In a dimly-lit room, the subtle scent of cinnamon and clove infuses the air from two unbelievable dirt installations. On view at Dia Chelsea through July 2024, artist Delcy Morelos presents El abrazo, an exhibition of two site-specific sculptures that invite a sacred connection to soil that may be the most surprising and satisfying experience with art in New York at the moment.
The first room holds a work titled Cielo terrenal” (Heavenly Earth) – a massive room blanketed with black soil, arranged objects, and the pervasive aroma of cinnamon and cloves. A central clean pathway invites visitors to walk deeper into the room towards a greater darkness.
The soil itself was brought in from Hudson Valley’s Black Dirt Region. Its natural inky hue is due to the extreme fertility of the region’s soil, inviting some of the most nutrient-rich earth in the country into Manhattan’s concrete jungle. A further reminder of nature’s power and potential, Morelos has applied the soil mixture up the walls about three feet, marking the exact level of floodwaters during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The objects on the floor are sourced from two locations: materials pulled from the Dia Art Foundation’s dumpsters at their Beacon location and ceramic seed-like forms made in Colombia using an ancestral open-fire technique. All together it feels like hovering above an alien landscape at dusk – a surreal experience that inspires fascination with the materials from our own planet.
The second room holds a gigantic earth work titled El abrazo (The Embrace). The ziggurat-like soil structure appears to levitate off the floor as it consumes the rafters, covered with thousands of pieces of hay, each inserted individually by hand. The installation took two months.
For this work, Morelos encourages visitors to gently touch the surface. Made with a mixture that includes dirt from Manhattan roof gardens, a light respectful touch results in a transfer of auburn dust to your fingertips.
This too, includes ingredients that produce a unique and sustained scent in the air. Here, cinnamon and cloves join “copaiba,” a medicinal tree extract commonly used in the Amazon. The aroma is difficult to describe – pleasant, warm, comforting, and seems to elicit a different memory for every person who enters.
In the back, a V-shaped hallway is a joyous surprise – inviting visitors to walk between two narrowing walls that compress the air, your sense of scale, and the intensity of aroma. The experience is far more comforting than claustrophobic – a moment of connection, respect, and wonder that, if your experience is anything like mine, will change your relationship with dirt long after your visit.
Delcy Morelos’ El abrazo (The Embrace) is on view through July 2024 and highly recommended for returning visits.
What: Delcy Morelos: El abrazo
Where: Dia Chelsea, 537 W 22nd St, New York
When: October 5, 2023 – July 2024. Open Wednesdays-Sundays from 12-6pm.
All images © Delcy Morelos; Photography by Don Stahl