The viewer is struck by the contrast between the grey kitchen tiles and the red birds, like ravens dipped in blood, growing like bizarre, apocalyptic fruit from an ash colored burnt-out tree. Like fruit, or even strange butterflies of war, growing in their transparent pupas, soon to hatch and inflict a terrible toll on the world. If you did not mention Goya, i would not have caught the reference, yet once having viewed the works in question, it is impossible not to see the line you have traced back to the Napoleonic wars and to imagine the body parts of revolutionary heroes nailed to a dead tree, the superimposition of new death on old death. I also thought of the Norse World Tree, Yggdrasil, inhabited by crows and birds of the dead, to be burned at Ragnarok, the end of all things.
by Michelangelo Samson
Geraldine Javier's Life Cycle (After Goya's Disasters of War) was inspired by Los Desastres de la Guerra, a set of 82 etchings and prints made by Goya between 1810 to 1820, which describe Goya's protest against the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. Life Cycle is specifically based on Plate 39, 'A heroic feat! With dead men!' which illustrates the randomness of slaughter and violence. Dismembered body parts from the aftermath of war are mounted on to the lone tree within a barren landscape as trophies of the victors. The scene inevitably reminds us of the Crucifixion, but instead of the deliberate nature of the biblical sacrifice, Goya's tree of body parts illustrates the brutal pointlessness of human destruction and waste.
Javier has chosen to focus on the tree itself, a Y-forking deadwood sprouting from the unseen ground. Using a gradient of almost monochromatic shades (reminiscent of Goya's own chiaroscuro technique within the etchings) she suffuses the tree with a visceral quality. The stark isolation of a single inanimate object suggests a tableau-like fixity, an almost theatrically dramatic sense of being the centre of all things. Instead of dismembered body parts, Javier's tree is laden with embroidered red birds holding frozen insects in their beaks. Through this uncanny device the dead tree appears to come back to life, bearing an illusion of low-hanging scarlet fruit.
By tapping the universal archetype of the tree, Javier participates in a larger narrative discourse resonating across history, literature and religion. As discussed by Michelangelo Samson, Javier's use of the tree is associated with Yggdrasil, the primeval world tree of life within Nordic mythology. Odin, the Norse god of battle, victory, magic and death sacrificed himself to hang from Yggdrasil for nine days and nights in exchange for wisdom to rule Valhalla. The idea of the world tree as Odin's gallows gives birth to the medieval trope of the Hanged Man within the tarot deck, a liminal figure who hangs suspended by his ankle between this world and the next.
The limbic forms of the hanging birds create a visual paradox: of life springing from the branches of a dead tree, yet in the form of birds ensnared in the act of picking insects off the dry branches. The medium of clear resin reminds us of traps of gum or lime used by trophy-hunters pursuing prized feathers. With its creatures caught in eternal stasis, Javier's tree symbolizes the endless dance between destruction and rebirth.
The stark uniformity of the kitchen tiles is Javier's remaking of Goya's barren landscape, a flat plane against which the textural construct of the tree and three-dimensionality of the birds stand out in stark relief. This patterning is reminiscent of the fabric of life, an endless sequence of objects brought into uniformity against which existence sparks and shrivels. Like a reel of slow film which gently insinuates the bizarre into our consciousness, the cyclical illogic of existence is deftly illustrated through an almost cinematic incongruity.
Life Cycle is closely related to Javier's series of other works with trees as the central objects, such as The Perfect Blossom (After John Everett Millais' Apple Blossoms) , and Eruption (Christie's Hong Kong, November 2009, Lot 1120) exploring her fascination with the natural world and its inhabitants.
Christie's is grateful to Mr Michelangelo Samson for his kind assistance with this catalogue entry.