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Adriana Valdés

Alfredo Jaar’s installation La geometría de la conciencia (The Geometry of Conscience), located under the plaza in front of the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile, has several features worth mentioning. While it is an autonomous work, its location determines a direct relationship to the Museum and the need to perceive it in this context. Jaar’s work offers a different, complementary experience in relation to the Museum: not history or facts, but an open and complex exploration of thoughts and feelings, somewhat like a poem.

It is a subterranean, opaque work. The Museum's building is transparent and spreads out onwards and upwards, while La geometría de la conciencia creates a different space, into which you must descend. In relation to the Museum, this suggests another possible type of meditation and experience and creates a contrast that enhances both the Museum and the installation.

It works against the typical way of viewing museum objects, which is that of brief, distracted glancing at a large volume of material. La geometría de la conciencia asks you to give a few minutes of your time to an enveloping, multisensory experience that can be lived and appreciated by everyone, from children to adults, from the least informed to the most informed.

It works with the effects of light and darkness, it is seen through our eyes and also through our thinking. You enter a closed space, stay a few minutes, adjust your sight, and feel in your body the intensification and disappearance of a piercing light. This is a condensation, a metaphor, both of presence and of absence, which creates associations and thoughts that will vary from person to person, but will center on the themes of presence, disappearance, and memory.

Half of the 500 recognizable and identifiable silhouettes that appear and disappear in the work are those of persons who disappeared in the hands of state terrorism during the Chilean dictatorship. The other half are silhouettes of living Chileans. The work does not marginalize the victims; it deals with the loss suffered by all—by both the dead and the living—as a result of the crimes committed during the dictatorship. It refers to the country’s loss, and opens itself to the universal human experiences of death, disappearance, memory, and presence.

Since photographic images are the bulk of the material found throughout the Museum, this work shows only silhouettes. The light comes from within them. It suggests that that any form of understanding or interpretation will develop through a group, a collective, and that both viewer and artist will owe their understanding to the intensity of the evoked presence of the victims.

To evoke the dead and the living simultaneously suggests the historical engagement of memory. It is not only a lament for the past; it implies the construction of an unresolved future as a task for the living. The infinite multiplication of the silhouettes, the manner in which they are accentuated, and their diminishing light creates a sensation of the immensity of the loss entailed by the individual and collective disappearance of human life.

In sum: “In losing you, you and I have lost…” (a line stolen from the Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal). Jaar’s installation delves into the apprehension of the immensity of loss with the power of a poem. The viewers feel and think about such a loss in multiple ways—not only the pain of those directly affected, but also the effects that permeate the lives of all Chileans. The Geometry of Conscience addresses the ethical responsibility, still current, of taking on and processing the loss produced by the violence of the dictatorship in our country.1

Adriana Valdés has written Composición de lugar. Escritos sobre cultura. (Santiago, Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 1996), Memorias visuales. Arte contemporáneo en Chile (Santiago, Chile: Ediciones Metales Pesados, 2006), and Enrique Lihn: vistas parciales (Santiago, Chile: Ediciones Palinodia, 2008). Valdés edited the anthology Jaar/ SCL/2006 (Barcelona, España: Actar, 2006) and the Spanish edition of La política de las imágenes (Santiago, Metales Pesados, 2008).


1 Translation by Noelle Serafino and Kahlil Chaar-Pérez. The original version can be found in the website of the Museum of Memory.