A Body in the Bone-Dry Desert

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The basis of Benjamín Ossa’s research, the work he carried out as a visual artist in different parts of the Atacama Desert, goes beyond an artist’s usual sceptical wanderings.


Some artistic projects carried out in desert regions, like the Atacama Desert, generally aspire to show the reality behind these particular and unexplored territories, and how the very volumes of this landscape tacitly frame it. Therefore, this relationship we forge with nature – a unique, distinctive relationship – helps construct a space with certain implicit features, which in themselves are part of the reasoning used by some Chilean artists in disentangling their own peculiar stories within a certain place. When this story begins to give form to such a vast space, as is the desert, I think that the artistic act – that never-ending quest for ideas and images – is almost always related to the distinctive aesthetic qualities that are revealed when the artist-body comes into contact with the dryness of a place like the driest desert in the world.

This analysis is just a way of introducing the idea that the basis of Benjamín Ossa’s research, i.e. the work he carried out as a visual artist in different parts of the Atacama Desert, goes beyond an artist’s usual sceptical wanderings. And although the majority of Ossa’s idealisations had already come up in several of his earlier works, this time his way of riding the desert’s pulsating energy has taken him, specifically, to the edges of a space which seeks to contemplate the sheer vastness of the landscape. This in itself can be linked to certain futile searches within his own work. One example is when he takes a stone right from the middle of a prairie in Antofagasta: upon moving that volume, aiming to split it along the horizon, he clearly prises open a space between the sky and the earth. The unsettling aspect of his work, invisible under the light of the desert, is the stellar connection with the twinkling lights we find beyond the known galaxies.

Stone found in María Elena location, Antofagasta region in Chile. Image credit: Benjamín Ossa.


As well as this, when Ossa’s desert thirst begins to form part of the surroundings, he feels that the finer details of the objects and structures are only appreciable when his thoughts are otherwise blocked out, like when he gets sunburnt or when he shivers through the cold of the evening winds. This is what happened in that action when, with salt in the air, he pursues a glowing line along the salt flats of the Alto Patache coast, in the Tarapacá region. This act, which at first glance might seem somewhat straightforward, is actually quite stunning, because it exposes the movement of the body – the artist’s body – on the verge of delirium, which can but reflect his questioning of the very physics of the desert. Sometimes, the desert can be the perfect space for representing the impossible, because when choreographing a hike or even pursuing a line, we open up more questions and more possibilities regarding our relationship with the landscape.


Alto Patache, Tarapacá region in Chile. Image credit: Benjamín Ossa. 


The desert is so infinite that this artist reins in its limits, and so it can be said that what we call landscape is, for him, a multi-faceted concept, and facing a space with these characteristics forces him to draw on this ambiguity. Here, his field of practice stretches beyond what can be seen in a desert. A work that is visual, material, conceptual and tangible, an ever more prodigious endeavour, where he himself, upon capturing the intensity of that space, has imagined how his body reacts in the rough and dry desert. Furthermore, Ossa emphasises those uncertainties which crash against the light amid the industrial nitrate waste, surrounded by places where there is no chance for life. But he also watches that light as if it were a vehicle which leads to him placing his body in a space which, when wrapped in a wide range of colours, creates a distinct reality and an initially deceiving optical illusion. The artist undoubtedly bases his work on ideas that are intercepted by the light and its workings within the atmosphere, thus offering us infinite spaces.

Pampa del Tamarugal, Tarapacá region in Chile. Image credit: Benjamín Ossa. 

At this stage, we can infer the importance of the body-light relationship on this territory, which is, at the same time, a sanctuary for the aesthetics of abandonment. In short, if we put forth an idealisation of the desert, we will find a representative visual frame, or rather a proposal found in a space which shows unpredictability amid that desert light, in order to construct an indelible position.


Text translation: George Hutton


Tracing a Hidden Border Regional Desertification

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