Cido Meireles, The Southern Cross (detail) 1969–70

Cido Meireles
The Southern Cross (detail) 1969–70
© Courtesy the artist
Photo: Wilton Montenegro

Southern Cross 1969–70

Meireles has explained.

Southern Cross was initially conceived as a way of drawing attention, through the issue of scale, to a very important problem, the oversimplification imposed by the proselytising missionaries – essentially the Jesuits – on the cosmogony of the Tupí Indians

The white culture reduced an indigenous divinity to the god of thunder when in reality their system of belief was a much more complex, poetic and concrete matter, emerging through their mediation of their sacred trees, oak and pine. Through the [rubbing together of] these two timbers the divinity would manifest its presence.

Made from oak and pine, this wooden cube typifies Meireles’s economy of means. He not only evokes a palpable tension in scale between the small work and the potentially vast space of the gallery, but also hints at this tiny cube’s ability to engulf the gallery in flames.

Questions of scale are also invoked by the title of the work: the Southern Cross or Crux is the smallest of the constellations. Used in celestial navigation to mark the South, its five brightest stars also appear on the modern Brazilian flag. Meireles has said that he wanted to keep the work ‘as hidden, as condensed as possible, to keep it moving towards physical near-disappearance… Initially I wanted it to be much smaller than this; but when I sanded it down to my nails, I lost patience and stopped at 9 mm.’

Southern Cross belongs to a body of works which Meireles describes as being characterised by ‘Humiliminimalism’. He explains ‘that is, a small object, an almost nothing, really, a minimalism, that endorsed a character of humility.’