Santiago

Claudia Gutiérrez, untitled, 2021, mixed media. Installation view.

Claudia Gutiérrez, untitled, 2021, mixed media. Installation view.

Claudia Gutiérrez

Santiago, like many of the world’s capitals, is an excessively dense city. Roughly 40 percent of Chile’s population lives there, with the greatest concentration living on the outskirts of the metropolis. Claudia Gutiérrez reconstructs images of this urban periphery through the practice of embroidery, a medium still too often typically relegated to the category of “women’s work.” Her exhibition “No hay cielo sin nubes” (There Is No Sky Without Clouds) featured ten untitled pieces (all works 2021) that addressed, in different ways, the cityscape that inspired them, while also demonstrating the aesthetic possibilities of the artist’s chosen medium. Two of them showed the graffitied walls of buildings. In their sharpness, framing, and palette, the works recalled the photographs on which the artist based her compositions. The pressure exerted by the thread on the fabric left the ends as irregular as the edges of the city the works reproduced. One featured asphalt conspicuously strewn with garbage, while the other depicts an area primarily settled by the wealthy upper class, the Andean Cordillera, the mountain range marking Santiago’s eastern limit and forming a natural border between Chile and Argentina, visible in the background.

Three pieces that looked like dislocated rugs installed on the wall instead of the floor replicate fragments of pavement invaded by small green weeds. Santiago’s suburbs are characterized by cement, vacant lots, and a dearth of squares and parks. The sprouting leaves suggested that nature has the power to overcome a hostile environment; the same could be said of its inhabitants. These works were made with black wool, outlining contours that gave us the impression—at first glance—of drawings. Depicted were vacant lots or abandoned houses, which always end up as garbage dumps. The clean stitches of the compositions contrasted with the decay of the places they registered.

Elsewhere, Gutiérrez used embroidery to give sculptural form to two collapsed walls, each one evincing a particular materiality and structure. These constructions mimicked the bricks typical of both informal self-built structures and social housing provided by the state. The depicted type of wall, known in Chile as a pandereta, usually serves as a boundary between plots or between private property and public space. Both of the walls the artist reconstructed here were covered with graffiti. In translating these markings in thread on fabric walls, the artist shifts these found expressions, which often involve both a claim to authorship and a social stigma, to the gallery space.

Gutiérrez memorializes landscapes that are a quintessential part of Chile’s capital but will never be found in traditional postcards. Through an undervalued technique, her work exhibits the failures of the prevailing economic model, in which impressive levels of comfort coexist with entire neighborhoods that have been discarded as areas of social and economic sacrifice.

Translated from Spanish by Michele Faguet.