Carla Guagliardi‘s work always seems to be in the verge of dissolution. Taking to the extreme notions such as balance and imbalance, permanence and vulnerability, the PIPA Prize 2017 Finalist has been living in Germany for the last two decades, although keeping a close contact with Rio de Janeiro, her city of birth. In this exclusive talk with PIPA Institute Curator Luiz Camillo Osorio – the third of a series of interviews with this edition’s finalists – , Guagliardi remembers the beginning of her career in the 1980s, talks about living and producing art abroad, and highlights the importance of time and of the presence of an audience in her practice: “I have the distinct feeling that my work is only complete when it’s exhibited,” she says.
CARLA GUAGLIARDI IN CONVERSATION WITH LUIZ CAMILLO OSORIO
Carla, can you tell us what it means to be a foreign artist, a Brazilian, living and producing in Berlin? What are the major obstacles? For someone who has been living nearly 20 years in Berlin, what would you highlight as important to your work along this period?
This question has an entirely different meaning as compared to 20 years ago. When I arrived in Berlin, in 1997, the city had just been reunified, you could clearly see the remnants of a post-war era, you could notice was a clear difference between the East and West sides of Berlin. There were very few foreigners living there (except for the Turks), and especially very few foreign artists. Besides, those who lived there had no common references. In 1999, I was a resident artist of the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, a niche for young artists coming from different parts of the world whom, motivated for this post-reunification moment, along many who arrived via the DAAD scholarship, stayed in the city and slowly changed the landscape. This was also the motivation that attracted artists and art galleries to Berlin in search of large spaces for studios, at prices well below those of the Western European market.
Before long, a very distinct and cosmopolitan landscape formed with the boom of artists that emerged in the past two decades.
Anyway, you think of it, being a foreigner is an ambivalent condition; if, on the one hand, the lack of references releases you; on the other hand, it drowns us in tremendous loneliness.
Today, the flow of information creates channels among the artists at the same time events unfold, all of it at incredible speed. There is a huge number of artists living and/or working in Berlin, or just visiting the city, including many Brazilians. This has reconfigured the above context, now also based on references that are more global.
Living abroad, what do you miss most, from the Brazilian/carioca landscape? In the late 80’s and early 90’s, a whole generation of artists, mostly sculptors, formed here in Rio. All of them were connected somehow – via IBEU and Sergio Porto, via the encounters in Visorama, and by means of the complicity with the previous generation (the 70’s), in your case, especially Tunga. Tell us about that period and its continuing influence on you.
The way my generation of artists was formed depended on an enormous effort and involved deep affection. The example of Visorama is a case in point: at first, it was a study group in which we read and discussed texts on contemporary art; at the time, some of us attended the specialization course in History of Art and Architecture offered at PUC-Rio. We realized that the lack of access to works of art or even to their images was a major obstacle. Then we started photographing whatever we would find in books and magazines to develop a database; we wrote letters to artists from around the world requesting slides of their work, gathered nearly 2,500 images, organized several interdisciplinary seminars based on such images — it was a huge success. The process of building all that, before the advent of the internet, had a positive side to it: the development of close ties with several of the participating artists. To many, friendship and complicity remain to this day. We share the same vocabulary and lots of common experiences. I try to keep in touch with all of that, but of course, nothing can replace those talks, which I miss a lot in Berlin.
On the same period, I met Tunga, who introduced me to a rich universe of unusual characters and situations. We became close friends; we would have a deep conversation about a piece of work while cooking black beans for a mean, or we would discuss a personal issue with the same uniqueness, with the same poetic charge. I believe that it was then that I learned how closely tied everything is, how much art is inseparable from life.
Such experiences are life-changing. I remember Tunga calling me from somewhere, in the midst of an opening where he was exhibiting one of his works, about which we talked and experienced together, and saying: “…our work is beautiful!”.
Knowing that you are part of someone else’s process is a great pleasure, which also happens through language, full of humor and poetry … it completes the idea that we never do anything by ourselves, that we are all interdependent.
I have the distinct feeling that my work is only complete when it’s exhibited, and someone else’s remark opens a hatch that will flood it with meaning. From there, my relationship with my work takes on yet another dimension, a more reflective one, and that, in some ways, is perpetuated in a continuing rediscovery.
Your work has recently circulated more in Brazil again: the MAM exhibition in 2009, the one at Anita Gallery in 2012, and especially two in a row at the MAR Museum in 2017. Now, the PIPA Prize nomination and your presence as a finalist, which means one more exhibition at MAM. How do you see your return?
Continuing from the above answer, the work of being in the world, providing return, infinitely extends the self-talk that it raises, making it more fertile.
Despite living between Rio and Berlin, being recognized in such an abundant and eloquent landscape we have now in Brazil updates the issues of my work, and extends its familiarity; it is a fabulous feeling of belonging.
Your sculpture deals with movement and with unstable balance, despite a strong sculptural presence. It is as if the act of forming and being on the verge of stop being form were simultaneously relevant. In your opinion, what is the determining poetic issue, if there is one?
From a chronological point-of-view, I’ve seen issues related to instability emerging as if it were inescapable in my creation process. Perhaps form was the initial motivation, loaded with some kind of determination that dissolved itself when other agents became protagonists that are more eloquent. Time is probably the biggest one. It added to what was there and caused its action to prevail over what would not be. In between one and the other lays the heart of many issues of my work. There is where I would place the guiding and inescapable poetics of what do I.
The materials you work with are fragile, and you seem to take them to the limit, to the moment just before rupture, the loss of a material character. This limit is the point of the expression. How do you pick your materials? How do you deal with their preservation in time?
The materials themselves usually carry potentials and qualities of their own. The choice of materials comes from mere attraction or, sometimes, is random, through experimentation and largely through the errors to which those materials are subjected. It is not uncommon for me to insist on some materials in order to reach their near-limits, from the heavier to the more delicate limits; discussing this condition is fascinating. It’s a strange form of dialogue, an absolutely abstract one, but the eloquence and sincerity that they reach have brought me to tears on some occasions.
Preservation, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. I tend to leave it for a later time. For some works, I’ve already found effective solutions as replacing latex elastics with silicone, without compromising their issues… for others, I believe that a small gesture, when necessary, of changing and filling, for example, a latex balloon belonging to it, can be incorporated to the work itself in a poetic form.
Poetry or music: which one is closer to the pace of your work, which one syncs better with your affective tone?
A beautiful critical commentary about my early work (e.g. “Fifi”, 1991), based almost exclusively on a musical vocabulary, astonished me… It came from someone who ignored that I come from a family of musicians. I had not realized how close those universes were. I acknowledged music’s undeniable presence and, even when there is no obviousness in this formal vocabulary, I have claimed to myself titles in whose ambivalence of meaning lies the amplifying possibilities for interpreting the work of art. I could mention “Fuga” [“Escape”] as one of the most prolific examples. When I gave that work a title, there was, at first, the priority of spatial sense of the word “escape”, a random trait determined by circumstances. Then I noticed the term in the musical vocabulary context, and the fact that the sound is able to determine the space of simultaneity at different times fascinates me (see the definition of the musical term “Fugue” below).
In music, a Fuga [Fugue] is a style of composition originated in Baroque music that is contrapuntal, polyphonic, and imitative of a main theme. In this kind of musical composition, the theme is repeated by other voices entering successively and continuously intertwined.
Poetry, on the other hand, feeds me the essential, the use of the words I wanted to say in silence.
Now, do I really need to make that choice?
Read more critical texts by PIPA Institute curator Luiz Camillo Osorio by accessing Camillo’s monthly column.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Luiz Camillo Osorio is the Curator of PIPA Institute, PIPA’s founder and Board Member. He is a Professor and current Director of the Philosophy Department at PUC-Rio. Camillo was the Curator of MAM-Rio between 2009 and 2015.