A fully illustrated catalogue featuring newly commissioned essays by Michelle Franke, Stefanie Kogler and Miriam Metliss, published to accompany the exhibition “Imperial Poem”: the first European solo exhibition of contemporary Chilean artist Carlos Zuniga.
The new body of work on view at Edel Assanti Gallery in London, sees Zuniga’s gaze shift from the subject of the collective memory of his home country to that of the population and landscapes of the Falkland Islands.
Continuing a line of investigation initiated in his practice over the last four years, Zuniga’s vivid, captivating images are composed through the artist’s unique process of manually erasing text line by line; the artist may black out words, paragraphs, or on one occasion the entire text of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Zuniga began plotting his compositions on Chilean phone book pages with his seminal work Next (2008). In Imperial Poem, the artist employs Argentinean phone book as the basis for a probing examination of issues surrounding censorship, identity and collective consciousness.
Over a quarter of a century after the conflict’s inconclusive resolution, to natives and Argentineans alike, the Falklands War remains a politically contentious subject. During a trip earlier this year, Zuniga spent ten days immersing himself in the islands’ unforgiving landscape and meeting the inhabitants of a region that serves as a provocative present-day reminder of Great Britain’s imperious past.
Imperial Poem captures the artist’s journey of discovery, combining the dramatic landscapes of the Falkland Islands with austere portraits of their inhabitants. The resulting works resonate with a quiet calm and haunting ambiguity, opening a subtly intrusive inquiry into national identity and history’s resonance in the islands communities. Visually wholly consuming, Zuniga’s non-violent images resurface the turbulent history suffered by the Falkland Islands. Without reaching foregone conclusions, the works highlight Argentina’s continuing claims to sovereignty over the Falklands, recalling a conflict consigned to history, a territory now overlooked and a people almost forgotten.
In the context of Chile, Zuñiga’s practice of erasing names could be seen as referring to the thousands of people who were detained, and who then “disappeared” during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.
An equally strong reference is made to censorship, a common practice during the repressive regime. The artist does not only point to this but embodies it: for Zuñiga censorship is the very act that lies at the basis of his visual creation.
As Zuñiga suggests, censorship is part of our daily life, we see it constantly around us and it can take many forms. The practice itself could be said to be paradoxical: drawing from Heidegger, censorship means destructing the argument while, at the same time, creating the evidence. In this sense it is a manipulation of the facts, a filtering of information. Erasing and unveiling, censoring and creating are therefore two sides of the same coin. This is clearly visible in Zuñiga’s work where a landscape or portrait is created by eliminating names and phone-numbers. A new meaning is thereby produced, superimposed onto the information already available on the phonebook pages. This process is similar to that of inscribing palimpsests.
The ancient practice of writing palimpsests on manuscripts came into being primarily due to economic reasons: when paper or parchment was scarce it was sometimes necessary to reuse the already written pages. This practice, therefore, was not aimed at erasing, damaging or destroying the information that was already present, it was necessary in order to be able to carry on writing. Zuñiga, however, engages with the information given on the pages. His artworks can be understood as palimpsests in the archaeological and geological sense. According to these two disciplines, a palimpsest refers to the mingling of layers in the soil. As a consequence, it is no longer possible to establish which layer is older. In this sense, the palimpsest denotes a hybrid mixing of layers, to the point that they are indistinguishable and cannot be told apart. In Zuñiga’s practice, the phonebook pages and the superimposed image melt into each other to form a new work of art.
“Imperial Poem” at Edel Assanti Gallery, London, 24 November 2010 – 8 January 2011.
More info: www.edelassanti.com