Cees Nooteboom "Terra Incognita"
for Cristina Barroso

Sometimes you see it, the world of something breathtakingly small, magnified ten or a hundred thousand times, the eye of an inconceivable insect, a cross section of the minuscule leaf of a tropical water plant, things our limited eye cannot see in their true size, a sudden insight into the hidden reality surrounding us, an image of orgiastic colours in combinations never seen before, structures of perplexing mathematical order, which are then broken apart by terrifying eruptions of chaotic forms, images that confirm our suspicions that the reality we see is only a part of the reality that there is, and which we will never know. It is real, that world, but our own dimensions are wrong, we have no access because we are too large, we can only come somewhere close to what we suspect if we use special devices, just as only devices can bring us close to things for which we are too small, to golden rains of fire in galaxies that are millions of years old, to the birth of moons and spectacular explosions in the distant outlying regions of the universe. We are always too large or too small, too early or too late, there is always something wrong with our dimensions and our abilities, we are strangers in our own cosmos, determined hunters of the vision that constantly eludes us, which seems approachable but is not, a forbidden world that we know much about, which we are part of, but never participants.

Such images most closely resemble abstract art, but that is precisely the issue: there is nothing abstract about them. A photograph of a cancer cell, magnified one thousand times, may look like a fantastic painting by an unknown artist,but it is not an artist who painted that picture – it is life itself, in one of its most unpleasant guises, presenting us with a malign image of great beauty and threat. But beauty is a category we invented, and threat is real. So a picture of this kind is not literally art, because life does not make art. Only an artist does that, an artist with access to a world that no microscope or telescope can penetrate: the world of his or her own imagination, where the mysterious laws of fantasy hold sway and an extremely focused inward gaze perceives a cosmos that no one else can see, and the only instruments are instinct and intuition, which sound a warning when a limit is exceeded, and the image implodes and is no longer valid.

That is what I mean by mysterious laws: as an artist, how can you know whether the image you are creating of something that does not truly exist is right or
wrong? Where is the thing you have depicted actually visible for real? If the answer to this question is ‘nowhere’, then where exactly is that? If we wish to avoid the word ‘soul’, shall we say it is somewhere in your brain, in a place inaccessible to others, perhaps there? And if we know that, then where did it come from? And if we could know the answer to that, how would it help? How is it that you were able to see what was not there, something that still cannot be seen anywhere other than in the painting you have created? So, in that case, how were you able to paint it

Cristina Barroso’s pictures are innocent and cunning, they are simple and complex, open and cryptic. She has visited a land that is far away, yet nearby, a land to which we have no access until she gives it to us. She takes long and extremely arduous journeys to that place, returning from her adventures with unexpected images, and showing them to us. And so we believe that what we see here is normal. But it most certainly is not, any more than it is normal for us to simply be granted admittance to this inner world. A degree of diffidence is appropriate here. We believe it is our perfect right, don’t we? This is a gallery, after all. And we are aware of the conventions. You have been invited, and so you head inside. And yet, something is not right. There should actually be a customs point as you enter the territory of another person’s most intimate imagination, as she reveals the inner structure of her own hidden world, a previously concealed domain of not yet decoded dreams, landscapes, forms, which, behind an apparent lightness, mask another dimension that is not so easy to define, a liquid, magnetic terrain of contours, shifts, order stretched over swirling chaos, lines of gradual progression that form their own rules, outbursts and effusions of colours that derive their equilibrium from an authority we never knew existed.

And let’s be honest. Nothing is self-evident. It is not self-evident that you should know someone for twenty years, a smiling, cheerful person with whom you
can talk about her son or about São Paulo or about her father’s fazenda in the interior of Brazil. It is not self-evident that the same woman should have made
the pictures that are hanging here. That is not self-evident, because it is mysterious. Good art is mysterious and it presents puzzles to which you can only come so close with words. With words, and with eyes. And ideally, you want to get right up close, so that the puzzle becomes larger.


Cees Nooteboom, Missen, 15. 2.2012