Before your eyes adjust to the darkness of the first installation, “Cielo terrenal (Earthly Heaven)” (2023), within Colombian artist Delcy Morelos’ El abrazo exhibit at Dia Chelsea, your olfactory sense will detect the interwoven aromas of cinnamon and clove. A star of the 2022 Venice Biennale, Morelos painted the floors and walls of the art institution (up to the high-water mark from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy) with soil blended with these fragrant spices. Soon after arrival, forms begin to take shape—first, black ceramic pieces crafted in Colombia’s Amazonas and Tolima departments from ancestral techniques; then, stacks of salvaged building materials (also coated in the muddy blend) from Dia Art Institute’s beloved upstate outpost, Dia Beacon. For many, this first room and its monochromatic installation will act as an introduction to the work of Morelos. This is because the exhibition is her solo debut in the US. And while “Cielo terrenal (Earthly Heaven)” asks attendees to look closely and breathe deeply, the majestic, engulfing nature of the monolithic second installation, “El abrazo (The Embrace)” (2023), welcomes that and more—even allowing everyone to touch its soft earthly composition.
“El abrazo (The Embrace)” not only appears to levitate from the floor but also gives the illusion that the entire earthen mass is rising toward the wooden rafters above. Guests can circumnavigate the large-scale piece, which is composed of soil and clay and its own aromatic spices, and step into a meditative inlet. To conceptualize this work took five years and included many site visits with engineers. Morelos spent nearly two months on the fabrication of the piece, working long hours and over weekends. “You might not believe this,” she says through a translator on a press tour, “because I don’t believe this myself sometimes, but every blade of hay was placed by hand, one by one. Because I wanted it to be low light, I needed the light to emerge from the work, so I put more hay than I planned to.”
“It’s an ephemeral work,” she continues. “It’s a dialogue with many things—with the space, with the Earth, with the light. It’s important for me in my work to create an experience. I wanted to create an experience of the Earth in an interior space—to create the same feeling you have when you are walking in a forest. It’s an intimate moment with the Earth and oneself.”
Morales encourages Dia guests to touch the work because she’s learned from previous pieces—including her acclaimed installation for the Venice Biennale—that people oftentimes feel like they can anyway. “In this work, you are allowed to touch it,” she says. “With this permission to touch, the spectator has a responsibility to take care of it. It seems like we are doing well because everyone who has come to see the work has been very careful.”
Dia’s Alexis Lowry curated the exhibition, which will run through July 2024. And while the towering second installation may leave a monumental impression, the monochromatic first installation must not be ignored. “I wanted it to be more challenging to the eye, like a terrestrial dream, like an atmosphere,” Morales says. “The space here is like a womb that contains the spectator. It is in the darkness of the earth that death transforms into life. Seeds germinate in the darkness.” For this piece, Morales requests silence. And in the silence, all senses come to life.