The Hanging Testicles and the She-Spirit of Water, 2020

Installation view: How to Tread Lightly. st_age expanded, an exhibition, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain, 2020
Photo: Roberto Ruiz | TBA21
TBA21 on st_age

Commissioned and produced by TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary ​​for the exhibition “How to Tread Lightly” at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, October 5, 2020–January 17, 2021, curated by Soledad Gutiérrez

Combining research on ethnobotany, ancient healing practices, and the corporatization of well- being, Chilean artist Patricia Domínguez focuses on how capitalism perpetuates colonial practices of extraction and exploitation. Domínguez engages with activists fighting for democracy, water rights, and Indigenous justice, and also involves an educational practice carried out for over ten years with Studio Vegetalista, a platform she founded that revolves around experimental knowledge
that combines art, ethnobotany, and Andean cosmologies. 

The main threads of Domínguez’s practice can
be seen in Gaiaguardianxs (Gaia’s Guardians), an interactive digital publication that condenses three years of research through a personal journey in Latin America. Throughout the seven chapters of Gaiaguardianxs, Domínguez recounts stories of social injustices related to complex flows of water, the environmental crisis, and the possibilities for crying, mourning, and spirituality. 

The reader is led through this journey by the blind toucan, an animal guide, a spiritual figure introduced in the first chapter. A victim of the drought and fires that destroyed more than four million hectares of forest in Chiquitania, Bolivia, this animal is invoked by the artist in the opening lines. Speaking from a place of deep empathy for humans and nonhumans alike, the following chapters of Gaiaguardianxs explore events
and ongoing struggles across different regions. From the struggle for the rights of nature and the Tenth Indigenous March of Plaza of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia, to the state violence in Chile vis-à-vis the civic demands for social justice, Gaiaguardianxs is a catalogue of stories, from humans and nonhumans, that testify to the neoliberal transformations Latin America is undergoing and the many modes of resistance it engenders. 

The installation La balada de las sirenas secas (The Ballad of the Dry Mermaids) was developed from the fourth chapter of Gaiaguardianxs, centered on stories of activism to reinstate the hydrocommons in Chile. Composed of a vast array of materials, from organic elements to technological objects and low-fi components, the totemic installation recalls a shrine. A video monitor in its center, placed vertically on an altar of arid earth, is flanked by two mounds, each topped with a grim face, a thirsty and scornful avocado-shaped head. A dark mermaid-like figure covered in LED lights kneels in front of the screen in a votive gesture, a moment of mourning or prayer. The video piece of La balada de las sirenas secasunravels as a sequence of scenes shot near Palquico, Chile, an area deeply affected by the drought and the privatization of water resources due to intensive avocado farming. The narrative revolves around a canto a lo divino, the traditional “song to the divine” widespread in the central regions of Chile and attributed to the Jesuits who arrived around the year 1600. In Dominguez’s work, the ballad, performed by the singer Juan López, is transformed into a song dedicated to the drought, to the depletion of the land and the exhaustion of its water resources. 

Part of La balada de las sirenas secasThe Hanging Testicles and the She-Spirit of Water continues Domínguez’s call against water privatization in Chile, first implemented under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1984, when water use and access to resources were commercialized. Under current legislation and in violation of human rights, freshwater is being diverted to irrigate large-scale corporate avocado farms in the Petorca Province, in collusion with politicians and to the detriment
of local, often Indigenous populations. For this project, Domínguez collaborated with MODATIMA (the Defense Movement for Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection), an organization established in Petorca in 2010 to fight for the water rights of peasants, workers, and local inhabitants. Rich in symbolism, this work is rooted in what the artist has described as a “multi-species science fiction, a spiritual one, not one of conquest or domination. An organic science fiction.” The work’s title also refers to the Aztec origin of the word “avocado”—āhuacatl, that is, “testicle”—suggesting a veiled critique of the patriarchy. 


Group exhibition: Abundant Futures
Venue: C3A Centro de Creación Contemporánea de Andalucía, Córdoba  
Curator: Daniela Zyman
April 1, 2022 - March 5, 2023

Born in Santiago, Chile, in 1984. Lives in Santiago, Chile.