Cecilia Vicuña: Dreaming about water — A retrospective of the future

Pinacoteca (Sao Paulo), May-Sep/24

Pinacoteca Contemporanea is now holding a solo show of Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña named ‘Dreaming about water — A retrospective of the future’. It gathers 200 artworks, from paintings to installations, through videos, photographs, and sculptures, among other media. This is her first major exhibit in Brazil, with Miguel López as curator. Through the works exhibited here, the artist shows us that, ‘With no humidity, there is no humanity,’ according to her words.

Vicuña is an artist working in various media and also an activist. In fact, it is hard to detach one aspect from another. In her artworks, you will see lots of politics – but not how we are used to seeing in the news. Her work is political as long it discusses nature, environmental protection, feminist struggles, political aspects and actors, indigenous communities’ rights and so on. It takes art in its ritual and healing dimensions. According to the curator, one of the key aspects of Vicuña is ‘the convergence between political commitment and beauty.’

Pinacoteca Contemporanea is the newest building of Pinacoteca do Estado, the main art museum in Sao Paulo city and perhaps in Brazil. Pina, as you may call it, has the most comprehensive collection of Brazilian art and in 2022 opened this building devoted to contemporary art, which can host rather large works, such as Vicuña’s installation titled ‘Quipu menstrual (the blood of glaciers)’ (see Image 1).

Partial view of the installation ‘Quipu menstrual (the blood of glaciers)’ (2006). Photo Luis Sandes

In this site-specific installation that was first enacted in 2006, dozens of long stripes in different tones of red occupy a whole room, from ceiling to floor. This work reinterprets the quipus, the knotted ropes that pre-invasion Andean peoples used to keep records of counts, songs and stories. After the colonisation by the Spanish, they were banned. In 2006, this work was conceived as a ritual action in nature to stop a gold mining project in Chile.

The artist has lived in exile since 1973 when the military made a coup on President Salvador Allende. Of course, the kind of politics that involves political parties, coups, famous politicians and elections also plays a role in Vicuña’s body of works. This show gathers drawings, collages and videos created in this period – they can be understood as poetic responses to the political situation then (military dictatorships and state violence across South America). As Vicuña has stated, ‘My paintings are political in a personal way.’ In this show, you will see a painting in which Cuban Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende are portrayed in an ambiguous, erotic manner.

Partial view of the show. Photo Luis Sandes

A grouping of pieces in this show refers to the Artists for Democracy, a group founded in London in solidarity with Chile, the following year after the coup. David Medalla, John Dugger and Guy Brett also took part in it. They have put up a festival. Here you will see photographs, documents, collages, printed materials, and paintings created in that context. The group wanted to protest against imperialism, colonial order, and human rights violations.

One room is filled up with ‘Precarious,’ which are small, ephemeral sculptures created with remains she collected from the seashore (see Image 4). They are assemblages of small garbage washed up by the sea. The artist has referred to them as ‘ritual performances,’ which may be seen as a discussion of precariousness, beauty, pollution, simplicity, and nothingness.

Partial view of the show. ‘Precarious’ series. Photo Luis Sandes

As you probably have understood from reading this review, this is a unique show. Not only the themes that are discussed —politics, environment, feminism, among others— are of great importance nowadays but also the ways they are treated by the artist —with delicacy and strongness at the same time. This show reminds us that ‘we are made of water,’ as the artist has stated during the private viewing. Join us on a bespoke tour to see this show and others currently on display at Pina.

Luis Sandes for London Art Walk
May 2024