About to Happen

Cecilia Vicuña

Essays by Andrea Andersson, Lucy Lippard and Macarena Gómez-Barris and interview by Julia Bryan-Wilson

“An object is not an object; it is a witness to a relationship.”

—Cecilia Vicuña

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Beginning and ending at the edge of the ocean at the sacred mouth of the Aconcagua River, About to Happen serves as a lament as well as love letter to the sea. In this artist’s book, Chilean-born artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña weaves personal and ancestral memory while summoning the collective power to confront the economic disparities and environmental crises of the 21st century.

Collecting the detritus that washes up on shore, Vicuña assembles out of the refuse tiny precarios and basuritas—little sculptures held together with nothing more than string and wire, which she sometimes makes as offerings to be reclaimed by the sea. These acts of creation and erasure mirror the ways in which her work inhabits and enlivens the liminal spaces between the remembered and forgotten, the revered and the discarded, the material and the dematerialized.

About to Happen, which accompanies an exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center, traces a decades-long practice that has refused categorical distinctions and thrived within the confluences of conceptual art, land art, feminist art, performance and poetry. Vicuña’s nuanced visual poetics—operating fluidly between concept and craft, text and textile—transforms the discarded into the elemental, paying acute attention to the displaced, the marginalized and the forgotten.


Cecilia Vicuña (b. 1948, Santiago, Chile) is a poet, visual and performance artist, and filmmaker whose multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional works bridge art and life, the ancestral and the avant-garde. Vicuña’s work emphasizes transformative acts and “metaphors in space”: an image becomes a poem, a film, a song, a sculpture or a collective performance. Beginning often with a delicate line (drawn or written) or a piece of string, she weaves complex works that are rich with political and social awareness as well as aesthetic beauty.

The author of more than a dozen volumes of poetry, her most recent books include Spit Temple: Oral Performances of Cecilia Vicuña (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2012), Chanccani Quipu (Granary Books, 2012) and Sabor a Mí (Chain Links, 2011). She also co-edited The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry and is the co-founder of oysi.org, a site for the oral cultures and poetries of the world.

Widely exhibited internationally, her work is in the collections of Tate Gallery in London, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Chile in Santiago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, among others. This year, in addition to the solo exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center, Vicuña will also be a part of Documenta 14 in both Athens, Greece and Kassel, Germany. She is represented by England & Co. Gallery in London.