Orientation trips
The Mondriaan Fund organises orientation trips for visual artists and mediators to Asia, Latin America and Africa since 2004. The trips are aimed at exchange and cooperation between visual art professionals.

Which role does Pinochet’s dictatorship play for the emerging contemporary art scene in Chile? This may seem like a strange question to ask in a year where Chile celebrates its 25th year of the return of democracy. However, everywhere we go the ghost of Pinochet’s rule of terror seems to linger with the profound effect its strict censorship and violent repression of dissenting voices had on all levels of Chilean society including, of course, the art world.

Today we went to the heart of it all by visiting Museo de la Memoria – a museum founded in 2010 to commemorate the atrocities carried out by the regime of Pinochet and to celebrate the upholding of human rights everywhere. We met with director Ricardo Brodsky and curator Mariá José Bunster, who explained to us that the impressive museum takes its guidelines from the truth commissions that were instituted after the overthrow of Pinochet’s government. These clarified that 3.200 known Chileans were killed and 40.000 were arrested and tortured during the dictator’s seventeen years of rule.

The museum includes a permanent exhibition of memorabilia tied to the Pinochet years, a large documentation centre and two spaces for temporary exhibitions – one for contemporary artists working with human rights issues and the other for exhibitions dealing with the vast collection of the museum. At the
entrance to the museum, the permanent installation and memorial ”The Geometry of Conscience” by Chile’s own Alfredo Jaar could not be overlooked. The memorial admits only ten people at a time where they, locked in, begin by experiencing a minute of total darkness after which the back wall lights up with hundreds of silhouettes mirrored into infinity. Suddenly, the room falls dark once again creating a powerful visual after effect in the eyes of the visitors. Although the silhouettes are gone, you will still see them and you cannot escape them no matter where you look.

We headed onward to visit the culture centre Matucana 100 and its dynamic curator, Paco Barragan. As is the case with many of the art spaces we have seen in Chile so far, the scale of this institution, a former storage facility for train material, is massive.

Paco Barragan gave us an introduction to his show “Politics and Celebrity” showing work by 40 international and Chilean artists who all explore the role of politics in a celebrity-fixated culture and vice versa. A recurrent theme in the presentations of the directors we meet is how they try to fill their huge spaces with vibrant exhibitions despite a dysmal funding situation – a few tricks were revealed to us here: save on transportation costs by showing work of a size you can bring with you in your own suitcase, and if you cannot present the paintings or prints you want… well, you can print everything from images online nowadays. Alfredo Jaar met us once again in the shape of his work “May 1, 2011” consisting of two flat screens with the right showing the staged image of USA’s political leadership allegedly watching the assassination of Osama bin Laden. In Jaar’s installation, though, they are only looking at at blank screen. What they really saw, Jaar seems to point out, we will likely never know.

Merete Jankowski