The Expanded Field

Tania Gutiérrez Forlofscapes
(1) La Magallánica I. 2017 © Paola Vezzani / (2) La Magallánica II. 2017 © Paola Vezzani / (3) La Magallánica III. 2017 © Paola Vezzani

How is Patagonia understood as a landscape? One definition of landscape can be established in the relationship between Geography and Art. The sculpture of Paola Vezzani La Magallánica, erected in Chilean Patagonia, transforms the environment into a landscape establishing a new geographical reality through a subtle dialog with the Kawésqar culture that formerly inhabited the territory, the materials, and the phenomena – not only visible but also experimental – of the place.

Paola Vezzani’s formidable sculpture is right there, between the geographical reality and the Patagonian imaginary. Located between the outlet of the Fitz Roy canal and the Skyring Sound 90 km from Punta Arenas, the project was carried out with Fondart 2012 financing. The proposal had as its objective “the constitution of a landmark in the rural community of Río Verde that alludes to the Magellanic land and to those who have inhabited it,” a legend that can be read at the base of the sculpture. The assembly is large: sixteen meters long, six meters high and two-and-a-half meters wide. It is composed of wood from the nearby coasts, concrete as a structural support and steel in the upper part. The communion of materials interacts in an affable way with the open environment; the sinuosity of the sculptural contour is integrated collaboratively, to the telluric, the aerial and the maritime space.

The geographic reality (1) refers to the intimate connection of the human being with the Earth, the human and the terrestrial, one inconceivable without the other. In the thoughts of Eric Dardel, heir of the humanist tradition of geography, there is evident work to be done to understand geographical space as a dynamic and active concept available to be explored through the perceptive bonds of human beings with the earth’s crust. The sculpture La Magallánica shows a geographical reality that corresponds to an ancestral Kawésqar territory, or the geographical environment called Western Patagonia, which goes from the Gulf of Penas to the Strait of Magellan. Researchers Oscar Aguilera and José Tonko in their book Relatos de viaje Kawésqar (Kawésqar Travel Stories) refer to the nomadic and canoeist existence of this culture in Western Patagonia. With the aim of preserving ethnographic data, revitalizing the original language, they investigate the oral literature that was transmitted over time in the travel stories and tales. Thanks to this research, it has been possible to establish the division of Kawésqar ancestral territory into two spaces: JÁUTOK and MÁLTE. In the authors’ words:

“Málte, which designates the near places of the Pacific Ocean. Here, the configuration of the terrain presents little of the deep forest, highlighting the pampas and extensive plains that are home to a great diversity of birds. For the most part, it has long beaches composed of fine sands, where the view is lost on the horizon and there are a large number of islands and islets surrounded by beach and sand.” (2)

(1) Dardel, Eric. El hombre y la tierra. (Man and earth) Naturaleza de la realidad geográfica. (The Nature of geographic reality) Ed. Joan Nogué, trad. María Beneyto. (Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 2013)

(2) Aguilera, Oscar and José Tonko. Relatos de viaje kawésqar: (Kawésqar Travel Stories) Nómades Caonero de la Patagonia occidental (Temuco: Ofqui Editores, 2013) (Nomadic Canoers of Western Patagonia)

Based on this description and understanding that the sculpture of Vezanni is located in the Skyring Sound, in the community of Río Verde, the site corresponds to the ancestral Kawesqar Málte. Indeed that sound is configured as one of many entrances to the Pacific Ocean of the Magallanes Region and Chilean Antarctica.

Besides providing geographical and spatial consciousness, La Magallánica carries a powerful will, resting in the sense of the symbolic. In fact, the work was inspired by the observation of a Kawésqar harpoon/boat. That inspiration acts as an illusion to the imaginary of that culture, and from this process, will is transformed into evocation. The evocative character of La Magallánica projects geographic memory, dialoging through various materials with the environment. Thus, the work is like an act under the symbolic vigil of a certain appropriation of the Kawésqar culture, moving away from a mimetic and crystallizing retrospective with respect to this culture, evoking rather an environment that becomes visible in the phenomenological. The work, then, refers to integration with the landscape, which is sustained and defined in a physical existence and in the presence of the human spirit. Undoubtedly, the work carries a will towards inhabiting sensations. As a harpoon/boat, it fosters dialogs with the surrounding geographical spaces, both the sky and the sea. The work of Vezzani would have the landscape not only as visuality, but also as sensoriality so that, in addition to rescuing the presence of the primitive from the environment, it is given the feat of deciphering the signs that emerged from the same Earth and that dialogue with past cultures.

As an outcome, the work of Vezanni can be positioned as an artistic manifestation that, together with the poetic of the wind that inspires, supports in so many ways and so expansively the imaginary of Patagonia. That story unfolds from the insertion of an effective thought on the landscape, accepting geography as part of the humanities and, through its relevance, as a source for the elaboration of a geocultural story.

Tania Gutiérrez Araya. Degree in Theory and History of Art, University of Chile.