of Proof /
Patricia C. Phillips
A form of meditation, the story and its telling are always adaptive.
A narration is never a passive reflection of a reality. At the same
time, it must always be truthful if it is to unwind beautifully [....]
The functions of both the tale and mediator-storyteller are thus introduced
at the outset. And, depending on who constitutes its audiences, the
story can open onto the fantastic world of the imagination; it can offer
a pleasant pastime; or it can engage the listener in a revelatory spiritual/philosophical
journey [....] Perhaps, when it is the question of both the lie and
its truth, and the truth and its lie [....] this doubling back which
enables the tale to designate itself, leads us not necessarily to the
deepest interiority [....] but also to the "outside" (speech
as speech) in which the speaking subject disappears.
-Trinh T. Minh-ha, Cotton and Iron 1
In Australia, Uruguay, and other parts of the world, new discoveries
of skeletal remains and other objects indicate that the histories of
indigenous and native peoples may date back farther than ever imagined.
It is tragically paradoxical that at the very moment that the span and
scope of human histories are being revised and expanded, we face the
imminent disappearance of native people and natural environments. History
is stretching and shrinking simultaneously. These quandaries-the vagaries
of global development at the expense and doom of aboriginal cultures
and exquisite natural environments propel Rimer Cardillo's brooding,
beautiful work. He gathers and produces images, objects, and installations
which give a specificity to the abstracted, distant phenomena of extinction
that we hear regularly reported in the news. With compassion and without
sentimentality, he offers aesthetic evidence of violent transgressions
of corporate greed and capitalist opportunism.
Born in Uruguay of primarily (but not entirely) European descent, Cardillo
grew up in the sole South American country where indigenous people had
been virtually eliminated. Growing up he encountered neither references
to nor acknowledgment of "undeveloped," native cultures that
flourished in the area long before European immigration. Cardillo's
childhood introduction to a world beyond Uruguay came from a handful
of books in the family library. A book on Egypt, the Bible, and The
Travels of a Naturalist of the World on the work of Charles Darwin invoked
histories and regions remote to his immediate experience.
First interested in architecture, he gravitated to printmaking. Completing
a master's degree at the National School of Fine Arts in Uruguay, he
then moved to Germany to study at the Weissenssee School of Art &
Architecture and the Leipzig School of Graphic Arts. His art education
was grounded in western traditions, high modernism, and the virtuosic
mythology of the "master" printer. Cardillo's rigorous education
is unquestionably evident in his trenchant work, even as his content,
materials, and methodologies have transformed during the past two decades.
Following his studies in Europe, Cardillo returned to Uruguay. In 1973,
a military coup led to an intolerable period of repression and unrest.
With other artists and intellectuals, he sought asylum in the United
States in 1979. As many travelers and ex-patriots have experienced and
described, enormous distance can lead to new depths of insight about
one's birthplace and former home. As an artist in the United States,
Cardillo began to grasp Uruguay's hidden and withheld histories. The
demise of indigenous cultures and natural environments continues forcefully
to shape his consciousness.
A peripatetic traveler, Cardillo frequently visits different areas of
the Amazonian rain forest, observing, documenting, and often collecting
small relics and imprints from cultures under siege. Fascinated and
infuriated by the volatile, imperiled relationships of environments
and cultures, his discursive works register changes, passings, and impending
endings. Disturbed by the erasure of particular histories at the moment
that they are being recognized and recorded, he continues to assemble
aesthetic data to keep the newly known and swiftly forgotten in our
collective consciousness. Abstaining from didacticism, Cardillo's strategies
are calculatedly indirect. The dark poetics of the work are its most
insistent, incisive characteristics.
Combining large prints, found objects, ceramic castings, and sculptures,
Cardillo constructs an intimate narrative of his experience and observations.
Neither obscurely hermetic nor boldly transparent, these works evoke
meanings by combining pervasive information, layered images, and meditative
spaces. Cardillo is an involved, preoccupied witness. Like a testimony,
the works possess a compelling, diaristic dimension. Because Cardillo
creates from his direct experience, there is a sense of the momentary
and temporal in time's unremitting unfolding. Never claiming objectivity,
Cardillo presents a highly selective, edited, and amended representation
of change and loss. The work carries us into an inductive analysis of
the episodic and incidental through which the "big picture"
is framed and focused. The global extinguishment of individuals, rituals,
languages, plants, and animals is unyieldingly graphic.
Woman with Turtle I-III (1995-96) is a series of silkscreens
from photographs taken by Cardillo. Situated in a commercial area of
a small town, a woman stands by an enormous turtle that she is attempting
to sell. The turtle's size suggests a venerable age. This gigantic reptile
is a marvel of nature-something that generally is protected and promoted
in zoos because it is an enduring heir of an endangered species. In
various passages, the woman faces the camera, turns away, and eventually
completes a transaction as a man carries the purchased turtle away (presumably
to be killed for food and goods). Printed on pieces of wallpaper, the
photographic image is partially camouflaged-its vulnerability enhanced
by the overall patterns of the ubiquitous, mass-produced paper.
In this series, the complicity of Cardillo's role is conspicuous. Clearly,
his physical presence has allowed him to capture this incredible moment.
But his involved gaze and camera have inextricably influenced the situation.
Not unlike the dilemma of the field anthropologist, the process of observation
and notation always inflects the findings. The personal nature of many
of Cardillo's recent projects are an attempt to present and critique
the complicities of working this way. Cardillo's voice and vision are
not authoritative, but he reminds us through process and product, that
it is necessary to keep in mind his calculated selection and designed
revelation. Neither neutral nor benign, the judicious work fully discloses-and
defends-the difficult contradictions of making art from life.
Although more explicit images have recently entered Cardillo's work,
earlier projects are communicated by inference and invocation. Silent
Barrack (1989) combines different materials and objects to suggest
memory and loss. The assembled evidence registers the fragility of history
and the coercion of change. Silent Barrack includes a large wooden
frame that supports a print relief of an abstract, but unquestionably,
organic form. Inert and lifeless, it is a corpse-perhaps the consequence
of ritual slaughter or routine neglect. The tall wooden structure appears
to be propped up by a slender metal pole that maintains a precariously
vertical condition. In front on the ground is a ceramic sink that supports
a thick piece of wood. It could be an arm, effigy, club, or cannon,
a strategic point of attack or defense, predator or prey. A halo of
soil and sand surround the installation. A familial arrangement of found
and created elements forms an altar and a fortification. In this and
other projects, Cardillo transgresses spiritual and secular boundaries.
Astutely conscious of the implications of displaying other cultures
in an exhibition context, he creates a conundrum of appropriate responses.
In this silent space, there is an intelligible sound of quiet anguish.
Educated as a printmaker, Cardillo embraces a glossary of materials
and methodologies that refer to the labored, layered process of printing.
Combining prints, castings, constructions, and found objects, Cardillo
underscores the affinity between different elements and pieces. With
multiple constructions of meaning, Cardillo's objects are repositories
that carry embedded, layered information imprinted and inscribed overtime.
Information is tactilized in order to enter our bodies and brains through
a variety of modalities. Always stunning, Cardillo's recent prints subvert
the accomplished techniques and virtuosity of the "master"
Cardillo frequently uses electrical routers to score plain plywood;
images are formed in a crazy quilt of lines. The control and precision
of the electrical tool is difficult; like the electrocardiogram of an
irregular heart, the lines follow an unpredictable, possibly alarming
course. The knarled, knotted, and compressed surface of the raw plywood
conveys all the imperfections of the "uniform" production
of vast quantities of milled lumber. Paradoxically, the use of common
lumber subverts the usual sterility and anonymity of the printer's plate
or stone. The print is the repository of both planned and incalculable,
produced and inherent histories of production.
Mulita's Reliquary (1995) is an idiosyncratic collection of artifacts
and images in which the mix of cultures, anthropological studies, and
autobiography are enshrined. Neither dissonant nor harmonious, the selected
artifacts invite further interpretation. The reliquary is defiantly
mundane. A site for spiritual reflection, it also looks like an inept
attempt to produce and sustain heat. Built of simple, scavenged materials-wood,
glass, and an old rural mailbox-it looks like a makeshift toaster-oven.
Its interior is sheathed in aluminum foil that caresses a ceramic casting
of a dead armadillo. Alcoves in the structure's frame and cabinet doors
display diminutive specimens from various regions where the artist has
traveled and lived. In this and other work, Cardillo does not offer
secure conclusions. Instead, he presents significant problems.
Fascinated by the intricate, haunting spaces of Machu Pichu and other
ruins, Cardillo's exhibition at The Bronx Museum of the Arts unfolds
as a series of darkened discoveries. Cardillo has reconfigured the gallery
space so that viewers navigate between discrete, nonlinear incidents.
The exhibition is passage of multiple readings and an inconclusive denouement.
Like an archeological pilgrimage, meaning is sifted and analyzed in
the layered impressions of totemic, altar-like spaces. Including prints
and installations, Cardillo has also constructed a large cupi
of soil with ceramic castings of dead animals. Inspired by both the
enormous anthills of the Amazonian rain forest and the mounds that served
as burial sites for the deceased and their possessions, this particular
installation of clay and soil is a votive that negotiates the past and
present. It embodies Cardillo's unimpeachable connections to Latin American
cultures and his current home.
In the Museum's lobby, Cardillo fully exploits the architecture of display.
At the corner junction of the atrium windows, he has placed two large
images of a small sculpture of Tlazolteotl, an Aztec goddess of childbirth,
confession, and absolution. The small, squatted figure is giving birth,
while perhaps offering opportunities for avowal and acquittal. Cardillo's
enlarged images fill twelve large panes of glass. Printed on plexiglass,
the facing pair of figures produce contrasting experiences from outside
and inside the Museum, functioning as an insistent, mysterious summons,
a public site of introspection, and a preface to the convergence of
the two images printed on mirrored glass in the Museum's gallery.
Cardillo has developed a finely-focused, individual iconography distilled
from prolonged and repeated experiences with indigenous peoples and
places of the Amazonian rain forest. In the most recent work, he has
turned his attention to the particular, if inconclusive stories of the
men and women he has met. There is a candor and urgency of inquiry.
In its new immediacy, the work remains profoundly serious; the artist's
role even more treacherous. The work demonstrates Cardillo's impassioned
and imperfect involvement. There is the body-the humor and humanity
of the artist-that intensifies the social, environmental, and aesthetic
commitments. By opening his art to the vagaries and volatility of the
subject matter, Cardillo precisely deploys a mercurial process to construct
meaning from histories lost, found, and at risk.
1. Trinh T. Minh-ha, "Cotton and Iron'" in
Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, ed. Russell
Ferguson, et at. (New York and Cambridge: The New Museum of Contemporary
Art and The MIT Press, 1990),p.328.