The Visible Pulse of the Possible: Exchanges, Protest and Possibilities in Chilean Performance Art

Cecilia Vicuña, Ver Dad performance, Bogotá 1977–9. Image courtesy of Cecilia Vicuña Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.
I open my Instagram stories. The usual banality engulfs me. One image,
however, on Chilean poet and artist Cecilia Vicuña’s Instagram feed breaks
the monotony. The photograph (Fig. 1) depicts a large red cloth trailing from
the statue of Chilean historical military figure and national hero General Manuel
On top of the statue is a cooking pot and indigenous Mapuche
Wenüfoye flags fly alongside it. The red cloth in the performance contrasts with
the women holding it who are all dressed in black. Their hands and eyes are
stained red, evoking violence against women. Black text on the red cloth reads
“We are the visible pulse of the possible.”2 Plaza Baquedano, the Santiago de Chile
square where the statue resides, is now popularly called La Plaza de la dignidad
(Dignity Square). The bright red cloth in the photograph, symbolises the way the
Chilean state spilt demonstrator’s blood as it repressed the recent wave of protest
and rioting. Many people were seriously injured, and at least 23 died in confrontations with the police.3 The violence reminded people of Chile’s civic-military
dictatorship (1973–1990) led by Augusto Pinochet when thousands of people
were tortured, imprisoned, killed and forcibly disappeared. The protests voice
wide-ranging issues in Chilean society, including the constitutional legacies of
the dictatorship, privatisation of health and education, and gender-based violence.
Since October 2019, Dignity Square has been a site of resistance against rightwing President Piñera’s proposed metro fare increase and against income distribution in the country. The outcry led to the most significant mass protests the
country has seen since the end of the dictatorship in 1990. As the central site of
resistance to inequality and the government’s violent response to demonstrations,
Dignity Square is where demands to change the constitution, drafted in 1980 at
the height of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, have been heard the loudest. For
many this constitution codifies inequality in the country. The performance
on my Instagram feed offers a striking visual denunciation of violence and
inequality in Chile