Cecilia Vicuña: Brain Forest Quipu / Tate Modern Turbine Hall

As part of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall commissions, the Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña created two monumental sculptures, woven together from an array of different materials. They are positioned at opposite ends of the Turbine Hall and are combined with a sound that is played from speakers within each sculpture. The exhibition is titled “Brain Forest Quipu” and runs until 16 April 2023.

Cecilia Vicuña: Brain Forest Quipu. Tate Modern Turbine Hall, London (UK), October 10, 2022.

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Press text:

Tate Modern today unveils two monumental new sculptures created by Chilean artist poet Cecilia Vicuña. Woven together from an array of different materials, they hang 27 metres from the ceiling and are positioned at opposite ends of the Turbine Hall. These sculptures are combined with audio and digital installations to form Vicuña’s most ambitious work to date.

Brain Forest Quipu is the seventh annual Hyundai Commission for the Turbine Hall, made possible by the ongoing partnership between Tate and Hyundai Motor. The installation brings together different strands of Cecilia Vicuña’s practice: her use of found materials to create delicate sculptural forms, her sound work, her activism for Indigenous peoples and environmental causes, and her pioneering work with the Andean tradition of the quipu. Describing this tradition, Vicuña writes: ‘In the Andes people did not write, they wove meaning into textiles and knotted cords. Five thousand years ago they created the quipu, a poem in space, a way to remember, involving the body and the cosmos at once. A tactile, spatial metaphor for the union of all.’

The multi-part installation is an act of mourning for the destruction of forests, the subsequent impact on climate change, and the violence against Indigenous people. The pale, bone-white quipu sculptures in the Turbine Hall contain a complex variety of materials, including unspun wool, plant fibres, rope and cardboard. These are interspersed with found objects like small clay pipes and pottery fragments, which were collected from the banks of the Thames by women from local Latin American communities. The ghostly skeletal forms of these quipus stand for the dead forests and embody the delicate forces of the ecosystem, while their textures and colours evoke the bleached tree bark of forests killed by drought or intentional fire, as well as other dried-out natural substances like bone and snakeskin. Their interwoven structures also suggest deeper connections between the personal and the universal, from the mysterious grey matter of our brains to the awesome cosmology of deep time and outer space. Vicuña writes: “the Earth is a brain forest, and the quipu embraces all its interconnections.”

A soundscape titled the ‘Sound Quipu’ is played from speakers within each sculpture. Vicuña worked with composer Ricardo Gallo on the collection of compositions, which are woven together from new improvised recordings by Vicuña, Gallo and other artists, traditional Indigenous music, field recordings of nature, and periods of contemplative silence. This ‘Sound Quipu’ is joined by a ‘Digital Quipu’, created from the videos of Indigenous activists and land defenders, which is shown under the Turbine Hall bridge and on screens found on concourses throughout Tate Modern, as well as online.

Finally, a ‘Quipu of Encounters: Rituals and Assemblies’ brings together artists, activists, scientists, poets and defenders of forests worldwide in a collective ritual that will take place at Tate on the afternoon of Friday 14 October. Through a series of events, the ‘Quipu of Encounters’ invites visitors to become active in the prevention of climate catastrophe. These networks continue a process that began at Vicuña’s exhibition Spin Spin Triangulaire at the Guggenheim Museum and will continue in other locations worldwide.

Hyundai Commission: Cecilia Vicuña is curated by Catherine Wood, Director of Programme and Fiontán Moran, Assistant Curator, International Art, with Helen O’Malley Curator, Community Programmes, Tate Modern. It will be accompanied by a new book from Tate Publishing.

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