Arte y lenguaje del bosque fueguino
Christy Gast es una artista visual estadounidense, cercana a WCS Chile, a la labor de conservación en el Parque Karukinka y a Tierra del Fuego. Llegó hasta este rincón de Chile por primera vez en 2009 gracias a la iniciativa de la artista Camila Marambio, quien convocó a un grupo multidisciplinario de personas para conversar sobre la historia y devenir de Tierra del Fuego, desde las ciencias sociales y naturales y el arte. Gast ha vuelto a Karukinka en varias oportunidades y a ha desarrollado su trabajo en torno a las complejidades de la naturaleza. El miércoles 27 de abril presentará la exhibición de su último trabajo denominado “Field Work” (Trabajo de Campo) en Galería Patricia Ready, Santiago. En Field Work, Gast se propuso escuchar al bosque fueguino a través del rescate de los colores que crecen y habitan en él. Usando plantas, árboles y frutos de calafate, ñirre, cho chó, entre otros, consiguió colores aptos para teñir fieltro de lana de ovejas y construir pequeñas esculturas que hablan, justamente, sobre comunicación. Los invitamos a leer la siguiente entrevista a Christy Gast (en inglés) y a visitar su exposición hasta el 3 de junio.
Christy Gast nace en Coldwater, Ohio, USA en 1976. Es licenciada en Arte y Estudios de la Mujer de la Universidad del Estado de Ohio y postgrado en Artes Visuales de la Universidad de Columbia, Nueva York.How many times have you been in Tierra del Fuego and how your appreciation of the Island -with all its complexity- has evolved through the time?
I´ve been to Tierra del Fuego four or five times now, first in 2009 with the large group that Camila Marambio and Bárbara Saavedra organized for Ensayos. We visited different sites in Tierra del Fuego, shared our impressions based on our different fields of study, and by the end of the 10-day expedition we tried to determine how create a residency for artists and for people working the humanities that would fit together with the scientific work that happening at Karukinka. My impression during that trip was that Tierra del Fuego was an extremely open and free and very beautiful, and that there was a lot of pressure on it, because of economics and because of climate change, from the history of the Karukinka park and trillium to the story of the Selk’nam before that, being pushed out of the island by sheep ranchers. At Caleta Maria and Puerto Yartou we discussed about the push for more tourism and the care that must be taken so that it is managed in a way that takes care of the land, the animals and the people who are there.
Each time I went to Tierra del Fuego I became more comfortable working there, first in Karukinka eventually also in Ushuaia and Puerto Williams, Estancia Miguelito, Seno Almirantazgo and Isla Carlos III. So I get to understand not only the particular history of the forest in Karukinka but also the region as a whole more deeply.
What do you think or feel when you think on Karukinka?
I want to say something about the people who work there, and not only the staff but also the tourists who arrive. It is not easy to get to Karukinka, and people must be very conscious of going there and spending time there. The staff really love their Karukinka, and they feel at home there. It is very much a family environment between the guardaparques, and it extends to the land that they care for.
“Field Work” is your first exhibition in Chile?
It’s my second exhibition in Chile. The first one was in Matucana 100 in 2010. It was when Camila Marambio, who started Ensayos, was the director of visual art in Matucana 100 and invited me for an exhibition. She had just returned for his first trip to Tierra del Fuego and wanted to start a residency in Karukinka. I was in transit during the big earthquake and so when I landed the airport was closed, we had to go to Antofagasta and landed finally in Santiago. It was incredible to see the country come together to help people who lived on the cost. That was my introduction to Chile.
What materials and objects did you use to create Field Work?
I used only wool with which I made felt (fieltro) and the wool is dyed with colours that I made with plants. At Karukinka, I set up a textile dyeing studio in the quincho. I collected plants from the pampas and the forest and extracted colours over the fire. Green and blue from cho chó, gold from mata negra, yellow-green from leaves of ñirre, orange from moss and lichens of lenga, and brown from calafate root and rhubarb leaves. I used the dyed wool to make felt sculptures, which I’m showing at Galería Patricia Ready.
About the sheep wool used, Camila wrote that you didn't represent in the art exhibition, the field itself. What is the motivation in the use of sheep wool?
The work in the exhibition is from the forest, in a way it is made together with the landscape, which provides the material (sheep) and the colors (from plants). But the sculptures do not attempt to make a depiction of the landscape, they are not representational. Instead, I think of them as more like parts of language, small expressions, something like the voice of the forest if the forest could speak.
Did you consider the relationship between native and exotic species in this specific work?
For me is more about learning how to see the forest, and in order to learn how to see it I can’t only learn how to see native species, I have to learn how to see everything. I am training my eye to understand the forest that more than a wall of green, so I try everything that I think would produce a color. It’s not about the purity of only working with the native species but is more about the chance of what plant give me a colour, because not every plant has the chemistry inside to produce a colour.
The art of dyeing fabrics is antique worldwide. How do you approach the idea of this old practice?
It’s a really old practice and in fact the colour spectrum that I’m working with is sort of a pre-modern spectrum, because in the industrial era it was discover how to make textile dyes from coal and since then we use and see different colours. So the way that we perceive the world and many of the the objects that we are surrounded look very much different spectrum now than they did 200 years ago, when textile dyes came from natural resources.
Why did you want to use this technique?
The reason I started to study this technique is that I wanted to make work in the forest and to use the forest as an art studio in the way that wasn’t simply depicting or showing images. I wanted to do something that is more collaborative, so when I collect plants to make dyes, it’s very much matter of chance, it depends on the season and the chemical makeup of the soil, it depends on what’s growing in the part of the forests I’m working in and it depends on the makeup of the water as well, the minerals of the water, these factors together determine what colour I get. My interest was less about saying that colours from the past are more natural and more about trying to make a body of work in collaboration with the forest, so that the aesthetic of the work is determined by the forest as much as by me.
About Dear Enemy, as I understood you try to include the beavers in the decision making through a smell that would be created. How the smell was created and what do you want to inspire or mobilize in humans?
The foundational question is: Is it possible for humans and beavers in Tierra del Fuego to communicate through smell? The reason we asked this question is because beavers communicate with each other mainly through smell. It’s also known that sometimes trappers can communicate with animals through smell u birder to make the animal interested in the trap. We developed a set of four smells based on a map developed by Derek Corcoran, who studied beavers in Tierra del Fuego for his PhD. The map shows the regions in Tierra del Fuego in which the beavers are more or less successful in terms of reproduction and living in these places. The idea of the hypothesis is that beavers are more aggressive to strangers from far away than they are to their neighbours, because with their neighbours they have very well defined boundaries between territories. We made scents to represent each of the four territories, combining scents from the perfume workshop that related to what we know of the landscape. We used a little castoreum, which is a glandular secretion of that beavers produce and historically has been used in the perfume industry. Derek, with Gergia Graells, a biologist who also studied beavers in Tierra del Fuego, designed a research plan that should be done in the field, an experiment that consist of making scent mounds around beaver lodges, spraying them with the scents, and going back the next day and see how the beavers responded. We did it twice and we still have to complete de experiment. We had different responses so far. One of the beavers smashed the scent mount, and another sprayed its own castoreum smell on this.
It is that you want to listen -and smell- the forest and nature in general? What is your approach to nature and what do you think the nature want to say to us-humans?
I’m not speaking on behalf nature but I´m attempting to listen to nature. The first issue I was involved in Tierra del Fuego was the issue of beavers. What is our responsibility as humans with respect to these beavers and the word around that they impact. With my collaborators, we were questioning to how the beavers were involved or not involved in the discussion of its own fate and future.
It seems like you are working in between art and science
Some of the work that I do with Ensayos, unclear exactly which discipline we are using. The border between disciplines dissolves, especially with the project Dear Enemy. Artists were doing science and scientists were doing art. It’s not just my art project, it’s not just their science project, it’s something different. A hybrid. The process of questioning is a similar aspect of both disciplines. For example, in Bahía Jackson, when I was artist-in-residence on the WCS 7th Marine expedition, I was very interested to know why there was so much plastic trash on the beach: where did it come from, and could we determine exactly how many tons there would be in total. I asked Alejandro Villa and Marcela Uhart and they helped me design and carry out an experiment. My interest came from the standpoint of being a sculptor, I think. I was photographing the plastic as it wrapped around the calafate and wove in and out of the driftwood, and I was making video and audio recordings of it flapping in the harsh wind, doing a sort of dance of death. I was thinking of it as an object, a hyper-object, that was spread out in space, and I wondered what its actual volume would be if it were compressed together. We counted and categorized the plastic along three transects, and weighed plastic from certain areas. We saw that much of the plastic was related to the fishing industry. And we extrapolated that there is about 4 tonnes at Bahía Jackson in the area where the elephant seals live. Out of my interest in interrogating this invasive exotic species, marine plastic, to find out where its native home is, we were able to gather data that the WCS staff in Punta Arenas can use to advocate for better environmental practices in the industry. This is the result of an art project, me photographing and filming on the beach, that turned into data that can be used to advocate for change.