Lugares con memoria is a participatory and collaborative installation that questions the audience’s ability to break the silence by establishing a metaphor on the transmission of traumatic memory. The work is made up of 40 transparent collages, each of which represents one of the 91+ places used as torture and/or detention centres in Chile’s Valparaiso region during the last dictatorship (1973-1990). The highly graphic and synthetic images represent anonymous places, nothing more than mere echoes or spectres of the forgotten. Many of these places have changed ownership and purpose, becoming businesses, housing developments, or even shopping centres. Others are still there. Nonetheless, in most cases, their current occupants are almost always unaware of the place’s past, forgetting all of those who lost their freedom, rights and lives in that same spot where they are trying on new shoes, laying in bed, or making coffee.
This project tries to open up questions about how we remember, how much we are willing to remember, and how uncomfortable we are when we realise how many of these anonymous places are part of our daily lives. The work also poses the question of how far are we willing to expose ourselves –by interacting with strangers- in order to activate an artwork. On the other hand, it is an attempt to rescue a forgotten part of our history. Alluding to this silenced memory, the default state of the work is off. You go to the space and the room is dark. It is only through communication and collaboration with a fellow viewer that they can turn on the lights (by pedaling on a bike), allowing you to see the work. The same communal effort was placed into making the work. The project was financed through a crowdfunding campaign. It is only because of the will and efforts of potential viewers that the work even exists. Bringing back silenced memory is a collective effort, a social effort, and so is this project.
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Lugares con memoria is an interactive art installation that will be exhibited at the Parque Cultural de Valparaiso (Valparaiso Cultural Park) during 2016. 60 collages constructed with lighting gels on acrylic sheets will hang inside a room. Each of the collages will be individually lit, and the lights will be connected to a bike generator placed outside the room. In this manner, in order to turn on the lights, the visitor must pedal on the bike.
About the images
The collaged images represent current views of the facades of places which operated as detention centres during the Chilean dictatorship. The objective of this work is to bring our experiences closer to what happened in these places. Many of the places depicted in these images are places of common use (such as police stations). Others have been torn down and new structures, such as shopping centres have been built in their place. By knowing and understanding the place’s past, and contrasting this knowledge with our daily experiences of these places, we are forced by proximity to establish an immediate connection to a past that for some of us might seem distant or even foreign. Here, in this place where I stand at this moment, someone was tortured. The immediacy of knowing and inhabiting these spaces forces us to establish a connection to our history based on empathy and personal experience, rather than on imagination or even fiction.
And this is how a collage gets made…
About the bicycle
By default, the installation will be in a passive state, which means that the lights inside the space will be off. When someone pedals, a mechanism will be activated and the lights will turn on, allowing for the collages to be illuminated. Because the bicycle will be outside the space where the collages are, one single person cannot turn the lights on and see the show simultaneously. The installation is designed to encourage viewers to collaborate amongst each other, taking turns to pedal and see the work. This collaboration becomes a metaphor of how we transform memory into official history. We must share experiences, listen to and respect each other. This way, we all learn from our past. Because of the social process derived from the bicycle, the installation provides 3 different viewing instances: The first one is the instance of silence. A viewer goes to see the show and does not engage with it or other viewers, therefore all he can see is a dark room. The default state of the installation is not altered and memory fails to be transmitted. The second is the instance of interest (or a shy attempt): The viewer engages with the work and pedals. Nonetheless, because he is not communicating with another person, the lights are turned on in vain. He can see something happening inside the room, but is unable to discern the images. The third is the instance of cooperation: One viewer communicates with another, through interaction they both decide to collaborate so that they can both experience the show. It is through communication, empathy and shared experience that memory is transmitted.
Foundations for the project
It has been 40 years since the military coup that gave way to the 16 years of Chilean dictatorship. By this point, we can already understand how it worked and why it was “successful” for so many years. One of the main reasons for this success is that the military junta essentially enforced a terrorist dictatorship. This figure consolidates its power by means of extreme intimidation, and therefore, silence. In this manner, silence becomes one of the dictatorship’s biggest weapons, and this happens on two levels. The intimidation level, where people know what is going on (torture, arrests, disappearances, and murders) and are silenced out of fear for their and their families’ lives. On a second level, we find people who have not experienced, or are not familiar with this reality and simply cannot conceive that such atrocities can occur in their own home country. Through this mechanism of fear, the dictatorship oppressed our collective memory, and silence and mistrust were installed as the pillars of our social interactions. For the people who did not oppose the regime, or for those of us who did not live through it during an age of consciousness, it is only with the gradual evolution of the transition when we really understand the meaning of the phrase “don’t forget me” and begin to rebuild our national memory, understanding that this is the only way of overcoming the trauma.
The objective of this artwork is to refer to how we have silenced memory by taking away the traumatic identity of these places. In this manner, the collages are colourful and seductive, but really represent how efficient the dictatorship was in silencing memory, even to this date. Nonetheless, the process of re-visiting and representing these places as they look today allows the viewer to link them to that traumatic past, thereby reactivating memory. From this perspective, the work does not celebrate the place. On the contrary, it contrasts it with its own past and critiques its silence. On a second level, the work generates a metaphor on the re-construction of memory. The bicycle creates a social comment on how memory can be rescued. It only works if we collaborate as a society. The sharing of personal memories become the building blocks of a collective memory. This, in turn, is the most effective tool we have against the state-imposed amnesia, helping us to finally overcome the trauma of the dictatorship.