Cecilia Vicuña’s Kon Kon
Since childhood I played on these beaches. One day I felt the sea sense me. In this instant I understood the body and sea conversed in a language I needed to hear.
In a short clip from a Q&A session at the Kelly Writers House on February 3, 2011 where Vicuña describes the shaping role of ritual in her understanding of art through its etymology, she mentions the film’s rejection from all the film festivals in Chile: “it is still too painful for them to see,” she says. Set in in Concón, Chile, the film draws on cultural, ecological, and personal history in order to document disappearing, ancient traditions.
Like Agnes Varda’s Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (The Gleaners and I), Vicuña’s documentary impulse is towards a re-invigoration of practices which are disappearing. In Vicuña’s Kon Kon, this is ancient oral traditions and rituals, whereas in Varda’s documentary, it is the practice of gleaning ( according to one interviewee: “Pick[ing] everything up so nothing gets wasted” (translation) (1:09) ). In both, these practices call for a reconnection to the environment through old traditions and a comparison of Kon Kon with The Gleaners and I underscores the importance of “bending down” (stressed in Varda’s definition of “gleaning.”)
The first several minutes of the film is footage of some of Vicuña’s precarios, which, as their name suggests, are precarious constructions that make visible the wait for collapse. Rosa Alcalá describes them in her introduction to Spit Temple as:
…small, fragile objects composed of man-made and natural refuse (twigs, roots, pencils, a plastic grid) that are ‘installed’ like altars or offerings in urban or rural settings, and are therefore vulnerable to ocean tides, waves of pedestrians, and river currents. The in situ installations of the precarious are often unannounced, ephemeral performances to which no audience is invited or expected. At other times, these objects are displayed as sculptures in a gallery, assembled and disassembled for each exhibition. (23)
In the film, we watch Vicuña crouch down to collect refuse scattered across the rocky coastline.
Like the gleaneurs who collect food which has been missed by harvesting machines or which as been deemed too large, small or irregular to be sold in supermarkets, Vicuña gathers what has slipped through other human and natural systems of value (broken pieces of plastic, wire, net, and a paint scraper, dead branches and shed feathers). Discards are gathered close to the body: gleaners in aprons and sacks; Vicuña in her arms. In both practices, time is the critical and transformative threat.
In Varda’s film, the gleaners will prevent these discards from becoming “waste” (that which would become inedible and poisonous) if left for too long. The importance of time comes through particularly when one gleaner who finds a massive heap of irregular potatoes, recently dumped by a harvester, describes how they will be left to turn green from moisture and temperature. Describing the potatoes as perfectly good and edible, he goes into the size and shape criteria which growers and markets adhere to and which produces massive amounts of waste. Thus it becomes apparent that consumers unwittingly incentivize these waste-producing practices when they’ll only buy the best looking potato, or cauliflower, etc.) At another point in the film, interviewees discuss the butter market, in which tons of butter will be discarded in order to preserve scarcity in the market and preserve prices.
Such markets and consumer criteria function similarly to the “machine of greed” Vicuña mentions in the Kelly Writer’s House Q&A session cited above. This greed tries to extract as much profit as possible from the earth and from people. In doing so it “crushes” ancient traditions and cultures which, like the fishermen of Concón, attune themselves with their surroundings. Vicuña’s processes in this film work backwards from the products of greed-based systems towards a cohabitation that is based on simultaneous vulnerability. In both her film and her precarios, for a short time “waste” of these systems will be suspended; framed by Vicuña’s process, its precariousness is its preciousness.
Through motifs of thread, dance and an ancient type of Chilean flute, Vicuña visits the sea (kon), Mauco (the sacred mountain in Concón; the birthplace of rain and water) and the dunes. For Vicuña, dance, thread, weaving, the flute, and breath all have to do with energies and tensions. For example, in the case of a flute without holes, there is a tension of breath within the flute which produces “torn sound”: two sounds in tension with one another carrying a profusion of overtones and dissonance. Or the way the homonyms echo and produce overtones of meaning: Concón, kon kon (sea sea), con kon (with / by sea), etc. In a similar way, thread and woven cloth gain their strength by positioning tensions. New energy is the product of conflict. By bringing seashells to the top of Mauco, Vicuña “acknowledge[s] the cycle of water” from rain to river to sea:
Ankoncagua [River], looking at Kon [sea] the two waters see each other an entwined gaze gives birth to fertility. The stream, soul of the river. Aconcagua looking at Con.
By weaving yarn into the landscape or tying photographs together into a “Quipu” of the disappeared, Vicuña works again into the thread of history, cultural traditions and memory.
You can see the film’s trailer below, but I highly recommend finding a friend with an iPad if you don’t have one yourself. While perusing the issue of Rattapallax, I also recommend checking out the photos and excerpt from Jill Magi’s installation, “Labor” as well.Tags: agnes, Cecilia, experimental, film, Gleaners and I, Kon Kon, Les glaneurs et la glaneuse, performance, poetry, precarios, quipu, Rattapallax, varda, Vicuna, video