Dead forests. Broken communities. Lost languages. Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña’s (b. 1948) new Tate Turbine Hall installation is an elegy to disappearing traditions, environments and peoples. Described as “an act of mourning for the destruction of forests, the subsequent impact on climate change, and the violence against Indigenous people,” it comprises two giant 27-metre-tall sculptures that hang from the ceiling. The cascading bone-white structures are comprised of various materials, many of which were collected from the banks of the River Thames by local Latin American communities. Vicuña’s piece is ghostly, delicate and, in The Guardian‘s words: “the most moving Tate Turbine Hall installation for years.”
The piece is based around the Andean tradition of quipu. “In the Andes people did not write, they wove meaning into textiles and knotted cords,” writes Vicuña. “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.” Brain Forest Quipu – the title of Vicuña’s interpretation – brings together a complex variety of media, including unspun wool, plant fibres, rope, cardboard, small clay pipes and pottery. Its washed-out, skeletal appearance evokes the bleached tree bark of forests killed by drought or fire.
The piece is multisensory, featuring immersive soundscapes created in collaboration with Columbian pianist and composer Ricardo Gallo. The audio weaves together traditional Indigenous music, field recordings of nature and periods of contemplative silence. Disembodied voices merge with the chirping of insects, dripping water and eerie strings, creating an all-encompassing experience. Vicuña is also known as a poet, penning works such as Jungle Kill (1992) where similar themes of fire and decay are prevalent. As art historian Roberto Tejada observes: “Vicuña’s work, at its very essence, is ‘a way of remembering.'”
tate.org.uk | Until 16 April 2023
Hyundai Commission: Cecilia Vicuña: Brain Forest Quipu Installation View at Tate Modern 2022. Photos © Tate Photography (Matt Greenwood / Sonal Bakrania)