Enrique Ramirez | Mapping the past through poetry
Throughout his career, the Chilean artist, born in 1979, has employed a variety of media to encompass the vast geography of his country: both that of its mountains, sea and deserts, and the more intimate geography of its memories and its history. The exhibition’s title — gravity — refers both to gravitational force but also alludes to the extinction of all other types of force. Ramirez is exploring a new territory, that of memory — where myriad fragments and broken images blur into one another, a place where comfort and trauma, the real and the imaginary, converge.
In the video Los Durmientes (The Sleepers), shown in 2014 at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo, the artist revisited one of the most tragic events that punctuated the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet: the gruesome murder of a number of students opposed to the regime, who were drugged and dropped to their death from military aircrafts. Beyond its evocative power and its capacity to inspire reflection, the work of Enrique Ramirez is most of all profoundly political.
How would you explain the Chilean character and your conception of life and death?
I believe that the Chileans have a very peculiar relationship to geography. Chilean poetry, which is very present in my work, explores the elements that have molded our character: the country’s geography, its relative isolation and the scars left behind by the dictatorship. For poet Raül Zurita — whom I feel very close to — politics, people’s relationship to their environments and their cultures are deeply intertwined with the country’s geography.
Your work explores Chile’s difficult history — in what ways is it met differently by the French and the Chilean public?
To a certain extent, the work featured in this exhibition has helped me come to terms with the images that have always haunted me. Whilst some are very explicitly violent, others, which would not seem so at first, do in fact evoke other forms of brutality, physical but also social and emotional, that we, as Chileans, have all experienced on an individual or collective level. Thus, each image aims to inspire in the viewer a reflection on their own memory and their personal knowledge. If the audience is close to Chilean culture and to the political history of my country, my work will tie their response to the more universal theme of our human condition and to the permanent instability of the world we live in, both in Europe and elsewhere.
When I showed the video at the Palais de Tokyo, I spoke to a group of Mexican visitors. They were very moved, they made a connection between my work and their country’s history, and even though they have a different relationship to the sea, they were very touched: my work reminded them of the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping, when forty-three students were abducted and murdered by Iguala’s police and the local Guerreros Unidos ("United Warriors") crime syndicate.
Does Chile readily look back to the darkest moments of its history, or is a reflection of this kind still taboo?
Some prefer to turn the page. Today, and not only in Chile, younger generations seem to be moved by a desire to forget. In Chile, the elderly are still scarred by the darkest moments of the dictatorship. The desire to leave them behind does not bring us closer together, in fact it creates a more individualistic society. I believe that our past history is fundamental to build a future.
« LA GRAVEDAD » @ Michel Rein Paris
In light of your recent history, what does the Chilean population think of Trump’s election and what is happening in Europe more generally?
Both things affect our country deeply. If we look back at Chile’s history, Pinochet’s dictatorship was funded by Nixon through the Chicago Boys — a group of Chilean economists, prominent in the 1970s, who attended the university of Chicago and were deeply influenced by the theories of Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger. They worked on behalf of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and have played a key role in reorienting Chilean economy — a phenomenon described by Friedman himself as the Miracle of Chile. Today, parts of Chile’s economy follow the North-American model. Our economy is entirely based on the US system. Healthcare and education are private and the majority of people struggle with debt...
Is there a larger political engagement among Chilean artists?
I am probably part of the last generation of Chilean artists who are still discussing the dictatorship. Whilst younger artists are politically aware, they are involved in other aspects of our society. The same goes for Europe: artists are seldom preoccupied with political issues and they prefer to maintain their distance from that sphere. This probably comes as the result of an increasing disillusionment with the political power of art, which is often given an exclusively aesthetic significance.
Paradoxically, the majority of my works acquired by collectors are very political. They all explore very serious, very painful questions, but always through the same poetic medium.
I try to create a link between the political and the poetic, to make my works and the history behind them more accessible, which does not prevent me from exploring more dramatic themes. I talk of politics, but in a poetic way. This is what I find profoundly interesting in art: finding a way of getting a message across.
A small selection of the Chilean artists...
Maximo Corvalan, Gracie Weinrib and Francisca Benitez.
« LA GRAVEDAD », Enrique Ramírez . 20.10.2016 - 11.01.2017