Javier Riera or the transfiguration of space-time

Ignacio Gómez de Liaño

When in 1519 Hernan Cortés arrives to Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, the fantasy of the spanish men overflows. At the sight of “so many cities and villas settled on water”, said Bernal Díaz del Castillo, “we were astonished, and we said it resembled the things and enchantment told in the book of Amadís”. So strange the place seems, that the spanish men believe to be dreaming and, in their fantasy, Tenochtitlan is mistaken with the prodigious places described in the chivalry novels, as well as with the the lacustrine city of Venice, which, the way the expeditionaries would see it, is the one that would best resemble the aztec capital.

But before discovering this place, the Spanish men are faced with yet an even stranger scenery, totally new for them. They find it when, after leaving behind Jalapa and Jico, they start a never-ending rising on which, as well as a continuous change of landscape, they watch as the mangrove, the sapota, the red cedar, the mahogany, the palm trees and other well-known species for the spanish-men, start to disappear at the time the holm-oak woods become more and more dense and Nature adopts an ever increasing coat of grandeur. Suddenly the expeditionaries find themselves covered by a balsamic atmosphere, swamped of turpentine. It’s the first time that a European lung feels filled up with emanations of such species. The impression is so strong that friars and priest fall on their knees, the army stops their march, and Cortés, holding his breath, sends off a few cempoaltec indians to give him an explanation of the prodigy. Since the most significate thing of the scene is that the intense and original fragrance seems as an exhalation of the landscape that at that same moment unfolds itself, covered by a luminous misty drapery –produced by the condensation of the vapors from the Gulf– which, against the background of the dark abyss of the rifts where tropical life crackles, they cover the softwood in such a way that its crests, soaked by the twinkling rain, look like they’re coated in precious stones.

This is, precisely, what Javier Riera does when he projects onto the landscapes and onto the species of trees of his choice the draperies made out of the light of his art; when he dresses up the trees of the wood or of a garden with the precious stones of his illuminated geometric designs. The experience of the landscape that the Spanish expeditionaries had is kind of an anticipation of the twilight landscapes and wide top trees that Javier Riera transfigures with the light and geometry coating he gives them wrapped with the aim of causing their rediscovering. And with the aim of causing, as well as with the rediscovering, the reinvention of the Earth. Unlike other land art artists, who use stone compositions to redefine them, such is the case of Carlos de Gredos in some mountainous areas in the province of Ávila, Javier Riera uses light as a support and substance of the geometric figures that he projects/discovers/invents on the chosen landscape.

Perhaps one of the reasons I’ve related the projections of Javier Riera with Cortés and the Spanish men that accompanied him on his march towards Tenochtitlan, is due to certain distinctive features of the first poetic-pictoric action of his that I attended. It was at the Parterre Garden of El Retiro, so close to El Prado Museum by the way. Riera’s chosen tree to project upon was the most famous specimen of the capital, perhaps the oldest, since, according to some, it dates from the time of the founding the park on the 17th century. Well, the case is that the gigantic ahuehuete, or Taxodium mucronatum, of the Parterre Garden chosen by the artist is original from Mexico and so much that it is considered to be the national tree of that country founded by Hernán Cortés, who, furthermore, more than once walked beside the so called Moctezuma’s tree, a 700 years old ahuehuete and 52 meters tall that can still can be admired at the mexican capital.

Maybe it’s not by chance that, when staring at the geometric structure of light that the artist was projecting onto the tree, it came to my mind because of the similarities, as I told Riera himself, the kind of geometries that decorated the mayan architecture (for instance, in Uxmal), that is precisely in the area where Cortés entered Mexico. Which leads me to think that Javier Riera, with his illuminated projections, not only searches to reinvent landscape, give it a new definition by transfiguring it and arousing in the viewer’s spirit a new sensation of the place –something not as easy in this world where television and other audiovisual media are responsible for making everyone having the feeling of having been everywhere in the world and even outer space without even having gone out the door of their house–, but that he also searches something else, and that which the artist searches also has to do some way or another with some kind of a great game on which the game pieces that he uses are dates or timings, with the aim of maximizing the feeling of existence through the merging of timings and spaces.