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Review: Cecilia Vicuna’s “About to Happen” 

The artists's sprawling expo runs at the Contemporary Arts Center

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Art shows can be a lot like people: Some try to make up in drama what they lack in substance, and quieter personalities sometimes have more to say. Cecilia Vicuna's sprawling About to Happen expo at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) falls into the latter category. A tribute to displaced people and things, her concoctions cobbled from twigs, bamboo and derelict objects suggest stuff a crow might have gathered but actually reflect an alternate history of civilization. A poet and visual artist influenced by her native Chile's landscape and folk cultures, Vicuna has devoted her 70-plus years on Earth to exploring her homeland's and the world's hidden truths.   Her approach can be applied locally. Balsa Snake Raft to Escape the Flood (pictured) is a poetic bunch of interwoven junk that could never float but suggests the loose ends that would remain if rising sea levels inundated coastal cities like New Orleans, where these objects were found. That interwoven quality harks to Chilean native cultures' use of knotted cords called quipus to record events, a theme illustrated here in a dramatic installation of hanging, knotted fabrics.   Her smaller works return us to the prosaic. Bird and insect wings, seed pods and colored, sometimes knotted threads and electrical wires in little concoctions read like minipoems evoking the sorts of prosaic yet meaningful events that cumulatively constitute our lives. Those pieces, called Precarios, because their fragility made their existence precarious, are part of a series she began as a teen in Chile in the 1960s and proved prophetic after Chile's democratically elected government was overthrown by brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet with U.S. support. A deeply complex artist, Vicuna's life and works are further elucidated in accompanying videos. After a long and quietly productive career, her artwork will be featured in Europe's prestigious documenta 14 exhibition in Germany and Greece this summer. This CAC show is her first major solo exhibition in the U.S. — D. ERIC BOOKHARDT

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