Colonial Saints Subverted by an Indigenous Brush: Cecilia Vicuña’s Diagrammatic Poetics EMILIO JESÚS TAIVEAHO PELÁEZ, UNC LATINA/O STUDIES | SEPTEMBER 2020

This presentation is delivered in memory of the countless Political Prisoners, 'Desaparecidos' [Disappeared], who went missing or were murdered under Pinochet's regime.

Last year (2019), of the 1,100 people officially registered as disappeared, only 104 have been found.

Con el espíritu de Victor Jara


Writing about her paintings in 1973, Latinx [LatinX? Chilean? American?] poet Cecilia Vicuña states: “I am slowly getting closer to form. To find it I need an opener and then a needle to join the loose ends into a structure that is not only a diagram, a spider web in the cosmos or a mandala but a particular universe to be used by the thinker.” For Vicuña, painting functions relationally rather than mimetically, serving as a mediating technology to be “used by the thinker” in order to generate new vistas for thought, affect, action, and experience. Rather than simply display or represent pre-existing information, paintings create ‘‘diagrams of thought” that shape the world itself, making it possible for their users to think differently and creatively about the correlation between themselves and their environments. Building on the work of C.S. Peirce, Frederik Stjernfelt, and Margaret Iversen, this talk will explore Vicuña’s semiotic experimentalism, highlighting her contributions to the nascent field of “diagrammatology.” I will argue that Vicuña uses diagrams to articulate an intercultural subjectivity in which mediation assumes a central role: By re-deploying and re-configuring colonial aesthetic practices, the artist superimposes maps to voice dissent and creativity, globe and community at once. Understanding Vicuña’s diagrammatic practice will allow us to conceptualize a hemisphere that is neither simply Hispanic nor Anglo-American but both: “America” thus becomes a site of transformation, mediation, and exchange between dissonant cultural histories and traditions, leading to an agonistic artistic and political practice that is loaded with past and pregnant with future."

Screenshot from "Cumbre Aconcagua. Part Three. La memoria del agua (The Memory of Water)" Hosted by the MoMA, New York. 9 September 2020


From, "Cecilia Vicuña, Water Writing: Anthological Exhibition, 1966 - 2009." Rutgers Institute for Women and Art (IWA) (2009): https://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/sites/default/files/dwas/pdfs/C_Vicuna_Catalog.pdf
Paiting by Cecilia Vicuña. "Women's Liberation, or dreams."
""Pinturas de Cecilia Vicuña," in El Mercurio, December 24, 1972. ["I have insisted in underlining Cecilia Vicuña's literary threads not simply to find in them the reflection shared, oneiric themes, but rather to maintain that her art is--almost in its totality--the fruit of very cultured forms; that is to say, it is the product of being educated in an atmosphere where spirituality and knowledge are deeply venerated." [Translation my own.]
Found in La Estrella del Norte, 8 September 1974. ["The artist manifests 'explanatory' poem-texts next to each frame./ Cecilia Vicuña aspires towards a socialism of heat and candor: 'Socialism must be erotic,' she maintains./ She has the feeling of being more poet than painter: 'What I find within my poems is a form of seeing reality.'/ Cecilia Vicuña's exposition will remain in the 'Ercilla' gallery until next Sunday."
El Corno Emplumado/The Plumed Horn, no. 25, January 1968.
"A Note on the Collaborators," by the editors (Margaret Randall & Sergio Mondragon).

“CECILIA VICUÑA, twenty years a poet, native resident of Santiago, Chile, is--along with CLAUDIO BERTONI and MARCELO CHARLIN (Chileans, too)--the last fruit to fall from the Tree of Poesy written the Spanish language. These poets re/turn our gaze towards the simple things in life, but things not ‘poeticized’ as they had been in Neruda; here, instead, life is illuminated by the twin lights of humor, with its warm candor, and the dark light of ‘crazy reason’ that has stalked Lautreamont and Breton and whose strange, distant relative might be Zen Buddhism... with its ‘disparates’ [dissonances/mind-gaps] (similar to the ["dissonant flashes"] found in the Evangels). The language of these poets is the becoming of ‘an/other language’: they are speaking to us of absolutely real things, but in order to make sense of the wild clues they provide, one must have a passport stamped with both simplicity and mental hygiene. Only blindness, bad faith, and spiritual cancer will impede anyone from ‘seeing’ in this poetry the voice of the ‘new people,’ the voice of the post-apocalyptic generation, of the return to primitive Christianity, to the rite of fire, to wild art—a [polyphonic] tune to which our sensibilities have become attuned to since Picasso. THE PLUMED HORN salutes these three poets--and in particular the horn sings for Cecilia Vicuña, the most martian of the three--harbingers of the new poetry, the new spirit! Authentic prophets and revolutionaries... Poetry is throwing a party and here we are, a part of the banquet. As can be clearly seen, the most profound thread of poetry continues to walk on: it is the thread taken by San Juan de la Cruz, Arnim, Baudelaire, Blake, Apollinaire, Paz…”

(Translation my own, emphasis added)

From, Bianchi, Soledad. La memoria: modelo para armar. Grupos literarios de la década del 60 en Chile. Entrevistas. Santiago, Dirección de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos-Centro de Investigaciones Diego Barros Arana. 271 pp.

Interview with the Tribu No:

[The 'Tribu No' was an informal group of poets and artists who created art actions in Santiago de Chile, from l967 to l972. Cecilia Vicuña named it and authored the “No Manifesto”. It had as its members Cecilia Vicuña, Claudio Bertoni, Sonia Jara, Francisco Rivera, Coca Roccatagliata and Marcelo Charlín]:

"[...] We felt ourselves to be inheritors of the beatnik spirit, and that's what we were! We were 'beat'] before we had a name for it, because this was something that was in the air... it was something that existed and ascended./ We came across The Plumed Horn in the University Library and, for me, it was an experiencing of reading it and instantly writing to Sergio Mondragón--and he was immediately dazzled by my language, since letters then carried with them a sort of libidinal call, ha, ha, ha. They were the hottest thing you can imagine: feverish and full of love, and light... In those days I was in correspondence with him, and with a bunch of Latin American poets, and with Henry Miller, Cortázar, Ernesto Cardenal, William Agudelo, the nadaistas..." [Translation my own.]
"[...] Born in Santiago in 1948. Studied art in the University of Chile. Left to England on Scholarship through the British Council, living in London until 1975. That year she began a series of travels through the criollo continent, researching andean shamanism, oral [aural] traditions, mythology, and pharmacopoeia. In 1980 she rooted in New York." 18 February 1996. [Translation my own]. Accessed through: http://www.memoriachilena.gob.cl/602/w3-article-80123.html
"...maybe because these works seem to belong more in the future than in the past."


Cecilia Vicuña, "El Paro/The Strike" (2018)

"Doesn't a breath of air around our predecessors grave us? Is not in the voices we lend our ears to, an echo of the now muted?"

Walter Benjamin. "On the Concept of History," [translation by Alexander Weheliye (quoted in Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity, p. 103).

Coup of September 11, 1973. "Bombing of La Moneda (presidential palace)"

[A Vicuña painting named 'Menstruation Angel'] "...shows an angel looking as though [s]he is about to move away from something [s]he is fixedly contemplating. [Her] eyes are staring, [her] mouth is open, [her] wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. [Her] face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, [s]he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of [her] feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in [her] wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels [her] into the future to which [her] back is turned, while the pile of debris before [her] grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

Walter Benjamin "Theses on the Philosophy of History." Illuminations, translated by Harry Zohn. (Translation modified.)

"The wild desire to reach that [inter]stelar Tibetan city where the White Buffalo converses with man." Lezama Lima, 1969. (Translation my own.)

"I decided to paint a portrait of Violeta Parra for the series of Heroes of the Revolution, because not all the heroes have to be leaders, thinkers or guerrillas, we also need heroes of being, painting and invention."

"Violeta Parra o Violenta Vid" (1973)

"Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto/ Me ha dado la risa y me ha dado el llanto/ Así yo distingo dicha de quebranto/ Los dos materiales que forman mi canto/ Y el canto de ustedes que es mi mismo canto/ Y el canto de todos que es mi propio canto"

"Thanks be to Life, for giving me so much/ for giving me laughter and giving me weeping/ So I may distinguish/ beatitude from brokenness/ These two matters that make my song/ and your song, too, for we sing the same song/ this song of all, which is my very own song." (Translation my own.)

Cecilia Vicuña, "Black Panther and Me (ii)" 1970-1978
"[...] The Blank Panther represents the beloved party from New York, it may attack me. I await with pleasure any of her attacks, because we're talking about a friend of mine./ December 1970" [Translation my own.]
Cecilia Vicuña, "Dream: Indians Kill the Pope" (1971)
From the artist's website: "The Cultural Front, painted in London, before the military coup of September 11th, 1973, it represents Chilean culture as "a circular animal, or an egg hatching the revolution" where "all media conform a collective universe, neither vertical nor horizontal, but circular."
Cecilia Vicuña, "El Paro/The Strike" (2018)


"Snow Leopard" from World Wildlife
"¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!" [United/ The People/ Will Never be Defeated!], c. June, 1973.


Screenshot from "Cumbre Aconcagua. Part Three. La memoria del agua (The Memory of Water)" Hosted by the MoMA, New York. 9 September 2020.

"Language is migrant. Words move from language to language, from culture to culture, from mouth to mouth. Our bodies are migrants; cells and bacteria are migrants too. Even galaxies migrate." from Language is Migrant, emphasis added.

from, About to Happen (2016)
Radical Mycology: A Treatise on Seeing and Working With Fungi (2016); Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World (2005); Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures (2020); A Field Guide to the Mushrooms of the Carolinas (2018).
Screenshot from "Cumbre Aconcagua. Part Three. La memoria del agua (The Memory of Water)," Virtual Event hosted by the MoMA, New York. 9 September 2020
Created By
Emilio Taiveaho