Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Cosmic Landscapes of Cildo Meireles

The way Cido Meireles talks about his art makes my head spin, but his work is extremely beautiful, enforcing a thick silence on the space it inhabits. The Tate Modern had an exhibition of his installation a couple of years ago, and I really regret missing it. 

Meireles comes from the mid-century Brazilian Neo-concretism movement, which "rejected the extreme rationalism of geometric abstraction in favor of more sensorial, participatory works, which engage the body as well as the mind." He does seem to have a particular talent for creating environments; his "rooms"  are either so  spiritually empty as to produce a constant cold echo, or impress a certain pregnancy of space which thickens the air and lights a fire.

With Mission/Missions: How To Build Cathedrals (pictured above), a dark field is created where the coins underfoot (600,000 of them) bow and submit to the cloud-cover above: 2,000 human bones, an army of sentinels, connected to the metal ground by a column of communion wafers. According to Meireles, the work "comments on the human cost of missionary work and its connection with the exploitation of wealth in the [South American colonies]." Just like the bones, the viewer finds himself/herself suspended in the space, sustained by the eerie votives above. 

In contrast, Through offers a space in which to move, and then denies us. It is a labyrinth of sparkling barriers and glass-littered floors that allows the eye to pass where the body cannot. At the center, a "great cellophane ball" rests, a "cosmic metaphor, signifying the infinite, which lies at the heart of devices of limitation." The entire space has the feeling of an empty temple with the cellophane core as its empty-shell oracle. Here, too, there is a silence, but it is one created in the void.

Glovetrotter: Brave New World offers us something similar. Here is a truly lunar landscape, formed from an overlay of lightweight mesh over a football, a single pearl, and other spherical odds and ends. We experience astral projection as we're shrunken down to size and transplanted into the landscape, which suddenly inspires all the awe of the astronaut's first glimpse of the wider world.  Returning to the darkened gallery space is like coming back to Earth.
My favorite Meireles environment is known as Volatile, and it is the sole installation for which his online exhibition catalog offers no explanation, except for a quote: "For me the art object must be , despite everything else, instantly seductive." All of Meireles's works seem either to imply or negate movement in a meaningful way, but I feel it here the strongest. The lonely light of the single candle, monumentalizing each gentle pit in the sandy ground, provokes an explosion of centripetal force, and we're left, disoriented from the blast, not knowing whether we've been sucked in closer or blown backward.
The effect of Meireles's gallery spaces is indeed something spiritual, like movement between shrines on a nighttime road. Though his artist statements are, for me, strangely literal, the work itself is aesthetically and experientially transcendent.

*Source: Tate Modern Online

No comments:

Post a Comment