¿Has COVID interrupted too much your artistic life?
COVID19 has reached into every aspect of life, turning over every miserable stone to uncover social injustice and inequities.It would be difficult now to undo the truth, impossible to un-see what we’ve been shown.
In terms of my artistic life, exhibits have been postponed, including a survey of my Smog Collectors, a process I innovated in 1987 to make images from the toxic particulate of smog in the air. Art had been borrowed from collectors and delivered to the Begovich Gallery at California State University Fullerton in early March, and the work is still arranged in the space, ready for hanging. If there is an upside to this postponement, it is that the extra time brought forth an opportunity for a book to accompany the show. Gallery Director Jennifer Frias is extraordinarily resourceful and transformed the extended delay into a positive development. For me, the Smog Collector survey 1987-2020 (now 2021), has been a chance to reflect on this large body of work that took me into so many interdisciplinary realms, scientific and environmental.
During this time, I created a new Smog Collector kept in quarantine, collecting the smog particulate through the open window of the studio.
¿What is your relation with Chile or specially Chillán?
During 1996, “Kim Abeles: Encyclopedia Persona, A Fifteen Year Survey” began its tour of South America funded by the United States Information Agency (USIA).I had the good fortune to travel with the exhibition. In Santiago, the solo exhibit was presented at the National Museum of Fine Arts. The embassies arranged for me to meet local artists, and in Chile I had studio visits with artists including Bernardita Vattier, Nancy Gewölb, Arturo Duclos, and Lotty Rosenfeld.
During this visit, along with the more formal responsibilities for the show, several of us visited Pablo Neruda’s home at Isla Negra. Though I do not keep conventional diaries, I did note on a container of sand that it was collected at Neruda’s beach home at 10:29AM. This was the time on a watch I wore that retained the same time zone for nearly 4 years for a project to capture one minute per day for 3.9 years – primarily as audio recordings – in order collect enough minutes to compile 24 hours.
So, your question brings me back to that visit, and like a tourist, I search for the sand and the 1996 calendar that I kept on my wall for decades to come.
¿Have you seen the videos of “Las Tesis”? Especially the one here in Chillán
Las Tesis created “Un Violador en Tu Camino/The Rapist in Your Way” performances to confront violence against women and this has prompted an intense, collective voice worldwide. Influenced by the work of anthropologist, Rita Segato, the idea that “the rapist is you” entirely changes the discussion about violence against women. Segato’s research exposes the patriarchal system and its stranglehold on societies. The work of Las Tesis brings forth an energy that uncovers the system – from the skewed laws to society’s attitudes about “victimhood” to the media’s fascination with violence. We had been sleepwalking through society’s maze of rules. The collective actions of Las Tesis performances spin that system and redirect toward a new zeitgeist.
I imagine you asked my view of Las Tesis because of my work, “Pearls of Wisdom-End the Violence” that included 800 women and their families moving out of domestic violence. Because of my own personal experiences, I cringed any time someone referred to the women as “victims”. I don’t even sit well with the word “survivor” since this also locks an individual in an identity framed within the violence. “Society often limits its view of women in domestic violent environments to the role of victim, rather than their more victorious roles as strong women and mothers leading their families out of a horrible cycle of abuse. These women are not survivors,but rather, they are champions in the athletic and spiritual sense.”
“Un Violador en Tu Camino” is an anthem, a declaration, a mantra pronounced worldwide and by people of all ages. We are not the story that had been placed upon us. We see you clearly now.
¿What are your views of the art scene in Chile?
Catalina Bauer’s installations and artworks resonate with me. I respond to her fearless use of materials as well as her interest in community involvement. She captures the profound, human activity of “work”through textiles and embraces the strong tradition of crafts. This notion of “work”, the action of all labor, is a connection that people share with one another. Bauer’s takes this link between all of us and transforms it into something awe-inspiring.
I’m also moved by the interdisciplinary projects of Josefina Guilisasti who often collaborates with professionals in other fields of study. This is the kind of work that speaks to us, blending aesthetic and scholarly relationships. Her work expresses a type of cultural anthropology, elegantly presenting us with a fresh view of objects whose meaning we tend to overlook.
¿How much do you think the dictatorship influenced art here? ¿And in what way?
When the subject of artworks responds to the world, the politics, and the schisms, risk is inherently woven into its surface. In times of upheaval – wars, pandemics, social injustice – there are two approaches the artist can take. The first direction finds the artist leaping bravely into the quagmire with the intention to untangle it or find its pulse.
The second approach moves far from the world surrounding the art, like the parallel world bubble that some leaders live within. I am thinking of contradictions: Minimalism made popular during the civil unrest of the 1960s; or, Postmodernism made popular in the second half of the 20th century when social injustices ranged from gun violence to the climate crisis to the prison industrial complex. Art and culture are critical components to living, not blinders for the eyes so that we forget our place in the continuum of people before and after us.
Art does not have to look like a television commercial to touch society. And it is in individual action where we see the true possibilities within people. Our political leaders forget they are people with individual responsibilities like the rest of us. We can remind ourselves daily of “stewardship” for the earth and each other.
I don’t always believe that art impacts people – the participants or the viewers – but I need to believe in it. I can put my soul into nature or feel an energy greater than myself. We have already passed through the tipping point. And any stubbornness or resistance to change has just been amputated by a molecule.