Rimer Cardillo: Cupí
Viktoria Villanyi

Stories and histories of life and death, and in particular, that of healing and rebirth, are told, and embedded in the walls of the Hungarian Trinitarian monks’ church, and the neighboring Baroque castle of Kiscell Mount in the antique quarters of Budapest, Hungary’s historical and cultural capital. During the first World War, the baroque building complex and its gardens served as a military hospital for the wounded, thanks to the site’s protected location within the natural environment of Mount Kiscell. During the summer of 2010, the historical site of healing, and its natural environment embraces and houses Cardillo’s own stories of South American history, ranging from ancient times to the twentieth century, to draw parallels between New World- and Eastern European cultural history.

Cardillo (1944, Uruguay) Guggenheim- and Pollock Prize sculptor, graphic-and installation artist contructs an imaginary South American landscape from fragments of the archeological past in the interieur of the ruined Trinitarian Temple of Kiscell Museum to reenact stories of Colonical history in South America and Central Eastern Europe. The installation introduces aboriginal traditions of the cult of ancestors, and cult of the dead: in its focus, three human-size mounds of earth are covered with terracotta reliefs, woodbarks, mosses, and river pebbles. The earth mound, in Uruguay, dubbed "cupí", is originally a human-size structure built by giant ants, frequent in the borders of Uruguay, Argentina and Brasil, but the mound also recalls the funerary structures built by aborigins honoring the cult of the dead. Cardillo’s mounds are covered with the terracotta reliefs of animals and plants from the Amazonian region. These reliefs of the Amazonian vegetation evoke the Guaraní people’s custom to bury their dead with their beloved animals and personal objects.The burial mounds, covered with vegetation, also allude to the coming of new births after death, new lives springing from mother earth, the South American vision of a cyclical nature of life and death.

Framing the three mounds, the Trinitarian Church walls are covered with large, tapestry-like, mixed-media canvases. Cardillo’s tapestries consciously refer to the genre of applied and decorative arts which, in European history and the tradition of royal Colonies, decorated Baroque palaces of conqueror dinasties in Spain, Italy or Portugal. With the topos of colonial narratives, the tapestries display archeological sites, protected natural locations and vegetation, or snapshots of vanishing traditions of everyday life in Uruguay, Argentina and Peru through Cardillo’s critical lens. These semi-documentary, present-day snapshots guide the visitor from ancient times to war crimes in twentieth-century history and South American of the present day.

In his early animal altars, created in the 1980s, and in the burial mounds built from the 1990s Cardillo creates a parallel between images of the discovery and subjugation of South America and the war crimes and genocides of the twentieth century.   With the photos and metaphors of damaged carcasses, inspired by the archeological sites and burial sites damaged in the twentieth century by practising military troops (such as the damaged human and animal remains in Cría de Cuervos, the neolithic site in Eastern Uruguay) Cardillo creates a memorial to the victims of military dictatorships of the 1980s.

From 1990 to the present day, Cardillo’s archeological prints exhibited with the burial mounds evokes the traditions of ancient civilizations in several continents, at the same time, offering a monument to victims of modern, twentieth century dictatorships. In Uruguay, Argentína, Venezuela, in London’s Tate Modern, in Chicago, New York’s Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Venice Biennial, Berlin, or Warsaw, the installations successfully addressed local cultural traditions, initiating a dialogue between world religions, ancient pagan and christian cultural history, and inspiring a discussion on pivotal points of modern history.
Through the imaginary topography constructed in the Trinitarian church, Cardillo evokes the parallels, tensions, or contrasts between pagan and christian culture, the cultural traditions of Eastern Europe and the New World. While the church embraces the burial mounds, the installation also evokes the antagonistic relation between Christianity and pagan rites. Cardillo’s fictitious landscape creates a unique continent inside the Church, connecting and celebrating several ancient cultures’ pagan religions, funerary customs, the spiritual connection between the living and the dead: such as the Guaranís, the Eastern Cumins and Northern Scandinavian peoples, who also built mounds of earth to honor their ancestors. Reconstructing pagan rites, Cardillo evokes South America and Europe’s colonial history, and in particular, stories about the spread of Christianity.

The burial mound recurring in Cardillo’s works is a metaphor of the cyclical nature of death and life: the terracotta reliefs of natural vegetation, the river pebbles collected from local rivers and streams, stones, seashells, woodbarks, mosses and forest lichens represent natural sites, while in modern architectural settings the mounds are framed by elements of urban life: bricks, marble or concrete or stone slabs. The open air mounds are molded and weathered during the seasons. Local flowers, grasses and ivy bloom over open-air cupís, sometimes they are capped by fresh snow and sprinkled by rain. Building the mounds in front of architectural facades or sacral interieurs, Cardillo revisits the meanings of geography, topography, site-specicifity and cultural identity. After the finissage of the exhibition, the Museum plans to transfer the Cupís to the outer gardens of the Kiscell Museum as land-art in the natural environment of Temple Park and the Mount of Kiscell.