Sunday 15 January 2023

Brain Forest Quipu

Brain Forest Quipu by Cecilia Vicuna, at Tate Modern.

Twenty seven metres of pale, ghostly, quipu sculptures hang from the ceiling at opposite ends of the Turbine Hall, creating an alternative architecture binding the two ends of the space.  Cecilia Vicuna's Brain Forest Quipu continues her long-standing work with the ancient Andean tradition of the quipu. Woven together from different materials collected from the banks of the river Thames by women from local Latin American communities, including found objects, unspun wool, plant fibres, rope and cardboard, the sculptures are combined with music and voice that emerge at moments as you move through the space. The work extends Vicuna's practice of assembling found, imperfect and modest materials that she calls precarios (precarious).

This multi-media installation is an act of mourning for the destruction of the forests, the subject impact of climate change, and the violence against Indigenous peoples. It is also an opportunity to create a space for new voices and forms of knowledge to be heard and understood, as we take responsibility for our part in the destruction.

Vicuna writes 'the Earth is a brain forest, and the quipu embraces all of its interconnections'. Brought together, the elements of Brain Forest Quipu emphasise the contradiction and complexity of our time. This entanglement of our bodies - with both the material world of nature and the places that we live - is enmeshed in the hive-mind of technology  that connects us with each other, while isolating us in new and often uncertain ways. Vicuna suggests that we are at the beginning of a new time, one where we must first become aware of our collective responsibility in order to change the destructiveness, injustices and harm.

The quipu is an ancient recording and communication system. It was used by the Quechua people of the Andes from 2500 BC through to the 16th century at the time of the Spanish conquest. Quipu means 'knot' in the Quecha language and consisted of a long textile cord from which hung multiple strands knotted into different formation and in different colours that were able to encode as much complex information as the alphabet.

Although the exact meaning of the knot formations are not now known, it is thought that they were used to record statistics, poems and stories, thereby creating a tactile relationship to memory and the imaginary. Vicuna has been exploring and transforming the quipu in her work for over five decades. The nots and materials are unlike the traditional form but inspired by it.

Looking down from the 4th floor.

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