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Permanent Transience, Transient Permanence: ideas from the second Cecilia Vicuña Reading Group by Theodore Lau
On October 21, 2020, Mia Liu led a Cecilia Vicuña reading group, joined by Rachel Parish, Marta Dansie, Rebecca Ora, Jackie Mantey, Ceci Moss, Maegan Hill-Carroll, Anthony Huberman, Selby Sohn, Leyla Cardenas, Jeanne Gerrity, Frances Phillips, Elena Yu, Steve Van Eck, Ben Chaffee, Cinthia Lozano and Brian Karl.

The reading group featured discussion of the following readings:
Poetry Selections by Cecilia Vicuña from the exhibition catalog About to Happen
Chapter 2 of Fray: Art and Textile Politics by Julia Bryan-Wilson
“Sailing to Byzantium” by William Butler Yeats

It also featured discussion of two loose categories within Vicuña’s medium defying practice:

Precarios - literally precarious, found objects, brought together in loosely representational form, loaded with the care of their creation, as well as their dissolution shortly after by natural forces.

Quipus - various sorts of woven material, knotted at regular intervals, capable of being scaled from handheld to monumental; contemporary iterations of an Incan communication device consisting of colorful woven thread knotted at specific points in order to communicate information.

A note on discussion framework - part of the dichotomy of discussing Vicuña’s work was the degree to which it could be institutionalized, the tension between legitimation and analysis within the audience of the “fine” art world, and the basis under which Vicuña’s work signaled a subaltern lineage of brownness, one which constantly faces its suppression by settler colonial capitalism. The reach of art’s ecosystems spreads and legitimates Vicuña’s oeuvre, but at what cost?

Though Vicuña’s artworks are mostly encountered within art institutions, it is important to see these places as rooted in the idea of art as permanence - Vicuña’s works hold this tension, even as they seek a beyond and through, a location and workspace akin to the place of black study, the undercommons present in Fred Moten’s work.

Yeats’ poem can be read to argue that art is integrally linked to permanence, though possibly to subversive end. In this light, it represents a concrete, Western structure of knowledge that Vicuña’s practice works against, transcending stark boundaries altogether.

In Bryan-Wilson’s art historical book, she contextualizes Vicuña’s work in its political resonances, but further attempts to triangulate the artist’s practice for a wider, normative narrative of art historical practice that stretches beyond Vicuña’s stated contexts.

In Vicuña’s poetry, some works sway, ebb, and flow, imbued with a sense of aliveness, a vitality that is inherently an inbetween-ness, a refusal to be singular in its definition.

In an allied set of actions, the precarios that Cecilia Vicuña brings into the world find their completion at the point they wash away.

The following questions are like an opening, a stone thrown into a lake, a means of being that enumerates the same elliptical, nearly circular journey that this sentence strives to replicate, even as it falls short of capturing its essence. They are inspired by the reading group’s conversation, even as they encourage you to undertake your own study. The words circle around the art.

Begin these questions where you like.

What is permanence, and what is transience?

What separates the permanent from permanence, the transient from transience?

Which is easier to define - permanent or transient?

Can either be defined fully? In the case that a definition seems to fall short, once again, is this not a condition of the permanent nature of transience?

What does it mean to try to triangulate the terms permanence or transience in a meaningful way?

Do the questions signify an entrypoint? Do they signify a stage in between, a constant becoming? What do these questions do?

What relationship does permanence and/ or transience have to Vicuña’s precarios? To her quipus?

When does iteration or repetition have to do with permanence or transience?

What relationship does traversal have to migration?

What relationship does migration have to time?

How does Vicuña’s migration from Chile inflect her work, especially in the aftermath of the overthrow of Salvador Allende?

What does referring to a lineage materialize in Vicuña’s work?

What is “craft” in Vicuña’s work? In what sense does it overlap or exceed a Western definition of “art?”

Where does Vicuña’s work seep over the boundaries of “craft,” or “art?”

Have you ever encountered a precario in the wild? What life does Vicuña’s work live outside of an exhibition? How would you encounter it?

Is asking these questions the right approach? Is any question about Vicuña’s oeuvre anything but another entryway?

To return to an earlier thought - is the failure to define permanence, transience, the end of the question?