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Santiago, Chile

January 30, 2015

In your city, how can we tell that it's 2015?

Taking a trip on the metro is sufficient to see how we’re in the height of the Anthropocene. Almost everybody has a cellphone in their hands, at all times.



Which building or intersection in the city would make us think we’re in the future?

Santiago is not a futuristic city. Perhaps at sunset, “Sanhattan”, with its tall buildings like Manhattan, has a sci-fi touch.

Photo by Javier Vieras Photo by Javier Vieras

What reminds you of the past in your city?

Santa Lucía Hill or Huelén in Mapudungún. From the top, you once could see the city of Santiago’s horizon in 360 degrees (now the buildings block the view.) It was an ancient, sacred place for astronomical observation, first for the Mapuche and then the Incas. They say that a Machi (priestess) lived there in a pyramid of earth, where she made astronomical observations for the Mapuche calendar. There’s also an Incan stone, carved into three steps, that is one of the only archeological remains on view at a public space in Santiago. The only monument on the hill to the indigenous past is a sculpture that was rejected by Mexico from the proposals for the film The Last of the Mohicans. It’s not at all related to the indigenous people who lived in the area because it has feathers, but there it is on a great stone, as a reminder of the past. All of this coexists within the walls of a Spanish fort, some beautiful French-style structures in decay, and a palm tree with four trunks. Patricio Bustamante, the archeo-astronomy researcher, does walking tours around Santa Lucía Hill explaining its past, present and future in terms of three psychological phenomena related to the perception of our surroundings: pareidolia (recognizing forms), apophenia (associating random data) and hierophany (the manifestation of the sacred), and proposing a paradigm change in relation to Santiago.


What song or local band do you recommend for the daily playlist?

Music produced in Santiago: Gepe for the day, MKRNI with its trans-Andean electropop for the night. MKRNI has some videos that were filmed in Santiago and are the kings of the night in these parts.


What museum or cultural space is generally omitted from the typical cultural tour, but is definitely worth visiting?

Galería Gabriela Mistral, directed by Florencia Loewenthal, without fail. It’s a public gallery focused on contemporary Chilean art. The gallery also has an interesting interaction with the public, since it has a display window on Alameda, where thousands of people pass daily. Other spaces that are definitely worth visiting are Galería Die Ecke, the Centro Cultural España, Galería Local, Galería Patricia Ready, and the recently renovated Museo Precolombino.


What bookstore has new or secondhand publications on art history, exhibition catalogs, or artist monographs?

There are several interesting bookstores with new books, like Fondo de Cultura Económica, and Metales Pesados (which also exhibits contemporary artists). Another that has new and secondhand books is Comuna Literaria in Barrio Italia, where it’s pleasant to go and read. Galería Patricia Ready has its own publishing house for artist monographs and catalogs for each exhibition. You have to ask for them, though. You can also read art journals like Mousse, Frieze, Artforum, and others that arrive monthly.

Left: Comuna Literaria. Right: Galería Patricia Ready Left: Comuna Literaria. Right: Galería Patricia Ready

What is a typical, local meal and where would you have it?

A light conger eel broth, a plate of shellfish, parmesan clams, choclo pie and humitas at the Mercado Central.


Where can you find the best coffee or tea?

I don’t know if we have the best quality coffee, but it is an unforgettable coffee: the “cafés with legs” in the city center’s galleries are a strange type of café that exist in Chile, where the people inside can see the people outside, but the ones outside can’t see inside; you’ll see why. The best recommendation for those who like coffee is the Higos Tostados decaf produced by Tres Ríos in the south of Chile, sold at Tostaduría Talca. For tea lovers, you must try Chilean leaves like boldo or cedrón (lemon verbena).


Which part of the city would be the best place to lose track of time, stop time or gain time?

In the hills all around the city. The Manquehue Hill (place where the condors fly in Mapu-dungun) is relatively easy-access. Although it’s a little harder to reach, from Pochoco Hill or Guayacán Hill to the base of Provincia Hill, you can see Santiago on one side and the Andes mountain range on the other. It’s wonderful.


What monument has a secret past?

In the city center, in an alleyway close to Catedral and Bandera and Santo Domingo Street, there’s an abandoned building that was a house of torture (there’s a graffiti that points to a hole where you can look inside). Under the building’s foundations, there are ruins from colonial pillars.


Where can you get lost: geographically, emotionally or historically speaking?

In my grandfather’s workshop with his collection of first edition books on the history of Chile, found fossils, arrow tips, mummies, contaritos (clay pots), his reproductions of Claude Gay’s Atlas using Trupan and shoe polish, plastic toys, stuffed animals and fake jewelry arranged over reconstructed indigenous funerary urns.


Where is the best place to watch the sunset in your city?

Racamalac, the pedestrian bridge over the Mapocho River. That’s where couples stroll and there’s a lovely view of the mountain and the river. The Mapocho River has been crucial for the foundation of Santiago and the different communities that have lived there, and the bridge is central to several love stories spanning the last generations.


On Sunday, we'll meet at:

At the Persian Market Bio-Bio, buying junk and tools for my work and eating ceviche in Peruvian restaurants. A gem that you shouldn’t miss is one of the few remaining murals by the Brigada Ramona Parra, which can be found in one of the galpones.


What inspires you most about your city?

How people treat stray dogs. They’re all well-fed, with little capes in the winter or t-shirts in the summer. People leave them bowls of water and food on the street.


If you were commissioned to create a work of art “about” this city, briefly describe what your proposal would be.

Many immigrant communities are arriving in Santiago: Peruvians, Colombians, Palestinians, Chinese, among others. I just finished a residency at Residencia Cancha, with “El Patrón de las cerámicas,” an investigation on the coexistence of cultural landscapes in the Centro Patrimonial de Santiago. Specifically, I worked with the Exposición de Cerámica China on MacIver Street, which was closed a few weeks ago, its vases and salespeople returned to China. For three months, I received the fragments of the broken vases from Ding, a Chinese worker. The ceramics exhibited at Cancha are the hand-mended and reconstructed fragments taken from the trash of the chinos del centro, or the city-center Chinese’s illegal business. These are industrially produced ceramics with fake certificates of authenticity that are transformed into new artisanal objects combined with images of the local landscape. As a future project, I would like to organize an artist residence at the Museo Precolombino.