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August 2022

Field Notes: “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale

Helene Romakin

Ariel Bustamante, Carla Macchiavello, Alfredo Thiermann, and Dominga Sotomayor, “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Helene Romakin.

Ariel Bustamante, Carla Macchiavello, Alfredo Thiermann, and Dominga Sotomayor, “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Helene Romakin.

Ariel Bustamante, Carla Macchiavello, Alfredo Thiermann, and Dominga Sotomayor, “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Helene Romakin.

Ariel Bustamante, Carla Macchiavello, Alfredo Thiermann, and Dominga Sotomayor, “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Helene Romakin.

Ariel Bustamante, Carla Macchiavello, Alfredo Thiermann, and Dominga Sotomayor, “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Helene Romakin.

Ariel Bustamante, Carla Macchiavello, Alfredo Thiermann, and Dominga Sotomayor, “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Helene Romakin.

Ariel Bustamante, Carla Macchiavello, Alfredo Thiermann, and Dominga Sotomayor, “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Helene Romakin.

Ariel Bustamante, Carla Macchiavello, Alfredo Thiermann, and Dominga Sotomayor, “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Helene Romakin.

Ariel Bustamante, Carla Macchiavello, Alfredo Thiermann, and Dominga Sotomayor, “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Helene Romakin.

“Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol” at the Chilean Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale is the result of a collective endeavor to address the climate crisis through the specific environmental and cultural dynamics of Chile’s Patagonian peatlands. Curated by Camila Marambio, who has worked on peatlands conservation for over twelve years, the project brought together the forces of the collective research practice Ensayos with the Wildlife Conservation Society Chile (WCS), Parque Karukinka in Tierra del Fuego, and the Selk’nam Hach Saye Cultural Foundation. In addition to these institutional collaborators, Marambio invited artist Ariel Bustamante, art historian Carla Macchiavello, filmmaker Dominga Sotomayor, architect Alfredo Thiermann, and ecologist Bárbara Saavedra to convene a temporary collective for creating and elaborating “an eco-cultural translation project.” [1]1
Camila Marambio, in an email with the author, June 27, 2022.
The result in Venice is a multidimensional experience that immerses visitors in the heart of the peatlands of Tierra del Fuego, the ancestral land of the Selk’nam people. [2]2
Hol-hol tol means “heart of the peatlands” in the Selk’nam language.

Ariel Bustamante, Carla Macchiavello, Alfredo Thiermann, and Dominga Sotomayor, “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Helene Romakin.

The Chilean Pavilion appears modest from the outside, but inside is filled with sophisticated lab-like technology. Walking up a ramp surrounded by living moss, visitors enter a round platform designed by Thiermann that hosts a panoramic screen made from the sustainable material agar-agar. The 360-degree film by Sotomayor dives into the depths of the peatlands and emerges back to the surface and, to enhance the sensation of being inside a peat bog, Bustamante’s sound composition is keyed to the action on the screen. The sound work is composed of twenty-four separate tracks, including on-site recordings of the environment around the peatlands, recited Selk’nam poetry, and a song performed by the Selk’nam writer Hema’ny Molina. When the film concludes, the exhibition attendant invites the visitors—eight are permitted to access the installation at a time—to engage with the moss surrounding Thiermann’s platform. And here, engagement implies a sensitive, multisensory act undertaken with care and genuine interest: visitors may not touch the moss, which is too fragile, but may carefully examine it with a magnifying glass or smell different peatlands’ scents distributed in the pavilion. Sourced from around the world, the other peat scents derive not only from diverse ecosystems but also from different cultural contexts and contribute significantly to the sensual experience of “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol.” [3]3
The artists and Ensayos collaborators Caitlin Franzmann (Australia), Christy Gast (United States), and Randi Nygård (Norway) developed the scents from their local peatlands together with other artists and ecologists. Following the genuine commitment of the project’s organizers to name all contributors, I would like to quote Camila Marambio who provided me with more information on all people involved: “The three groups, with collaborators including Freja Carmichael (curator and Ngugi woman of the Quandamooka people), Denise Milstein (sociologist), Renee Rossini (ecologist), Karolin Tampere (curator and artist), Simon Daniel Tegnander Wenzel (olfactory artist) and Agustine Zegers (olfactory artist) worked for six months, in parallel to the project doing nested research in bog-sites of inquiry, connection, and meditation to come up with three distinct scents.” For more on this process, the names and formats of the scents and the full list of participants, see .
Scattered throughout the pavilion in ceramic pots embedded in the moss, proffered by the exhibition attendant, and installed in a small textile bag by the pavilion’s entrance, the various smells of these regions contain complex information of “hidden layers, stored matter, and lively interspecies relations.” [4]4
From the project’s website, .

The peatlands of Tierra del Fuego manifest colonial and postcolonial crimes and the urgency of climate crises in their different geological layers, bridging human histories with deep-time ecology. The project forms a historical benchmark as it addresses sensitive, urgent topics in Chile’s history at a significant moment when the country is rewriting its constitution around new rights for historically marginalized and discriminated groups, environmental justice, and natural rights. [5]5
Chase Harrison,“A Look at What Is—and Isn't—in Chile's Constitutional Draft,” AS/COA, May 20, 2022, .
In the Anthropocene, peatlands play a crucial role in ecosystems as they capture and store an enormous amount of carbon in their deep layers. However, through mining, extraction, and drainage, peatlands are threatened with destruction, which releases their stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. In Chile, for now, peatlands do not fall under any specific conservational law. The peatlands are connected to matters of social justice as well: indigenous to the peatlands of Tierra del Fuego are the Selk’nam people, who lived among the peat bogs before colonizers displaced them and brought genocide, and today, the Selk’nam Hach Saye Cultural Foundation fights for their rights to their land and heritage.

“Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol” succeeds in avoiding the pitfalls of representing such a historically, politically, and ecologically complex and entangled situation in a context like the Venice Biennale. The organization of a temporary collective entity bypassed the danger of capitalizing on any one individual’s work and agency. Instead, the team made a point of naming all collaborators and exchanging ideas while each member remained within their area of expertise. Most assuredly, this trustful environment is thanks to the long-term engagement of the collaborators convened by Marambio. The most profound gesture of the collective effort behind “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol” is the deliberate avoidance of traditional extractive exhibition-making practices. Chile has a particular history of displaying its landscape as an attractive environment for land exploitation, as Alfredo Thiermann explained to me: for Expo ’92 in Seville, for instance, Chile presented a sixty-ton iceberg from Bahía Paraíso in the country’s Antarctic territory—no doubt a violent gesture of extraction on a massive ecological scale. Unfortunately, such practices are still common in contemporary art, even when a project professes climate-activist politics. [6]6
For example, Olafur Eliasson’s Ice Watch, 2014. See .
The collective resolved not to follow this colonial logic, Thiermann noted, but rather to reverse it, and in so doing became involved with the world’s leading peatlands research institution, the Greifswald Mire Centre (GMC) in Greifswald, Germany. GMC grows diverse types of Sphagnum moss for industrial purposes and provided the palustre and fallax moss for the exhibition, which are not native to Patagonia. This twist makes the collaboration crucial, complex, and paradigmatic: artificially produced plant life has been enlisted to protect an endangered environment on the other side of the world. [7]7
Notably, many explorers of Tierra del Fuego—ethnographers, anthropologists, and scientists—came from Germany and participated in the exploitation of land and people during colonialization. As a historical consequence of colonial exploration of the Tierra del Fuego starting in the nineteenth century and the exerted violence on the Selk’nam people, the few studies of the Selk’nam language available today were recorded by the German anthropologist Martin Gusinde in the twentieth century. So, to revitalize their language the Selk’nam people depend on the resources of their colonial occupiers.

Ariel Bustamante, Carla Macchiavello, Alfredo Thiermann, and Dominga Sotomayor, “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol,” Chilean Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Helene Romakin.

The local architect involved in the project, Alessandra dal Mos, shared with me that all kinds of other living entities traveled with the moss to Venice; now, the small ecosystem in the Chilean Pavilion has not only other plants growing in it but different insects and frogs. Although not initially intended, this development has informed the negotiations for the moss’s relocation after the exhibition. With an emphasis on long-lasting and continuous livelihood, care-taking, and maintenance, Marambio plans to donate part of the Sphagnum moss in “Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol” to a “group of local grassroots organizations working in conservation ecology, regenerative agriculture, and environmental activists” and another part to regenerative agriculture projects within the Venetian Lagoon. [8]8
Camila Marambio, in an email with the author, June 27, 2022. The different actors involved are Ensayos, Greifswald Mire Centre, and We Are Here in Venice, as well as Michele Savorgnano, founder of the Fattoria Urbana Diffusa/Popular Urban Farm project, Lorenzo Basadonna Scarpa, co-creator of the Ortofoto project, and Giovanni Dal Sasso and Lucrezia Lamera of mapsontheluum.
After the effort of so many people involved and the established self-conception as a temporary collective entity with shared values on postcolonialism and more-than-human world-making, it may not surprise that during my visit the exhibition attendant at the exit was reading bell hooks’s All About Love. [9]9
Turba Tol Hol-Hol, The Book, edited by Carla Macchiavello and Camila Marambio, will be published in December 2022. See .

Helene Romakin is a cultural scientist and independent curator. She is co-founder and curator of several collaborative contemporary art projects such as LET THERE BE in Berlin and ~ tilde in Zurich. She is currently pursuing her PhD at the Chair of History of Art and Architecture at ETH Zurich on the topic of visual culture and material strategies in the Anthropocene. Together with Berit Seidel, she developed at ETH Zurich the seminar “Protect Us From What We Want,” an investigation into travel in the era of the Anthropocene, speculative storytelling, and dreaming as world-making.

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