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Post from Santiago Chile

Santiago Diary

22 November 2012

I’ve been in Santiago, Chile for a little under two weeks now and have not stopped. It is intoxicating.

Last night we went on the second of the bicycle rides organized in as many weeks by Bicipaseao Partrimoniales We started at 8.00 pm and didn't bet home until after 1.00 pm. The tour visited four museums that were open to the public until midnight! At each we had a speaker and in between we cycled across Santiago through the lanes and streets, shutting down traffic wherever we crossed a road as there were about 150 of us on bikes - all ages, some kids, some dogs, some bicycles with little trailers with kids in them. The museums we visited were impressive not only for the architecture but the content and the formation of the institutions themselves.

We started at the Museo de Belles Artes Contemporaneo. This is a historic art nouveau building built at the end of the 19th Century but opened as part of the centenary celebrations of Chilean independence in 1910. A beautiful central gallery featured contemporary and classical works in shaved wood and marble respectively. A quiz on the presentation gave away prizes to those attentive attendees – most of us.

The second museum was the Museo de Solidaridad de Salvador Allende. This museum is a testament to the world wide support for the Allende government across the creative community. Famous international and national artists gifted works to the Allende government - Calder, Miro, Soto, Matta - and these are housed in the most magnificent 19th century mansion in an avenue of majestic buildings. Again a tour guide informed us of the history of the building and the relevance to Allende as other visitors not on the bicycle tour struggled to enter and leave the building through our gathering. Exquisite wood work and stone flooring offset these mostly modernist works mixed with contemporary works donated after the building was returned to the state after being seized by the dictatorship in the 1970’s. 

The third museum was Matucana Cien (featured in the first image on this post) A huge old warehouse that was converted into a theatre and gallery that costs nothing to enter, is situated in the lower class end of town and offers programs for kids and adults every weekend. Hard to describe as it is so impressive with the architectural conversion to a theatre and video gallery and the content of the exhibition of works by Juan Pablo Langlois: (Retrospectiva 1969–2012) contained powerful, explicit works made from found objects, photocopies sculpture and newspaper.  A main part of this work were paper mache 2/3 scale human figures with an element of crude assemblage combined with a skin like surface and just enough expressions of muscular rhythm and emotional tension to imply more than the corporeal existence. These works made in the 1970’s evoke the human condition and intimacy in a time of violence, torture and death both denied and actual as reported in titillating tabloid exploitation and complicity in state crimes– most disturbing and at the same time poetic in its rendering of the human condition.

Museo de la Memoria and Human Rights, Santiago, Chile
The last museum was perhaps the most moving because it is the museum of Memory and Human Rights opened in 2010 by the President Michelle Bachelet. Museo de la Memoria I'll try to describe its form and content as a counterpoint to the carefree abandon of riding through the city and momentarily closing intersections with our mass yet with great care, management and coordination on the part of the organisers. We approached it as a swarm and the people on the street clapping and cheering our approach stood in front of a modern, sculptural building and grounds occupying half a city block: the major form of this complex being a four storey building elevated and offset from the rectilinear grid of the city. We entered on our bikes underneath this form, speeding down on a huge ramp that closes and then opens into a large square not before passing the declaration of human rights on the right. So we are now below the street level by two storeys in a large open public space and are greeted by our tour guide who takes us into the building, the entry is free. After some introductory displays – the key being a statement by President Bachelete about not being able to change the past but having the responsibility to shape the future bused on truth and justice - you go up stars to the first of four levels. The truth and justice commission is not given as much credit as similar reconciliation commission in other countries yet its work forms the basis and rigour of the content of the museum.  It is a well considered, researched and presented living archive of the coup and dictatorship that raises the emotional intensity as you ascend the stairs, but it is difficult to say why. Perhaps it is the simple yet clear design that doesn’t try to be the content as in other architectural designs that have addressed the non redemptive imperative of contemporary memorials and museums. Reaching the top of the stairs and floating high up on the right, just off from the wall are about 3000 framed photographic portraits - there are a few frames without images. These are the disappeared from the dictatorship but you won't get to see them face to face until you have been through the whole exhibition and ascended the three floors of archive to arrive on a enclosed, glass platform surrounded by the suggestion of candles and canter-levered above the museum entry. You are now looking at the images of mostly men of all ages, some are just children. Behind is a data search and by entering a name you can find the details of the disappeared denied by the dictatorship. In between this contemplative space, the exhibits on each floor address and represent the different aspects of the physical and psychological impact of the coup and the dictatorship. 
"We cannot change our past.
We can only learn from what we have lived.
This is our responsability and our challenge."
Michelle Bachelet.
The documented and reported election of the Allende government, the coup, the mass imprisonments simultaneously carried out across the country, the imposition of the Military Junta and the spontaneous poetry of Allende's last speech from the besieged National Palace in La Moneda broadcast on Radio Magallenes. You move through exhibitions that demonstrate the nation wide effect of the dictatorship - the impact on children with letters from them to Pinochet's wife asking about their grandfather, the complicit role of the media in covering up murder, abduction and torture, the attempts of the church to provide safe passage for exiled, maintain the rule of law in legal defence and advocacy and support for those subjected to the violence of the state and lastly the testimonies of the survivors of torture. Video recordings of people, men and women, describing with calm the horrific things that human beings do to each other out of fear, ideology and sadism is projected above a steel framed bed hooked up to electrocution devises.

This is a museum that all Chileans should visit. It is one that all tourists to Chile should visit.  It is one that all countries, their people and governments, who not only supported Pinochet but were complicit in not opposing a dictatorship that lasted 17 years, should be represented.  It reminded me of the role of the Australian media Australian Companies in the maintenance of the regime.  Most infamously it is marked by Alan Bond’s purchase of 51% of the Chilean Telecommunications company CTC supporting and used by the dictatorship to spy, abduct and murder Chilean citizens. 

We ended our tour by riding back from the other end of the city through old Santiago, stopping at around midnight for a drink in this wonderful restaurant established in an old hairdressers that has been running for 100 odd years. Peluqueria Francesa. On the corner of the restaurant is the original hairdresser complete with hair dryers. Inside is an assortment of collected furniture and apparel and you enter the female toilet via a secret door in an antique wardrobe - a little piece of magic realism to end the night.

Attached is a video of the bicycle ride with a short conversation with Beatriz as we ride along. Apologies for the volume of my voice. 

bicipaseo friday 22 November santiago from Anthony McInneny on Vimeo.


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