– Spring/Summer 2017

Floating Between Past and Future: The Indigenisation of Environmental Politics

Lucy R. Lippard

Cecilia Vicuña, Quipu Austral, 2012, unspun wool, string and sound. Installation view, 18th Biennale of Sydney, 2012. Courtesy England & Co. Gallery, London and the artist

Cecilia Vicuña, La Vicuña, 1977, oil on canvas, 120 . 139cm. Courtesy the artist

Words are acts.

– Octavio Paz

Although Cecilia Vicuña’s art is thoroughly ensconced in the present, she is also an ‘old soul’. Her ancestry may include the indigenous Diaguita from northern Chile, as well as Basque, Irish and a Spanish family that goes back to seventeenth-century Chile, which could well mean an early mestizo (mixed) line in all of the southern Americas, up through Nuevo Mexico, as Spanish colonials propagated with local peoples. Vicuña has identified with Andeans since she was a child. When she was six, the Inca mummy of a sacrificed boy

  1. Cecilia Vicuña believes that the similarity of Basque and Quechua was probably a ‘phonetic coincidence. The two names are not connected linguistically or historically. Since Quechua was not a written language, the Spaniards “heard” the word “vicuña” in the Andes, and they wrote it in Basque.’ Communication with the author, 24 May 2016.

  2. Peter Skafish, ‘Introduction’, in Eduardo Vivieros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics (trans. P. Skafish), Minneapolis: Univocal, 2014, p.12.

  3. Vicuña’s sculptural installation Aural (2012) was dedicated to this child.

  4. ‘Read’ instead of ‘red’ began as a typo, but it kept ‘repeating itself’, so Vicuña decided to keep it.

  5. Candice Hopkins, communication with the author, May 2016.

  6. Quoted in Lucy R. Lippard, ‘Spinning the Common Thread’, in M. Catherine de Zegher (ed.), The Precarious/QUIPOem: The Art and Poetry of Cecilia Vicuña, Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1997, p.15.

  7. Surpik Angelini, ‘Cecilia Vicuña: The Aural Dimension/La Dimension Aural’, Artlies, Fall 2000, p.54.

  8. Sabra Moore, communication with the author, May 2016.

  9. C. Vicuña, communication with the author, May 2016.

  10. For a theoretical artist’s ideas relatable to Vicuña’s work, see Bruce Barber, Littoral Art and Communicative Action, Champaign, IL: Common Ground, 2013.

  11. I lived in New Orleans in the late 1940s and recall plunging tropical rains that flooded the streets with an abandon unfamiliar to a Yankee, as well as snakes, gravestones, wild oaks and Cajun talk on the Bayou Barataria. For the past 23 years I have lived in New Mexico, where agua es vida (water is life) is a constant refrain. These extremes inform my ecological consciousness as Latin America and New York have informed Vicuña’s.

  12. C. Vicuña, communication with the author, May 2016.

  13. Over the years Vicuña has often called her ephemeral sculptures basuritas, or ‘little garbages, little rubbish’.

  14. See C. Vicuña, ‘Language Is Migrant’, Harriet, 18 April 2016, available at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2016/04/language-is-migrant (last accessed on 25 January 2017).

  15. Florida ran out of water a few years ago in a massive drought, bringing home the extent of a crisis often confined to the West, and today sea water is infiltrating the aquifers in the Everglades as seas rise.