Cecilia Vicuña: Brain Forest Quipu at Tate Modern
The latest commission to occupy the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, Cecilia Vicuña’s Brain Forest Quipu is a response to the ongoing climate crisis through the lens of Andean culture and traditions. The installation pays tribute to the quipu, an ancient communication and recording system used by many cultures in Andean South America, that incorporated knotted threads.
The Brain Forest Quipu consists of three separate “layers”, each reinterpreting and modernising the concept of the quipu in different ways and inviting viewers to consider the message of the installation from alternate perspectives.
The first layer, Dead Forest Quipu is a pair of sculptures made of various materials such as wool, plant fibres, ropes and cardboard, suspended from the ceiling at opposite ends of the Turbine Hall. These abstract sculptures have a ghostly appearance, calling to mind visuals like bleached bark, bone and skin. The Dead Forest Quipu can also be walked through, immersing viewers in a curious lifeless world that serves as both a grim reminder of the damage already done to the natural world and a cautionary tale of what could come if something isn’t done.
The second layer, Sound Quipu is a sonic element that accompanies the sculptures, with a soundtrack including recordings from nature, Indigenous music from several regions, original works from a variety of artists and compositional silences. This diverse audio landscape breathes some life into the ghostly sculptures, reminding viewers of the very real human cost of the climate crisis and amplifying the voices of those people most vulnerable in the face of climate change, while also celebrating their lives and cultures.
The third layer, Digital Quipu is a collage of videos from Indigenous land defenders and activists across the world. This part of the installation offers a direct socio-political context for the surrounding pieces and anchors the sentiments the other quipu express in concrete action that can be taken and causes that can be supported, putting human faces to the ideas and images represented by the Dead Forest and Sound quipus.
Overall, the Brain Forest Quipu is a brilliant multimedia experience, knotting together various disparate concepts, motifs and ideas in a remarkable and cohesive whole. It’s a piece with a lot to say and many creative ways to say it, but also invites its audience to participate in a wider conversation and carry on the symbolic spirit and vision of the quipu.
Photo: Tate Photography (Sonal Bakrania)
Cecilia Vicuña: Brain Forest Quipu is at Tate Modern from 11th October until 16th April 2023. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the experience here: