Chicago

View of “Carolina Caycedo,” 2020–21. Photo: Nathan Keay.

View of “Carolina Caycedo,” 2020–21. Photo: Nathan Keay.

Carolina Caycedo

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA Chicago)

Carolina Caycedo draws one of the structuring principles of her multifarious work—flow—from the river ecologies to which she devotes investigative, affective, and political care. Organized by Carla Acevedo-Yates, the mid-career survey “Carolina Caycedo: From the Bottom of the River” analogized fluvial, legible, choreographic, generational, and activist flows via a pan-indigenous worldview that invests nonhuman entities with life and agency. Serpent River Book & Serpent Table, 2017, features a leporello by the artist, one of her “water portraits,” displayed on a sinuous wooden table that led viewers on a meandering path through the gallery. Elsewhere was the two-channel video Spaniards Named Her Magdalena, but Natives Call Her Yuma, 2013, in which the movements of environmental protesters in Berlin streets, watched intently by riot officers at the ready, is juxtaposed with footage of the Magdalena River in Colombia, whose human and nonhuman ecosystems are under threat from El Quimbo, a dam and hydroelectric facility on which construction began in 2011. Caycedo studies this and other dams through her multidisciplinary Be Dammed (Represa/Represión) suite, 2012–, which combines conventional and more personalized approaches to research that conceive of flows as engaged in an ongoing struggle against various forms of obstruction or oppression, from corporate land development and other extractive practices to the destructive traces of patriarchy and colonialism in the Americas.

The artist’s distinctive works from her “Cosmotarrayas” (Cosmonets) series, 2015–, display objects within hand-dyed artisanal cast nets hung from the ceiling to form translucent, teardrop-shaped containers. The net suggests a mode of capture that is porous and integrated with the river that feeds it. In Caycedo’s political imaginary, it also stands for water and river rights—for indigenous traditions and autonomy with regard to the territorializing forces of global capital. The “Cosmotarrayas” reference a Latin American canon that has only recently been consolidated via the laborious, repetitive knotting of Gego’s mesh-like installation Reticulárea, 1969, or the sensorial participatory objects crafted by Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape. Los Angeles has been home to the Colombia-born Caycedo since 2011 (following the artist’s sojourns in London and Puerto Rico), and one sees the resonance of “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985”—a massive survey at the Hammer Museum organized for the 2017–18 edition of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA—in her “Mujeres en Mi” (Women in Me) series, 2010, for which she stitched the names of dozens of Latinx and Latin American women artists onto patchworks of donated clothes. The related My Feminine Lineage of Environmental Struggle, 2018–19, takes the form of drawn portraits on a printed canvas banner. Not exactly protest works, they claim a permeable, explicitly feminist self, for which persona is tempered by appeals to multiplicity.

That Caycedo is actively wrangling with the author function makes sense, as it is an atavistic operation that reconstitutes itself every time her name is used to consolidate groups of others or accord subjectivity to a river and its denizens. Caycedo describes her process as “spiritual fieldwork” aimed at “developing relationships with the human and nonhuman entities of a particular place . . . not keeping an objective distance with my case study, but actually getting implicated in it.” One might ask if there is risk in positioning oneself as a combination of empath, caregiver, organizer, descendant, activist, and witness. In the relay from field to museum, these connections are recorded, to the extent that they can be, in the found objects and gifts arranged within the “Cosmotarrayas.” Cosmotarrafa Ver-o-Peso (Cosmothread Check-the-Weight), 2016, features embroideries by Iris, a resident of Barra Longa, Brazil, whose community was devastated by the toxic dam burst of 2015. Like her countrywoman Doris Salcedo, Caycedo embraces the artistic task of mediating catastrophe, constructing proxies for emotion via assemblage. Hers is a considerable burden, and it certainly involves speaking for others—yet one is also made cognizant of how many stories “from the bottom of the river,” to quote one of her works’ titles, are about to disappear.