July 13, 2016

Ruta 21, Región de Antofagasta, Chile

Thirteen of us set out from Santiago, following the Andes north through the Valparaiso and Coquimbo regions of Chile before encountering the vast, stark beauty of the Atacama Desert. After four days of travel along the route of Pinochet’s Caravan of Death we arrive at Calama. Friends and colleagues have graciously joined the artist collective CONSTELACIONES — Roewan Crowe, Doris Difarnecio, Christina Hajjar, Monica Martinez, and Helene Vosters — to perform a ritual of return, remembrance and witness in Chile’s Atacama Desert. We have become a community bound by daily rituals, proximal intimacies, and shared intention. Alongside our luggage in the trailer, are six large boxes filled with sculptural forms created by Monica to honour and remember the lives affected by the 1973 coup. Returning these symbols of grief, violence, and time to Chile completes a journey that began with Monica’s family’s exile in 1974.

CONSTELACIONES spent months creating a score for this ritual of release. Now, with our witnesses holding space, we begin the durational labour. Open and unpack boxes; unwrap ceramic forms; gather and bundle bubble wrap; remove wrap and boxes from our ritual desert performance space.

The three-hour performance in unforgiving sun and cold high desert wind made witnessing a demanding task as well. With boxes set one hundred yards in the distance, the hour of their unpacking strains witnesses’ senses. Attention must be negotiated as it alternates between focused intensity, conversations with other witnesses, meanderings, and the passing back and forth of binoculars.

Now we carry. One by one, or by the armload we deliver the bone-white cross-shaped forms to their place in front of the witnesses—an offering of remembrance. Back and forth, across the salty desert terrain we carry our vibrant loads, stopping to drink, to rest, to comfort, until the last of the forms is placed on the mound. All that’s left are the sacks full of shards. Monica takes the first handful and releases them onto the mound. Sacks open, witnesses join, reach in hands and rain shards down onto the mound, creating an unauthorized sound sculpture in the desert.

Together, we continue on to San Francisco de Chui Chui to share food on the banks of the mythically bottomless Laguna Inca Coya as we reflect upon our performance.

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Photos by Cassie Scott.

Video coming soon.