artist Cildo Meireles
Not one work in ciudadMULTIPLEcity was completely free of some type of repression or constraint by the establishment. All fought against it, and at the same time were somehow bent by it. The most extreme case was Cildo Meireles’ Panamini because it never took place.
The Panamini—a scale model of a Panamax, the category of ships designed with the maximum size allowed to cross the Panama Canal—was to be navigated by remote control across the interoceanic route, setting a record for the smallest ship ever to traverse it.
The vision of a tiny boat, a mere toy transiting from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean through the entire Panama Canal—that imposing masterpiece of modern engineering—would offer an aesthetic impact, unleashing at the same time a chain of associations. I, for one, am reminded of the country itself, and of the thinker Diógenes de la Rosa, who always said that the inescapable fact that Panama is a world bridge has been an extremely heavy load for such a small country to bear. If it is true that, as the cliché goes, "Panama is much more than a canal," it is also true that the canal is its most powerful metaphor. Reflecting on this theme, Meireles observed that "by its geological formation, Panama was born to unite two continents. Then the country was divided in order to unite two oceans. Panama lives in permanent dialectics."
Language, idea and context always vary in Meireles’ works, but they share certain traits: the radical alteration of scales and densities to heighten consciousness and perception; the poetic gesture that awakens and maneuvers sensations and images in the spectator's mind; the impeccable symbiosis of form and concept; at times, the subversive insertion of an object or practice in powerful mega-circuits of commercial and industrial transit and communication; his "commitment to freedom"...
All of these constants reappear In Panamini—an “industrial poem," as Meireles calls some of his works. Just as the famous Cruzeiro do Sul (one cubic centimeter made of woods sacred to the Tupí Indians and meant to be exhibited on its own in a big empty museum), this boat derives its symbolic power precisely from its miniature scale. Inserted in the immensity of the canal and surrounded by the gigantism of locks, cranes, ships and containers, the Panamini—painted yellow and flying the flags of all the nations of the Americas—was to traverse the long interoceanic route, embodying the potential that a solitary individual act can have within the huge complex machinery of power, as long as the former takes advantage of the latter.
Although the Panamini complied with all technical regulations, the authorities did not allow the vessel’s transit through the canal, saying that the present climate of terrorism compels them to forbid any cultural activity that might attract unnecessary attention to the international waterway. This not true. What about the kayak race that takes place every year, for example? Could those wise regents perhaps have sensed that the toy boat contained the germ of a small act of rebellion?
To be honest, their refusal would not have stopped the Panamini. We would not have given up. But something worse happened. The builder of the little boat—Chris Rabito, from Louisiana, who offered his services online—turned out to be a con artist: he took the money and ran.
Nevertheless, as on many occasions, Meireles conceived this work—along with instructions for its production and use—so that it may be carried out by others. Ever since the sixties, he has seen art as a process that can be made and remade without the "divine" intervention of the artist. In other words, Panamini is a pending assignment.
Furthermore, even if the participation in ciudadMULTIPLEcity of Brazil's most important living artist—whose humanity, experience and captivating modesty inspired many of us—would have been limited to his two visits to Panama, it would have been well worth it.