Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
In 2006, Chilean artist Cecelia Vicuña carried thick knotted red strands of unspun wool to Cerro El Plomo, a glaciated peak outside of Santiago. Done in response to government-sanctioned acquisitions of gold and silver mines sitting under the glacier by a Canadian corporation, Vicuña’s use of her quipu-an ancient mnemonic device-tied the historical disappearance of the Incan empire to an ecological devastation occurring in the new millennium. Her actions also referenced the Pinochet dictatorship, as well as her own exile when in 1979, she traveled to Colombia and with a red string tied to a glass of milk, spilled its contents in front of the historical home of the 19th-century revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar. This pointed to the disappearance of the Allende government who promised a free milk distribution program in Chile and referenced the nearly 2,000 children who died from tainted milk in Bogata that same year. The connection between these two projects and much of Vicuña’s work is the reliance on the thread-it is critical of the military apparatus in tandem to recognizing those voices lost during colonization. I argue for an analysis of the textual layers existing within Vicuña’s fibre art, from the seemingly banal strands used in her installations and performances to their integration into her lines of poetry featuring the indigenous language of Mapudungun from the Mapuche people. In examining how these constructed fibres enter into everyday language and metaphorically address issues around identity, my paper analyzes the discourse centred on disappearance and its ties to artistic production occurring in Vicuña’s cross-cultural practice.