Carla Guagliardi, "Fugee II", 2017

“Listen to the silence and look at the void”: read Luisa Duarte’s critical text about Carla Guagliardi

PIPA Prize experienced some very important changes in the year of 2017. One of the most crucial of them was the inclusion of an exclusive series of critical texts about the eighth year finalists in the edition’s catalogue, available for download on our websites. Each of the four artists had the opportunity to invite a critic or curator to write about his trajectory or, specifically, about the work presented in the Finalists’ Exhibition at MAM-Rio.

The first text to be published here on our website was written by Luisa Duarte, critic and independent curator invited by Carla Guagliardi. Working since the 1990s, the artist builds, to borrow her own words, “variations on the same themes”: mobility and immobility, weight and lightness, balance and vulnerability. Subjects that couldn’t be more relevant in today’s world according to Duarte: “Amidst the generalized cacophony in which we are immersed, Carla Guagliardi’s work guides us to the chance of another way of being in the world, in which the murmur is heard as loudly as the shout,” she writes.

Carla Guagliardi

Luisa Duarte

In Carla Guagliardi’s artworks, what is not revealed to the eye is just as important as that which is seen. This principle is revealed as transgressive and bearing an unsuspected political content, in our time marked by the excess of images and by the economy of competition for attention. Altogether, these characteristics of our current context give rise to a gaze that is intoxicated by the accumulation of stimuli and simultaneously anxious and restive to perceive the content between the lines of the visible.

Since the early 1990s, the artist has been constructing a cohesive poetic program with a single body of questions, evoking the relations between mobility and immobility, fullness and void, weight and lightness, temporality and atemporality, balance and vulnerability. In “Sem título (P.I.)” [Untitled (P.I.)] (1990) it was possible to note this way of proceeding, typical of her work, in which opposites are assimilated and go hand in hand. There we witnessed a series of polyethene tubes leaning against the wall, containing water and an iron rod. Essentially what we see is a minimalist gesture, guided by a totalizing essence. But it was precisely within this aseptic visuality that the artist went on to instate the unforeseen, the organic. Guagliardi introduces time as an active element, making it a co-author of the artwork. The slow rusting of each of the tubes differentiates and singularizes them. The serial gesture normally involving equals in a static situation is here commingled with an unsuspected organicity that inserts difference, change and randomness.

This emphasis given to the process, to duration, is likewise found 25 years later, in “Opera II (ou Onde está o tempo que eu deixei nesse espaço?)” [Opera II (or Where is the time that I left in this space?)] (2015). This installation consists of a 300-kilo block of ice, set atop a wooden structure suspended from the four corners of the ceiling by elastic cords, but resting on the floor. As the ice melts the structure rises into the air. It allows the viewer to “see” time; this is what the artist does in her Opera. It recalls Saint Augustine’s characterization of time, when he said, “If no one asks me, I know what it is; but if I am asked and I want to explain it, I no longer know.” The slow melting of the ice and the gradual rise of the wooden structure materialize this simultaneously familiar and very abstract quality. Guagliardi’s work is formed between the solid and liquid state. From the heavier to the lighter, from the more voluminous to what, finally, disappears. A comedy takes place here, which privileges the process, subtraction and slowness – aspects that run opposite to a contemporary experience marked by the yearning for a result through addition and acceleration.

This sort of patient gaze that the artwork requires is also seen in “Fuga II” [Fugee II] (2017), made on the occasion of the exhibition of PIPA Prize finalists. A site-specific work, it consists of a sort of sculptural drawing installed in the exhibition space at the Museu de Arte Moderna of Rio de Janeiro. Seven solid cement blocks of various sizes serve as bases for copper tubes of different heights, connected by a single red elastic cord stretched between their ends. For its part, this cord extends through a tube embedded in the wall, disappearing from visual perception, just as it does in its path through the blocks. Standing before a continuous line, which is nonetheless discontinuous to our eyes, we are thus invited to mentally form the whole. As in countless other works by the artist, the striking thing about “Fuga II” is the interdependence of the parts that underline, at one and the same time, its particularities. The cement blocks possess a precise opacity, weight and volume that allows us to better perceive the metalized texture of the tubes and, moreover, the lightness of the very fine line of the elastic cord that cuts through the air. The singularity of each part is made powerful not by isolation, but by proximity – a lesson that could be extrapolated, once again, to the experience of our present, indicating that the artwork runs against the grain of a contemporaneity in which one of our biggest challenges is to live together with others who are different from us.

The hurried visitor tends to see not a single cord, but rather spans of different cords. It is only with patience that we perceive the sense of continuity residing in the fragments. That it is a continuous line lends our gaze a sensation of looping, making us incorporate the air as a structural element of the work. Through simple procedures, the artist invites everything in the surroundings to become part of the work: the walls in which the cords are tensioned, the floor and the “void” of the air cut by the red cord. What previously went unperceived is illuminated by Guagliardi’s subtle yet sharp gestures.

For its part, the title “Fuga” [Fugee] refers to simultaneously to the word’s spatial sense in the Portuguese phrase ponta de fuga [the vanishing point of perspective drawings], a random line of escape determined by circumstances, and the musical fugue, a style of composition where a theme is repeated by countless voices that enter successively, interlinking with one another. It is thus a sound that can determine the space of simultaneity at different moments. This relation of the artist’s work with the vocabulary of sound is not a new development; previous examples of this dialogue are found in “Verso” [Verse] (2007), “Partitura” [Musical Score] (2012) and “Os Cantos do Canto” [The Corners of Song] (2012). It is likewise not a new development that the air is incorporated not as a representation of nothing, but as something that exists and affects the work.

In Verso (2007), for example, there is a delicate balance between gravity, geometry and air. Heavy wooden boards are delicately balanced on rubber balloons. With time, the air slowly leaves the balloons, modifying the geometry – which is initially secure and stable. The tension between what we are seeing and what we suppose will happen is the gap in which the meaning of the work resides. Air and time, both invisible, are active instances of the work. The most interesting aspect is not so much the final result of the process, the deflation of the balloons and the possible fall of the sculpture, but rather the constant promise of change contained in the piece and the relentless dimension of time. In the various versions of “O Lugar do Ar” [The Place of Air] (the first version is from 1993) we see grids of iron bars connected by rubber bands that weave a subtle relation between geometry, gravity and air. Here we find works that are rhythmic – once again in the musical sense – in which the weight of the bars articulated by the malleable material produces constant but nearly imperceptible transformations.

The artist’s poetic program involves a counterpoint in relation to a contemporaneity marked by the regime of the spectacle and hypervisibility. In accelerated times, in which our experience seems to be a “ frenetic immobility,” in which the overwhelming pulsing of images instates a progressive blindness in each of us, Guagliardi’s work arises as an experience that reminds us of the importance of a patient gaze, an emphasis on the process, and the chance for opposites to go hand-in-hand. Without being regimented by a deliberate intention, all of these choices arise with a high political charge of resistance. Amidst the generalized cacophony in which we are immersed, Carla Guagliardi’s work, in its convergence between delicateness and power, guides us to the chance of another way of being in the world, in which the murmur is heard as loudly as a shout, reminding us that it is there, in the blank space between one line of a poem and the next, that we find the meaning of what is being said. For this, we need to listen to silence and to look at the void.


Luisa Duarte is an art critic and independent curator. MD in Philosophy from PUC-SP and PhD in Art Theory from UERJ (2017). She is a former Advisory Board member of the Museum of Modern Art São Paulo (MAM-SP) (2009-2013) and was a member of the curatorial committee of the program Rumos Artes Visuais, Instituto Itaú Cultural (2005-2006).

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