The Top 10 Most Exciting Art/Sustainability Initiatives in…Chile!

By Yasmine Ostendorf

In recent months, Chile has received global attention, but for different reasons than initially expected. The capital city of Santiago was supposed to host COP25, the United Nations meetings where world leaders discuss how to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. But instead of being the proud backdrop for the political groundwork needed to usher us towards a more sustainable future, Santiago was all over the news because of its social uprising.

On a superficial level, the protests seemed to have been triggered by an increase in subway prices, but the reality was much more complex. The country had been a ticking time-bomb, fueled by built-up anger and frustration over its unfair social systems, extreme neoliberalism and increased privatization – remaining legacies of the Pinochet dictatorship. Even though the media tried to prove otherwise, the protests were mostly peaceful, full of music, art and other forms of creativity. They only became violent when the police started responding with extreme violence

As the protests escalated, COP25 had to be moved to Madrid. Still, the majority of the Chilean protesters had shown their courageous and creative side. Song, graffiti and street-art brightened the streets, and the whole world was introduced to “Un violador en tu camino,” the powerful Chilean anti-rape anthem initiated by Lastesis, that went viral and fueled a movement of feminist protests across Latin America and beyond. Another personal favorite is the work of Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña, whose statement on the protests can be read here

Cecilia Vicuña, Violeta Parra o Violenta Vid. Oil on canvas, 1973. Collection of the artist. Vicuña: “I decided to paint a portrait of Violeta Parra for the series of Heroes of the Revolution, because not all the heroes have to be leaders, thinkers or guerrillas, we also need heroes of being, painting and invention.”

Creativity proved once again to be central in the fight for a better future, so the time is ripe for another personal list of Top 10 Most Exciting Art/Sustainability Initiatives, this time in Chile (as always, in random order). Because of its long shape and 6,000 km coastline, Chile has some of the most (bio) diverse and astonishing landscapes in the world. The country stretches all the way from the dry Atacama desert in the north to the volcanoes, glaciers, and ancient forests in the south. Its natural environment is of incredible beauty and importance, and the art initiatives listed below admire as well as address that.

Biomaterials at Labva

1. LABVA

This innovative and experimental biomaterials lab is located in Valdívia in the south of Chile. Occupying an old building constructed in 1906, Labva is essentially an independent and self-managed community laboratory and kitchen, where artists cook up biomaterials, grow biomaterials and research local and circular economies. Labva aims to bring science closer to the community, focusing especially on new materials or open biomaterials. 

Mar Adentro

2. FUNDACIÓN MAR ADENTRO

Fundación Mar Adentro is the steward of Bosque Pehuén in Auracanía Andina, Chile, a 882-hectare Natural Reserve sitting between the Villarrica vulcano and the Quetrupillan vulcano – a stunning area known for its abundant biodiversity. Fundación Mar Adentro founded this private conservation initiative in 2006 with the belief that “to preserve, one should understand,” conceiving the place as an outdoor research lab. Ever since, they have been developing multidisciplinary and collaborative initiatives in art, education, and nature that encourage recognizing the value of the Chilean natural and cultural heritage.

UCT students at Valley of the Possible

3. VALLEY OF THE POSSIBLE

Valley of the Possible is an independent cultural non-profit that offers artists, scientists and other thinkers and makers a place to connect with nature, time for research, and space for artistic development. Located in the stunning Cañon del Blanco valley in La Araucanía Andina, the place is surrounded by ancient volcanic landscapes with abundant biodiversity and a strong Indigenous presence. The works and narratives that are created as part of the projects and residencies encourage thinking and acting ecologically. The founders believe it is essential to support the parallel development of ecological and economical shifts that re-addresses the wisdom, tradition, and culture of Indigenous people and the importance of their cosmology. 

Museo Del Hongo

4. MUSEO DEL HONGO

This nomadic museum of art and science has one obsession: mushrooms, and anything to do with mushrooms. Museo del Hongo even operates in mycorrhizal ways, spreading its spores across Chile and beyond through fungi-inspired performances, fashion, magazines, exhibitions, and educational workshops. And, like mycelium, it has a central role in a vast network, connecting people, resources, and knowledge. Museo del Hongo collaborates closely with many partners, including the Chilean Fungi Foundation. It functions with the versatility and resourcefulness of the fungal ways of living and working. 

Lawayaka Current’s Desert 23°S, Atacama, Chile 

5. LAWAYAKA CURRENT

La Wayaka Current is an artist-led initiative whose main focus is to develop ways to engage people with the pressing environmental and philosophical questions of our time through self-reflection, arts, and culture. This is in response to the increased loss of connection between humans and the natural world, and the global socio-political and environmental problems that have arisen due to this distancing. Since 2015, La Wayaka Current has orchestrated alternative residency programs in various remote natural biomes, often in collaboration with indigenous communities. Participants connect to the rich biodiversity, culture and ancestral knowledge of a place, in order to recognize and value these things in light of the present ecological crisis. The aim is to investigate the potential to form new perspectives through creative practice and critical thought. 

Magma Lab

6. MAGMA/LAB

MAGMA/Lab is an artist-run space for creative experimentation, located in Pucón in the Araucanía region. The artists work in various disciplines, including ceramics, engraving, graphics, visual art, design, and furniture, always taking nature as point of departure. Programs include workshops, design services, as well as projects on sustainable solutions for various local challenges. The founders believe that local commerce and respect for nature don’t have to be at odds with each other, and they seek to strengthen the creative industry of the beautiful Araucanía region, without harm to the environment.

Whale research with the community at MHNRS

7. THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM OF RÍO SECO (MHNRS)

The Natural History Museum of Río Seco (MHNRS) is a space of convergence between disciplines related to arts and sciences that assimilates and reflects on the natural and cultural heritage of the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic region. This space was created with the purpose of embracing and disseminating knowledge regarding the southern Pole through the development of collections, which mainly relate to the natural and material history of the extreme south of Chile. Through community experiences, academics, professionals, specialists, students and visitors from diverse backgrounds are invited to think critically, and develop an understanding of the challenge of inhabiting a territory where the natural environment is key to cultural development. 

Smell test, Ensayos Tierra del Fuego

8. ENSAYOS TIERRA DEL FIEGO

The nomadic research collective Ensayos Tierra del Fuego‘s practice is centered on extinction, human geography, and coastal health. The members of the collective honor the Indigenous Selk’nam, Yaghan, Kawéskar and Haush peoples on whose ancestral lands and waters they conduct research and learn – mostly in Tierra del Fuego (the southern tip of Patagonia) and other archipelagos. The land is rich in fungi and plant species and home to unique Patagonian wildlife. Ensayos Tierra de Fuego believes that understanding environmental change requires sound science. Through their work, they underline the fact that making choices about Earth stewardship involves ethics, aesthetics and critical geopolitical perspectives.

Image from the Art and Science Biennale of Concepción, as published in Endémico magazine, media partners of the Biennale. 

9. REVISTA ENDÉMICO

Revista Endémico is a bi-annual magazine and online platform that creates spaces for art and environment. From issues on the mysterious world of oceans and the challenges to preserve marine ecosystems, to interviews with artists who have participated in projects and residencies, Revista Endémico publishes superb images and top-notch writing. The platform is a great resource to learn about both environmental and artistic practices in Chile. Revista Endémico is an initiative of  Hola Eco, a group of bloggers who converge on an essential point: their mutual quest for a more balanced lifestyle with the planet and themselves. 

Ciudad Abierta

10. CIUDAD ABIERTA

Picturesquely tucked away in a national park in Ritoque, north of Valparaíso, one can find Ciudad Abierta – the Open City. Covering 270 hectares, this landscape is home to an extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna, wetlands, cliffs, dunes, and gorges, and dotted with an impressive array of architectural interventions. Founded in 1970 by a group of poets, philosophers, sculptors, painters, architects and designers, it still functions as an experimental architecture school, with several workshops and workspaces for artists, designers, and architects. Several of the founders still live on site and all decision-making processes regarding new architectural and experimental interventions are made collectively and democratically during “Heart Open” table discussions. 

Valley of the Possible and Cookies research trip, 2019. Photo by Federico Martelli.

In addition, I should mentioned the Tompkins Foundation and CAB Patagonia, which are doing incredible work in nature and cultural conservation in Chile; curator Rodolfo Andaur has been taking artists around Chile, researching the different geographies of the country through the critical and reflective lens of contemporary art; and The Pearl Buttonis a beautiful film about the relationship of people with the water in Chile. 

I express my deep gratitude to Valley of the Possible for the incredible research trip in Chile in December 2019, which formed the foundation for this list. 


Curator Yasmine Ostendorf (MA) has worked extensively on international cultural mobility programs and on the topic of art and environment for expert organizations such as Julie’s Bicycle (UK), Bamboo Curtain Studio (TW), Cape Farewell (UK), and Trans Artists (NL). She founded the Green Art Lab Alliance, a network of 35 cultural organizations in Europe and Asia that addresses our social and environmental responsibility, and is the author of the series of guides “Creative Responses to Sustainability.” She is the Head of Nature Research at the Van Eyck Academy (NL), a lab that enables artists to consider nature in relation to ecological and landscape development issues and the initiator of the Van Eyck Food Lab.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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