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Surveying the world anew 

about the work of the artist Amalia Valdés


by Daniela von Damaros

In: Anahita Contemporary (ed.): ÁNIMA, Amalia Valdés, solo exhibition 08.09.-23.10.2021, Berlin.


It was on a hot day, in the late summer of 2019, when I first met Amalia Valdés and I told her about my recent journey. It was a spiritual journey, guided by questions about my origins and identity. Today, when I think back on our conversation, I realize that it was characterized by an extraordinary atmosphere. Openness and mutual curiosity allowed us to dive into a space that opened up between us. It was a different space from the real one. The visible environment disappeared and with it the people around us. What I felt was the connection that emerged between us, based on the values and interpersonal gestures that we shared.


"The soul is the body touched."[1] French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy (b. 1940) wrote to explore the theme of touch in times of pandemic. According to this, touch goes far beyond the physical, beyond the touch of the skin. A comprehension of touch on a spiritual level demands to feel: a closeness that can arise between two soul bodies[2], already during a conversation or through compassion. The Corona crisis has shown us with clarity how vulnerable we are and how fragile the system is. But does it take such a state of insecurity to become sensitive? To be able to perceive what otherwise remains hidden?


The moment I got to know Amalia Valdés was - without being aware of it at the time - at the same time also an entry into her artistic work. In her work process, the artist explores questions similar to those about our earthly existence. The pictorial worlds that emerge from this are symbolic. They awaken the sentient body and act like luminous signposts to connections in the interpersonal as well as to the whole: to a cosmic order of the world.


"Under the starry sky comprehend the whole"[3] was once formulated by the quantum physicist and "artist scientist" Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976). According to his theory, there is not only a particle, but always a field. Only through interaction of forces a particle becomes visible. Heisenberg thus understands the individual as always woven into the whole of reality and reality as a sea of possibilities. "This suspended state of the world coagulates into reality only through conscious observation,"[4] according to Heisenberg. Thus, Amalia Valdés also observes the state of the world as a whole in her work and allows this to flow together in wall reliefs and sculptures made of the most diverse materials, for a perceptibility by the observer.


The most common basic element of her work design is the simplest form in geometry: the triangle. The term "geometry" derives from the Latin word "geometria" and from ancient Greek γεωμετρία (geōmetría). Both mean "to measure land." This ancient discipline is present throughout nature and consequently is the smallest structure of any existence, from molecules to galaxies. It even precedes and therefore underlies human history.[5] This is how the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) summarized it: The smallest unit consists of three details.[6] Accordingly, the triangle would also correspond to a visualization of Heisenberg's quantum theory.


Valdés' artistic method of "surveying" with a stylistics characterized by geometric forms is guided less by rigid method than by intuition. The artist weaves the triangle as a constant through form-aesthetic repetition into "triangular colonies,"[7] that is, into a rhythmic, seemingly infinite variety of structures that give rise to Platonic bodies[8] and abstracted figures on the picture support. With a view to the indigenous cultures in her home continent of South America, the artist also incorporates millennia-old symbols such as the chakana[9] or the whipala into her pictorial design.


Decían que Arriba es Abajo como el Sol es a la Luna, 2018,  600 pieces of stainless steel, nails and wool, Installation at MAC, Museum of Contemporary Art Stgo. Chile, 340 x 340 x 10cm, courtesy the artist

Valdés extends these harmoniously arranged constellations of forms into space. This is how wall reliefs are created, such as the work for the 2018 exhibition "Dobles de Proximidad" at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Santiago de Chile. 600 individual pieces of stainless steel form a shape resembling a chakana over three and a half meters in height and width. This symbol of the indigenous people of the Andes holds a spiritual power: it represents a unifying element, standing as a ladder or bridge for a connection between the high and the low, the human and the superior, the sacred and the profane, the earth and the universe.[10]

Amalia Valdés, Tribu, 2019

Amalia Valdés, Tribu, 2019, Sculpture- Installation, Installation view Bar K Berlin, Bronze, Aluminium, ceramics, variable dimensions

In sculpture groups such as "Tribu" (2019) and the most recent work, the immersive spatial installation "Todos somos uno/ Und alle sind wir eins" (2021), Valdés' formal elements then merge entirely into the space. The installation consists of a series of individual images whose colorfulness at first glance suggests the seven chakras (energy centers) according to East Asian teachings. The shape of the octagonal star is reminiscent of a symbol of the indigenous Mapuche people. As an overall installation and in the arrangement of the individual images according to color diagonally and to a square of 7x7, the work refers to the Whipala symbol and thus to the flag of the indigenous peoples of the Andes. [11]

"Todos Somos Uno (Und Alle Sind wir Eins), 2021
"Todos Somos Uno (Und Alle Sind wir Eins, Detail)

Ausstellungsansicht "Todos Somos Uno (Und Alle Sind wir Eins), Mommsen Berlin, 2021, 49 painting on cork, bamboo sticks and decals, 360 x 360 x 360 cm (left); "Todos somos uno" (Detail, right), courtesy the artist

For the eye of the observer it can be a challenge to recognize a creative principle in this diversity of works. Chaos, according to Heisenberg, is created as long as subsystems, such as man can create, are separated from the whole order. "The umbilical cord to the central order consists of the moral values" he continued, which lie "in the reflection of our actions and the discovery of our heritage."[12]

Amalia Valdés creates such a subsystem - a kind of artistic cosmos - with the help of her pictorial world, but at the same time she spans such an "umbilical cord" to a larger order through the form and content of her works. By incorporating indigenous symbols into her world of motifs - and thus also their function as totems - her works become readable as axis mundi, as a connecting line between heaven and earth, this world and the hereafter, our present and the world of the ancestors. The artist thus refers to the immaterial, namely to the culture of rites, which open an access to the treasure of knowledge of the ancestral peoples.


Paul Klee, Grenzen des Verstandes, 1927

Paul Klee, Grenzen des Verstandes, 1927

Oil, watercolor and pencil on white primed canvas,

56,3 × 41,5 cm

Pinakothek der Moderne, München

Paul Klee (1879-1940) also strove throughout his life for the knowledge of higher worlds, the perception of which requires more than a visual process determined merely by the eye.[13] Klee made use of the pictorial elements so characteristic of his painting, such as the circle, square and triangle: symbols for cosmic bodies such as the sun or moon. Equally typical motifs such as ladders, stairs, and mountains serve as metaphors for a path away from the earthly. Constantin Brâncuși (1876-1957) also introduces the principle of an axis mundi into his oeuvre. The sculpture "The Endless Column" (1937-1938), which the artist created as part of a war memorial for his native Târgu Jiu, is based on a juxtaposition of rhombic bodies that reveal the smallest unit of the triangle depending on the light irradiation. Valdés was inspired by this thirty-meter-high sculpture by Brâncuși.[14]

Métrica baja, 2016

Métrica baja, 2016, exhibition at Sala Gasco Chile 2016, Different types of clay from Chile, burned, variable dimensions, courtesy the artist

At the first encounter with Valdé's works, the attraction of her works seized me like magic. This special power flows not only from the harmony of the symmetrical forms and from the balance of color and material, but from an element of irritation that I perceived rather unconsciously. To fathom the origin of this irritation and impact formed the core of further conversations, in which it became clear to me: Valdés creates her pictorial worlds only partially autonomously and rather intuitively. At a certain point, her hand in the artistic process is guided by another force. Amalia Valdés therefore also conceives of herself as a medium.[15]

Hilma af Klint, The altarpieces, 1915 (Detail)
Emma Kunz, Komposition Nr. 173,

Hilma af Klint, The altarpieces, 1915 (Detail)

Emma Kunz,
Komposition Nr. 173,
Oil pastel, colored pencil and pencil on paper over cardboard mounted on stretcher frame,
80 x 80 cm

With this way of working she is in line with the pioneer of abstract painting Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) and the healer and artist Emma Kunz (1892-1963). Klint saw her paintings during séances and stored them in her memory like plans. Her pictorial compositions flowed partly with irrepressible energy, but as if automated by her hand onto the canvas.[16] Emma Kunz, in turn, understood her drawings as tools, which she put on graph paper with the help of a pendulum and in a field of dialogue with her patients, and which were supposed to help "heal the world"[17].  That incalculable moment of the influx of another force makes Valdés' work even more unique. Understanding her visual language therefore also requires a sensitive, feeling body than just a purely rational perception with the eye.

Telares Serie, 2021, Paper on Linen, 100 x 70 cm.  (1).jpg

Telares Serie, 2021, Paper on Linen, 100 x 70 cm, courtesy the artist

Amalia Valdés, Reaccion_Interacción, 2016. Acero inoxidable de 180 x 90 x 6 cm. y esmalte

Reaccion Interacción, 2016, stainless steel, 180 x 90 x 6 cm, variable dimensions, courtesy the artist

The impact of the material in Valdés' works forms the entry point for such a sensual reception. Light reflections on the material surfaces of steel, aluminum, or bronze anchor the viewer visually with the work. Materials such as paper on canvas, paint on cork or ceramics and wood arouse tactile stimuli. The large-scale paintings on cork, such as "Organic Interaction I + III" (2019) or the paper works on unprimed canvas "Telares" (2018-2021), exude a luminous warmth and suggest a sense of security.


Light Retorno, 2017, Stainless steel, cut and industrial acrylic painting, 90 x 90 x 9 cm, courtesy the artist

Such works made of natural materials are contrasted with the groups of works of wall reliefs made of industrial materials. In the special treatment of the material - for example, by folding triangular shapes up and down on the surface of the picture - the light refracts in all directions. The surroundings are reflected in a shimmering variety. Contrary to the heaviness of the material, this creates an impression of fleetingness and transparency that invites the viewer to actively move.


Amalia Valdés, Tribu, 2019 (Detail) 

A playful highlight is represented by the use and combination of materials in Valdés' sculptures. Again, through the execution of the sculptures in a variety of natural and industrial materials, such as ceramics, wood, bronze and aluminum, the eye of the viewer remains hidden for a long time that the artist works with repetitions of the same molds always.  What is the triangle in the design of the wall reliefs corresponds to the circular form in the sculptures, which the artist assembles into sculpture groups and installations in numerous variations of form and material. The simultaneity of natural and industrial materials in one sculpture distinguishes this group of works from those of the wall reliefs. However, the extension of the sculptures into space can vary greatly. Whether in reference to Brâncuși's "Endless Column" or as a group of works, as in "Tribu," the sculptures always remain a symbol that transports the knowledge of indigenous peoples and their craft traditions into the present.[18] Their ambivalence in material underscores their function as totems: the grounding power of nature unites with the lightness in the play of light on the shiny surfaces. It is a symbol for the connection of the spheres of earth and sky, the material and immaterial world.

The creative process of the artist can be read parallel to the methodology of science in measuring the earth and fathoming our earthly existence. However, Valdes' gives with her work a clear picture of phenomena where scientists are often still in the "dark". With her work, Amalia Valdés gives us a compass that points us in a direction and is directed towards a place where touch and connection are the starting point of all thought and action. It is a place where sentient bodies make borders disappear - between people, times and spheres.


Reaccion Interacción, 2016 (Detail) courtesy the artist

[1] In: [URL!5687500/, 09.07.2021, 20:30 Uhr]


[2] See also: Jean-Paul Sartre: Les jeux sont faits, 2010.


[3] In: Werner Heisenberg und die Frage nach der Wirklichkeit. [URL, 12.07.2021, 09:41 Uhr]


[4] Ibid.


[5] Yael Rosenblut: sacred geometry, Juli 2013, In: Amalia Valdés „ENCAJE“, Galería Artespacio, Santiago, Chile.


[6] In: [URL, 16.07.2021 19:00]


[7] Eugenio Dittborn: the intricacies of interplay, July 2013, In: Amalia Valdés „ENCAJE“, Galería Artespacio, Santiago, Chile.


[8] According to the Platonic principle, in the beginning symmetry and geometric formulas were the smallest material unit.


[9] The Chakana, the "Cross of the Andes" or also called "Inca Cross". The most common representation of the symbol, which has been documented for more than three thousand years, is that of a cross with three steps on each side and a point or hole in the center.  The four directions symbolize the four cardinal points of the Inca Empire, and the hole in the center symbolizes the navel of the world, namely Cusco, the Inca capital. The steps between the bars represent the three-way division of the world into the underworld (Ukhu Pacha), the world of men (Kay Pacha) and the world of the gods or upper world (Hanaq Pacha). Chakanas with 6 levels on each side have also been found, which again suggests that the representation of the chakana can be handled flexibly and less rigidly. In: [URL ,, 09.07.2021, 18 Uhr]


[10] In: [URL, 16.07.2021, 19:00]


[11] In: [URL, 09.07.2021, 18 Uhr]


[12] In: Werner Heisenberg und die Frage nach der Wirklichkeit. [URL, 12.07.2021, 09:41 Uhr]


[13] Paul Klee, Konstruktion des Geheimnisses, 2018, Pinakothek der Moderne; See also: Rudolf Steiner: Wie erlangt man Erkenntnisse in höhere Welten? 2014.


[14] From a telephone conversation with the artist, 21.06.2021.


[15] From a conversation with the artist in her studio, 17.05.2021.


[16] Hilma af Klint, ihrer Zeit voraus. In: [URL, 09.07.2021, 16 Uhr]


[17] Kosmos Emma Kunz, In: [URL, 09.07.2021, 14 Uhr]


[18] In: [URL, 16.07.2021, 19:30 Uhr]

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