Artist Conversation: Enrique Ramírez

Enrique Ramírez, during production of his works Incoming (2017) and Sailors (2017) commissioned by Screen City Biennial. Photo: Daniela Arriado

On sails, poetry and the aesthetico-political history of Chile


Stavanger, March 2017


Daniela Arriado: Your work is related to memory, the continuity of memory and exile; both in terms of content and in a poetic way, it has a strong political dimension. Also, sound is an important element. Maybe you would introduce your practice in a little more detail?

Enrique Ramírez: A point of departure in my work is its relationship to our political history. Chilean art history is effected by a very strong political history – and also a poetic history. The history of poetry in Chile often either focuses on the landscape, or on the political history, because of the military coup in 1973, and the following fifteen to twenty years of darkness. My work is starts with poetry and goes into the political rather than the other way around.

DA: Can you elaborate on that?

ER: In each image of my work, there is a poetic aspect. Visually, I look at each piece as a triangle between the work, the public and the artist; at the point at which they meet, a political idea is produced: when the image reaches the spectator, who brings in her or his own perspectives, you can reach this poetic dimension. So when the triangle is complete, my work “works” – or, it does not. That is a risk.

There is also a geographical element to my work: Chile is very far South, and it is a very long country. On the one side you have the Andes Mountains, and, on the other side, 4200 kilometers of water.

DA: Very similar to Norway, actually…

ER: Yes. In relation to migration, I find it interesting that for Chilean people – because of their location being so far away and so distant from the rest of the world – it was almost impossible to migrate for a very long time until there was a political reason for migration.

Our geographic condition is important to how we relate to our ways of existing in the world. It not only concerns migration and immigration, but also how and why we leave our land, when we leave, what we leave behind, and what we take with us. My country has always been an experiment since the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat when Pinochet pushed an Economic System copied from the US and that today weighs us down. We are a country that does not think much about the future consequences of things, and our historical memory works similarly – we are more prone to forgetting than to dragging history with us.

But my work also departs from the history of my family’s roots working with and constructing sailboats and sails. This is reflected in my latest work International Sail (2017), which is installed at Kadist in San Francisco, and amounts to a sail mounted upside down that depicts the continent of South America. In this work, I reference Joaquín Torres García from South America, who was the first to develop an inverted map in 1943 that reversed the North and the South. Garcia wanted the South Americans to stop looking to North America as an inspiration, and to look at themselves instead; to look at their own poetry and their history, and thus shift their perspective and perception toward to themselves. I am inspired by Garcia’s philosophy and perspective, which have been followed in most of my work. This is also the possibility that art offers: the possibility to turn the perception and offer new perspectives.

Another project of mine, Ocean from 2013, connects more closely to what I will be doing at the Screen City Biennial. It depicts a trip I made from Valparaíso, Chile to Dunkerque, France. I traveled the Atlantic for twenty-five days on board an industrial vessel, and produced a twenty-five days long video work. In the museum, I showed it with twenty-five monitors.

DA: Here we are getting into your method, which I think is interesting. It has been presented on different screens, and in a container in public space as well. How did you film this?

ER: It shows only the ocean and is shot from the same angle, so the colors are changing with the light and climate. In addition to this long shot, I was also contextualizing the video by conducting short interviews every day – fifty-two in total – and various videos from walking around the ship.

DA: Just to bring it to Stavanger, when we initiated our conversations about your work in relation to the theme of migration, diaspora, post-colonialism, and so on, we were constantly coming back to the theme of work migration. You were curious about Stavanger’s history and its industrial culture, and we discussed the oil industry and the shipping industry…

ER: For my work in Stavanger, I was very interested in developing a sound element. I actually studied sound for six years but realized I was a terrible musician, so I started to do visual art instead, but I am still inspired by it. One of the first things I started researching here was the symphony orchestra. I found out that many of the musicians are foreigners, and the director is from Venezuela, for example. I want to invite the musicians to be part of this, not only just performatively, but also in relation to the ocean. I wish to present their perspectives, histories, and experiences. There will be water, sound, and traces to migration.

But I am also interested in how the media deals with the subject of immigration, and I think, in particular, of an image of it here in Norway. It is well known but when I saw it, I was very impressed by – this is the image of the Norwegian immigration minister Sylvi Listhaug at sea with a lifejacket on. Is that the image Norway shows to sell the idea of immigration? Like a children’s play… I speak to you sitting in a comfortable chair, from a house with a roof and four walls, and I am unable to throw myself in the sea to see if I could feel like an immigrant – so that feeling is one we will never know. The big problem is that often we find speeches about immigration mostly written by thinkers, journalists, people of the intellectual world, associations. But who gives voice to those from whom we really need to hear? Very few, which is not to say that nobody does. The immigrant is given no voice; they are an obstacle to the other who looks at them. And that is the wrong perception – a world that perceives sitting from his chair.



Enrique Ramírez’s work combines video, photography, installations and poetic narratives. He was born in 1979 in Santiago, Chile, and has since 2007 lived and worked between Paris and Santiago. In 2014, he won the Discovery Prize of Les Amis du Palais de Tokyo in Paris. He is invited to the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia curated by Christine Macel. He is a graduate from Le Fresnoy Studio National des Arts Contemporains in Tourcoing, France.

See artworks Incoming (2017) and Sailors (2017) commmissioned by Screen City Biennial 2017.