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Viaje Hacia la Luz

“Use your own light to recover the natural clarity of your vision”

Lao-Tse

The time for light is now

Between September and November 2020, the Aninat Gallery (Santiago, Chile) hosted the group exhibition Viaje hacia la luz. Curator Thiago Verardi brought together works by 27 artists, most of them Latin American, including Catalina Swinburn, Carlos Motta, Christo & Jeanne-Claude, Iktein, Iván Navarro, Mónica Bengoa, Marilá Dardot, Luiz Roque and Pedro Barateiro. Painting, sculpture, installations, videos, performances and video-mapping were the media present in the show, accompanied by a consistent agenda of mediations and interdisciplinary activities until March 2021, when the renowned astronomer José Maza took part in a conference on the effects of light on physical and metaphysical bodies, at the premiere of the teaser directed by Raimundo Arrau.

The documentary, to be released later this year, gathers performances and testimonials from the participating artists, besides the architect Cazú Zegers, about their creative or spiritual processes. With a dreamlike aesthetic and a script full of lyricism, the intention is to achieve an amplification of the contents developed in the exhibition.

Part of Verardi’s curatorial motivation was rooted in the poetry L’Invitation au voyage by Charles Baudelaire, where he highlights:

“See on the canals / Those vessels sleeping / Their mood is adventurous / It’s to satisfy, / Your slightest desire, / That they come from the ends of the earth / The setting suns Adorn the fields, / The canals, the whole city / With hyacinth and gold  / The world falls asleep / In a warm glow of light / There all is order and beauty, / Luxury, peace, and pleasure”

 This also happens in his quest for the expansion of the spirit-mind, as Verardi is an explorer of shamanism and transpersonal therapist.

It is important to stress that the exhibition happened in the inception of Chile’s New Constitution, an ongoing process since the 2019 protests with the country embarking on another travel towards Baudelaire’s notion of “order and beauty” (“The happy copy of Eden”, as the Chilean national anthem claims). Regarding the exhibition, Verardi said that “All our most intimate processes precede all political actions”.

The path of Viaje hacia la luz found nexus in a narrative breadth, whose context intensified its possible meanings; hence becoming contingent (and above all urgent!). About this, we can say that every curatorial activity should have as criteria (or skills acquired in the craft): a dialogue between actuality and contexts – or, better, a faculty that anticipates the development of contemporaneity. Research should go beyond the borders of authors and texts (the border of citation) to “make light” from or to the social. Art certainly engages as an activator of silent dialogues and monologues, which may give us some guidance in the vertiginous internal journey and the current health catastrophe.

Three Portuguese-speaking artists

The exhibition allowed us to observe a complex dialogue between the works of a series of internationally renowned artists. Three of them speak Portuguese and presented videos that are available online, addressing the ideas of travel, light, and shadow from very different perspectives:

Pedro Barateiro (Portugal, 1979) participated with the work The acceptance speech (2017), a video developed based on cut-outs, which explore the power of representation in the entertainment (or maskingtainment?) “market” and its ability to distract us, distort concerns, manipulate our emotions and engage us in fake purposes. Combining archival news footage and scenes from films or series, Barateio has constructed a discourse-documentary that exposes some “sandcastles”. Two scenes that stand out are those where Angelina Jolie questions her own self when receiving an award for her humanitarian work with refugees (could this small gesture, this comment in brackets, be a way for the actress to warn about the construction of a fiction?). On the other hand, the video opens with the register of a pie being thrown at Milton Friedman’s face, “the top of the pyramid” in this fiction montage. The starlight projects itself as false. It is the disaster of that which shines without depth or substance. Fiction and discourse even bewildered Pessoa: The poet is a pretender / Pretend so completely / Who even pretends it’ pain / The pain that he really feels…

Marilá Dardot (Brazil, 1973) presented Ir y volver, one of the records of the project Ríos intermitentes (2019), a performance made in Cuba at the time of the XIII Havana Biennial. We see the artist in front of a wall in the town of Matanzas. On it, she writes with water a verse by the Cuban poet Carilda Oliver Labra (born in this place and who had died a year before): “A la esperanza vuelvo”. She writes slowly while the sun evaporates each letter until it disappears. She repeats this action each time she finishes the verse on the wall. This verse also insists on disappearing, its impact is ephemeral and the repetition is distressing. Light makes things emerge, it allows us to see, but its saturation is disintegrating. The quoted fragment is from a poem of the same name, which suggests the theme of vanity and death, in the same way that its author’s epilogue states: “A la esperanza vuelvo, a la madera / que construyó mis días importantes, /a la extraviada primavera / de antes…”

In 2015, Dardot made this action in Mexico, hitting the headlines. Much of her work is related to literary quotes from poetry and prose, exploring the capacity of letters to generate visualities and fictions.

Finally, artist Luiz Roque (Brazil, 1979) exhibited Zero (2019). In this short film, Roque presents us with a reality of an apparent post-apocalyptic scene. We don’t know if something has just occurred or happened a long time ago. A dog awakens on a private plane. It is the only passenger on a desolate ship, without a crew or pilot. The machine self-goes on a journey that seems to repeat the same circuit, from the desert to a city of skyscrapers. The dog seems to evade thanks to a pill, which, for a moment, allows it to dream of lost freedom. Through the window, next to it, we see the crossed reflections caused by mirrored towers. Its melancholic eyes seem to be the only portal, the only windows through which the abyss and the light of what is alive enter and reflect.

Ricardo Mancilla Garay is a curator and art critic living and working in Chile

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