Cardillo and La Quebrada de los Cuervos
KEV HO EYEA ZIM / We always come back on purpose
Rimer Cardillo explains, "historically, has had its gaze on Europe,
and turned its back to its Indigenous geographies and cultures."3
But, if Uruguay lives in the paradox of Lopes de Sousa's words (in control
of the land, but unable to describe its beauty), Cardillo reaches back
to the languages displaced, and gives a voice and presence to those
silenced and absent from official narratives. His installation La
Quebrada de los Cuervos, under the sign of excavation, unearths
and makes vivid a remote Native American past that has been razed and
erased in the (Western) construction of Uruguayan history. Through evocation
of ways of being and knowing, the past is actualized and becomes part
of a social agenda regarding identity. Inspired by a notion of archeology
that rewrites and reinscribes experiences that have already been lived,4
the disappeared appear and the remote is made present in an other
"In the west," James Clifford notes, "nature is usually seen as the starting point-the raw material- of history."5 But destructive productivity and obscene accumulation have transformed nature and many worlds to a point of no return, so that "the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant."6 La Quebrada de los Cuervos retrieves the traces of difference hidden in the ruins of progress, hidden in the opposition between nature and culture. What returns, then, is not the past, but the paradox of language, a paradox "captured" in the Nahuatl line "only on earth do our words remain."7 Thus, Roberto Evangelista and Regina Vater can proclaim, "And despite massacres the indigenous memory is still breathing."8
"To a Western gaze," Cardillo explains, "the landscapes of Ithaca and La Quebrada de los Cuervos [a gorge in Uruguay] appear 'untouched.' Yet both landscapes have been known, inhabited, and marked by Indigenous cultures across time in such a manner that 'nature' does not appear assaulted or destroyed."9 Conceptually, the installation La Quebrada de los Cuervos involves quoting a representation of one landscape (Uruguay's Gorge of the Crows) as an immanent cultural sign in the (con)text of another (Ithaca's gorges). Working in the form of a "culture/collage,"10 the site-specific installation at Cornell will be composed of three interacting elements: a banner, a "cupí," and text. A banner consisting of nine six-by-ten-foot panels, silk-screened with black-and-white photographs taken at La Quebrada de los Cuervos during recent fieldwork, will be placed on the side wall of the Johnson Museum of Art. Parallel to the marks human culture has made on nature, the banner shows the marks of the work process in terms of variable tonalities and contrasts. Nature itself will in turn mark the banner as a cultural sign in the process of weathering, or of "subtracting the 'finish' of the environment."11
cupí - an Indigenous cone-form pile of earth- is to be constructed
beneath the banner and in front of the side window of the Johnson Museum
of Art. The word "cupí" is guarani for "anthill."
Cardillo reclaimed the Indigenous word to rename what is known throughout
Uruguay as a "cerrito" (little hill). The cupí was
the burial form of many Indigenous cultures of present-day Uruguay.
In the cupí, many bodies were buried, in different postures,
along with animals and everyday artifacts. The cupí of the installation
La Quebrada de los Cuervos will be made of earth and slate from
the landscape surrounding the Cornell University campus. The function
of the cupí in La Quebrada de los Cuervos is ceremonial:
it renders homage to the extreme experiences endured by Indigenous peoples.
banner and the cupí "map" Uruguayan landscape cum
history onto the outside of the Johnson Museum of Art. The third element
of the installation "reads" the cupí through text displayed
on the inside window of the museum. This display will consist of copies
of historical and contemporary materials on the Indigenous experience,
drawn from literary, ethnographical, and documentary texts. From inside
the museum lobby, this "culture/collage" of writing will "frame"
the cupí and provide a conceptual framework for La Quebrada
de los Cuervos. Together, both perspectives-outside and inside-deconstruct
the boundaries between nature and culture.
Five hundred years after the invasion of Native lands, domineering aesthetic and cultural constructions still seek more to conquer in what Jimmie Durham calls "a never-ending search for true virgin territory."12 This process subsists on blurring different histories. In contrast, Cardillo's site-specific installation seeks to create extended and shifting metaphors of Indigenous cultures in a geography of the Americas understood as multiple and hybrid. Cardillo's project, while having a specificity grounded in the Uruguayan historical process, shares with works of Native American and Brazilian artists a desire to recover memory, and the forging of a contemporary spirituality grounded in the tradition of an other experience of nature.