Cecilia Alemani awards the Golden Lion to the Chilean artist and activist Cecilia Vicuña, who receives the Lifetime Achievement Award together with the German artist Katharina Fritsch, in a profoundly feminine Biennale.
For decades, Vicuña has travelled her own path, doggedly, humbly, and meticulously, anticipating many recent ecological and feminist debates and envisioning new personal and collective mythologies (Cecilia Alemani)
Cecilia Vicuña began in the mid 1960’s to create different and unexpected works and performances in the streets of her home town, Santiago, Chile. In 1971 she got her first solo show at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago with her work Otoño (Autumn), consisting in filling up a room with autumn leaves. Her artistic production, from painting to installations, as well as her language investigation are permeated with strong activism, as underlined by the titles of her works that are often real political acts. An example of this is the series of sculptures Arte precario, where she gives voice to the southern hemisphere, as a challenge to its status of a colonized territory. Precario are installations such as basuritas, objects made of detritus, structures that disappear. Faithful to her Andean origins, Vicuña tries to fight against the image of the colonized countries created by the West world and does so precisely through the batalla de los significados (battle of meanings) based on her belief that submission and poverty are the consequences of accepting the definitions given by others. Forced into exile after the military coup against the Chilean President Salvador Allende, she spent some time in London as a postgraduate student.
In 1975 Vicuña returned to South America, precisely to Bogota where she worked together with some revolutionary theater companies. Her emblematic performance Vaso de leche (1979) dates back to this period. In front of the Government Palace she ties a small rope to a glass full of white paint and pulls it, letting the ‘milk’ spread on the floor. This performance is a reinterpretation of a dramatic story concerning the death of 1,920 children after drinking contaminated milk produced by a Colombian company. The milk was being diluted with harmful additives in order to increase profits. The performance is a clear denunciation addressing as well the responsibilities of a Government unable to prevent such crimes. Vicuña’s work focuses on connections, weaving and the symbolic role it plays in the Andean culture where fabrics take on a high cultural and symbolic value, conveying new meanings. Using thread and fabric as the main material, the artist not only proposes weaving as a form of participation belonging to popular culture, but above all she perceives and transmits it as a dynamic model of resistance. Her work, which addresses urgent issues in our contemporary world such as environmental destruction, human rights, cultural homogenization, as well as her ‘precarious’ and at the same time intimate and powerful art couldn’t but be chosen and rewarded by Cecilia Alemani in this Biennale where women play such an important role.