27 September 2019
Delfina Foundation (DF): Your practice appears to grapple with experiences, affect, and memories – particularly those that may have been marginalised, disregarded or hidden – and how these can be understood, shared, translated. What drew you to explore this area and how in general has your thinking and approach to it developed?
Constanza Alarcón Tennen (CAT): I’m interested in every possible way of understanding the world that would not enter the house through the front door, or so to speak. It’s a peripheral way of seeing and working. This is the consequence of me realising at some point that I (as an artist and as a person) did not fit into normative, patriarchal conceptions of the world, nor did I want to fit.
I’m interested in the messiness of incomplete memories, the intensity of affection and feelings, and the inaccuracy of our capacities to transmit subjective information. All this is fascinating to me and has deeply determined my practice.
Bodies and subjectivity are inconvenient for homogeneous and hegemonic constructions and authority, that’s why they are also so powerful if you embrace them.
DF: Your past works have spanned installation, video, sculpture, performance and sound. Could you talk the relation between subject and media in your practice?
CAT: I have no fidelity to any media in particular. I think sometimes you just feel you have to speak through sound, or video, for example. At other times you become obsessed with a material, which modifies all the ideas you might have had beforehand. For me, the relation between subject and media responds to a sense of urgency, I work intuitively, but it’s a process absolutely grounded on language. I consider different media as languages, therefore all decisions must pass through an understanding of what you need to say, how and to whom.
For instance, the project Earthquake for 15 singers became a voice performance because it responded to a disconnection between bodily experience of earthquakes and seismic data – with the latter being generally understood, and in my perspective wrongly, as the actual ‘truth’ with respects to these kinds of events.
But I must say, I don’t consider different media as stable and restrictive. I can be a visual artist who hates images, or to consider my sound practice as a feminist way of resistance. I see my work as a process of making things I cannot, or will not, classify disciplinarily. Binaries are not only dangerous but also pretty boring.
DF: You mentioned a project related to earthquakes. Recently a number of your works have been revolved around this subject. What is it about these ‘events’ that interests you?
CAT: There’s a biographical component regarding this. All these projects are, in a way, my own attempt of grasping and processing a massive earthquake I experienced in Chile in 2010.
But more interestingly, I think earthquakes, in their complexity, are a vehicle for me to speak about radical phenomena. Radical to the body, radical politically, traumatically, painfully, orgasmically. They are a metaphor or the symbolic step that allows me to deal and face ideas that sometimes I cannot put into words. Moreover, earthquakes made me realise that there is more truth and realness in the experience of the body than in any historical narration, or scientific data. This has set me free.
Earthquakes for me are beautiful and terrifying, they have defined the way I understand the ground, my groundedness, as a person, as an artist, as a Chilean, as a woman.
There’s this trust that if you are in Chilean territory you will experience, sooner or later in your lifetime, a massive earthquake; in other words, an event that will reshape you, move the core of whatever you understand as yourself. How could this not determine who we are?
DF: Could you share with us some of the projects you have worked on so far in this area and how/if they relate to each other?
CAT: The latest project I’ve worked on in relation to this is called Choral, Collective, Tectonic. It’s an ongoing project based on the auditory memories of people’s experiences of earthquakes. I’ve been building this sound archive of people “singing” however they remember an earthquake they felt sounding. With this material I’ve done different versions or ensembles, turning very personal, individual voices, into a collective choir.
DF: Having been based in London for the last three months, and I was wondering whether being in a country of such low seismic activity had had any effect on your thinking? For example, many people you have spoken to here may never have directly experienced such an event.
CAT: In most of the conversations I have had with people who have not themselves been in an earthquake, the focus, especially at the beginning, was on fear, trauma and violence. I can understand why that is, but to me it doesn’t make complete sense. I’ve always thought, as I mentioned before, that there is so much more complexity to earthquakes, or in any other extreme event for that matter. I felt that that richness was invisible here, which is ok, but it did make me think about how to approach my work in this context.
This also triggered the start of a new project, which is based on shifting the focus from violence to desire. The project is about two tectonic plates as lovers.
To give some more context: Chile sits atop of the meeting point between the Nazca Plate and the South American Plate. The type of interaction that occurs here is called subduction and it means that Nazca slips under South America. This produced the formation of the Andes and all the earthquakes experienced in Chile, including the largest one ever recorded by humans.
I started imagining then that as the two plates advance towards each other (Nazca to the east and South America to it’s west) and Nazca goes under, they have become lovers. So every time there’s an earthquake, it is actually a release produced by the friction (not clash) of the two masses. I was thinking about their love as one not attached to violence or binary gender roles, the focus on touch and the tension of the space before touching occurs, not in sex or the event itself.
The final piece will probably have five parts or stages, but the core is a text, a sort of poem written from the perspective of desire, that would be spoken while a dance performance occurs.
DF: How do you see this project developing going forward?
CAT: I want to take it slowly, so as not to have anxiety or deadlines related to it. So far I have written the text, made a preliminary version of the sound piece and met with a wonderful dancer/choreographer called Mary Santelices to start sketching some of the moves for the dance part. I have no idea how the project will be exhibited at the end, and it might take me a long time to finish it, but I am excited and intrigued by it.
DF: Finally, I know you have also experimented with other ideas whilst in-residence. You appear to have a very inquisitive, instinctive, perhaps in even playful, approach to production, at least in the early stages of development and research. Would you say this is observation is true and could you describe some of these activities for us?
CAT: Definitely true. I don’t take early stages of production too seriously, but still respectfully. I feel that in those moments of vulnerability and looseness most of the ideas that end up becoming concrete projects arise. I like moving through the limits of my own work. I remake projects, take footage from one piece and use it in another, reuse screws, lights, speakers. There’s no such thing as a finished, pristine work.
I don’t think of my art practice as something separated from my life, so the context of the residency, which provided so much stimulus, was a major influence on the possibility of experimenting new things. I have to give a lot of credit to my peers at the residency for this. If there hadn’t been such an environment of familiarity, community and trust, perhaps I wouldn’t have dared to try raw ideas and followed my intuitions.
During the residency we organised a couple of beautiful pop-up exhibitions which allowed me to try out parts of my practice that perhaps were a bit hidden before. I have to give special thanks to Anna Ilchenko and Ícaro Lira for their support and drive. I felt at home.
One of the pieces I made here a video work, Variaciones de un Antisecreto, which I showed in twice: once projected beside a spoken performance I did at Delfina, and then again, developed further, but shown alone this time, at Goia Mujalli’s open studio. In both circumstances I had tried to push the boundaries of my own comfort zones, but this would have never been possible without the warm group of people with whom I’ve shared this crazy but mind-blowing time.
Constanza Alarcón Tennen was in residence at Delfina Foundation from 08/07/2019 — 29/09/2019, with support from Galeria Patricia Ready and Corporación Cultural Arte+.
Interview conducted by Helen Gale, the Marking and Communications Manager at Delfina Foundation.