Chaitén: land of volcanoes
about this contribution
This pan.able visual essay traces both a coastline and timeline of northwestern Patagonia, which is part of a highly dynamic environmental region. Indigenous peoples who traversed its coast for millennia were witnesses to glacial retreat, dramatic sea level rise, and repeated volcanic eruptions amongst other landscape and climate changes. Permanent settlement of the area near the Chaitén volcano in Chilean Patagonia began only a century ago, when settlers from other areas (including Osorno, the Chiloe islands, and Argentina) built homes and developed a local culture based on industries that included fishing, boat making, basket making, textiles, livestock, and bee keeping in a remote but thriving town.
In May 2008, the Chaitén volcano erupted, prompting one of the largest evacuations in modern Chilean history. Within two days, the human populations of Chaitén and nearby Futaleufú were relocated and dispersed in distant cities with little time to plan and no clear knowledge of the length of time they would be displaced. Farm animals, pets, family mementos, and the familiar landscapes of home were lost over the three years of exile that elapsed before resettlement was permitted. Even if it did not cause large-scale loss of human life, the eruption was still a deeply disruptive and traumatic event for residents.
In the process of surveying a new site for the town of Chaitén, a cave complex filled with prehistoric rock art and shell middens was encountered in a distinctive landscape monument called the Vilcún. While the proposed new location for the town was rejected by townspeople, who fought to rebuild on the site of the old town, the cultural heritage represented by the Vilcún rock art caves and the geological heritage represented by the volcanic landscape are now contributing to the ongoing rebirth of the town.
A new interpretive center in Chaitén was built in the midst of houses ruined by the eruption. Together, they are designed to serve as a nexus for community memory, tourism information, science communication and education, and art as part of a development strategy based on local heritage and educational outreach. This offers opportunities for academic and technical programs for local youth that did not exist prior and also conveys future risks and community resilience. This is part of a vibrant creative explosion inadvertently prompted by the volcanic eruption. Once the site of disaster, Chaitén is now a site of regeneration.
graphic design: Pierre Puentes
editorial mediator: Karen Holmberg
Karen Holmberg (New York University)
Andrés Burbano (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, in Barcelonas)
Constanza Gomez (Fundación ProCultura)
Pierre Puentes (independent designer)
Javiera Letelier (Universidad Austral de Chile & Centro de Investigación en Ecosistemas de la Patagonia/CIEP)
Amy Donovan (University of Cambridge)
Julie Morin (University of Cambridge)
Rory Walshe (University of Cambridge)
Thierry Dupradou (independent photographer)
acknowledgment: This project was made possible by the unflagging efforts of Constanza Gomez with ProCultura to assist the recovery of Chaitén and is dedicated to the Chaitén townspeople and their resilience.
financial support: The graphic design work for this submission was funded by the This is Not a Drill program directed by Mona Sloane through the Future Imagination Fund at NYU Tisch.
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Copyrights 2023 by the authors. Reproduced with permission.
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This article is using Chicago format for its references
Holmberg, Karen, Andrés Burbano, Constanza Gomez, Javiera Letelier, Amy Donovan, Julie Morin, Rory Walshe, Pierre Puentes and Thierry Dupradou. 2023. “Chaitén: Land of Volcanoes.” .able journal. https://able-journal.org/chaiten-land-of-volcanoes.
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