Review of Cecilia Vicuña – Tate Turbine Hall’s most moving installation in years | Art and design
Jhe most moving and mysterious commission from Turbine Hall to the Tate Modern in a long time, Cecilia Vicuña’s Brain Forest Quipu is a moving lament over a dying world, the loss of an ancient language and the destruction of communities, their ways of life and their cultures.
Two large sculptures hang from the roof, falling the full height of the space, one at the foot of the sloping ramp, the other on the other side of the bridge that bisects the space. Pale clumps of frayed raw wool, knotted ropes and twine, delicate woven nets and suspended braided materials sag and fall, sweeping the ground and swaying in the air currents. There are rope ladders strung with driftwood and bleached bones, tangles and loose coils unraveling and unraveling on the concrete beneath our feet, knitted meshes above our heads and balls of bundled rope hanging in the air.
There’s so much detail in this pair of structures, with their knitted and knotted intervals, larger sweeps, and small details – pebble-sized chunks of weathered glass, lamb bones, and pieces of oyster shell, leftovers from dinners spent long ago in the Thames – that you can feel you’ll never get to the end of. Vicuña recognizes the pleasure of looking, finding and rediscovering. Many of these mudlarked fragments were collected by collaborators from Latinx communities in London. Suspended from strings, like rain stopped in the air, these small objects have an almost miraculous character, as if saved from the silt of past lives and caught in the turbulence of the present.
Born in Chile, the 74-year-old artist and poet, based in Santiago and New York (she has published more than 20 books), studied at the UCL Slade School of Fine Art in London in the early 1970s. the CIA-backed military coup in Chile in 1973, she remained in exile, first in London, then in Colombia and Venezuela. In 2009 Vicuña co-edited the acclaimed The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry. As an artist, she is best known for her anti-monumental precarious (precarious), made from found materials. His work for the Hyundai Commission at the Tate Modern takes its form from the ‘quipu’, an ancient system of measuring, recording and communicating knotted textile cords used by the Quechua people of the Andes for thousands of years until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. . Vicuña adapted the forms of this lost material language into her poetry and art for much of her career.
As much as it is a pair of knotted, woven and braided sculptures, whose presence has the pallor of dead things, bleached vegetation, remnants and last traces, Brain Forest Quipu is an elegy to the lost language and to willful destruction. Woven into these sculptures are the sound of birdsong and rushing water, the accompanying noise of insects, the plaintive folksong and the artist’s own voice. We hear string ensembles, guitars and choirs, field recordings and distant and provocative cries. Sometimes the sound seems concentrated in one place, then another, rising and falling first here, then there. It drifts under the bridge of the Turbine Hall and weaves its way among the sculptures themselves, relayed by hidden loudspeakers.
There are passages of high-pitched silence, a chorus of humans and animals, hissing insects, and a stumbling fanfare. This constant call and response also keeps us moving. Turbine Hall is a loud place, but Vicuña and composer Ricardo Gallo orchestrated the volume of the space as much as the sculptures themselves. Sound collapses the past and the present, the human and natural worlds. You feel them shear. Much more than scenery or soundtrack, sound brings his sculptures to life, but with a threna of destruction, loss and disappearance of the natural world. As much as they are visually appealing, tactile, and rather beautiful, these harrowing sculptures are also reminiscent of dead vines and peeling bark, desiccated gourds, and human detritus. I thought of majestic, miserable shrouds swaying in a dry wind.