Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuﬁa has a passion for thread and fabric, as Susanna Beaumont discovers.
Like a giant cat‘s cradle, lengths of coloured wool ........... cross the gallery space. Sometimes the wool stretches from the ﬂoor to the ceiling and then meanders outside the gallery into the surrounding Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh‘s lnverleith House. In another room. swatches of tartan cloth placed on the ground appear like a host of coloured tongues sticking out from the surrounding skirting board. This is Precario. an exhibition of work by Cecilia Vicuiia.
Vicuﬁa‘s creations have long focused on textiles, thread and fabric — even as we talk she plays with a length of string. But for the Chilean artist, textiles and weaving have also long been suppressed, dismissed as merely decorative art forms.
‘In Andean culture, which is at least l0,000 years old, the major art form was textiles.’ says Vicuﬁa. ‘It was not a minor craft but the highest art form.’
The artist grew up in 50s Chile where Western values were fast swamping Andean culture and weaving was castigated as an outdated, primitive practice. ‘Of course I didn’t realise that at the time,‘
to contemporary Chile.‘
Textured iinish: one oi Cecilia Vlcuﬁa’s meditations on
she says. ‘Andean culture was completely hidden under the modern colonised world.‘
Yet as a teenager, Vicuﬁa would make what she calls thread installations — on the bus to school, in her bedroom: ‘lt was a passion that was in contradiction
But Vicuﬁa‘s interest went on. Often inﬂuenced by the landscape. her installations became a meditation
on her Andean heritage and the contemporary living world. In the early 60s she filled a gallery with autumn leaves. On another occasion she poured milk onto a pavement in the Colombian capital, Bogota. It was tough going — not just because she was a woman dealing with an art world populated by male heavyweights. but also because she was from a country outside the so-called mainstream of Western
‘Look at the dates.‘ she says. ‘I was doing in the 60s what the so-called ecological artists are now doing.‘ (Interestingly. Vicuﬁa is one of 37 women artists
‘I was doing in the 60s what the so- called ecological artists are now doing.’
from the 20th century whose work is on show in Inside The Visible at London‘s Whitechapel Gallery).
It was reading books on the an of the Surrealists and Dadaists that convinced Vicuﬁa there was an established tradition of so-called non-conventional art. And it was moving to London in I973, in the aftermath of the Chilean coup. that gave Vicuﬁa further exposure to different an traditions.
Since the 60s. Vicuﬁa has also made what she calls precarins. Taken from the Spanish word for fragile, they are mini sculptural works made from objects found mainly in rural landscapes. A bundle of sticks, a ball of ﬂeece, a few shells and stones — they are for Vicuﬁa ‘visual metaphors made from debris’. But it is her thread installations that criss-cross the white gallery space. allowing the viewer to travel in between the coloured strands that weave a kind of a magical presence. As Vicuﬁa puts it: ‘The thread invites participation. It is something living.’ I’remrio is at lnverleith House. Royal Botanic Garden. Edinburgh until Sun 5 Jan.
‘Is it a sculpture, is it an installation, or is it two concrete walls?’ ltobin lee, one halt oi the team responsible tor a new sculpture installation at Glasgow University, anticipates an obvious question. “Sure, by calling it a sculpture you connect into a set oi understandable traditions, but what does It really achieve?’ Zeyad llaianl, the other halt oi the artistic partnership, cuts in: ‘Those categories don’t really lead anywhere and they won’t help people to develop a better understanding oi the work. It’s better to say that it is a piece oi artwork.’
The artwork that Dalani raters to is the product oi nearly two years oi work. It sits in the concourse between Glasgow University’s reading room and the more modern student caieteria. The work comprises two
solid concrete ionns oi diiiering dimensions that sit at either end oi the plaza in a curiously awkward aiiiliation.
‘We started work on the piece at the beginning oi1995,’ lee explains. ‘Atter an exhibition at Transmission, it was important ior us to do something in the public realm - outside a neutralgallery space where we could address ourselves to certain issues about the physical environment.’ To that end, lee and liaiani wanted to work in an incidental space, one used by pedestrians as they moved irom one place to another during the routine oi their daily lives. ‘For a short while we looked at placing a piece oi work in a street,’ says lee. ‘but the university site satisiied all our criteria - it was a public space, well-detined while still being incidental.’
llaving iound a site, the two artists spent two months trying to understand the space: ‘We went there repeatedly. We measured the site but more important was trying to iigure out the things that directed your experience as you walked through
Fair square: one oi itobin lee and Zeyad balanl’s square sculptures
Thereon it was a matter oi gathering support irom a variety oi ditierent sponsors and securing permission irom the university to build the work. ‘We had some Scottish Arts Council funding in place,’ says lee, ‘but the nature oi the project meant we had to
lobby firms involved in the construction industry to provide additional support.’ As ior llaiani, the response was very encouraging: ‘We needed to call on the expertise oi engineers, concrete technicians and the like. They provided support throughout.’ (John Richardson)
70 The List l-l4 Nov l996