was a major influence on Pablo Neruda, when he was a young poet developing a sense of social justice. I grew up hearing these amazing people who gathered at my grandfather's table every Sunday. Writers, scientists, politicians came to see him, and those legendary lunches went on for 7 or 8 hours. That was my schooling. I felt that my art grew out of the limitless potential of the democratic revolution we were involved in. My position hasn't changed.
Getting to Know the Artists
This conversation between Vicuña and Saterstrom will continue throughout her visit to Tucson and will be published in full at Trickhouse.org at the end of May.
Vicuña will be giving a talk at the Poetry Off the Page Symposium on Friday May 18 with Christine Hume and Claudia Rankine. Visit the UA Foundation’s site for information and tickets.
Cecilia Vicuña is also a political activist and founding member of Artists for Democracy. She has split her time between New York and Chile since l980. Vicuña lectures and teaches workshops and seminars for indigenous communities and universities such as Naropa University, Denver University, SUNY Purchase and Universidad de Buenos Aires. She recently completed a performance tour of four Latin American countries, along with the American poet Jerome Rothenberg.