Article by Malaka Sanders
The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is celebrating the multidisciplinary work of Chilean-born artist Cecilia Vicuña until October 14. An artist for 40 years, Vicuña’s practice incorporates performance, video, found object sculptures and text. A children’s event, Gallery + Studio: From Dream to Play: The Art of Cecilia Vicuña for ages 6 to 12 on Saturday, September 8 at 11:30AM and 1PM, will draw inspiration from her work for a hands-on artmaking workshop. Interviews with the artist are included in the exhibition and excerpted from the book Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen, co-edited by Julia Bryan-Wilson, professor of modern and contemporary art at UC Berkeley. A program of six of Vicuña’s reflective film shorts plays on a loop in the newer, thirty-three seat screening room at BAMPFA, the smaller of two theaters at the museum.
Vicuña has lived in London and Columbia and now divides her time between New York and Chile, after first leaving the country in 1973, the year of the military coup led by Pinochet. She uses natural materials in her sculpture – such as wool, stone and wood – and extreme weather conditions, such as high winds and heavy rain, in her videography to reference the movement of ancient people discussed in her poetry. A few of the short films showcase Quipu, defined as “knotted strings used by the Incas and Andean civilizations to keep records” by Esperanza Huayama and Teódula Pusma of The Quipu Project. An abstract version of a Quipu is seen in the short film Umbilico, a silent, mostly black and white film in which the artist is seen unfolding a gigantic and bright red knotted rope down to the ground from the top of a building and along her path on a surprising journey.
In the short film Quipu Austral (Southern Quipu), shot in Sydney, Australia the colorful, twenty-five foot lengths of wool that can be seen withstanding the elements in the film are now standing at the BAMPFA. Vicuña designed the un-knotted, gargantuan ropes that form this piece as an interactive expression of Quipu, saying of the outdoor installation of the cords in Australia, “As people enter the Quipu and walk within it, they become the living knots.” In describing this piece, she continued, “The Quipu connects the ancient traditions of the Southern Andes in Chile, and the Aboriginal art of Australia.” The use of natural light and wind to animate the wool in the film can be appreciated upon observing those same vibrant but now still wool cords hanging in Berkeley’s double height, open concept gallery space. Vicuña’s piece is a towering and powerful statement on displacement and the sculptural architecture of the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, with its generous proportions, complements it well. The small screening room is an attractive and intimate environment for the immersive sounds and images of the accompanying short films.
History, as a fabric of inclusion and exclusion, did not embrace
them. (The history of the north excludes that of the south, and
the history of the south excludes itself, embracing only the
From Quipoem by Cecilia Vicuña
The artist’s lastest book, New and Selected Poems of Cecilia Vicuña is available at the BAMPFA store.