From Carts to Art in Aconcagua: A Utilitarian Symbol of Local History Was the Inspiration for the First International Sculpture Park in This High Verdant Valley in the Chilean Andes

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When Ricardo Vivar was growing up in Putaendo, Chile, in the 1950s, it was a favorite game for children to hitch onto the big old ox-carts that rumbled through town and get towed along behind on their roller skates. When he returned to Chile in the late 1980s, after many years abroad, the carretas had virtually disappeared, or worse, been turned into lawn ornaments. Vivar, a man given to abrupt conversations and brusque gestures, says, "I hated seeing them rotting away or decorating the front gardens of country restaurants." So Vivar, an artist in his own right, conceived a sculpture park on the outskirts of his hometown, as an effort to rescue these typical Andean vehicles from complete extinction, or from burial in museums.

Vivar found that the few remaining carts still on the road had been adapted to new uses, turned into trailers for pick-up trucks, with small rubber-tire wheels replacing the original handmade wooden ones which, in turn, had been recycled as items for interior decoration. The Isla Negra residence of Pablo Neruda, for example, has such all iron-rimmed wheel as a dining table with a circular glass top, while two others decorate the entrance to the poet's house on the Pacific coast.

Vivar's first sculpture, which consists of an original carreta entirely clad in cut-outs of agricultural scrap metal, was a response to his malaise. Using the technique he calls "madera perdida" (lost wood), Vivar spent weeks torching metal decorations out of old scrap and then applying them to the old wooden cart. Inspired by the Homage to Hoffmann; Begin the Beguine, a chair sculpture by Japanese artist Shiro Kuramato, Vivar wrapped an antiquated object that for years had served a very functional purpose, preserving it in an altered, sculpted state. He says he wants to "give the carts new meaning from an artistic perspective, place them back into history through artistic interventions." The result is an enormous wooden structure about eighteen feet long and nine feet wide, with a ten-foot tongue and five-foot high wooden wheels, now completely clad in metal cookie-cutter shapes. The lading platform has five-foot-high also wrapped in metal.

The object stands on the enormous stony plateau above the town, called El Llano, with the mountains of the cordillera rising beyond. Since September 2000, when this first sculpture was completed, another carreta sculpture has joined the first, and two more carts are waiting on the sidelines. These are modern adulterated versions, one painted turquiose green, and both with their tongues shortened and lightened so that they can be towed by pick-up trucks rather than oxen.

Over the course of the work on the first sculpture, Vivar raised a lot of community interest, especially in the newly formed cultural committee, headed by retired biology professor Bernardo Parra. …