Alicia Candiani


Heir to a lineage of seers that originates in Mexico of ancient times, the shaman gives his disciple arduous lessons of physical and mental discipline. Focused on self-control and impeccable behavior, the shaman’s training will lead to achieve the “mood of the warrior” , initiating him as a “man of knowledge”.

“A warrior knows that his death is waiting”, the sorcerer said in one of their first teachings. “Death is the only wise advisor that a warrior has, which will be watching him until his last moment comes. As a warrior, you must learn to make every action count, since you are going to be here in this world for only a short while” he added. The shaman’s lesson is simple: an immense amount of pettiness is dropped if we confront our daily behavior with our imminent death. In his Indian wisdom, death is not the negation of life but the negation of the ego. As a result, a warrior who is conscious of his death considers life as a mysterious gift and seeks for impeccability in each one of his actions. Thus, he makes use of the surrounding world - being it objects, plants, animals, people or power- in a very respectful way. Finally, a “man of knowledge” touches the world around him sparingly and, silently, withdraws without destroying anything.

Rimer Cardillo has been searching for the path of knowledge for a long while. And he goes through this process with humbleness, as those who know how to balance the potential of being an artist together with the creator’s commitment of what he creates. As in the shaman’s teachings, Cardillo’s work confronts us permanently with the presence of death. Firstly, that of those South American Indians exterminated in the XIX Century, as part of the triumph of “civilization” over “barbarity”. Secondly, with the death of the political dissidents murdered during the hard years of the military dictatorship in Uruguay, his home country. Finally, he faces us with the death of the species extinguished by the devastating action of man. The trace of other deaths also appears in “Cupí and Birds of Oil, Clay and Ashes”, the installation presented in the 26th Ljubljana Biennial. The appearance of dead bodies of small birds, which the artist found in his garden in the Mid New York’s Hudson River Valley, triggered this project. The birds died when they accidentally crashed against the windowpanes of his studio. While incapable of distinguishing between reality and its reflected image, the birds mistook the glass for the sky. The artist did not damage them voluntarily but, somehow, he provoked their death by building a house in the valley. However, Cardillo knows that he must confront the consequences of his actions and transforms the unfortunate death of those birds in an impressive piece of art.

“A site-specific interaction encourages people to experience a modified space with the idea that they will engage with the work rather than simply observe it”, Cardillo says. The installation at the Tobacna’s Factory hosts a large wall covered with hundreds of silk-screened images printed on paper. The prints established a dialogue with a self-standing piece in the shape of a cone: a Cupí. This cone is made by hundreds of hand-made embossed papers woven between hundreds of threads that shaped it. The appearance of the cone is of a white eggshell, fragile and delicate. Technically the work began with a negative impression taken by plaster molds from the birds’ corpses (negative printing), which generate other versions (positive printing) that evolve into pieces made of terra cotta, bronze or paper. Photographs of these pieces are digitally manipulated and finally silkscreen-printed in several layers on paper. The artist uses printmaking processes but disregards the edition, the traditional printing matrixes and inks. Instead, he uses plaster molds, acetates, petrol, clay or ashes, all of them elements that are part of the reality of our time.

Conceptually, the installation is based in the relationship between the birds’-wall and the birds’-cupí/cone. Cupí is the word for termites in the Guaranian language. The artist also assigns the name of Cupí to the mound built with earth by the termites. However, his inspiration for this piece was not only the anthill conical shapes but also “Cerritos de los indios,” the hills of the Indians. “This is a popular name for the earth ceremonially heaped by the Charrúas. A number of indigenous American cultures utilized the cone shape, made of soil, to ceremoniously bury their dead and their animals along with weapons and daily utensils”, he states. In addition, the word Cupi is also used by the Kuna Indians to name the old great man who inherits from his ancestors the knowledge of his people becoming, therefore, the spiritual leader. Cardillo’s cone remains both, the cerritos and the hills scattered in the old world of the Indian shamans, which are signaled as dwellings of the spirits and places of power where nomadic tribes returned regularly as part of their life cycles and ceremonies. The Cupí is not only displayed as a cerrito of ritual burial of birds, which died by the artist’s involuntary intervention, but also as a symbol of knowledge and concentration of power. Simultaneously, the artist deals with a repertoire of conceptual and technical layers providing metaphorical richness to the installation. “Oil, the war incentive, and ashes, the remaining of ancient forests, interact along with Clay, the most positive element, used in ancestral methods of construction, protection, and healing”. Oil, clay and ashes, with which the silk-screens are printed, functioned as “what is not” because the effects of pollution do kill it. The evidence of contamination, death and extinction of cultures and species are woven here, as the embossed papers of the Cupí, with extreme delicacy and powerful significance.

The 26th Biennial has been designed under a multi-curatorial, intercultural and transnational umbrella. Jure Mikuz, its director, has challenged the curators by posing a difficult question: “What is Graphic Art today?” In a certain way, the answer is involved in the title of the biennial. Sunek/Thrust refers to a point in which Graphic Art has “thrust” the limits of its technical procedures, evolving from an aesthetic based in a 500 year-old technology to a field of research stimulated by the processes of nomadism and hybridization that appear in other artistic media.

In this context, Proyecto’ace attempts to answer Mikuz’s question by displaying only one paradigmatic artist: the Uruguayan master Rimer Cardillo, an internationally known artist who studied Graphic Art in the University of Uruguay, the School of Art and Architecture in Weissenssee, Berlin and at the School of Graphic Art in Leipzig, Germany. Leaving his country for political dissidence with the last military dictatorship, he settled in the United States at the beginning of the ’80. Today he is a Professor at the State University of New York in New Paltz, and lives between the Hudson River Valley and the city of New York. Cardillo belongs to a South American artistic generation of strongly trained printmakers, who share the experience of the Diaspora and struggle between being here and there. This generation produces art within a Latin American perspective, not based on the difference with “the others” but creating from this difference. It opened the road to a very representative group of Latin American artists (who do not necessarily come from the printmaking area) to use printmaking beyond Modern Art conceptions and conflicts concerning the technical reproduction of an image. In this way, there has been a displacement in which the artists’ focus is not on the object but on the process. What matters is not the mere technique in itself by the reproduction process, which allows us the copy, the replica, the duplicate, the imitation, the simulacrum, the counterfeit, and the derivative. These procedures –all of them present in Cardillo’s work- enable us to elaborate “graphic strategies” which emerge not as a technical ghetto but immerse into the inter-textuality present in other contemporary art practices.

In the Indian world, Death cannot seize the warrior who narrates his ultimate dance. This last act on earth should be the best of himself and, as long as he continues perfoming, his impeccable soul has the power to keep Death waiting. Provided the warrior has acquired limited knowledge, the performance will be poor and short. However, if the warrior has acquired a deeper knowledge, the choreography will be magnificent. Rimer Cardillo's work is a grandiose dance, which narrates his commitment concerning the survival of the indigenous cultures and the conservation of the species and the natural forest. Beyond the political barriers and the social discriminations he portrays, metaphorically, how those processes of destruction filter everywhere in the contemporary world. In this way and by his strong commitment in the defense of life, the artist –as the warrior who has lived an impeccable life- is empowered to stop Death.

Taken into account that man confronts knowledge as he confronts war -with awe- the man who goes towards knowledge can well be called a warrior.
CASTANEDA, Carlos. Journal to Ixtlan. The Lessons of Don Juan. Simon&Shuster. New York, 1972
Cardillo’s statement for the Ljubljana installation
Rimer Cardillo was a prizewinner at the 17th Ljubljana Biennial, in 1987. More information about the artist in
Together with his compatriots Luis Camnitzer, Antonio Frasconi and the Argentine Liliana Porter among others.
The same tension most of us share, even leaving in our own home town, belonging to a group of artists who move around various international art centers.
See WILLERS, Karl Emil. Impressions (and other images of memory). A complete essay on Cardillo’s work. Retrospective exhibition catalogue at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art. SUNY New Paltz. New Paltz, New York. 2004