BY Andrew Durbin in Reviews | 02 OCT 18
Featured in
Issue 199

What Do You Dream Of? The Mohole Flower And Other Tales

A group exhibition at Luisa Strina Gallery, São Paulo, explores invisible worlds that lie beneath and within us

BY Andrew Durbin in Reviews | 02 OCT 18

In 1864, Jules Verne imagined a vast continent beneath the earth’s surface, one populated by giant mushrooms, insects and dinosaurs. Before him, Dante dreamt up a lake of ice at the planet’s core, where the Devil lay terrifyingly inert. And Virgil, Dante’s guiding shade in the Divine Comedy, wrote over a thousand years before him of an underworld through which Aeneas faced a singular choice at its exit: leave by the gate of true dreams or the gate of false ones. (He chooses the latter.) In the group exhibition ‘What do you dream of? The Mohole Flower and other tales’ at Luisa Strina, curator (and contributing editor to this magazine) Magalí Arriola considers ‘invisible worlds’ that lie beneath – and within – us, and dreamscapes ‘of sliding spaces and shifting scales’.

The show takes its name from the Filipino artist David Medalla’s ‘Mohole Flower’, a decade-long conceptual project (1956–67) in which the artist endeavoured to dig a hole to the earth’s core in order to retrieve a fragment of its crust. Along the way, Medalla hoped to install a ‘cosmically propulsive’ flower sculpture, represented here by abstract sketches and, in the centre of the gallery, a mixed media sculpture, The Mohole Flower #2 (1967/2017). This sculpture, which looks like a strange, mechanical lily flowering tulip, glows dimly in the darkened room, its petals periodically rising through an internal system of magnets.

Cildo Meireles, Arte Física: Ação: Projeto Arthur Cravan,1969, graphite, ink and collage on graph paper, 32 × 45 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo

Arriola places Medalla’s project, with its hermetic interest in the globe, in relation to Cildo Meireles’s planetary schematics based on the Brazilian artist’s ongoing efforts to explore non-Euclidean geometry and ‘virtual spaces’. As with much of the work in the exhibition, there is something sly about the artist’s playful geometries, whatever the apparent seriousness with which he approaches actual mathematical precepts. His Arte Física: Ação: Projeto Arthur Cravan (1969) – a collage featuring the globe tilted so that the Northern Hemisphere faces you, its pole circled and dotted like a nipple – nods to the Swiss-born poet and boxer who forged documents by Oscar Wilde. Cravan also wrote a famous takedown, in 1914, of fellow artists and writers in his short-lived magazine Maintenant.

Among its ‘other tales,’ Arriola’s ‘Mohole Flower’ includes a number of visually striking curiosities, many of which harken to esoteric – or even invented – archaeology and biology. Laura Lima and Zé Carlos Garcia’s giant foam, feather and fabric Bird (2015/18) lies crumpled in one corner and, nearby, a set of 2018 graphite drawings of dinosaurs and other reptiles by Theo Michael hang against the dark green walls of the gallery – recalling, for me, the fearsome beasts described by Jules Verne. Journeys to the centre of the world continue in two three-dimensional photographs by Pierre Huyghe from 2009, which show the French artist exploring Mexico’s Crystal Cave, where huge gypsum crystals (the largest is 12m x 4m) shoot from floor to ceiling in tilted columns. Huyghe appears like a toy figure, lying down on a gypsum beam in one photograph and walking, in the other, toward an almost heavenly light emanating from the back of the cave.

Gabriel Sierra, CCCC, 2012–18, chemical components of each of the nine planets of the solar system. Courtesy: the artist and Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo

Like an old curiosity cabinet, Arriola’s exhibition is filled with pseudoscientific efforts that attempt to explain fundamental aspects of life, from the dusty remnants of creatures embedded in our geologic past to the continuing inner workings of the planet. But their ‘research’ only discovers the inexplicable, the befuddling, even the quaint. I’ve always loved those cabinets, though, with their bunk science, cult objects and defective births preserved in glass jars. And here, Arriola presents a show of eccentric works that seem to belong to one of their own.

‘What do you dream of? The Mohole Flower and other tales’ runs at Luisa Strana Gallery, until 27 October 2018.

Main image: David Medalla, The Mohole Flower #2 1967 / 2017, metal, light bulbs, socket, glass, electromagnets, wire, lens, power adapter, magnets, arduino, 41 × 50 × 7 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo

Andrew Durbin is the editor-in-chief of frieze. His book The Wonderful World That Almost Was is forthcoming from FSG in 2025.