Street

Inflatable Dictators, Cardboard Robots, and Other Interventions in the Chilean Street

by Juan Jose Santos Mateo on December 17, 2012

Grupo Grifo's work for Hecho en Casa

Grupo Grifo’s work for Hecho en Casa (all images courtesy the festival)

SANTIAGO, Chile — The first thing is to situate ourselves. I search on the map of the Hecho en Casa: Urban Intervention Festival website to see where the interventions take place. A rain of Google arrows invades the chart. I go out looking for the first one and realize that most of the time, simpler also means most effective: a giant Google arrow hanging from a crane upon the statue of Baquedano, an army general and Chilean President of the 19th century. Well, to be precise, it’s hanging above the backside of his horse, Diamond. The work, by Grupo Grifo, provides the first laughs. This art group also manipulates the illuminated highway signs in Santiago de Chile, with parodic messages like, “Went to the bathroom, I will be back” or “I am the poster and today I took the day off.” The group’s intention is to highlight our excessive dependence on iPhones, BlackBerrys, and other devices with humor. One of its members, Felipe Zegers, is the creator of the festival.

Zegers told me that the idea for the festival came after attending the Al-Zurich Festival of Ecuador and that the name, “Hecho en Casa” (“Homemade”), simply comes from the mission of the activities: the aspiration to create a festival for people in downtown Santiago, to make them feel that the streets are their home. In this, I recognize again a concept as simple as it is relevant in an era in which public space has become private; squares cannot be used by people without permission, benches are constructed so that nobody can lie down, advertising is pervasive, and public sculptures are political orders of dubious aesthetics. Public spaces have become extensions of the powerful’s living rooms. Zegers explained that “the intention of the name is to say Santiago is our home.” And for ten days, the twenty participating artists are the home decorators.

Pablo Curutechet's cardboard robot

Pablo Curutechet’s cardboard robot

In this vein, the collective Park(ing) Day has turned parking spots into mini-parks with benches — where you pay, of course, the metered fare. The work questions the idea of the city as a livable space. Pablo Curutchet’s creation acts in a different way, a cardboard robot that climbs the bridge over the Mapocho River, threatening the passersby. Of course if Santiago de Chile generated a monster, it would appear from the Mapocho River, with its floating debris, its American tea color, and its suspicious smells. The other grotesque proposition in the festival is the one developed by collective Yo Monstro, who have mutated the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center, with the participation of those attending a workshop, into a bug with dozens of multicolored eyes. The weak results and depth of the latter two interventions lead me into a reflection about the festival, which is extendable to all contemporary art: the childlike and adolescent nature of much of the current work.

Yo Monstro's workshop participants with their creations

Yo Monstro’s workshop participants with their creations

Casagrande, "King Kong"

Casagrande, “King Kong”

But there are other interventions that, without neglecting humor, manage to comment on real historical and political issues. The subtitle of the festival, urban intervention, makes me think about both graffiti as well as the coup of Pinochet and the CIA. The collective Casagrande, with “King Kong,” has recreated the figure of Pinochet as a giant inflatable doll, depicting him attacking several symbolic locations: the revenge of the dictator who wants to come back to control the institutions. Patrick Del Sante’s “Piromany” simulates fire inside the National Library through a visual effect. And finally, Sebastian Errazuriz, in my opinion one of the most in-form artists on the Chilean scene, has invited passersby to become conductors of an orchestra for a few minutes. According to him, the piece is a reference to the lack of access to quality education and culture, the two major problems of the country. These three works are more than jokes or occurrences; they touch on the traumas that remain unresolved in Chile (especially regarding the dictatorial past — even today there are public tributes to Pinochet).

A passerby conducting Sebastian Errazuriz's orchestra

A passerby conducting Sebastian Errazuriz’s orchestra

Another work in this first edition of the festival was the neon sign that read, “There’s more future than past.” I’ll dwell on that optimistic phrase while waiting for the second edition next year, which will hopefully show greater cohesion, quality, and above all, maturity.

Hecho en Casa: Urban Intervention Festival took place November 16–25 in Santiago, Chile.

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