This system makes water is just one of the multiple interpretations we can give of the work of Chilean visual artist Máximo Corvalán-Pincheira that will open at the Centro Cultural La Moneda (Santiago de Chile) on Saturday 17 December at 12 noon.

The exhibition, titled “Adversativa”, brings together works by the outstanding artists Bernardo Oyarzún, Pamela Iglesias and Máximo Corvalán-Pincheira, who will present “Hacer agua”, an unpublished work that was intended to represent Chile at the Vancouver Biennial in 2021 and that, due to complications with Covid, could not be realised.

Through an interview, we approached this contemporary Chilean artist and his artistic journey of more than 20 years, based on how significant it is for a visual artist who grew up in exile to be able to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the coup d’état through his work.

Máximo, as an artist, how do you see yourself in the face of the 50th anniversary of the coup?

As an artist it has always been a preoccupation within my work to raise the issue of state violence, asking her questions concerning the way in which society heals from these problems that have no concrete solution.

What role should art play in relation to these events?

Art asks her questions and brings to light some things that from other more traditional places it is not possible to visualise. From my point of view, art is capable of going through, from the poetic construction of installations, and can become more powerful than any report that is made public, because in some way it sublimates and allows us to read not only a concrete and specific fact, but rather it allows us to move in time, in the past and in the future. This is what happens when a work makes you think and question: it makes you feel.

A criticism that is often made of conceptual art is that it remains too much in the elite. Do you agree with this statement?

In part yes; the most conceptual contemporary art belongs to a rather intellectual world. But I don’t think it’s about making a work that is much easier to read. The art I make, for example, doesn’t have to be massive, and yet in other parts of the world there are works by visual artists that are very massive. Perhaps it has to do with other problems: with education, with the importance that a country gives to its own artistic work and, therefore, the visualisation that these artists have is different. They become artists who are very visible, who people recognise as part of their cultural heritage. The complicated thing about making a “popular” work is the risk of trivialising the message and turning it into something more packaged, digestible, easy to consume. I think that for this reason I consider the work of mediation to be very important, because it is also a work that contextualises the work in the place where it is situated. And in art you have to go and look for it, to investigate it, if someone is interested in it. It’s not a television programme, it’s not a publication on instagram.

Returning to the theme of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the coup and, beyond this, the theme of memory, since when has it crossed your history, as an artist?

The work on memory has been present since the beginning of my career. Since 2000 I have been working with themes that have to do with memory. Specifically, the latest works are connected in a series called “Proyecto ADN” (DNA Project) which began in 2009. This series works on the idea of memory from a much more abstract point of view, which has to do with the almost metaphorical idea, for example, of a DNA ellipse cut, broken, in sculptural terms, where the presence of water and electricity has always been very present and very powerful.

We are talking about themes and messages with a very powerful charge. What do the works in this series provoke in the public?

For me, they are works that do not leave the spectator indifferent; in some way they trap them, like poetry. There is a construction of a certain beauty, from the initial horror of this theme that has to do with the disappeared, with the search; but the way in which the work is constructed is a bit of a trap, it’s a way of trapping the spectator. For example, there is a game between the seduction produced by the sound of water, which ends up being very important for the work in terms of reflection, both in formal terms and as a mirror and at the same time in terms of content.

To expose electricity in my work is to tension this element with the other, which is water. This work can show how problematic, delicate and complex it is to work with this theme. On a metaphorical level, at any moment a short circuit can be triggered that turns everything off or turns everything upside down. This sensation, which does not necessarily have to be conceptualised, but is a sensation that the spectator perceives as such, helps to construct a scene that is very contradictory. In sensory terms, it’s navigating between something that you don’t know if it’s beautiful or if it scares you, if it’s seductive or decomposing. There are different processes going on in the work.

As this research has progressed, it has taken on different forms and you have also taken on issues related to nature, incorporating living elements. How did this process come about?

From working in the visual arts, there are many things that are mixed in theoretical and visual terms, and this has always been in my work. For example, in relation to the living, almost all my work has had a performative way of presenting the work. I can mention “Safe Beast” (2015), where there are living beings inside the work and, therefore, the behaviour that takes place inside the work is impossible to manage completely. When I work in Proyecto ADN there is water, which I consider to be a living element, circulating like a fountain in constant movement, circulating and seducing another element which is electricity in a sensation of constant movement or collapse.

These works where nature is directly involved, do you feel that they are also capable of reaching another public?

I don’t know if I’m interested in them speaking to other audiences. I’m interested in presenting interesting problems in visual and conceptual terms. It seems to me that the issue that has been generated lately is climate change; it’s possible to see it represented by many artists who are working on it today as a preoccupation. It’s a question of installing questions that are reflecting the current times.

What is your message?

Everyone is born at a certain point in the world and in history and, from my biography, I have lived through things that allow me to have a starting point, from a place where I look at the world and a place from where I make proposals. And what has touched me, what I have been interested in visualising, has to do with the way in which human beings abuse others. And from that general idea, I’m interested in producing subjectivities that allow me to reflect and distance myself and to become aware of some situations that we could avoid, that we could learn from, that we could and should remember.

What are your plans for 2023?

In principle, to make three installations: “Hacer agua”, which starts in 2022 and ends in 2023 and which opens for me the process of commemorating the 50th anniversary of the coup d’état. Then in April an exhibition will be inaugurated at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Quinta Normal, in the central hall. And in the second half of the year an installation in the central hall also at Bellas Artes. And possibly, not yet confirmed, an international exhibition outside Chile at the end of the year. In a way all these exhibitions are related to each other.

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More information about the artist: