Inside the Forest

The jungle is the world of deceit, subterfuge, duplicity; everything there is disguise, stratagem, artifice, metamorphosis.
— Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps, 1953

The sensorial stimulation experienced in the Amazonian forest is almost impossible to reproduce in any way that would truly approximate the experience of "being there." Spaces are ambiguous, often cast in high contrast; where translucent leaves spread sunlight while masses of vegetation remain in almost complete darkness, creating overlapping silhouettes and shadows that multiply in random, rhythmic patterns. The forest is inevitably seen through forms that reveal as much as they conceal. There, the most pervasive array of mimetic functions is enacted through inexhaustible plots. Behind the surface there is a universe in which everything acts as something else. At these sites, where doubt cannot be avoided, perception enters a baroque world of mirrors, a mise en abyme where the constant shift in appearances finds its paradigmatic embodiment as virginal nature.

There is nothing innocent or frank about this virginity, it is pure duplicity. This "green hell" of nature tormented the Spanish conquistadores beyond exhaustion. Swallowed by this mass of vegetation, countless people lost their lives. If there is an intelligent design behind all of this: why disguise? Why disorient? The same fear of getting lost that obsessed Carpentier in the jungle followed Borges into the labyrinth of his dreams. Pondering the power of the imaginary to shape reality, Borges asked: Why would someone build a place for the purpose of getting lost in it?

The roads of Amazonia imply a journey back in time, all the way to the womb, to the diffuse vitality of the primeval site. Before born, we are but a collective maze of entropy, self-contained immanence without transcendence or individuation, absolute evanescence of subjective consciousness into the chemical paradigm of non-existence.

But the forest is also the place of birth, exuberance and order. The sparkling vitality of improvised tropical energies strive for light in search of survival. In that green totality, I have encountered an array of involuntary formations that resemble art: the color schemes, forms and textures of modernist paradigms, the sensuality of organic architecture, formless accumulations of matter, the mystic light of romanticism, the twisting voluptuousness and defiance of gravity of baroque sculpture, the contrast and intimate specificity of baroque painting, the monumental ascendancy of gothic architecture.

One of the first and most persuasive of realizations humans encounter in the forest is the awareness of being food for other species. Equally shocking is the encounter with insects, birds, reptiles, mammals and even fish that display unpredictable forms of empathy towards human beings. I often feel skeptical about how much of this can be translated into visual art. The challenge is not how to best represent the forest as an image, but how to convey the experience of being human inside the forest.