Christy Gast, Expedition, Ensayos #4, Tierra del Fuego, 2015, Digital photograph, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.
[Alt text: The deck of a ship plows through the waves towards rugged mountains while a whale spouts water in the near distance.]
View Cucú and Her Fishes now through December 30, 2020 here.
View a discussion and Q&A with Christy Gast, Camila Marambio, Hema’ny Molina, and Bárbara Saavedra of Ensayos here.
New Museum artists in residence Ensayos premiere Act I of their experimental ecofeminist drama Cucú and Her Fishes.
The play begins at a country house partially submerged in a peat bog. As a group of women plan a fundraising scheme for ocean advocacy, debates about ecological justice and interspecies ethics escalate. The actions and conversations are drawn from Ensayos’ “undisciplined” fieldwork, which incorporates creative cross-disciplinary research of pressing ecological issues at the world’s end. Ensayos practitioners are not professional actors; they are a group of artists, scientists, and activists who collaborate on eco-cultural inquiries. Ensayos, in English, means rehearsals. Queering each other’s research methodologies, Ensayistas navigate the complex tasks of ecological conservation through playful, performative experiments in Tierra del Fuego, Norway, Eastern Australia, and New York.
Cucú and Her Fishes is inspired by Fefu and Her Friends (1977), a feminist work by Cuban-born American avant-garde director and playwright María Irene Fornés (1930 – 2018). In Fornés’ play, the audience moves through a deconstructed stage set and experiences a “plotless” narrative in which characters debate gender roles, complex kinships, and cooperative action. Camila Marambio and Christy Gast proposed the re-imagining of this piece to Ensayistas as a way to reflect on their own performance and further entwine their transdisciplinary eco-cultural ethics. Nine Ensayistas began meeting online for weekly rehearsals in March 2020, drawing on compositional and somatic exercises including Fornés’ generative writing, Cote Junemann’s canalizations, and Camila Marambio’s METitative prompts to develop characters and dialogue. Prior to global quarantine measures due to Covid-19, Ensayos had conceived Cucú and Her Fishes as a project that would be developed and performed in the physical space of the New Museum with both in-person and remote participation. After a decade of international collaboration, the process of shifting the performance to virtual space during a pandemic reaffirmed Ensayos’ commitment to an ethic of care across distance and to transgressing humanness.
Ensayos is a collective research practice initiated on the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego in 2010 that brings together artists, scientists, and locals to exercise speculative and emergent forms of eco-cultural ethics. Ensayos has presented work in exhibitions and performances at the Kadist Art Foundation, Paris; the Institute for Art and Olfaction, Los Angeles; Bruce High Quality Foundation, New York; Puerto de Ideas, Valparaíso, CL; Festival Cielos del Infinito, Puerto Williams, CL; Kurant, Tromsø, NO; Gertrude Contemporary, Naarm/Melbourne, AU; and The 8th Floor Gallery, New York.
Cúcu and Her Fishes (Act 1) was produced by Ensayos and the New Museum, New York, and screened on September 1, 2020 by the New Museum. Directed by Camila Marambio in collaboration with Christy Gast. Set design by Christy Gast with input from cast members. Edited by Christy Gast. Post-production by Darío Ordenes and Camila Marambio. Sound Mix by Ariel Bustamante with collaborations by Christy Gast and Karolin Tampere. Sound Master by Pablo Thierman. Script translation by Manuela Baldovino. Special thanks to Fernanda Olivares Molina, Julian Donas Milstein, Amaara Raheem, Derek Wright, Emily Mello and Andrew An Westover.
Script was written by cast members based on Fefu and her Friends by María Irene Fornés
Cucú: Bárbara Saavedra (Santiago, Chile)
Cindy: Carolina Saquel (Paris, France)
Christina: Caitlin Franzmann (Brisbane, Australia)
Julia: Hema’ny Molina (Santiago, Chile)
Ema: Carla Macchiavello (Santiago, Chile)
Paula: Denise Milstein (Harlem, New York)
Su: Christy Gast (Amenia, New York)
Cecilia: Randi Nygård (Oslo, Norway)
María Irene: Camila Marambio (Papudo, Chile)
Act I was created and rehearsed from March-August 2020 during weekly meetings on Zoom on Wednesdays at 8am EST, 2pm CEST, 10pm GMT.
Biographies of Ensayistas co-writing and performing Cucú and Her Fishes:
Caitlin Franzmann (Brisbane, Australia) is an artist who creates installations, performances, and social practice works that focus on place-based knowledge and clairsentience. Her work has been featured in exhibitions nationally and internationally, including the National Gallery of Victoria, Naarm/Melbourne, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, and Kyoto Art Centre, among others. Originally trained as an urban planner, she completed her Bachelor of Fine Art at Queensland College of Art in 2012.
Christy Gast (Amenia, New York) is an artist based in New York whose sculptures and video installations focus on issues of politics and aesthetics with regard to landscape. Her work has been exhibited at MoMA/P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Performa, Exit Art and Artist’s Space in New York, Pérez Art Museum of Miami, the Bass Museum, the de la Cruz Collection and Gallery Diet in Miami, Matucana 100 and Patricia Ready Gallery in Santiago, CL and the Kadist Art Foundation in Paris.
Camila Marambio (Papudo, Chile) is a curator and founded Ensayos in 2010 motivated by the strong sentiment that Tierra del Fuego, despite its remoteness, is the center of the world. Marambio holds a PhD in Curatorial Practice from Monash University, Naarm/Melbourne; a M.A. in Modern Art: Curatorial Studies from Columbia University, NYC; and a Master of Experiments in Art and Politics, Sciences Po, Paris. She attended the Curatorial Programme at de Appel Arts Center in Amsterdam (2006/2007) and has been curator-in-residence at Gertrude Contemporary in Naarm/Melbourne (2015), Kadist Art Foundation in Paris (2014), the Watermill Center in New York (2010), and Sørfinnset Skole in Nordland, Norway. She was Chief Curator of Matucana 100 in Santiago (2008-2010) and previously Assistant Curator at Exit Art in New York City (2003-2005). Marambio is currently Guest Curator, Extended Research Project at the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Research Institute for the Study of Art from Latin America of the Museum of Modern Art (2020). She is co-author of the books Slow Down Fast, A Toda Raja with Cecilia Vicuña (Errant Bodies Press, 2019) and Sandcastles: Cancerous Bodies and their Necro/Powers with Nina Lykke (forthcoming 2021).
Carla Macchiavello (Santiago, Chile/Queens, New York) is an art historian and educator. An eclectic art historian, she has published on contemporary Latin American art, performative poetics and video art, solidarity networks and their woven meshes of resistance, and artistic practices aimed at social change. She is Assistant Professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY, NY, and received her PhD in Art History and Criticism from Stony Brook University. She also lovingly co-edits the Ensayos periodical Más allá del fin/Beyond the End.
Denise Milstein (Harlem, New York) is a writer and sociologist whose work develops a relational, historically-grounded perspective at the intersection of art and politics, and culture and the environment. She has written on the articulation of urban imaginaries through music, the impact of repression on artistic careers, political engagement and counter-culture, and artistic innovation. Concerns with environmental sustainability, collaboration across disciplines, and participatory action research are central to her most recent work. Current projects examine urban dwellers’ access to nature in New York City public spaces; the interactions of artists and archivists with near-obsolete technologies in marginal spaces of cultural production and reproduction; and co-directing the NYC COVID-19 Oral History, Narrative and Memory Archive. She directs the stand-alone MA Program in Sociology at Columbia University and edits Dispatches from the Field, a series dedicated to publishing collections of ethnographic data.
Hema’ny Molina (Santiago, Chile) is a Selk’nam writer, poet, craftswoman and grandmother. Molina is president of the Selk’nam Corporation Chile, formed in 2015, which aims to dislodge the indigenous community from the stigma of “extinction.” The Covadonga Ona indigenous community gathers families of Selk’nam descendants who have maintained oral memory through the transmission of ancestral knowledge and connection over generations.
Randi Nygård (Oslo, Norway) is an artist, curator and writer. She received her MFA from Kunstakademiet i Trondheim, NTNU, 2006. Her work often departs from scientific facts about how nature influences and is a fundamental part of society and culture. In 2014 she was honored with a 5-year grant from the Norwegian state. Her work has been exhibited at Contemporary Art Center of Thessaloniki, Greece; YYZ Artist Outlet, Toronto; Kunstverein Springhornhof, Germany; Museo Nazionale di Sant’Angelo, Roma, Italy; in addition to Kunstnernes Hus, Kurant, QB gallery, NoPlace and Fotogalleriet in Norway.
Bárbara Saavedra (Santiago, Chile) is a biologist specializing in ecology and conservation and has been the director of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) for Chile since 2005. She received her PhD in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Chile. Her early work in Tierra del Fuego began as part of an interdisciplinary team of 100 scientists addressing the ecological, biological, and social implications of private forestry, where she studied the presence of Canadian beavers on the island. In 2004 she was appointed by WCS to make a biodiversity assessment for their new conservation project in Tierra del Fuego. Since then, she has led the implementation of a new science-based, multiple scale, locally integrated, globally relevant conservation model at WCS Karukinka Natural Park. Recognized as one of Chile’s top 100 women leaders by the country’s leading newspaper, she is director of the Ecological Society of Chile and member of the Civil Society Council of Institute of Human Rights of Chile, where she connects her vision of justice with biodiversity conservation. As a member of the eco-feminist collective Ensayos, she raises the voice of conservation and ecology beyond NGOs. Her advocacy successes at WCS include the protection of 70,000 hectares of peatlands through the Chilean Ministry of Mining and the declaration of the Admiralty Sound as a Marine Protected Area.
Carolina Saquel (Paris, France) is a visual artist and former lawyer. In 2003 she was selected to study in Le Fresnoy (France), a two-year program that focuses on cross-disciplinary work between contemporary art and cinema. She uses the moving image as a medium for altering perceptions of temporality of seemingly unimportant events. Bodily gestures, the history of painting, nature stripped of human presence and cinematographic as well as literary references are points of departure for her work in video and photography. Her work has been shown at Espai 13, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona; Kadist Art Foundation, Paris; Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, Canadá; Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg; Grand Palais, Paris; Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton, Paris; Bloomberg Space, London; Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart.