Denne fredagsmorgenen er det en lang kø i solsteken utenfor EMST National Museum of Contemporary Art, en institusjon som siden 2014 har holdt til i lokalene til det tidligere ølbryggeriet Fix Brewery. Bygningen er blant de største som Documenta 14 disponerer, og viser kunst over fire etasjer. I utstillingsguiden spør kuratorene seg blant annet «what (kind of citizen) this factory can still produce».
Kunstkritikk møter den New York-baserte, chilenske poeten, billedkunstneren og filmskaperen Cecilia Vicuña ved installasjonen hennes Quipu Womb (The Story of the Red Thread), et arbeid kommisjonert av Documenta 14 til utstillingen i Aten. Cecilia er omgitt av besøkende som hilser på henne og gir henne komplimenter for arbeidet hennes, før de stiller seg i kø for å slippe inn i det lille rommet som har oppstått under de lange klasene av uspunnet, rødfarget garn fra lokale produsenter, som dingler fra taket åtte meter over hodene våre. Et delikat arbeid, og Cecilia instruerer utstillingsguidene om å be publikum være forsiktige når de går inn, så ikke det faller ned.
Intervjuet ble gjennomført på engelsk, og gjengis her i original.
Your work can be seen as poetry in space; you move between several disciplines and often make participatory works. The red thread and the quipu is something you have been working with for decades. Standing in front of your installation here in Athens, could you start by explaining what is a quipu?
The word quipu comes from Quechua, the language of the indigenous peoples of the Andes, which is still spoken by 9 million people. The oldest quipu that has been found is 5 000 years old, and I believe it was made with a mixture of cotton and wool. That would make it a system of writing, perhaps before the kind of writing that was invented in Mesopotamia. The principle of the quipu is that the shape and the position of the knot in the thread indicates meaning. So the connotations within the knot are so many that it has as much ability to carry meaning as the alphabet we use in the west. Currently there is a research at Harvard University that studies some of these interpretations, but until this moment it has been undeciphered. I personally have been spending 50 years, creating quipus that are my own inventions. Quipus such as these never existed, but I imagine the possibility of existence of things in this order. There is a colonial text written by a priest in the 17th century that indicates that there was a ritual of huge balls of red wool, and I encountered that years after I was doing exactly such rituals. So what kind of memory is in our being when quipu was forbidden by the Spanish in the 16th century? This piece is the revival of something that has been crushed and forbidden by the colonial powers for 500 years. There is a tremendous power just in the concept of the quipu.
Could you say some words about this new installation?
The installation Quipu Womb (The Story of the Red Thread) is a womb for another way of being with ourselves, with the land, with each other. The quipu in my opinion was created by women thousands of years ago and it is a cosmic instrument for us to remember that we belong in the cosmos. It is inspired by the umbilical cord; I see this as a cosmic umbilical chord. And it is read for menstrual blood because menstrual blood is the continuity of life.
I have earlier had the opportunity to be part of witnessing your performances, becoming part of a collective body. What will you be doing in your A Ritual Performance by the Sea, here in Athens?
My performance is going to be on Monday April 10 between six and eight, and I am going to invite people to connect to the ocean and use the wool to weave ourselves into a collective quipu.
You have already been visiting both Athens and Kassel a few times, in preparation of your work. Could you say something about those visits, how has the process been?
During my first visit in June last year, I came to see the possible venues for the installation and visited also the sacred site which was the Oracle of Delphi, so it was a fantastic experience to be there. We slept in the artist residence next to the temple, so I wrote a poem about that, which is now part of my new book available downstairs. It is called Read Thread – story of the Read Thread. Because of this experience of thinking about what would be the connectivity of what the curator Dieter Roelstraete wanted and what I could do, because he wanted to show my paintings as well, which will be on view in Kassel. These are paintings from the 70s and among them you find Angel de la menstruación (1973). I realised the connectivity was the red thread. And so I have written, inspired from this notion from Learning from Athens, a book. It is an artist book where I trace the connectivity between the place of menstrual blood and the red thread in ancient pre classic Greece and how it connects to indigenous cultures of both Australia, Africa and South America. Always through the reading of the menstrual blood.
Is there something else on the program here in Athens that you would like to bring attention to?
I will be part of one other program, in addition to the performance. This is the Uneducation, the program that conceives education as a process of undoing what we have learned in order to learn different ways of learning, different ways of understanding. And I have been involved in the creation of such a process. My mother tells the story that when I was perhaps six or seven years old, I was already creating a little seminar kind of workshop for the other children, inventing new ways of teaching. So this is really the most appropriate place for us to begin, and to have a large institution as Documenta invite processes of uneducation is quite remarkable. And I am very proud to be part of that.
You have throughout your work as an artist and poet been politically engaged in indigenous people’s rights and working against the dictatorship in Chile. How do you perceive the political potential in Learning from Athens?
Yesterday in the press conference I was tremendously moved. I have been in many collective art projects in my life but this one is quite different. Because the sense of urgency and emergency that we are experiencing as a result of the global ecocide and global genocide, is so violent. So a call was coming from practically every speaker to act. Everybody has to act now, everybody has to become responsible for breathing, for thinking, for relating to each other. It is the most magnificent opportunity that we have collectively to behave different as a species. And even though the signs for this awakening are there, they are still very weak, so unless we increase our connectivity and our desire to become part of this transformation, it is not going to happen in time. We risk, not only the end of civilization, but even the end of humanity.