Burden 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" print.
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.