Staff Picks: Cecilia Vicuña

Staff Picks: Cecilia Vicuña


Cecilia Vicuña, What Is Poetry to You? (clip), 1980. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

April 1, 2024
Staff Picks: Cecilia Vicuña
What Is Poetry to You?: April 1–30, streaming online
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e-flux is very pleased to present the April 2024 edition of our monthly series Staff Picks on e-flux Film, featuring Cecilia Vicuña’s What is Poetry to You? (1980, 23 minutes), an inquiry into the nature and perception of poetry through the perspectives of diverse representatives of Bogotá’s inhabitants.

Cecilia Vicuña is a renowned poet, artist, filmmaker, and activist whose expansive body of work transcends conventional artistic disciplines, blending poetry, film, sculpture, and performance. What is Poetry to You? is a fascinating exploration of poetry’s impact on individual and collective consciousness, revealing the deep roots of oral tradition in Latin American culture and the universal reach of poetic expression. Filmed in the vibrant streets of Bogotá, the film presents a series of intimate encounters where Vicuña asks various individuals—ranging from children and street performers to scientists, artists, and sex workers—the same question: “What is poetry to you?” The responses, as diverse as the interviewees themselves, span from deeply personal reflections to broader political statements, highlighting poetry as a vital, communal, and transformative force.

The context—the film was created during Vicuña’s exile to Colombia following the 1973 Chilean coup d’état—imbues it with themes of displacement, resistance, memory, and the search for identity. By means of 16mm film, the artist explores the potential of poetry to articulate beauty and hope in times of turmoil, affirming her role as the artist seamlessly integrating art and activism.

Watch the film here.

Cecilia Vicuña is a poet, performer, and sound and visual artist, who coined the concept of arte precario (or “precarious art”) in the 1960s in response to pressing concerns of the modern world, including ecological destruction, human rights, and cultural homogenization. Born and raised in Santiago, she was exiled during the early 1970s after the violent military coup against President Salvador Allende. This sense of impermanence, and a desire to preserve and pay tribute to the indigenous history and culture of Chile, especially the Quipu (an Andean writing system or “knot-record” fashioned from string), have characterized her work throughout her career.

Staff Picks is a monthly streaming series on e-flux Film of recommended videos designed to disrupt the monotony of an algorithm. Before the end times of big data, we used to discover suggested content along dusty shelves in video rental stores, where Post-it notes scribbled by shift workers implored us to experience the same movies that made them guffaw, scream, or weep. Sometimes the content bored us, sometimes it overwhelmed us, and sometimes, as if by magic, it was just right. e-flux invites you to relive this rental store mode of perusal, with personalized picks curated through judgment that does not take into consideration your viewing history. 

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April 1, 2024

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