Daniela Rivera explores labor, landscape and identity in her exhibition “Labored Landscapes (where hand meets ground)” at the Fitchburg Art Museum (FAM), and with this exploration, Rivera presents the interconnectedness apparent in labor, laborer and what she designates as the labored surface — either the physical ground that is toiled, or the ground or surface of a painting.
Born in Santiago, Chile, Rivera moved to the Boston area in 2002, received her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, Boston, in 2006, and has been associate professor of studio art at Wellesley College for the past 11 years. Her native Chile provides the context for works that are both highly conceptual, visually commanding and intellectually provocative.
Organized by FAM curator Lisa Crossman with Terrana Curatorial Fellow Marjorie Rawle, the exhibition is comprised of three immersive individual components — “Where the Sky Touches the Earth” focuses on the transformation of Chuquicamata, the site in Chile of the largest openpit copper mine in the world; “Titled Heritage” is a reductive architectural representation referencing the disastrous fire that swept through the historic district of Valparaíso, one of Chile’s UNESCO designated World Heritage sites; and “White Noise,” an exploration of the architecture of the Fitchburg Art Museum using one-point perspective and copper-point drawing.
Each of the three galleries in the exhibition is unique. The architecture and the distinctions in space allowed Rivera to create three distinct presentations and experiences in each gallery.
After viewing Rivera’s “The Andes Inverted” installation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2017-2018), Crossman considered the artist for an exhibition at FAM stating, “Rivera’s exploration of labor and the transformation of Chuquicamata over time, including the role it played in Chile’s national narrative, individual workers’ stories and Daniela’s own experience, appealed to me. She has a nuanced way of thinking about labor and laborers that seems well suited for FAM, given Fitchburg’s legacy as a once thriving mill town.”
In the early 1900s, the wealth and investment savvy of the Guggenheim brothers turned Chuquicamata into an extraordinarily successful copper mine. By the early 1970s, however, the government of Chile expropriated the mining corporation, nationalizing all of the operations. As the environs of the mine grew, the area provided for the housing needs and services of the miners and their families. But the success came at a price. The non-stop 24/7 production schedule caused the predictable degradation of the environment around Chuquicamata, resulting in the forced translocation of the entire population of Chuquicamata to nearby Calama in the early 2000s, followed by the inevitable diaspora of the miners and their families.
In an effort to explore the relationship between labor, laborer and the labored landscape, Rivera began a project in 2015 to interview some of the displaced miners and family members. In “Where the Sky Touches the Earth,” two related works present Rivera’s interpretation of her conversations. In the first, a series of 34 color digital photographs, 10 x 20 1/2 inches, hung edge to edge, depicts only the hands and torsos of Hilda Fazzi or her son Pablo Valiente, two generations from Chuquicamata. Single line excerpts from the interviews are etched across each image. Rivera then used composite elements from these images to create three immense canvases, 12 feet x 30 feet, of the expressive hand gestures against a rich, black background. Displayed in a space adjoining the photographs, the enormity of the oil on canvas paintings is amplified by the lighting focused on the expressive hands’ gestures.
Her interviews brought Rivera to Chuquicamata’s relevance to one of today’s significant international problems. “This became a story about relocation caused by the same labor that workers were providing to the industry. It became clear it was parallel to other migratory movements. I was looking for the experience, for what that experience did to your sense of self, to your identity, who you feel you are, your sense of place in a society, in a culture and in a nation. I was looking for that movement and that particular link, in this case that link was a national industry.”