Hot! Contemporary art from Chile

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Latin American art has boomed in recent years, but although plenty of attention has been lavished on countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, there's a wealth of talent elsewhere in the region which is only just starting to arouse international interest.

Chilean artists, in particular, are currently producing some of the freshest, most innovative work on the South American contemporary art scene, a fact reflected - and further disseminated - by a string of recent, critically acclaimed shows in the US, Asia and Europe.

Much of this work oscillates around simple materials transformed into beguiling displays of craftsmanship and spectacle, but is underpinned by strong concerns with Chilean identity and, equally, a dialogue with global art histories.

So if the only Chilean artist you can confidently name is Alfredo Jaar, it's time to get acquainted with a fast emerging array of hot new talent.


Livia Marin

contemporary Chilean artists: Livia Marin

In works by Livia Marin, objects of mass consumption take on new meaning through strategies of multiplication, grandiose display or surrealistically-tinged intervention.

As the artist states, "... I use themes such as the serial, repetition and estrangement of what is familiar.... I have a particular interest in the everyday, specifically in the material objects that give shape to it. What fascinates me about everyday objects are the traces of humanity that are lodged in them and which it is possible to bring to the fore in art."

Fictions of a Use (above - various versions), features hundreds of lipsticks individually carved into miniature totems. En masse, their glistening metallic bases and coordinated hues impart a sense of regimented monumentality that is simultaneously undermined by the uniqueness of each tiny sculpture.

Livia Marin

In El sentido de la repeticion (The Sense of Repetition, 2005, left) , carefully lit shelves not only reveal the unexpected beauty of mass produced objects and packaging in materials such as glass, plastic and polystyrene, but frame equally humble personal histories by hinting at the lives in which these products could play a part.

More recently, Marin has focussed on individual objects, reconfiguring traditional domestic ceramics as impossible forms that appear to contradict their own solidity (page top).

Utensils of this type already occupy a particularly fluid historical and social space: employing forms and patterns unchanged for centuries, the ceramics industry was also one of the first to adopt early techniques of mass-production.

Similar crockery in our homes may be brand new, or resonate with ancestral history as the hand-me-downs and inheritances of generations.

Whatever the case, Marin suggests, the accumulated weight of association is enough to push these ubiquitous items into literal meltdown.



Cristóbal Lehyt

Latin American contemporary art: Cristóbal Lehyt

Recent sculptural works by New York-based Chilean artist Cristóbal Lehyt (left) echo his compatriots' marked concern with low-tech materials and the alchemy of transformation.

Everyday items such as wood, string, glue and plaster are combined to create intriguing, quasi-biological forms. Less characteristically, evidence of these constituents is largely effaced in the completed work, suggesting the emergence of an entirely new entity with an inner life of its own.

Cristobal Lehyt

This theme also permeates what is, for us, is the undoubted highlight of Lehyt's multi-disciplinary practice: other-worldly drawings (left and below), imbued with ghostly, yet strangely substantial presence.

Lehyt creates these works in a trance-like state in which he imagines himself to be someone else.

Surrendering to the impulses of his unconscious, the results are delicately compelling portraits of purported other selves.

Contemporary artists from Chile: Cristobal Lehyt

next: Magdalena Atria and Catalina Bauer

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