Perrotin is pleased to announce the opening of Profundidad, a solo show by Chilean artist Christiane Pooley at Hong Kong Space, marking the artist's first solo exhibition with the gallery.
In Christiane Pooley's work, waterfalls, ponds, wheat fields, and highways are recurring themes. These seemingly peaceful landscapes, whose exact locations and historical periods are unclear, contain dark undercurrents beneath their serene appearance. The Araucanía region of Chile, where the artist was born and raised, has long been a breeding ground for complex tensions. Conflicts between indigenous people (predominantly Mapuche) and the Chilean government intensified at the end of the 19th century when the Chilean government seized their land and imposed Chilean citizenship on them. Before that, the Mapuche had fought Spanish colonizers for over 300 years. Pooley’s work depicts Arcaunia’s hidden past and tensions over land ownership with a deceptively calm beauty. At what moment does a landscape represent nature, extraction and production, a repository of collective memories, or a homeland never to return to?
These questions are encoded in Pooley's paintings, which always originate from and return to these archetypal images. One such archetype is the dreamlike hut floating alone on the water's surface. This is not an imagery of a dream but rather a nomadic dwelling style from southern Chile. Locals gather to help neighbors move their houses collectively in response to changes in environment and family life. This ritual of communal reciprocity from Andean cultural tradition is known as Minga, or Mink'a, and it contradicts the spirit of modernity on many levels. This kind of dislocation and paradox are at the core of the artist's images. The scenes are drawn from the artist's own photography, family albums, or Chile's national historical archives. They are both specific and ambiguous, full of ineffable psychological undertones. The cascading waterfall cut off by a large color block, with a reclining male figure of uncertain fate at its bottom; a group of horseback riders crossing an abstract glacier-like zone, under an upside-down suspended volcano—all the figurative depictions occur in the crevice between two large intertwined color blocks.
As a descendant of Chilean and European immigrants, belonging has become a complex subject and an unattainable feeling. Pooley doesn't feel she truly "belongs" to her homeland, or to any place at all — as connected as she is with it. She is in constant state of migration and perpetual search, from Araucanía to Santiago, to London and Paris. In her paintings, she ponders how individuals are shaped by structural forces, how identity is molded by ancestral heritage, by one's personal history of migration, and whether one's relationship to the land can be labeled as "ownership." Just as in Río Renaico, where the floating huts rest on the water's surface, while the night sky reveals grid-like maps once used to divide the local land. The nomadic lifestyle rooted in the local climate and survival needs has become a subject of "planning" after encountering Western modernity. As modern humans, all aspects of our lives are also subject to certain "planning" and discipline, including our own selves.
In Pooley's work, the malleability of painting as a medium is presented in a diverse and rich manner. The works are not mere landscapes, but blurring the definition of landscape. Rich textures and brushstrokes in vast color blocks dominate the canvas, often juxtaposing small human figures or houses with intense "traces" created by physical gestures. Yet, these minute subjects consistently capture the viewer's visual focus. The brushstrokes often manifest themselves through geometric color blocks, sometimes translucent, inviting viewers to search for painting traces beneath these layers of color and other hidden pigment textures. These brushstrokes also tantalizingly evoke fragments of abstractionism and patterns commonly seen in indigenous textiles. Her works occasionally feature photographic elements, akin to the effects of multiple exposure. Grids, brushstrokes, color blocks, light spots, images, and diagrams are layered and collaged, mirroring the collision of different actualities. For Pooley, these image-making strategies represent pathways to understanding the world, coalescing with the people journeying through it.
Text by Luan Shixuan
Born in 1983 in Temuco, Chile
Lives and works in Paris, France
The work of Christiane Pooley explores place as both a physical environment and an emotional state that transcends time and geographical boundaries. Her paintings mix memories with archival images to create poetic, liminal spaces and scenes that teeter on the edge of reality and dream. At the same time, the taut balance between vivid, concrete details and more abstract elements creates a palpable tension and slight sense of the uncanny that not only complicates notions of nostalgia, but also reflects wider complexities around origin and identity.