Waste/land/scape : Regina Vater, Cecilia Vicuña, and the aesthetics of garbage

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Caston, Eva

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In the late 1960s and early 1970s, young artists Regina Vater and Cecilia Vicuña experimented with waste as artistic material, and the designation of specific spaces as “wastelands.” Typically, scholars have framed this reappropriation of waste as indicative of an ecocritical politic that revealed the environmental costs of capitalist extraction of resources and an endless cycle of consumption. In this thesis, however, I argue that both artists used garbage because of its abject qualities and its undesirable status. I trace two distinct moments in each artists’ trajectory, namely their first experimentations with trash and their renegotiation of their artistic praxis in the wake of exile. In Vater’s Magi(o)cean (1970) and Vicuña’s Casa Espiral (1966), both artists engaged with the societal desire to hide and erase the presence of trash. That erasure led them to instate an “aesthetics of garbage,” which made visible the precarious conditions of their respective home countries Brazil and Chile. Brazil’s military dictatorship was instituted in 1964, and Chile would follow suit in 1973. Because of these political shifts, Vater left for New York in 1973 and Vicuña went to London in 1972. Their lives in exile and the discomfiting experience of displacement impelled both artists to play with debris differently. In Vater’s first video work Luxo-Lixo (1973) and Vicuña’s book Saborami (1973), the artists foreground debris’ essentially fragmentary nature, inspiring a new way of working and understanding space, particularly when parsing the experience of diaspora and the violence at home. These analyses of Vater and Vicuña unpack the disjunctive spatial politics of the city and suggest that the framework of waste is a critical mode of study.



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