Sunday, April 2, 2017

Cecilia Vicuña at the Contemporary Arts Center

Art shows can be like people: some try to make up in drama what they lack in substance, while some other, quieter personalities may have more to say. Cecilia Vicuña's sprawling About to Happen expo at the Contemporary Arts Center falls into the latter category. A tribute to displaced people and things, her concoctions cobbled from twigs, bamboo and derelict objects suggest stuff a crow might have gathered, but actually reflect an alternate history of civilization. A poet and visual artist influenced by her native Chile's landscape and folk cultures, Vicuña has devoted her 70-plus years on earth to exploring her homeland's -- and the world's -- hidden truths. Her approach can also be applied locally: Balsa Snake Raft to Escape the Flood, below, is a poetic bunch of interwoven junk that could never float but suggests the loose ends that would be all that remained if sea level rise were to further inundate coastal cities like New Orleans, where these objects were found. Their interwoven quality harks to Chile's ancient native cultures' use of knotted cords called Quipus to record events, a theme illustrated here in a dramatic installation of hanging, knotted fabrics, above.

Her smaller works return us to the prosaic -- in bird or insect wings, seed pods and colored, sometimes knotted, threads and electrical wires in little cobbled concoctions that read like mini-poems evoking those prosaic yet meaningful events that make up our lives. Those pieces, called  Precarios because their fragility made their existence precarious, are part of a series she began as a teen in Chile in the 1960s, which proved oddly prophetic after Chile's democratically elected government was overthrown by the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet with support from the CIA. A deeply complex artist, Vicuña's life and works are further elucidated in some accompanying videos like La Noche de la Espcies, top. After a long and quietly productive career, her work will be featured in Europe's prestigious 2017 Documenta 14 expo in Germany and Greece this summer. This CAC show is her first major U.S. solo exhibition. ~Bookhardt / About to Happen: Mixed Media Installations by Cecilia Vicuña, Through June 18, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.