Daniela Rivera’s “The Andes Inverted” and Installing at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

At the beginning of March, I had the incredible opportunity to help with the installation of Daniela Rivera’s show, The Andes Inverted, at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  The Andes Inverted is a response to Chile’s copper mine, Chuquicamata.  The mine has been worked since before Columbus arrived in the Americas, and is now such a massive scar in the land that it can be seen from space.  The mine is a source of national pride for Chile, as it is a large driver of their economy, yet it has a considerable environmental cost.  As explained on the MFA’s website about the exhibit,

“The Andes Inverted” aims to explore the mine’s disruptive impacts—at once environmental, political, cultural, and psychological—and evokes the paradox faced by Chuquicamata miners, many of whom described the jobs and joy provided by the same mine that consumed their homes, memories, and landscape. Rivera explains the miners’ situation is not black-and-white but grey: “Their labor is both productive and destructive, the self-sabotage is the complexity of the place.”

Rivera’s installation in the MFA consists of five tiered paintings, a slanted video piece, and a massive copper-point drawing on a tilted wall that is thirty-seven feet wide and twenty feet tall and emits a unique audio soundscape.  The stacked tier of paintings depicts a portion of the mine itself, with small details such as a tiny truck on one of the many switchbacks descending into the mine revealing the scale and enormity of the mine.  Rivera even incorporated soil from the mine into the paint of these gorgeous paintings.  The video component shows clips of the interviews she conducted with the miners, of them reminiscing over pictures of their old town that was consumed by the expanding mine.  The largest component of the installation is the large wall tilted above visitors, producing the sounds that help generate and unify the experience of the installation.

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Rivera and some helpers at work, beginning of the second day of drawing.  Image courtesy of Catherine Harlow.

Daniela was my advisor for my studio art thesis at Wellesley, and I am so honored that she asked me to help with the installation of this piece.  A lot of people came together to help bring Daniela’s vision to life, from former students of hers, a colleague in the music department, and to curators and workers at the museum.  I really cannot say enough how honored I am to have been trusted, along with four others, to help be her hands so that the drawing for the highest profile installation of her career so far could be completed within five days.

Before arriving in Boston the day before we were to start working, I only had a vague sense of what we would be doing that week.  I soon discovered that we were charged with quite a feat—covering a thirty-seven by twenty foot wall with a copper-point drawing of rocks traced and hatched rocks taken from the mine in just five days.  Copper-point, much like silver-point or drawing with graphite, uses copper as the drawing tool, as the copper is soft enough to leave a mark on a properly prepared surface that has enough tooth, or in other words is rough enough, to grip the metal.  At the outset of this endeavor, the five of us, including Daniela, were afraid we might not finish in our allotted time frame, but we were all prepared to work like crazy to make it happen.

Working alongside Daniela and fellow art student alumnae felt like going home to Wellesley, in a spiritual way.  I know that may sound cheesy, but making and talking about art with other people on a deep, intellectual level is something I have been acutely missing since graduation.  Even though I was not on Wellesley’s campus, what had been my physical home for four years, I was once again participating in the activities that were so prevalent in the feeling of belonging I found at Wellesley and so critical to who I am as a person.   Partway through the first day of working I thought to myself, “How do I do this forever?”  Being able to engage in the art world on a professional level, if only briefly, solidified in my mind that that is the right path for me.  It is my calling.

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Here we are, hard at work tracing rocks with copper.  Image courtesy of Marissa Klee-Peregon.

In terms of what the actual work was like, it was not too much different than business as usual in the studio.  Only instead of a corner of the studio, we took over a corner of a major art museum.  Instead of working independently on our own projects, we were working together on Daniela’s.  We laughed at our hiccups in operating the scissor-lifts at the beginning, and joked about forming a conceptual art band called Copper Girls, all while working diligently and thinking critically at each step of creating the drawing.

At the end of the week, and now looking back at it later, it felt far too short.  It was an absolutely incredible week.  I am so proud Daniela is getting the recognition she deserves, and I am honored and touched beyond words to have contributed to this installation.  This experience is something I will never have again, though I certainly hope that my future holds similar ones.

Anyone who is in the area or will be in Boston within the next few months, please do yourself a favor and visit this remarkable installation.

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