With a pavilion that offers a multidisciplinary, multimedia and multisensory experience, Chile has captured the spotlight at the most important contemporary art festival in the world. In the middle of the climate crisis, the Chilean exhibition Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol aims to raise awareness and preserve peatlands, the wetland ecosystem that most effectively captures carbon from the atmosphere, and yet remains one of the least studied. In addition, a Chilean woman has received the Biennale´s highest recognition: the 2022 Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement for Cecilia Vicuña!
What does it feel like to descend into the depths of a peat bog? The Chilean Pavilion, located in the Arsenale exhibition spaces at the 59th Venice Biennale Arte, recreates a journey into the Patagonian peat bogs, a type of acidic wetland that stretches over 30,000 square kilometers between Chilean Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, where organic matter has accumulated in the form of peat. The bogs capture and store enormous amounts of carbon, making them an essential ecosystem in today’s fight against climate change.
Chile offers a 360º immersive experience, thanks to a multisensory installation, where visitors are led to a circular platform surrounded by a translucent screen on which images of the descent into the bowels of a peat bog are projected. All around is living, humid moss, whose smell is detected even before entering the pavilion. A soundtrack shakes the ground as tribal chants, guttural noises and high-pitched screams fill the air, among other striking elements that capture the five senses of those present.
All of this is so that the audience may understand how essential peatlands are for the planet and the importance of conserving them to successfully mitigate the increase in CO2 emissions. As the organizers of the presentation explain: “Peatlands absorb more carbon than forests, a capacity that makes these wetlands one of the most valuable ecosystems on the planet.” Yet they are also one of the less well-known and researched, and are exposed to threats such as mining and fires.
Under the name “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol” -made up of the word “Tol” (heart in Selk’nam, an indigenous people of Tierra del Fuego) and “Hol-Hol” (peat bog)-, Chilean creators and researchers have planted in Venice this small sample of a true natural jewel from the end of the world.
Behind this exhibition is a multidisciplinary team made up of sound artist Ariel Bustamante, art historian Carla Macchiavello, filmmaker Dominga Sotomayor and architect Alfredo Thiermann. They are joined by ecologist Bárbara Saavedra, Selk’nam writer Hema’ny Molina and cultural producer and biodiversity expert Juan Pablo Vergara as co-authors of the project.
In addition to the core team, other artists, scientists and foundations have collaborated, including the Turberas de la Patagonia initiative, the Wildlife Conservation Society-Chile, Hach Saye (an indigenous Selk’nam cultural organization) and Ensayos (a curatorial platform for ecological research). Working with activists and scientists, the aim is to compensate for the lack of knowledge about peatlands and share knowledge about this ecosystem beyond the scientific sector.
During the seven months that the Venice Biennale runs, the Chilean Pavilion will offer various activities, such as a symposium that will feature experts in ecological preservation, the signing of an agreement to raise global awareness on the subject, and the presentation of a conservation program for peatlands throughout the world, on the exhibition platform Turba Tol.
Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement for a Chilean
The poet, visual artist, filmmaker and activist Cecilia Vicuña will become the first Chilean to win the prestigious Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at this 59th Venice Biennale Arte, one of the most important art events in the world.
Trained at the Faculty of Arts in the Universidad de Chile, her work addresses various issues about the modern world and its pressing needs: the ecological crisis, human rights and indigenous peoples. Author of 25 art and poetry books, her written work has been translated into seven languages.
Her works are part of the collections of prestigious national and international art galleries, museums and cultural spaces, such as MOMA in New York, the Tate Modern in London, the Guggenheim in New York, the Frac Lorraine in France and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chile.