The multi-faceted, performance-based art project and labour of love, Return Atacama, documents the journey of the artist collective CONSTELACIONES. CONSTELACIONES was made up of Roewan Crowe, now UWinnipeg alumna Christina Hajjar, as well as artists Doris Difarnecio, Monica Martinez, and Helene Vosters. CONSTELACIONES worked together embodying collective healing through art-making, kinship and vulnerability.
A book of their performance work and reflections on their artistic process has been published and is now shared online as a rich visual collection of art and scholarship. This free digital book, published by HemiPress, is edited by UWinnipeg’s Dr. Roewan Crowe (Women’s and Gender Studies) and Dr. Helene Vosters, an artist, activist, and scholar. Return Atacama experiments with the boundaries separating artistic and scholarly work, and features contributions from Dot Tuer, Smaro Kamboureli, Diana Taylor, Shannon Bell, Jarvis Brownlie, Cassie Scott, Lindsey Bond, and Lex Taylor.
“Return Atacama is a tangible example of knowledge mobilization, an artist-led project committed to ensuring that artistic and scholarly knowledge is widely available to the public,“, shared Crowe. “The project is a testament to collective art-making in the face of trauma.”
Among other performance-based projects, CONSTELACIONES travelled to Chile’s infamously storied Atacama Desert. The northern Atacama Desert is the place where women searched for their loved ones who were executed or disappeared after the Augusto Pinochet Coup of September 11, 1973. Monica Martinez is of Chilean origin — her family was exiled from Chile — and she always had a desire to return. Her sculptures embody stratified layers of Chilean history and diasporic and nomadic trajectories resulting from the 1973 coup. Returning these symbols of grief, violence, and time to Chile completes a journey that began with Monica’s family’s exile in 1974.
“This book marks a watershed moment in my life,” shared Martinez. “A moment of emotion, acceptance, and connection shared with the some of the most creative people it has been my privilege to know.”
CONSTELACIONES traveled along the route of Pinochet’s “Caravan of Death” to perform a ritual of return and remembrance by installing a large set of vibrant ceramic bone-white cross-shaped forms, created by Martinez. Bone by bone, the collective created a sculpture as a performance of remembrance, one that remains outside of Calama, as an unauthorized sculpture in the stark beauty of the northern Atacama Desert.
Return Atacama was also a collaboration with the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics based at New York University, where Crowe is a council member, and the Canadian Consortium on Performance and Politics in the Americas.
“HemiPress offered us autonomy to create the book that we needed to create,” said Crowe. “The digital format allowed for the use of a wide range of visual media that captured the richness of the experience. It also meant that the book was free and accessible to the public.”
Return Atacama is part of Crowe’s work with a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) partnership grant held by the Canadian Consortium on Performance and Politics in the Americas.
The Canadian Consortium on Performance and Politics in the Americas is working to develop a robust network of Canadian scholars interested in a broad range of issues around the relation of performance and politics in the Americas, linking them to the well-established capacities, innovations and structures of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics (New York University).