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Valparaiso revisited

Valparaiso seems the perfect embodiment of Make the Common Precious. The port city is hardly well endowed financially, and suffers from particularly severe vertical challenges, but the people manage to give their city the feeling of a work of art in itself. The houses are painted bright primary colours. The stencil are is everywhere and most engaging. There is singing on the street and every second person seems to be carrying a guitar — I even saw a policeman with a regulation guitar over his shoulder.

There are two artists in Valparaiso who have lived in Australia. Diogenes Farro is a ceramicist who fled the Pinochet regime and lived in Sydney for 25 years. He returned home a few years ago and has just started the first ceramics course in the school of design at University of Valparaiso. He is with Patricia Gunther, who is Director of the school of design and has implemented some very interesting teaching methods for textile students working collaboratively with the traditional weavers of Colliguay, a town in the hills just north of Valparaiso. The second ex-Australian artist is Elena Gallegos, of bountiful energy whose textile map of the world will be on display for the event on October 7.

One of Patricia’s students Pitti Pelacios has opened a store Design for Valparaiso in one of the many charming nooks of the city. He has developed a distinctive weaving style that is in great demand. Her weaving accentuates the unspun qualities of wool as well as the use of intensive colours, including black. Her store also stocks many other interesting Chilean clothes and jewellery designers.

A current student is Maria los Angelos Colli, who is showing some of the work that she has been doing with the women of Colliquay. Textile artists in Chile seem to have an amazingly rich source of traditions to work with.P Perhaps there’s something here for a future Scarf Festival!

Public luxury

I love signs of opulence in train stations. Moscow underground is adorned with the chandeliers that revolutionaries pillaged from Tsarist palaces. In a more contemporary note, the public wi-fi access at Santaigo metro stations is quite heartening. Note the way the quid pro quo, taking away smoking but adding surfing to the public pallette.

Fossicking for brass

 I met with the local exhibition designer Felipe Berguño today (he’s on the left with his associate Paola Azocar), how is also helping out with the Transversa exhibition. He is getting the exhibition furniture fabricated and is looking for something that will add that little bit of pretention to the exhibition. I explained to Felipe the signs that might be found at the entrance to bars with rules such as ‘No thongs’ (it took a long time to explain what a ‘thong’ was), or ‘No singlets’. Felipe looked quite bemused, which might be either that Chileans don’t have such items of clothing or that anyone would ever conceive of wearing them in public. Looking around Santiago, jeans seem the uniform of most locals. It is possible that class differences are more internalised that in a country like Australia, where there are visible barriers, such as bollards. We’ll see what they can find to put visitors to this exhibition in their place.

The next quest was to find someone appropriate to recite a verse by Neruda at the opening. In discussing this with Tomas at Centro Mapocho, he pointed out the poem that Neruda had written most specially for the building. Here’s the image of the display at the entrance. Neruda’s poem is almost embarrasingly passionate for a piece about a public building, but that’s Neruda for you. We had some interesting conversations about the difference between Neruda’s communist aesthetic and the equivalent in the English craft tradition, which is more Buddhist in style. Another case of tapping messages from either side of the wall.


 I gave a talk about Make the Common Precious at a conference in Valparaiso. Cicuirto Identidades Latinas is a moveable feast of talk about design and cultural identity that is traveling through Latin America. That day was also devoted to talk about Easter Island and new programs working with traditional artesans such as Andean crafts. There seemed enormous interest in what is happening with the Australian scene, particularly as it opens up possibilities for craft in the art gallery, which is quite a foreign idea here. In fact, there seems to be no word for a practice that fits between ‘arte’ or ‘diseño’ and ‘artesenato’, which is typically traditional and lacking innovation. Pictured were two very interesting speakers, both called Macareña. Macarena Barros Jiménez is a writes a column on handicrafts for El Mecurio and recently published Kume winotuaimi ruka mew (Blessed Return Home) about Mapuche crafts of the lake Icalma region. With her is Macareña Peña who has established a craft store which specialises in works from the Andean region. You can visit her store online here.

Language is an obvious barrier between the two craft cultures, but there seems much to be gained in tapping messages to each other from both sides of the wall.

Make the common everywhere

The use of recycled materials enables some artists to expand the scale of their work so that it eventually floods the entire gallery. This image is from Currents 98: Tara Donovan (Saint Louis Art Museum), and features more than 600,000 plastic cups. According to the artist:

A transformative moment occurs for me when the material ceases to reference itself and begins to take on a formal structure that relates to the natural or built environment

Donovan’s work raises a difficult issue with the idea of making the common precious. Most of the artists in Craft Unbound resort to found materials as a form of resistance to consumerism. In Donovan’s case, however, the wasteful production is accelerated by artistic excess. This work seems to have nothing else to say other than is sheer spectacle.

Packing for Santiago

Alison Leach and Kate Rhodes  taking great care of the preciously common objects that will be flying to Santiago for the Make the Common Precious exhibition at Centro Cultural Estación Mapocho. Let’s hope it navigates the customs and quarantine safely, then faces the biggest test as it passes through the Latin American cultural tests. ¡Buena suerta!

No direction home

D. A. Pennebaker was a pioneer of the direct cinema documentary movement in the early 1960s, which sought to use the new technology of handheld, mobile cameras and synchronous sound to film in a strictly observational, spontaneous style. The movement first came to prominence in 1960 with Primary (Robert Drew, 1960), an account of the Democratic Party’s Presidential Primary contest between Hubert Humphrey and John F. Kennedy.
The movement’s ontology of realism reflected André Bazin’s case for a cinema of realism, deriving from the camera’s mechanical, truth-capturing qualities, resulting in “an image of the world [being] created automatically without the creative intervention of man” (10)
Tim O’Farrell ‘No Direction Home:’ (18/02/2006)

Notalgia for Mud

Wired News: Nostalgia for Mud
“This is the circle of bourgeois nostalgia for naivety,” warned Theodor Adorno in Minima Moralia. “The soullessness of those in the margins of civilization, forbidden self-determination by daily need, at once appealing and tormenting, becomes a phantasm of soul to the well-provided-for, whom civilization has taught to be ashamed of the soul.”
It always seems healthy to take on these kinds of cruel observations, like a cold shower… bracing. But cynicism shouldn’t be the only response.
When you have everything you want, you can’t have need. Necessity is necessary.