De la precisión en las distancias [ On the Precision of Distances]

First published in Piedras: Richard Long, Ministerio de Cultura, Dirección General de Bellas Artes y Archivos, the British Council, Madrid, [cat. exh.]


In the room everything takes place slowly. There is hardly any motion at all. On the table lies a large tapestry, left at random. Next to it a map, opened like a jack-knife. Two points and a line connect the two. Each measure is precise. To one side, a terrestrial logbook and some drawing instruments. On top of the cupboard papers, a pile of books laid flat with words deep inside them, cartographic notes full of rivers and a globe: in perpetuum mobile.

The man is looking out of the window that lights his room. He is leaning slightly on the table. In his right hand he is holding a drawing compass with the care we usually reserve for certain pencils; the left hand, supporting the body, lightly touches the map. Flowing correspondences between broken lines and the mountain. The man’s gaze seems intent on remembering. His attention is elsewhere. The need to act, the will to do.

The light from the window covers the abandoned tapestry in shadows. Such precision in Vermeer’s work, in effortlessly arranging the uneven creases, rumples and folds into hills and valleys. Such silence!

One can distinguish a dark wooden frame and yet another book, cut by the edge of the canvas. This brief description of The Geographer by Vermeer might serve equally well as a portrait of Darwin, standing at the foot of the Andes, confiding to his notebook: “I am happy to be alone”.

Or imagine the figure in the painting as the geographer Mercator who, leaning over the table, contemplating the original meaning of the word “assemble” (stones, pieces of wood). In Greek “to unite”, to bring together, is sumballein: to symbolise and to create symbols is to return to them their luminosity.