North of Salta, Argentina lies Quebrada de las Conchas. “Quebrada” from “quebrar” (to break) refers to a gorge, in this case mounds of rust-colored rock, broken at sharp angles by millions of years of erosion. “Conchas” are the shells, or marine fossils, left on the ocean floor before the gorge was elevated, along with the rest of the Andean range, by the friction of tectonic plates.
It only rains in the gorge about five days a year, including the day we visited. I don’t know how it would have looked if it hadn’t, but I was happy not to have the lines of exotic rock columns and sky blurred by sunlight. The sprinkling rain darkened the scattered shrubs, making the whole place look positively fertile.
The exhibition was a retrospective of Mariano Cornejo. I’d never heard of the artist, but we had time to kill and it was starting to rain, so we went in.
Abstract shapes teased my imagination. Textures of smooth wood, torn paper, rough metal and cracked oil paint made my fingers itch to touch the paintings and sculptures.
Pigments blended together in gradations, sticking in clumps on the wooden canvases, etched and pierced by nails. Paper and card were layered, ripped and pierced to reveal contrasting colours and shapes. Blocky pieces of wood fit together to make animals that looked as if they’d been frozen in mid-wing flap or prowl.
I felt so at home, among these creations of a person I’d never met. There was a connection, an overlap in how we experience the world. I was reminded of the power of art. The power to communicate and affect, without language.