Cildo Meireles, Volatile, 1994
From the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston:
Complete with its own walls, ceiling, and entrances, Volátil is a multisensory environment that plays with the human response to danger, real or imagined. The floor is covered with talc, and a single lit candle is displayed toward the end of the room. In removing the danger factor from the installation, Meireles decidedly takes the work into the direction of allegory, impregnating the room with the scent (t-butyl-mercaptan) normally used to signal a natural-gas leak in urban areas. According to the artist, many spectators have associated Volátil with the gas chambers of the Holocaust, whereas Meireles himself describes walking on the talc substance as like walking on clouds. These vastly disparate responses underscore the complex metaphysical nature of the work and its myriad associations that lie somewhere between the sensorial, the horrific, and the sublime.