The Venice Questionnaire: Voluspa Jarpa

The Chilean artist looks at decolonialisation and national emancipation

Voluspa Jarpa, Subaltern Portraits Gallery: Women of Vienna 3, 2019, from the series Altered Views. Photo: Rodrigo Merino. Courtesy the artist

ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists and curators exhibiting in and curating the various national pavilions of the 2019 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the lead-up to the Venice Biennale opening on 11 May.

Voluspa Jarpa is representing Chile. The pavilion is in the Arsenale.

What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

The work presented at the Chilean Pavilion in the Arsenale is considered as an exercise in decolonisation and is based on my experience after reviewing secret files of American intelligence agencies about Latin America during the Cold War. This work was developed over 15 years, questioning how the region was formed in the modernist, Eurocentric and colonial perspective (which later expands to the US), which generated an attitude of historically symbolic contempt from other postcolonial regions.

In this sense, Altered Views is a project that proposes to invert the colonial perspective by presenting the hegemonic position of colonisers and the subaltern psyche of the colonised as an interdependent relationship. This critical response proposes an emancipation from the colonial perspective.

What does it mean to ‘represent’ your country? For you is it an honour or is it problematic?

Thinking about my country Chile, and thinking about Latin America, the US and Europe has been an artistic exercise that crosses all my aesthetic and critical practice.

My work has been shaped by visualising geopolitical and historical tensions, viewed from a contemporary perspective; because of this, to represent Chile in the Venice Biennale is to recognise that the Biennale is an ideal place to deploy a geopolitical analysis, given that it is the only biennial that continues to maintain representation by nation. For some, this is something that can be criticised but for me, it means revealing the cultural hegemonies that govern the ways in which artistic works are sanctioned and intellectual discourses are generated by different stories and cultures. Therefore, to be from my country, or to represent it, is not a problem but much rather something that forms my intellectual and artistic thought.

The production of Altered Views included the participation of architects, designers, musicians, artists, actresses, singers and filmmakers from Chile, which is why I think it also represents a contemporary cultural scene.

Is your work transnational or rooted locally?

My work can be read from both places as it originates from a local position – for example, the narration of Chilean history and its absences and omissions; but with from the inclusion of the declassified censored US archives, it becomes a transnational narration. In the project Altered Views, six European micro stories which take place between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries are reviewed investigating the formation of hegemony in terms of class, race and gender conceptions; but its ‘emancipatory response’ is generated in a video filmed at a height of 4000 meters in the Chilean Andes mountain range.

How does having a pavilion in Venice make a difference in the artistic scene in your country of origin?

It is significant for me to represent the Chilean Pavilion, under the curatorship of Agustín Pérez-Rubio (with whom I have worked with before and I admire professionally and personally). In Chile a public contest is organised by the Ministry of Culture to determine this representation; it has national and international juries, which on this occasion, chose our proposal out of 16 other projects that competed. This makes the contest significant for the Chilean artists and for the local scene since it entails, in a certain way, a snapshot of the Chilean contemporary scene.

If you’ve been to the biennale before, what is your first or best memory of Venice?

It seems my memories of the Venice Biennale are forever associated with water. The first time being, entering through the Grand Canal, illuminated by the sun – this is an unforgettable memory I have associated with the city. The other memory is from 2017 in the Italian Pavilion; I had an epiphanic moment with the work of Giorgio Andreotta Calò when a spectator touched the mirror and there was a propagation of water waves that disturbed the perfect reflection, revealing the secret of the mirror – it was a memorable moment.

The Venice Biennale runs 11 May – 24 November