“Terras do sem fim”, a book is pulled to pieces. Artists can do things like that: take a book apart like an anatomist dismantles a body. The book is not just any book, but the novel “Terras do sem fim” – a classic of Latin American literature. In 1943, when he wrote this novel, Brazilian writer Jorge Amado was still an avowed communist.
The novel deals with the economic and social entanglements surrounding Ilhéus, a port city in northeastern Brazil. This succulent, fertile piece of land was ideally suited to cocoa cultivation, making it a hotly contested territory. Amado describes a bloody war between two clans that almost eradicate one another in their greed for lucrative transactions. In “Terras do sem fim,” the brutal excesses of capitalist drive bristle with red-hot passion.
So how did Gonzalo Díaz come to the idea of breaking this book down to its essential components, of framing each individual page and hanging them in a single, dense line along the gallery walls? Not everything artworks do can be puzzled out with language. Nevertheless, it is clear that Díaz has detached himself somewhat from his reference, Amado’s novel, to use the book as sculptural raw material. He transforms the pages of the book into a simple, but all the more memorable figure: the horizon line.
This line is crucial; it is a key figure of the colonial imagination and the threshold to be crossed. It appears close and concrete (as we see in so many “Golden Age” Dutch paintings), while always receding.
A commission by Johann Jacobs Museum
Born in Santiago de Chile in 1947, Gonzalo Díaz is a conceptualist, which is to say an artist who – for all the sensual terseness of his work – is focused on the precise articulation and execution of an idea. There is a high level of abstraction, but the horizon line is no mere abstraction. It is ultra concrete, just as someone must have had the concrete idea to look for the sea route to India, to steal the Aztecs’ gold and raze the jungle for its rich soil – the perfect bed for cocoa plants to flourish.
Díaz never left Chile, so he experienced first-hand the leaden years of the Chilean dictatorship that began in 1973, an outgrowth of US economic interests in their self-proclaimed backyard. Chilean critic Nelly Richards has described the murderous regime’s traumatic consequences as a “crisis of intelligibility.” A dictatorship corrodes the fine networks of human communication; it breeds speechlessness and isolation (the state it prefers for its subjects). Against that backdrop, the book’s dissection can also be understood as work on language (in the broadest sense).