I had the pleasure of seeing a talk/performance by Chilean visual artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña at the Neubauer Collegium at the University of Chicago last week. She began by walking onto the stage holding large colorful paper glasses up to her face and hummed for a couple minutes. She then began to speak about her life with a biographical chronicle of events of her time as an exchange student in Chicago while in high school. There was a poetic manner in which she spoke – the way she broke up her sentences into shorter phrases, sometimes whispered (which was frustrating at times because she was hard to hear) and then raised her voice surprisingly quickly for the next line. She was so cute and fragile, and yet full of wisdom, assertiveness, and passion.
She spoke in detail about a practice in which she breaks down the syllables of a word to identify the meaning of each syllable and how they relate to the meaning of the word as a whole. For example:
Palabra – word; arma – weapon
Meaning – words as weapons
Granted, this is a word she has made up, but she does it with actual words as well. I think it’s fascinating to break a word down to discover that each of its parts means the same thing, or something similar, to the word in its entirety. She delved further into the philosophy of language and argued that it primarily analyzes western beliefs and the western structure of thought and speech, and it fails to take into account eastern thought or any other systems of language.
She talked about our powerlessness in the control that we have over our lives – not that we can’t have autonomy over our actions, but that there is something greater than us breathing life into us, and we can’t take credit for that. In fact, we have to understand and respect it. She also brought our attention to Hindu beliefs regarding breath that I wish I could remember, but she was just so full of insightful anecdotes that I couldn’t catch all of them. I wish I could have recorded her performance and play it back when I’m in need of some encouragement. She was wonderful.