The soil we step on in urgency or indifference hides strange, unknown dramas. At times we feel the effects of turbulence underneath: volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis. Everything usually takes place in a discreet way in the stage pit at the world theater. Human beings firmly believe that the mineral world below is the opposite of life.

Denise Milan visited that world underneath. The stones “talk to her”, she says. She went down to listen close. After the visit, she came back willing to share her education by the stone, to quote João Cabral de Melo Neto in one of his most renowned poems.

One of her lessons is told here, through the eyes. In the depths – both obscure and luminous – human figures are unquiet as they suffer and strive. Their current name is “amethysts”. A bizarre designation, given by ancient Greeks to mean that this type of stone “protects from drunkness”. They are actually slightly curved, hooded shapes, fully packaged as if in mortuary garments; bent heads and entangled arms can be envisaged. They are generated from the red and blue womb of the Earth, in magmatic heat, where stars shine. They inhabit rutilant caverns. But some pressure, or some appeal makes them go up towards the dangerous earth surface. They are enveloped by a shell, or a crust. As that gloomy protection cracks sumptuous, violet crystals - that had been confined inside the mantle – are brought to sight. Men now rejoice. Amethysts now succumb in full glory.

Based on such immemorial story Denise Milan tells of splendors, solemnities, silent slowness. She evokes the anxieties of the worlds underneath, their aspirations, their rituals. She talks about the ending and the beginning, about returning and the irreversible. She shows all that, as it were, without touching them. She does not sculp stones, she does not carve them, she does not hurt them. Neither does she polish them. She offers them to our eyes. She gives them voice. Milan’s artistic action is to place the stones into the scene, as if they were humans, and to allow us to listen to them.

Such action does not aim at pretensious creation, neither is it the ecstasy of some empty invention. Denise Milan is not taken by the power she holds. But rather acts delicately and discreetly, maybe due to so much visitation with the amethysts – the stones that preserve sobriety. She behaves as an attentive witness, as if she were the Earth herself revealing its profound pathways to us. The adventure she proposes is a trajectory back and forth between geological knowledge and personal sensitivity. Some “truth” takes place, which belongs neither to the orthodoxy of science nor to the arbitrariness of fiction. Not often do artists lead us to question ourselves so strongly about the correlation between knowledge and belief. But rather, and better still: the pages that follow shudder believed knowledge (such unsensibility) to replace it with knowledge belief (such wisdom).


Jean Galard is an Essayist, Dr Galard was also a Professor of Aesthetics at the University of São Paulo, at São Paulo, Brazil. He has chaired a number of cultural institutions, among them the Centre Culturel Franco-Nigérien, at Niamey, Nigeria; The Maison Descartes, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; The Institut Français d’Amérique Latine, in Mexico; the Association Dialogue Entre Les Cultures, in Paris, France. He was the Louvre Museum Cultural Director from 1987 through 2002.