Field Notes: Helene Romakin on “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale

Field Notes: Helene Romakin on “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale

e-flux Education

August 22, 2022
Field Notes: Helene Romakin on “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale
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Field Notes: “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale
by Helene Romakin

The peatlands of Tierra del Fuego manifest colonial and postcolonial crimes and the urgency of climate crises in their different geological layers, bridging human histories with deep-time ecology. The project forms a historical benchmark as it addresses sensitive, urgent topics in Chile’s history at a significant moment when the country is rewriting its constitution around new rights for historically marginalized and discriminated groups, environmental justice, and natural rights. In the Anthropocene, peatlands play a crucial role in ecosystems as they capture and store an enormous amount of carbon in their deep layers. However, through mining, extraction, and drainage, peatlands are threatened with destruction, which releases their stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. In Chile, for now, peatlands do not fall under any specific conservational law. The peatlands are connected to matters of social justice as well: indigenous to the peatlands of Tierra del Fuego are the Selk’nam people, who lived among the peat bogs before colonizers displaced them and brought genocide, and today, the Selk’nam Hach Saye Cultural Foundation fights for their rights to their land and heritage.

“Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol” succeeds in avoiding the pitfalls of representing such a historically, politically, and ecologically complex and entangled situation in a context like the Venice Biennale. The organization of a temporary collective entity bypassed the danger of capitalizing on any one individual’s work and agency. Instead, the team made a point of naming all collaborators and exchanging ideas while each member remained within their area of expertise. Most assuredly, this trustful environment is thanks to the long-term engagement of the collaborators convened by Marambio. The most profound gesture of the collective effort behind “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol” is the deliberate avoidance of traditional extractive exhibition-making practices. Chile has a particular history of displaying its landscape as an attractive environment for land exploitation, as Alfredo Thiermann explained to me: for Expo ’92 in Seville, for instance, Chile presented a sixty-ton iceberg from Bahía Paraíso in the country’s Antarctic territory—no doubt a violent gesture of extraction on a massive ecological scale. Unfortunately, such practices are still common in contemporary art, even when a project professes climate-activist politics. The collective resolved not to follow this colonial logic, Thiermann noted, but rather to reverse it, and in so doing became involved with the world’s leading peatlands research institution, the Greifswald Mire Centre (GMC) in Greifswald, Germany. GMC grows diverse types of Sphagnum moss for industrial purposes and provided the palustre and fallax moss for the exhibition, which are not native to Patagonia. This twist makes the collaboration crucial, complex, and paradigmatic: artificially produced plant life has been enlisted to protect an endangered environment on the other side of the world.

Read more of Helene Romakin’s Field Notes review on Art & Education.

Field Notes is a new series of reviews from the next generation of art writers. Featuring texts on the 59th Venice Biennale and Documenta 15 contributed by students and recent graduates, Field Notes makes original connections between the work and the world and takes a closer look at what other observers might have missed.

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