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“A tree is a slow explosion of a seed” (Bruno Munari)

Accustomed to produce artworks from drifts in urban spaces, Raúl Díaz Reyes replaced the city`s gray, polluted and full of reflective surfaces with predominantly green, dense and humid landscapes. “Jardins” (in its Portuguese spelling), was born out the recent tropical experience lived by the Spanish artist in Brazilian lands and, more specifically, from his contact with the work of the artist and landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx.

A modern intellectual, Burle Marx articulates his expanded aesthetic and manual production with knowledge of botany. His paintings anticipate the winding lines of Óscar Niemeyer’s architecture, a partner in several future projects. At the same time, Burle Marx seems to recognize that the interaction between colors and shapes on a pictorial surface should not be the same as a projected landscape. Rather than using other languages — such as tapestry, jewelry design, or landscaping itself — to underscore the supposed evolution of Western painting, Burle Marx’s work builds on an extensive inquiry that focuses primarily on the geographical particularities of each site and the material specificities of each art form used to imagine and represent those sites.

During his stay in Brasil, Raúl visited a series of gardens, among them, several idealized from the 1930s by the Brazilian landscape designer. In these wanderings, the artist assembled a database with images, sounds and notes. All the compiled material was decomposed and again recomposed, this time, crossed by other references from his closest universe.

The memory of the atmosphere experienced in the tropics was then transposed to the aseptic reality of the exhibition space in a lively project in which elements of different natures are incorporated in an almost organic way. Together, the artworks do not refer directly to Burle Marx, but materialize many of the precepts and operations also present in his production: the use of collage and juxtaposition, the rejection of symmetry, the application of geometry and abstraction, the re-conceptualization of the relationship between figure-ground, in addition to a sensitivity towards the materials and their different uses and possibilities.

Raúl proposes the construction of an immersive environment. The main room is occupied by large format vertical paintings hanging from the ceiling, which together compose a kind of orthogonal labyrinth. The rationality of the arrangement of the pieces and the geometric cuts that establish the limit of the pictorial surfaces’ contrasts with the fluidity of the colored cloths. Watercolors on paper, the paintings recall satellite images of green surfaces. They are semi-abstract spots, watery, wild and without horizon, which by their tone, scale and transparency —resulting from the open weft of the paper— incorporate the space around and body of the spectator. The installation seems to echo Burle Marx’s statement: “It is necessary to understand that garden is ordered nature, organized for man, based on his needs. (…) But it is necessary to understand the wild nature, not elaborated, in order to draw from it the great lesson.”

The dense and festive atmosphere of the installation is reinforced by a sound piece in which Abel Hernández traces a kind of open score. A collage composed of audio files recorded by Raúl in Brazil, combined with fragments of other songs and synthetic sounds. In one of the five arias that resonate randomly in space, we hear bossa nova’s father João Gilberto sing the first syllable of “Ho bá lá lá”. In another we hear a shrill noise produced by Tom Ze. References of Brazilian popular music are mixed with the singing of birds, the screaming of children, the voice of Burle Marx and the European circus tone of Nino Rota.

On the walls, small, precise pieces, work as footnotes and true attraction magnets: watercolor compositions on wood chips, paintings on cubic volumes made of wood, colored pen stains on paper, and photographic collages. The works, almost imperceptible, break the central structure and introduce another scale, producing a body movement of approximation and distance from this natural environment. In the same space, different choreographies coexist. Microscopic and telescopic perspectives, aerial and frontal views, 3D models and two-dimensional representations.

The wood compositions refer to architectural models of imaginary gardens, perhaps utopian.

The collages are montages made with photographs taken by Raúl at Sítio Burle Marx. Located in the state of Rio de Janeiro, it houses part of the enormous botanical collection constituted along the years by the landscasquarepe designer in a series of expeditions for plant collecting, in which he observed the physical conditions of the species, their means of propagation and the characteristics of their habitat. The overlaps of different temporalities and the notion of human smallness of the collages are typical of the archaeological look of Piranesi’s engravings. The pen drawings, on the other hand, look like seeds in the process of fertilization and explosion, in a stage prior to the appearance of shrubs and trees, as stated by Bruno Munari.

Aglaonema, yam, anthurium, comigo-ninguém-pode, peace lily and cup-of-milk. Species from the Brazilian cerrado, Amazon and northeastern sertão. Like the writer Guimarães Rosa, Burle Marx listed, made known and introduced the exuberant Brazilian flora into the local landscape vocabulary, besides having classified dozens of new species. His gardens are distinguished not only by their geometry. The main renewal proposed by the landscaper was in the diversity, in the use of new materials and plants in combinations and original arrangements, bringing together the native and what is regarded as exotic. At the same time, Burle Marx freely articulated non-organic and artificial elements, introducing concrete sculptures, ceramic tiles and immense beds of colored minerals in his gardens.

In these gestures, he made clear something that Raúl also seeks to underline with this exhibition, the false dichotomy between nature and culture, nature and human being. Edens are built on top of skyscrapers, paved roads are opened along sublime banks, forests are cut and burned in the name of progress — vide the recent and still burning fires in the Amazon. A modern garden, in turn, could not and cannot ignore these aspects. Ecological activist, in the 1970s Burle Marx publicly criticized the transformation of forested areas into pastures resulting from economic interests that dictate destructive action. A modern and contemporary garden, therefore, could not and cannot ignore a scenario in which our relationship with nature is characterized primarily by violence and disrespect. Burle Marx and Raúl introduce materials from other origins, absorb and “cannibalize”, to use a term from the poet and theorist of Brazilian modernism Oswald de Andrade, thus producing something provocative, live and new.

Isabella Lenzi