Hyundai Commission: Cecilia Vicuña


About the Exhibition

“In the Andes people did not write, they wove meaning into textiles and knotted cords. Five thousand years ago they created the quipu, a poem in space, a way to remember, involving the body and the cosmos at once. A tactile, spatial metaphor for the union of all.”—Cecilia Vicuña

27 meters of pale, ghostly quipu sculptures hang from the ceiling at opposite ends of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Hyundai Commission: Cecilia Vicuña: Brain Forest Quipu continues Cecilia Vicuña long-standing work with the ancient Andean tradition of the quipu. Woven together from different materials including found objects, unspun wool, plant fibers, rope and cardboard, the sculptures are combined with music and voice that emerge at moments as you move through the space. This multi-part installation is an act of mourning for the destruction of the forests, the subsequent impact of climate change, and the violence against Indigenous people, but also an opportunity to create a space for new voices and forms of knowledge to be heard and understood.

Vicuña’s reimagining of the quipu contains a number of layers: sculptural, sonic, social and digital. She invites us into the “Dead Forest Quipu," a pair of sculptures whose skeletal forms draw attention to the severity of the climate crisis and the delicate nature of our ecosystems. Their bone-white color reminds us of bleached tree bark of trees killed by drought or intentional fire and other dried-out substances like snakeskin. Placing the sculptures at either end of the Turbine Hall, Vicuña creates an alternative architecture binding the two ends of the space. Made from a range of organic materials and items collected from the banks of the River Thames by women from local Latin American communities, the work extends her practice of putting together found, imperfect, and modest materials that she calls precarios (precarious).

These structures are accompanied by a “Sound Quipu” playing within the sculptures and under the bridge. This has been conceived by Vicuña and directed by Colombian composer Ricardo Gallo. This quipu brings together Indigenous and traditional music from several regions, new compositions by Gallo and Vicuña, other artists and field recordings of forests. These are purposely interspersed with periods of silence in recognition of the loss taking place across the globe.

The “Digital Quipu” weaves together videos of Indigenous activists and land defenders from regions around the world who are using digital platforms to amplify their calls. Shown on video monitors in locations throughout Tate Modern and online, the “Digital Quipu” offers political and economic context for the material realities faced by communities in the ongoing struggle to protect and preserve their respective ancestral territories, communities and traditions.

Vicuña writes: “the Earth is a brain forest, and the quipu embraces all its interconnections.”

Hyundai Commission: Cecilia Vicuña: Brain Forest Quipu is curated by Catherine Wood, Director of Programme, Tate Modern and Fiontán Moran, Assistant Curator, International Art, Tate Modern with Helen O’Malley Curator, Community Programmes, Tate Modern.

About the Artist

Cecilia Vicuña (b. 1948, Santiago, Chile) is perhaps best known for her radical textile sculptures, combining natural materials and traditional crafts. She received her M.F.A. from the National School of Fine Arts, University of Chile in 1971 and went on to study at Slade School of Fine Art in London in 1972. After the military coup against former Chilean President Salvador Allende, Vicuña became a founding member of Artists for Democracy while continuing to live and work in exile in London, Colombia, USA and Argentina through the 1970s, 80s and 90s. This sense of impermanence, and a desire to preserve and pay tribute to the country’s Indigenous history and culture, have characterized her career for over half a century. Vicuña’s art has since been acquired by and exhibited at museums around the world and she is an internationally celebrated poet. This year she had a major solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and won a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale. She now lives and works between Santiago and New York.

About the Program

Hyundai Commission

The annual Hyundai Commission is a series of new, site-specific installations by international artists in Tate Modern’s iconic Turbine Hall, made possible by a unique partnership between Tate and Hyundai Motor. The Turbine Hall has hosted some of the world’s most memorable exhibitions and the way artists have interpreted this space has revolutionized public perceptions of contemporary art. The annual Hyundai Commission offers contemporary artists an opportunity to create new work for this unique context while bringing forward many of today’s most pressing questions.

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