Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s ten-month solo exhibition, “chronotopes & dioramas,” commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation and on view at Manhattan’s Hispanic Society, concluded Sunday. Located in a medium-sized gallery within the former Museum of the American Indian that was recently renovated by Dia, the work consisted of a 50-foot wide floor to ceiling structure, consisting of a wall decorated with literary quotations on one side, and containing three large meticulously constructed environmental dioramas rendered by a team of specialists from the American Museum of Natural History on the other.
Each approximately six-by-six-foot diorama depicted a different terrain-the tropics, the desert, and the North Atlantic-populated not by taxidermies, but by books: some suspended on invisible wires, pages flapping as if flying in the artificial sky, others closed and placed in the dirt, on rocks, or hovering near brush. Intended as a supplement to the Hispanic Society’s collection of contemporary Iberian and Latin American literature, the work addresses many of the celebrated literary works found in the collection, including J.G. Ballard, Roberto Bolaño, Jorge Luis Borges, Samuel Delany, Clarice Lispector, and Enrique Vila-Matas (a close friend of Gonzalez-Foerster), among others.
In fact, literature is an ongoing reference and source of inspiration for Gonzalez-Foerster’s practice for many years. According to Dia curator at large and organizer of the exhibition, Lynne Cooke, “biotopes and chronotopes in Gonzalez-Foerster’s dioramas … become rallying points around which new ways of reading and thinking, conceptualizing and speculating, dreaming and fantasizing, cohere.”
The launch of the exhibition’s accompanying publication, also titled “chronotopes & dioramas,” was launched on Saturday at a special event hosted in the historic main court of the Hispanic Society’s museum. Developed in direct collaboration with Gonzalez-Foerster and edited by Ms. Cooke and Karen Kelly, the publication consists of a series of three hardcover books (one for each of the three terrain dioramas), which examine the installation’s key themes through a selection of scholarly texts and full-color, documentary images.
Under the watchful eyes of Goya’s The Duchess of Alba (1797), the book launch featured a reading by New York-based Spanish novelist and literary critic, Eduardo Lago. Speaking to an audience of Gonzalez-Foerster devotees, Lago read an original essay he had written for the occasion entitled, “I would prefer not to.”
Having met with Gonzalez-Foerster and Vila-Matas-the Spanish novelist and a contributor to the exhibition’s publication-a few weeks prior in Paris, and having engaged in an on-going email correspondence with them both, Lago constructed a meandering text that addressed not only their creative relationship, but that also wove together memories and observations from his recollections of reading and translating his favorite books, to his observations on his favorite works of great literature including writers as diverse as Melville and Borges to Lispector and Bradbury. He mentioned an email he wrote to Vila-Matas in which he described his longing to translate Nabakov’s Laura into Spanish. “Lectures,” he noted, “should be considered a literary genre,” he went on to add.
He also remarked on his nostalgia for the world of lost books and his “burning passion for other people’s phrases,” a passion, he noted that Gonzalez-Foerster also clearly shares. Mentioning a broad range of writers, he contended that to write is to “steal into the inferno with one’s eyes wide open,” and that for writers, as well as for artists, humor and curiosity are the essential characteristics required. He ended his presentation with his favorite line from the “chronotopes & dioramas” text: “the shortest tale in the history of literature is the impossibility of being a writer.”