Monday, November 5, 2007

Precarios y Dia de los Muertos

Thoughts about Day of the Dead and ideas in the work of Cecilia Vicuna. On ephemera, seeds, the very small and very temporal, things that get thrown away or go into the ground and become something else. All the make-up and the assemblage that goes into costumes and altars and only last a few hours. Also, weaving. The flickering lights and streamers and trailing smoke from incense and the criss-crossed stems of flowers that get piled on all the altars. An incidental kind of fabric forms and clothes something invisible, rendering it visible.

These passages are from
For the full text of Lucy R. Lippard’s essay "Spinning the Common Thread", see: The Precarious/quipoem: The Art and Poetry of Cecilia Vicuña, edited by M. Catherine de Zegher, University Press of New England, 1997.

The precarios are visual poems, "metaphors in space." Scraps of stone, wood, feathers, shells, cloth, and other human-made detritus are gently juxtaposed. They are often shades of white, gray, black, brown, bound perhaps with bright-colored thread—very pure, clean, washed by the weather. Their "fastening" is so loose, so flexible, that the parts seem to have blown together into a whole that might metamorphose at any moment into another. "Precarious is what is obtained by prayer," Vicuña has written. "Uncertain, exposed to hazards, insecure. From the Latin pecarius, from precis; prayer." The word oir (to hear) was originally the same word orar (to pray). "Reciprocity. By praying you reconnect."

There is a strong spiritual element in the process of making the precarios, which begin in the recognition of worth in the lost and discarded. "I look at things backwards, as they are going to look when I am gone," says Vicuña. "I have a very intense feeling that what we do is already the remains of what we are doing. The dead water, our poems. I try to bring an awareness of what we are leaving, so that by picking up things I am conscious of what has been thrown away but is staying."

Reciprocity is the essential law of the ancient world. Vicuña sees all her work as a response to her materials (and everything in life is material for art): "These materials are lying down and I respond by standing them up. The gods created us and we have to respond to the gods. There will only be equality when there is reciprocity. The root of the word respond is to offer again, to receive something and offer it back," as in the Native American concepts of the "giveaway," "potlach," and the "giveback," echoing the quipu, the sky reflected in the lake. One of Vicuña’s precarios is a bone, a blue stick and a spurt of grass from a sacred island on Lake Titicaca.


Melanie Westerberg said...

Do you have that Precarious book? I have put it on my xmas list. I love the thing about reciprocity.


Melanie Westerberg said...

Hmm--I read that article you quote from and loved it, but I'm not even sure how crazy I am about her poetry I am after reading the work the article links to. So I'm rethinking getting the book, but her ideas and the way she executes them are just so compelling to me. I saw her read/perform at CCAC in her breathy voice throwing string around and loved that. So I was thinking about all this in terms of my stupid novel, where there is now an artist who makes Vicuna-style art referencing North America from hanks of the abandoned weaves that litter the streets of Oakland. Here is a quote:

She fixed on an illustration of one of Vicuña’s pecularios, a stone next to a string tied like a quipu, and thought that although we did not have this particular tradition in our country, what she imagined were piles and piles of quipu in a roofless fourteenth-century ruin of an Incan cubicle, we did have these weave pieces in the streets. Cast from women’s heads, trampled by rain and traffic, knotty and full of garbage. We did not have the same word for “to weave” and “to breathe” like in the Quechua language, but in Oakland you might have to differentiate whether you are weaving a cloth or having a weave put in or torn out of your hair, and there’s beauty there.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Upon closer consideration, I think the thing about Quechua isn't true and that I just made it up.

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