26 June 2024

El Abrazo

(The Embrace)

Delcy Morelos’s “intimate humidity
of the earth” at Dia Chelsea

 

by Kate Mothes

Rising toward the ceiling from within Dia Chelsea’s 545 West 22nd Street gallery space, Delcy Morelos’s monumental El abrazo hovers just off the floor and appears to push against the beams. Made from recycled soil, clay, and coir, the monolithic form echoes ritual structures such as mastabas, earthen mounds, ziggurats, or the sky-reaching, mountainous topographies that have informed these visual vocabularies.

Morelos was born in Tierralta, Colombia, in 1967, and for the past three decades, her interdisciplinary practice has encompassed painting, sculpture, and installation, with much of her attention focused on natural and earthen materials during the past ten years. She considers herself a “healer and sorceress” charged with communicating Mother Earth’s force, intelligence, and beauty.

El abrazo (2023), or “The Embrace,” for which the exhibition is named, was conceived as a monument to peat, a dense soil layer composed of an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter that occurs in wetlands and moors, and is the planet’s largest store of carbon. Waterlogged year-round, dead plants accumulate to form peat, storing their carbon and pulling from the atmosphere to create a net-cooling effect that helps to mitigate climate change.

When peatlands are destroyed—often for use as a heating source when dried or as an additive to gardening compost—biodiversity is compromised and greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. Morelos’s installation, infused with aromatics like cinnamon and clove, invite viewers face-to-face with a delicate cross-section of earth, as if it has been cut and deposited in this urban space as a memorial, an enormous cairn, to mark our disregard for its value.

In Dia’s 541 West 22nd Street location, a partner installation Cielo terrenal (2023), or “Heavenly Earth,” paints the interior of the gallery space with soil, turning the space into a cavernous, monochrome space that provides the foundation for earth-encrusted building materials, which the artist salvaged from previous installations at Dia. These are joined by black ceramic forms produced in Colombia using an traditional open-fire technique.

“The dark substance rises against the walls to nearly five feet, creating a horizon line that echoes the high-water mark left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 when the Hudson River flooded the empty galleries,” says a statement, adding that “the ceramics recall cleaving cells, animal droppings, and root vegetables. The arrangements of stacks and loose piles variously recall an exposed riverbed, cultivated farmland, or an archaeological excavation, as well as the industrialized logic of Minimalism.”

El abrazo continues through July 20 in New York. Morelos’s work is also on view in Interwoven at the Pulitzer Art Foundation in St. Louis through August 4.

Detail of El abrazo (The Embrace), 2023. Installation view, Dia Chelsea, New York. Photo by Don Stahl
Cielo terrenal (Earthly Heaven), 2023. Photo by Bill Jacobson Studio, New York
Detail of Cielo terrenal (Earthly Heaven), 2023. Installation view, Dia Chelsea, New York. Photo by Don Stahl
Detail of El abrazo (The Embrace), 2023. Installation view, Dia Chelsea, New York. Photo by Don Stahl
Detail of Cielo terrenal (Earthly Heaven), 2023. Installation view, Dia Chelsea, New York. Photo by Don Stahl
Detail of El abrazo (The Embrace), 2023. Installation view, Dia Chelsea, New York. Photo by Don Stahl
Detail of El abrazo (The Embrace), 2023. Exterior installation view, Dia Chelsea, New York. Photo by Don Stahl
Delcy Morelos during the installation of El abrazo (The Embrace), 2023, at Dia Chelsea, New York. Photoby Don Stahl

Header image: El abrazo (The Embrace), 2023. Photo by Bill Jacobson Studio, New York

All images © Delcy Morelos, courtesy of Dia:

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