Spiraling Time: Reflections on Cecilia Vicuña and Cindy Rose Bello

On March 15 and 16, 2013, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley presented the symposium Spiraling Time: Intermedial Conversations in Latin American Arts. In the audience were students from Professor Julia Bryan-Wilson’s History of Art course Latin American Art Since 1920. We are grateful to them for sharing with us their reflections on some of the lectures and conversations they heard.  This post is from student Alysia Echevarria.

On Friday, as I walked up to the Berkeley Arts Museum and Pacific Film Archive to attend the event Spiraling Time, I felt a sense of excitement in the air. People were buzzing with chatter about the first hour and a half of the symposium including some of my classmates who I ran into at the front door. They expressed to me how moving and extremely emotional the first event was, increasing my excitement and anticipation. As a first-time symposium attendee, I was pleasantly surprised by the serenity of the space, the structure of the event, and the participant/audience dynamic.
Cecilia Vicuña speaks via Skype at Spiraling Time.
The first event I attended consisted of a dialogue between artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña and Cindy Rose Bello of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at UC Berkeley. This dialogue was moderated by Laura Pérez from the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. The main concept discussed by these intelligent and passionate ladies was that of time. First to speak was Cecilia Vicuña. Although this part of the conversation took place over Skype, her emotional and comedic impact was not missed by the audience. Laura Pérez introduced her works of poetry and art as “transformative acts of metaphors in space” speaking of the “political-spiritual necessity” of her works. Following, was a short video of Vicuña walking along the sandy beach of Concon in Chile. Alongside her, trailed a long chain of string-like red fabric which was eventually released into the ocean where it spiraled, twisted, and bent in its own accord. When Vicuña spoke about this work it was only to say that the ocean was its creator, that there was no other director. She followed this by showing a pretzel-like diagram with the letters T, I, M, and E placed at intervals throughout. She explained its purpose as a metaphor for the bending of time, describing how the continuity of things contrasts to the knots that it forms creating overlap and a blurring of beginning and end. In a slight change of topic she references her Precarioswhich are “always disappearing” and have a history of both inclusion and exclusion. Despite speaking about various topics, Vicuña maintained an aura of lyricism and amusement (i.e. the different colored mesh she wore on her hand resembling a turkey). Her voice was mesmerizing as she chanted and poetically spoke about her art and of her life.
Cindy Rose Bello responds to questions at Spiraling Time.
Next, Cindy Rose Bello, in her presentation “The Aesthetics of Impasse: On Temporality and the Art of Colombian Conflict,” spoke of the trajectory of violence which developed in a unique way in Colombia as a reflection of a violent global and capitalist economy. She spoke primarily about Oscar Muñoz whose work Aliento (Breath) involves the photograph of a missing or lost person which appears only when the viewer becomes an active participant and “breaths life onto it.” She explained how this act of performance brings an archival truth to a collective political trauma meant to create and advance social change. Bello discusses the problem of the photograph as indexical and how Muñoz created an index that is allusive and impossible. It works towards a different aim; extending temporality rather than fixing it in a specific moment.
At this point, interaction from both the moderator and audience was encouraged. Pérez posed a question involving how two culturally different spaces invoke time, being, presence, and ephemerality from a non-Western perspective.  While Vicuña’s answer is directed towards the idea of disappearance and fluidity of space and time reflecting the consciousness of ancient people, Bello discusses Muñoz’s attempt to find a way to represent liminal humanity and to discover what it means to live in conflict zones in Latin America, searching for a dialogue between government critique and notions of indigenism. A question directed towards Vicuña involved the intermediality of her work and how she decides what medium to explore. To this she responds that it does not matter, because the medium does not really exist, but rather its potential is what is important. Another question directed at Bello was asked by Julia-Bryan Wilson of the Department of History of Art at UC Berkeley, regarding memory museums and governmental efforts for “transitional justice measures.”  Bello discusses how this new form of museum exhibits an architectural temporality where the site is used for specific installations meant to rejudicate the crimes of the government and to promote the idea of civility.
Although both women spoke on completely different topics, they both seemed to focus on the idea of metaphorical ephemerality and impermanence as well as the ideas of the individual and collective consciousness. They shared common themes of transcendental communication, struggle, repression, and most importantly, hope for the future.