The work of Cildo Meireles comprises drawings, objects and installations that explore sensory experience in direct dialogue with the spectator. Throughout his body of work, he reflects on different social and knowledge spheres—the processes of communication, the role of the spectator, science, geography or economics—without adhering to any particular hierarchy in terms of materials or formats. Meireles is one of the most internationally influential contemporary artists, and a key figure to understanding the post-war, artistic avant-garde in Brazil. His work bridges the transition from the Neo-Concrete art of the late fifties (Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape), with its rejection of extreme rationalism in favour of a sensory, participatory art-form, to the generation of the sixties, committed to a political reality defined by the country’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) and forerunners of later work in the areas of Conceptual, installation and performance art. In his early work, Meireles largely focused on drawing, but in 1967—coinciding with his move to Rio de Janeiro—the medium lost some of its importance. The artist began working with the concept of a Euclidean space: a corner with three, octagonal, projecting planes. Through the study of volume and its application to three-dimensional artworks, he began to turn physical movement and the act of occupying a space into implicit elements of his work. One example can be found in Espaços virtuais. Cantos (1967-1968), a series of environments set up according to the geometric speculations of the artist. Up to that point, his work had been very formalist, but when the dictatorship tightened its grip in 1969, he responded by radicalising the political dimension of his art. The series ‘Inserções em circuitos ideológicos’ (1970) exemplifies this period, with Meireles alluding to the idea of exchange by examining the social mechanisms that govern the circulation of consumer goods and information. The most representative piece of the series, Projeto Coca-Cola, saw the artist printing critical messages like “Yankees Go Home” on bottles of the famous soft drink before reintroducing them into regular circulation. The work of Meireles falls under what has come to be known as “sensuous conceptualism”, an idea referring to Conceptual art that uses materials with the intention of engaging the senses and creating poetic environments. The real, the symbolic and the imaginary come together to strike a perfect balance that questions the traditional limits of artistic perception. Volátil (1980-1994) exemplifies this practice: it is a sealed room with a thick layer of talcum powder covering the floor. The smell of natural gas pervades the space, and the candle located at the very back of the room gives off a halo of pale light. Despite being open to multiple interpretations, Volátil is an attempt at associating sensory experience and emotion, resulting in an almost immediate sense of connection. It is also clear, however, that the artwork ventures into the terrain of fear. Over the past few decades, Cildo Meireles has mainly worked on enormous installation projects. Although frequently hostile in appearance, they invite the spectator to participate actively in their exploration, engaging all of their senses.
Andrea Aguado Alemany