Hot! Contemporary art from Chile

Tomás Rivas

Tomás Rivas

Tomás Rivas combines carving and drawing techniques to create works that reference classical architecture.

Using supports such as paper-covered walls or, more frequently, plasterboard panels, lines are scraped and gouged into the surface to create three-dimensional reliefs that utilise the boards' darker paper covering and lighter gypsum interior to produce elementary chiaoscuro shading.

Evidence of this process often forms part of the finished work, with remnants of paper trailing from incisions to emphasise the peeling back of layers: a quasi-archeological process as much as an artistic one.

art from Chile - Tomás Rivas

Deftly introducing the intricacies of classical design into the contemporary art space - a strategy that shares certain similarities with the work of Argentinean artist Pablo Bronstein - Rivas configures the past as a territory of excavation and discovery, yet possessing a relevance and continuity that exists just beneath the surface of our own lives.


Iván Navarro

Iván Navarro

Easily the best known of recent Chilean artists, New York-based Iván Navarro adopts the visual language of minimalism - in particular, Dan Flavin's neon light installations - but imbues his work with figurative iconography and emotionally charged subtexts that are entirely at odds with the true minimalist ethos.

The resultant narrative strands frequently confront political and social iniquities, as in the well-known Homeless Lamp, The Juice Sucker (2004, above left).

Reproducing the form of a shopping cart in neon tubes, the work references New York City's homeless, who often use such trollies to transport their belongings from place to place.

contemporary art South America - Iván Navarro

A video made to accompany the sculpture (left) shows the cart being pushed through the fashionable streets of Chelsea to the soundtrack of Mexican revolutionary anthem 'Juan the Landless'.

Navarro's series of Electric Chairs (below left, 2006) play dramatically with the objective reality of the sculptures themselves and the complex string of associations their presence and title arouse.

Clearly alluding to the death penalty and torture, the pieces also reference iconic works of art such as Andy Warhol's electric chair paintings and the classic, 1918 chair design by Gerit Rietfeld on which they are modelled.

contemporary art South America - Iván Navarro

Moreover, the works physically embody a dramatically polarised potential: functioning on the one hand as sleek, sophisticated object, they could never, of course, actually be sat on without risk of serious injury or even death.

If both these works can be regarded, essentially, as commentaries on Navarro's adopted homeland, much of his practice directly confronts the bloody political past of Chile and the South American region in general.

Criminal Ladder, for example, is a thirty-foot-high illuminated sculpture with 'rungs' bearing the names of over six hundred perpetrators of political murder under Pinochet's military regime.

Joy Division (below, 2004) features a red neon swastika incorporated into a transparent, coffee table-style structure.

The work alludes to the ideological adoption of Nazi fascism by the military governments that dominated much of post-war South America, as well as the literal adoption of German Nazis who found safe haven in countries such as Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil.

contemporary art South America - Ivan Navarro

next: Alvaro Oyarzún and Pablo Ferrer

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