How To Build Cathedrals (Cildo Meireles 1987)
A visually spectacular piece by Brazilian installation artist, Cildo Meireles. It was made for an exhibition to commemorate the Jesuit missions to South America between 1610 and 1767. Missionaries sought to eradicate cannibalism in the indigenous population by offering the consumption of Christ’s body in the sacrament of Holy Communion. However using one form of culture to replace and eradicate another can be viewed as a form of cannibalism in itself.
600,000 coins carpeting the floor are joined to a canopy of 2000 bones hanging from the ceiling by a white column of 800 communion wafers. The objects allude to religion, commerce and human loss.
Meireles has explained: “I wanted to construct something that would be a kind of mathematical equation, very simple and direct, connecting three elements: material power, spiritual power, and a kind of unavoidable, historically repeated consequence of this conjunction, which was tragedy. I wanted a sky of bones, a floor of money, and a column of communion wafers to unite these two elements.”
I find this piece appealing both in its visual elegance and in its use of symbolism in its materials. Meireles describes the materials he uses as being, “in the everyday world, close to their origin, yet impregnated with meaning”.