“Described as ‘deeply poetic but also alive with questions,’ Novo’s work represents the abundance of battle and bloodshed that took place in the twentieth century due to the power struggles under multiple totalitarian regimes.”
Reynier Leyva Novo’s El peso de la Muerte (The Weight of Death) does not explicitly represent reality. Described as “deeply poetic but also alive with questions,” Novo’s work represents the abundance of battle and bloodshed which took place in the twentieth century due to the power struggles that occurred under multiple totalitarian regimes (Galleria Continua). In particular, Novo focuses on the Second World War. As the most widespread and deadliest war in history, WWII cost multiple nation countless resources and decimated about 60 million lives
Provoked by this historical event, Novo created El Peso de la Muerte. He considers the materials that were used in the manifestation of millions of deaths. Instead of representing obvious symbols of war such as weaponry, or even graves, Novo starts by calculating the amount of ink that was necessary in order to print both the lists of official victims printed in publications by the nations involved during WWII, as well as the death certificates of heads of state who were involved in the war. Thanks to the software program INk 1.0, Novo was able to calculate the area, volume, and weight of the ink used for the printed documents he wanted to incorporate into his work by using digital images of the original war documents (Galleria Continua).
Without knowing the story behind Novo’s work, the pieces using the INk 1.0 software would appear to just be black rectangles in various dimensions. However, these pieces made from lithographic ink printed directly on the wall translates the lists of deaths into simple black rectangles by engaging with the adaptable possibilities ink as a material provides. Some of the prints in the collection are larger than others, which forces the viewer to question whether the size of the print correlates to how gruesome a particular battle was for a particular side of the war. Even though these pieces are just simple black prints, what they represent is unsettling. Millions of deaths are reduced to these prints, forcing the viewer to consider how much the death actually weighs. Although it weighs heavy on the heart, when put into these literal, physical terms it does not actually way all that much.
Appropriately enough, while making a collection titled El Peso de la Muerte, Novo also chose to create a piece comprised of actual weights. The weights range from one gram to one kilogram made from steel in various dimensions. In order to shape the weights, Novo legally purchased actual firearms and then melted them down. In so doing, he transformed something that is deadly into something that is simultaneously artistic and functional. In this piece, the material is important for both the concept and the artist. Novo emphasizes the importance of material when creating something meant for a specific purpose, “Firearms are made from various materials, but without steel they are inefficient” (Galleria Continua). He was able to transform firearms into moveable weights that can be used for balancing scales, instead of a tool used for taking life away. Each weight is inscribed with the specific firearm it was made from. This is significant because when you buy a firearm, a legal document is produced to certify your ownership, which remains even if the firearm is destroyed. Therefore, (because Novo used Galleria Continua’s capacity as a legal person to purchase the arms from which he extracted the steel) the “property of the arm becomes the property of the artwork” (Galleria Continua). Similar to the printed pieces in 12 Guerras, the weights play with materiality in order to create a double entendre where the viewer considers both the literal and the emotional weight of death.
Novo’s repurposing of materials in order to create an insightful, conceptual piece of art is not unique to his work showcased in El Peso de La Muerte In a piece he produced in 2014, titled Cinco Noches (Five Nights), Novo also uses the INk 1.0 technology to create prints representative of the five most influential political books penned by dictators in the twentieth century. The ink on the wall is equal to the amount of ink used to print manifestos written by Lenin, Hitler, Castro, Mao, and Gadhafi (Hirshorn Press Room). When considering El Peso de la Muerte and Cinco Noches simultaneously, it is nearly impossible to not consider these manifesto’s ability to create global turmoil. The manifesto specifically written by Hitler could be considered the driving force behind the millions of deaths represented in El Peso de la Muerte. The juxtaposition of these two collections forces a viewer to consider the power that words hold. It is not unlikely that there will be future political manifestos and that these manifestos could spawn other regimes which lead to wars. This is why when looking at Novo’s work the viewer is left with the eerie sensation that perhaps someday their death could be represented by an artist with the simple printing of ink on a wall. The viewer is confronted with the notion that the same weapons that could potentially be used to kill them in the future could be forged into a piece of art. However, in forcing viewers to consider the fleeting nature of life Novo succeeds in illuminating the power that words have even though he does not use any words at all.
Galleria Continua. San Gimignano. Reynier Levya Novo El Peso De La Muerte. Press Release. 13 February 2016, Web.
Masterworks from the Hirshhorn. Press Room. Hirshhorn Debuts New Acquisitions. Hirshhorn, 7 June 2016. Web.