Contaminaciones Contemporáneas at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Santiago de Chile

On 30 August 2012, the exhibition “Contaminaciones Contemporáneas” (Contemporary Contaminations) opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago, Chile.

 

Vernissage of Contaminaciones Contemporáneas at the MAC, Santiago

Vernissage of Contaminaciones Contemporáneas at the MAC, Santiago

 

Opening: Thursday, 30 August 2012, 19:30

Exhibition period: 30 August – 4 November 2012

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Parque Forestal

Santiago, Chile

 

 

Catalogue text (excerpt) for “Contaminaciones Contemporáneas” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Santiago de Chile

by Stefanie Hessler

 

Exhibition catalogue

Exhibition catalogue

 

Exhibition catalogue

Exhibition catalogue

 

A Brief Exhibition History of “Contaminaciones Contemporáneas”

Evolving from a curatorial idea, Die Ecke invited the gallery‘s artists to propose works around the topic Contaminaciones Contemporáneas for a same-titled exhibition at the Museu de Arte Contemporânea in São Paulo, Brazil. The subject arose from the man-made natural catastrophes, which affect the country and people worldwide, and the discourse around ecological awareness. The fact that Chile is often perceived as marginal country, but which nevertheless has attained international recognition due to its exemplary economic growth and progressiveness also in terms of environmental consciousness, served as further starting point. The group show was an opportunity to introduce a Chilean point of view and discuss it both in the Brazilian context and on a global level. The exhibition was shown at the museum between October 2010 and March 2011.

 

The second version of Contaminaciones Contemporáneas takes place at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Santiago de Chile in 2012, bringing home the exhibition and reconfiguring it related to the local context once again. What could be perceived in Sao Paulo as contemporary artistic expressions from Chile will now be possible to discuss in an intra-continental context, having travelled and been adapted since its first exposure in Brazil.

 

Most of the artists touch upon the country‘s cultural, socio-political and economic situation and its development in terms of history and an international outlook. The idea to invite the gallery‘s artists to work around one subject is a proof of the trust in their work and the result of a long relationship, conversations and the exchange of ideas. The subject seems like a natural result to resume and look back on the ten-year development of the gallery and its activities, and to get together around one subject and see where it leads everyone in their singular and diverse approaches.

 

Die Ecke‘s joy and pride in promoting Chilean artists, the belief in their work and the enthusiasm to share it with an international audience will hopefully become comprehensible in this exhibition.

 

Contaminaciones Contemporáneas

Contamination, late Middle English: from Latin contaminat —‘made impure’, from the verb contaminare, from contamen ‘contact, pollution’, from con— ‘together with’ + the base of tangere ‘to touch’ (The Oxford Dictionary)

 

Contamination is understood as the increased existence of a minor constituent in an environment, physical or material object or body, and it can apply to various areas. Contamination can occur in the air with smog and particulates polluting the atmosphere and in soil and groundwater due to chemical leakage and waste. Contamination can also appear in terms of noise, light and visual pollution, mainly in cities with much traffic from roads and aircrafts, over-illumination that impedes seeing the night sky, or advertising billboards and mining that leave their visual and structural traces on our environment. Further, earthquakes, which Chile is strongly affected by due to its geographical location, and natural catastrophes that arise from manmade impacts like global warming, signalise the urgent need to approach the topic of contamination.

 

The exponential consequences of these incidents could be observed recently with the earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan in 2010, hurricane Katrina and the devastation it left behind in the area of New Orleans in 2005, and earthquakes in Chile, China and New Zealand just to name a few. They call for our responsibility and the need to rethink decisions that were taken to fulfil the demand for rapid, unrestrained economic growth. The notion of improving our lives with technology and industrialisation at the cost of our natural environment needs to be reconsidered, taking into account that our quality of life is closely linked to the well-being of our planet. Considering our powerlessness in the face of natural catastrophes and the forces of nature, we need to understand that we have to work together to protect it, not against it.

 

The equilibrium of our biophysical surroundings is just as crucial for the quality of human life as is the harmonic and solidary socio-cultural environment. Contaminaciones Contemporáneas further approaches the topic from various other angles, addressing history, manual labour, personal relationships, spirituality, consumerism, political ideologies and what it means to live in urban centres today. The ways in which the artists engage with these issues differ. The works draw attention to the ramifications of contamination in many facets, from how utopian architecture can be subjugated by political extremism, to the struggle for freedom of speech in art and everyday life, to the alienation from our natural environment in the digital age. The meaning of contamination is understood as manifold as the methodologies and results, which are at times associative and visual, at times conceptual and research-based. The exhibition is an attempt to look upon the topic differently, find alternatives and raise awareness.

 

Whereas it may seem unusual to present a curatorial proposition originating from a gallery in a museum, Contaminaciones Contemporáneas works on one hand as discussion of the topic, but on the other hand also as a presentation of Die Ecke as one possible model for a contemporary art gallery. In the exhibition, the practice of the gallery, the way it thinks of its relation with the artists and accentuates the liability towards its audience, can be comprehended. Die Ecke‘s joy and pride in promoting Chilean artists, the belief in their work and the enthusiasm to share it with an international audience will hopefully become comprehensible in this exhibition.

 

Catalina Bauer "Lapso N°4 (centro y periferia), 2008-2010

Catalina Bauer "Lapso N°4 (centro y periferia), 2008-2010

 

Artists’ Work


Catalina Bauer‘s work Lapso refers to manual labour and socio-political mappings. The work is an ephemeral installation directly applied onto the walls of the museum, lasting for the time of the exhibition and disappearing again after it ends. It suggests a mapping of Brasilian urban hubs and city centres such as Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre, in the form of circles drawn with different coloured pencils that are both constituent and reminiscent of the process. The pencils are hanging down on pieces of string that are all held together in the centre of each circle. The strings have different lengths, and thus the longer they are, the wider the pencil-drawn circles become, referring to the city‘s surface area in relation to the number of its inhabitants. The cities‘ densities are represented by the number of pencils involved in the process and visualised by the closeness of the lines. Lapso comprises the traces of a long and exhaustive process. It addresses issues such as overpopulation and centres of contamination related to the quantity of people residing in an area, thus producing larger quantities of smog, garbage and light pollution. The work also shows the positive effects of urban agglomerations: where there are more colours used in an interleaved circle, there are more work and employment possibilities, where there is more white visible, there is less economic development taking place. Bauer addresses the subject of pollution with a reference to socio-political and economic cartographies, not giving answers, but presenting these issues in an immediate graphic visualisation.

 

Johanna Unzueta’s work Ovejas negras infiltrates the museum halls and subtly undermines the division between representational space and represented objects. Employing felt as her primary material, the forms she creates are in apparent contrast to the softness and malleability of the felt. Ovejas negras is a series of tubes that resemble sewage or drain pipe, arranged in a way that makes them appear to emerge from the museum walls. The pipes seem to loom into the exhibition space and reveal their existence to the visitors, while an instant later disappearing into the inner architecture of the building, just to pop out again in another corner or marginal area. Thus, the work accompanies the spectator throughout the exhibition. The felt pipes and hinges are of the actual size of plumbing tubes and door holdings, and so visitors can relate to them by experiencing them in accord to their own physicality. Although the work plays with the idea of belonging to the building, its materiality refuses any functionality. It is rather linked to the visitors‘ bodies as a soft and warming material used in isolation and clothing, and frequently deployed in the art of Joseph Beuys. Unzueta often works with felt as material, and with her sculptures she refers to industrial objects and utilitarian design, such as factories and tools. She opposes these machine-made objects with her hand-made textile sculptures, alluding to labour history, but also to the effects of industrialisation, its impact on society, cities and the environment. In their archetypal form, the functionalist objects remind of Bernd and Hilla Becher‘s systematic photography of our industrial past. With the spatial layout and dispersion of the works in the museum, Unzueta refers to the throughout contamination and ever-presence of industry, commodities and technological advancements, and their impacts on our lives.

 

Johanna Unzueta "Ovejas negras", 2010

Johanna Unzueta "Ovejas negras", 2010

 

Cristóbal Lehyt works with colonial and labour history, investigating how politics affect and manipulate the cultural and national identity of a country. The series Ocular Espectacular (líneas) consists of 27 sculptures the artist made of simple and humble material. They allow for a manifold reading, in appearance and material referring to pre-Colombian Andean sculptures before the South American continent was “discovered“ and subdued to colonial transformations. However, they could also be read as graphs or lines of contemporary communication theory and simple models depicting social processes. When read as objects and artefacts found in the Atacama desert in Northern Chile, the work gains a socio-political angle, alluding to the history of copper mining in the North of the country. Subjected to economic and political interests, nature in the San Pedro de Atacama area is compromised in order to obtain the valuable commodities. Lehyt reveals the persistency of a location‘s collective memory and identity, addressing historicity, power and class structures, while relating them to their place in time and history. Respectively, he induces reflection on the subject of the contamination of ideologies and the collective memory. At the same time, Lehyt questions the way we think about preservation and calls for the need to protect nature before economic interests.

 

Alejandra Prieto‘s interest lies in material and a reinterpretation of its social connotations as well as that of its use. Her work Black Fleece consists of a wall painting and a sculpture installed on a pedestal in front of it. The painting depicts a black sheep that is elevated with the help of a ribbon tied around its belly and by which it is attached to a clothes hanger. The image of the sheep suspended in the air is taken from the logo of the clothing brand “Brooks Brothers“. Prieto refers to the brand as example for a variety of companies who accoutre a neo-conservative elite. As the image is blown up and painted in tar, it gains a subversive meaning, with its changed materiality and context reflecting upon commodities and class division. The sculpture has the form of a pair of men‘s sneakers made out of mineral carbon, referring to icons of contemporary material culture. With the elevated positioning of the shoes on a pedestal, Prieto exposes them as enigmatic status and power symbols. The specific materiality of the works addresses both the commodity value of such matters as carbon and tar, and the political and economic power related to them. Prieto alters the meaning of their utilitarian use as fuel or waterproof material by introducing them to the realm of aesthetics. By employing logos and enigmatic imagery of contemporary material culture, she questions the origins of these works and the context of their production in terms of power relations, environmental impacts, social determinations, as well as the finiteness of oil and the wars fought over it.

 

Alejandra Prieto "Black Fleece", 2010

Alejandra Prieto "Black Fleece", 2010

 

Rodrigo Canala‘s Banderines Vacíos departs from questions discussed within aesthetics and the visual arts, connecting them to issues of visual pollution. Canala, who studied architecture, places his subtle and almost invisible zigzag rows of flags made from PVC and almost invisible in vain to move from one exhibition space to another. Between ornamental drawings and skeletons or leftovers of an artistic act, this site-specific installation almost goes unnoticed by the spectator. The flag as symbolically charged object loses its monumental character and becomes an allusion of a sign of mourning over something lost, a dark foreshadowing that hovers above the visitors‘ heads in the form of threatening and mysterious objects. As ruins of the symbols used to solemnise a home country, between the exertion and loss of order, the work displaces narration and questions “the power” of images. At the same time, it refers to an ever-present issue of our times, which is visual pollution, both in urban centres and the internet, with an omnipresence and surplus of images, advertisements and symbols. The subtleness with which it is installed in the exhibition space further points to the invisibility of most pollution in the atmosphere and air we breathe, an even more dangerous subliminal contamination that can go unnoticed by the naked eye.

 

Felipe Mujica presents two works in the exhibition. For and Against is a mural painting, pervading the space with yellow and black interventions in triangular forms. They reshape the room and spin an invisible net through it by reappearing in different spaces and in varying forms. The geometric design of the paintings also enters into dialogue with the other works in the space and challenges their spatial layout and distribution. The piece as a formal gesture evokes a certain oscillation between meeting, exchange and antagonism with the rest of the exhibition. In this sense, Mujica refers to cultural codes, ideologies and opposing views upon the social aspects of modernisation in Latin America. Positive and negative at the same time, Mujica discusses the different angles of these cultural and economic conflicts. His second work in the exhibition Por pintar la libertad de colores consists of a series of drawings based on graffitis found in the city of Rio de Janeiro. During his residency at Capacete Entretenimentos, Mujica observed the “pixações” that have an effect on the visual appearance of contemporary Brazilian cities. With a slide show of photographs of the drawings, the artist refers to the mural paintings of the 1970s and 80s during the military dictatorship in Chile, which were painted by the Brigada Ramona Parra of the Communist Party of Chile as silent protest against the politics of their time. Mujica discusses the power of gestures and symbolic actions, and the possibilities and constraints of freedom of opinion and speech, thereby addressing the subject of contamination from a political angle.

 

Tomas Rivas‘s work Ciudad Obtusa poses another direct reference to the exhibition hall. Investigating two and three-dimensional spaces, Rivas’ mural work combines sculpture, drawing and technique. Rivas refers to the fresco paintings from the 15th century incorporating central perspective and the vanishing point that were discovered around this time. The ephemeral piece addresses our relation with our environment, between the transient and the permanent. The process-like character of the work questions its antique referent and classical relevance of the fresco painting, and places it as an already obsolete ideal. The immateriality of the represented image becomes clear when the viewer deciphers it as an urban scene of a Renaissance court. As the title of the work implies, it also intends to offer a utopian vision in the sense of Roland Barthes. Rivas’ refers to the notion of the obtuse as extending culture, language and knowledge, and employing art as a means to understand our environs and what is around us, even if it can sometimes be obtuse. By presenting the old model of a city in a traditional format, but infiltrating it with contemporary techniques and ideas, Rivas proposes an alternative in which a multiplicity of canons exists. He aims at stimulating a rethinking of our relation with our environment and proposes a questioning of our ideals.

 

Ales Villegas "La Nueva Cartografía de América", 2010

Ales Villegas "La Nueva Cartografía de América", 2010

 

Ales Villegas‘ work La Nueva Cartografía de América is a proposal for a utopian project. The work can be described as sculptural object depicting the city as a physical and mental cognitive map, alluding to modernist architectural projects and ideals. Visually reminding of Dan Graham‘s architectural models, Villegas proposes a cityscape with seesaws used to settle political arguments and conflicts (inspired by Juan Acevedo Monroe‘s designs from 1924-1961), a football field where the prize is the cup of mental control over the beaten opponent, pipelines that lead to the centre of the earth and underground streets (after José Contreras). This compilation of mid 20th century modernist plans reflects on modern human beings and our environment. In a time during which Fordlandia and other utopian modernist projects were realised in Brazil and artificial cities were constructed within the time span of only a few years, Villegas visions the transformation of mankind into mutants due to pollution and an overdose of information. She positions humans as accountable for the overaccumulation of objects and information in this labyrinth of memory that is infiltrated by ill and tumour-like viruses. She asks how to refuge and end this development, when we have long ago already interwoven with the products and objects we fill ourselves with in the age of consumerism.

 

Francisca Benítez‘ work Prótesis del Nuevo Éxodo consists of 70 photographs that move between documentary, photo essay and systematic taxonomy. During the years 2002 and 2006, the artist captured so-called “sukkot“ structures on the balconies of the Jewish orthodox neighbourhood in Brooklyn. Every year during the month of Tishri around September/October, the orthodox community build wooden cabins on their balconies and in their gardens to commemorate the Exodus. In the construction, they follow exact descriptions and rules in the Talmud, thus giving a form of continuity to these ephemeral structures. All domestic activities are moved to the sukkot, which have open ceilings to allow for inhabitants to see the sky. There is a tension in this series of photographs, leaving the viewer in the uncertain of whether the artist constructed the cabins or if it is a documentary work. With the act of photographing these performative, evolving and disappearing architectural objects, Benítez poses the question of who the Other is in this situation: the one photographed or the artist who is excluded from the codes and religious cultural tradition of the Jewish orthodox community. With the documentation of the sukkot as symbol for moving from the precarious situation of nomadism to a steady lifestyle – and during Tishri back from asylum to vulnerability – Benítez calls attention to urban living situations. She points to the divergency between bureaucratic assignations of how a city is to look like and temporary emerging structures that infiltrate the system and question what is accepted in public space and what is not.

 

Francisca Benítez "Prótesis del nuevo Éxodo", 2002-2006

Francisca Benítez "Prótesis del nuevo Éxodo", 2002-2006

 

Nicolas Rupcich‘s video Postal shows scenes of the city of Santiago at night-time, countering the representative nature of a postcard with the emptiness of a ghost town or abandoned city. The dark colours of the video make it look like a black and white movie, with its inanimate shapes only lit by fade lantern light in the tradition of film noir. The places Rupcich shows add to a dystopian atmosphere, with empty streets, parking lots, stairways and tunnels. The movement of the camera creates an uncanny atmosphere, and it feels as if we‘re following a flâneur from a futuristic science fiction dystopia, who is exploring the city at night time, or some creature from another world moving with the camera in its hand. The dark electronic music, high resolution of the images and in the post-production intensified colours add to an aestheticisation of the city, which otherwise does not look like an inviting place. Rupcich contrasts the activity we know from city centres during the day with the creepy feeling of being left there after dark when all shops have closed and people have disappeared into their homes. The lanterns and lit shop windows seem like contradictions in themselves, since there is no one on the streets to benefit from their gleams. The work does not only comment on urban living, the criminality and fear we are constantly and subconsciously aware of, but also indicates the standby moment of electronic devices and the waste of energy. The video ends with the sun rising and the first movements interrupting the silence of the streets, only to loop and leave the viewer in neverending night, waiting for day to come.

 

Julen Birke explores agriculture in the age of consumerism. With the work Cultivos contenidos, she proposes an alternative to the shortage of land for agriculture due to the expansion of cities, while simultaneously reflecting on her own suggestion with irony and scepticism. Birke presents twelve crop volumes made with aluminium rods and mesh used in agriculture. Inside of them, the artist has placed drawings that account for crops. These zoning systems propose a layout and management of green areas within urban developments by which the space they can claim is restricted. Before industrialisation, cities were organised around food, with markets in their centres and specific streets facilitating the moving of animals through man-made settlements. However today, we are mostly unaware of where our aliment comes from. Industrialisation and progress have forced the production of food out of the city centres, towards the periphery. Leaving us alien towards its production and the importance of qualitative nutrition, our everyday life is governed by consumption rather than by production. Birke understands the nets above the drawn crops as protection from danger produced by us humans and trapping enclosure at the same time. Representing natural living beings, the drawings propose perfect forms that allude to genetic engineering and our attempt to master nature and its uncontrollable forms.

 

Marcela Moraga‘s work Protección de los sentidos can be understood as a documentation of socio-political activism. Calling attention to the human desire to control nature and to our insensibility towards the harmony of natural ecosystems, the video depicts the artist walking into a forest dressed in a white overall and equipped with a range of cleaning products: detergents, mops, brooms and a vacuum cleaner. She kneels down and starts scrubbing and cleaning the grass, weeds and shrubs in the forest, as if she was trying to transform her environment entirely. She obsessively polishes the stones and leaves as if they were human artefacts made for a specific use, seemingly forgetting that they are alive and part of nature rather than manmade. Moraga explores the development of civilisation and urban centres outside of natural ecosystems. She refers to how we move away from the sources of life and functioning biospheres towards industrialised environments and consumer products. She addresses our mindlessness in regard to the destruction and pollution we cause nature and our alienation from it in our quest for a better living through technology and consumption.

 

Vernissage of Contaminaciones Contemporáneas at the MAC, Santiago

Vernissage of Contaminaciones Contemporáneas at the MAC, Santiago

 

What the Future Will Bring
Contaminaciones Contemporáneas is a landmark in the existence of Die Ecke Arte Contemporáneo, and its presentation at two Museums of Contemporary Art an important statement. It not only recognises the quality of the artists and the programming of the gallery, but also the ambition behind the entire project. The value and impact of an initiative like Die Ecke for the cultural scene of the country will crystallise with further exhibitions of Chilean artists abroad and continuous activity in the local context. By stimulating private and institutional collectorship and encouraging collaboration and international exchange, the gallery has accomplished significant achievements over the past ten years of its existence. It will be exciting to follow the next steps and see what else the future will bring, both in Chile and abroad.

 

installation view

Felipe Mujica, For and Against

Cristóbal Lehyt, Ocular Espectacular (líneas)

Francisca Benítez, Prótesis del Nuevo Éxodo

Tomas Rivas, Ciudad Obtusa

Tomas Rivas, Ciudad Obtusa

Julen Birke, Cultivos contenidos

installation view Felipe Mujica, For and Against, and Johanna Unzueta, Ovejas Negras

Catalina Bauer, Lapso

Catalina Bauer, Lapso

Felipe Mujica, For and Against

Johanna Unzueta, Ovejas Negras

Alejandra Prieto, Black Fleece

Ales Villegas, La Nueva Cartografía de América

Ales Villegas, La Nueva Cartografía de América

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