(this page was last updated in March 2022)
Lives and works in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Member of the PIPA Prize Nominating Committee 2015, 2018 and 2022.
Marta Mestre (Beja, 1980). She is currently curator-general of the Centro Internacional das Artes José de Guimarães. Graduated in Art History and in Culture and Communication, from Universidade Nova de Lisboa and from Université d’Avignon, having developed research on contemporary art. She was curator at Inhotim Institute, Minas Gerais/Brazil, assistant curator at the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro/Brazil, guest curator and teacher at Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, Rio de Janeiro/Brazil, coordinator of the Arts Center of Sines/Portugal.
By Marta Mestre
[Curatorial text for “The Little Death”, Carla Chaim’s solo show exhibited between April and June 2018 at Galeria Raquel Arnaud, São Paulo, Brazil]
When looking at today’s artistic production, a large part of it deals directly with social problems. Artists, curators, galleries, museums, etc. are using “street” language, the grammar of struggle and political engagement which mirrors the militant tone that belongs to (or seems to belong to) everyone. In fact, it could not be otherwise. Brazil’s current scenario is particularly difficult and tense, and the growing threat to citizens’ constitutional rights has brought back to life, old ghosts from the dictatorship we all thought were forever buried. (Marielle Franco, a black, female feminist and human rights activist from the Maré favela in Rio de Janeiro was executed while I was writing this text). This context, which some have foretold as the worst moment in Brazil’s contemporary history, impresses a sense of urgency on our actions and forces us to adopt an effective stance that goes beyond privileged positions. It makes us identify ourselves collectively amidst the struggle and want to adopt the same grammar of the situation we are fighting against.
However, this feeling of a “common struggle” (together with its related artistic forms) is also what threatens to divide us. As paradoxical as it may seem, our capacity of “emancipation” is not in the convergence on the front, but in the power to associate and dissociate (ourselves), to create sensible ruptures and schisms, i.e. it rests on the possibility to manage “practices of plurality” (Rebecca Solnit) against the “dullness of our political imagination” (V. Safatle).
In light of recent events, the aforementioned contradiction reached me during a conversation I had with Carla Chaim earlier this year. The artist told me about an activity she carried out with a group of artists at Casa do Brasil in Madrid during the last ARCO art fair. Feeling concerned about the current situation in the country, the group organized a public demonstration “since just one exhibition would not make sense “, and they issued a short manifesto. “Action and Reaction,” was the chosen title, and the event echoed in social media spontaneously.
With this background context, the proposal Carla Chaim now exhibits at the Raquel Arnaud gallery offers answers and poses questions. The set of works of the show “The Little Death”, a suggestive name which is another expression for an orgasm, translates the syncopation of “mourning” and “pleasure” that are part of the dynamics of human desire. In the words of the artist, this is a title where “the end and the ecstasy” converge simultaneously, a heading which is capable of reversing the gravity that binds us to the ground.
Several works of art presented herein continue querying about the questions Carla Chaim has been posing since last year, in particular, when she created “Óleo Fita Carbono” [Carbon Oil Tape] in Rio de Janeiro. Once again, she questions our capacity to imagine through materiality without having to adopt the inflamed apparatus we see on the streets. Contrary to the militant colorfulness we see in some current exhibitions, the tonality here is morose and downcast – nearly monotonous – and makes us feel the uncanny strangeness of a “calm” display in tumultuous times. It is, however, a Brechtian distancing effect which focuses on the spectator’s active ability to adhere and give an opinion without wanting to overwhelm him with the illusory world of narrative. Arranged on fragile rods on the ground floor of the gallery, Chaim’s black flags (from the series “Ele queria ser bandeira” [He wanted to be a flag]) are a good example of this. The heavy carbon paper, whose shape “duplicates” the gallery’s floor plan, eliminates the irruption of the gesture. The artist seems to ask, “how can we raise flags in times of barbarism?”.
Being close to the “erotic or emotional alternative” (anti-monumental, we could say) that Lucy Lippard, an art critic, mentioned when referring to the 70’s post-minimalism artists, Carla Chaim proposes a speculative and provisional itinerary to us that summons the body and the memory into an active perception of these proposals. The fold, a feature in previous works, now yields its relevance to composition through the “sum of different surfaces” where “third bodies” arise from adjacencies and juxtapositions. A subtle, material evidence is offered to the public especially on the ground floor of the gallery in works of art such as “Gruta” [Grotto]: four large drawings made with oil stick that are nearly 3 meters high; “Arraias” [Stingrays] and “Dois” [Two], two series that explore compositions with different types of paper; “Corte Inversão Movimento” [Cut Reversal Movement], a (de)composition of books from a study of geometric forms as contained inside them (a “mise-en-abyme” of the referent); “Line Pieces”, parts of an action in which the body “creates a fiction” out of angles, corners, sections; and finally “Luto_luta” [Mourning_Struggle], a poster by Verena Smit, an artist who is known for developing precise work about the ambiguity of language, and whom Carla Chaim invited to join in this exhibition.
But I think one single work of art on the upper floor is capable of speaking up for the whole exhibition and embracing the struggle (and mourning) to which I refer since the beginning of this text. Entitled “Somatu”, the video installation displays a continuous fair- play between bodies, thus summoning contemplation and action, distance and closeness, the optic and the haptic. Its arrangement across the entire length of the room forces us to adopt a certain point of view which, in addition to the mesmerizing movement of the action on the screen, creates a retreat from language, some sort of an opening to a new organization of the sensitive. Invested with a dense materiality that is not looking for genres or identities (it is difficult to identify if they are people, animals or amoebas), three bodies are entwined in some sort of “mating dance” which tells us about another kind of movement that disagrees from what is contemporary and urban. Here “the artist reconsiders the innermost part of the body, the physical, internal and individual sensations recreated by the experiences of the world. A world of mourning, but also, a world of transformation and pleasure.“
Without intersecting with the aesthetics of the urgency we see around us, Carla Chaim’s exhibition offers us the entire lexicon she has developed in recent years and even expands our imagination regarding the other uses of space, which are more affective and less prone to surveillance.
“Frente de Trabalho“
By Marta Mestre
[Curatorial text for “Frente de Trabalho”, Ícaro Lira’s first solo show exhibited between April and May 2018 at Galeria Jaqueline Martins, São Paulo, Brazil]
Recently opened in São Paulo, Frente de Trabalho (Work Group) by Ícaro Lira (1986, Fortaleza) is the artist’s first solo show at gallery Jaqueline Martins, and a great opportunity for delving deeper into the connections that art can build with myriad social, political and cultural contexts. Amid the vibrant, festive feel of events held alongside the SP-Arte fair, this exhibit brings us the entire grammar the artist has been constructing for almost ten years now, inciting us to look at the – not entirely optimistic – interstices in Brazilian history.
Following Desterro – expedição etnográfica de fição [Desterro – ethnographic expedition of fiction] (2014), Museu doEstrangeiro [Museum of Foreign] (2015) or Residência Cambridge [Cambridge Residency] (2016) – long-term projects which enabled Ícaro Lira to consolidate an art practice that transcended the “studio-gallery-institution-collection” circuit –, Frente de Trabalho takes on a more decanted or filtered down character, foregoing text and historical reviews and dealing with the visual plasticity of materials in its set-up. In Lira’s work, unlike that of any Brazilian contemporary of his generation, one can grasp how the “art object” notion gives way to precariousness or “material poverty”, not in the sense of the dematerialized propositions of 60s and 70s artists, but in direct affinity with an “aesthetic of underdevelopment” of those same years, put forth by artists like Glauber Rocha, Artur Barrio, Horacio Zabala, Luis Ospina and Carlos Mayolo, among others, to oppose the colonizing narratives of “developmentalism” (conveyed by alliances with the USA)¹. In this sense, Frente de Trabalho lends continuity to the artist’s greatest “obsessions,’ his drive to unearth futures from among the rubble of the past, to suture the fissures of language and to restore meanings that are on the verge of disappearing, amid the political “obscenity” taking place in Brazil. Additionally, it shows a sensitive arrangement of materials (mostly scraps, “trash,” objets trouvés), in a critique of art as luxury commodity.
In the words of curator Gabriel Boghossian (who wrote the exhibition text), Frente de Trabalho “prompts reflection about labor and the act of working – an activity as run-of-the-mill as it is universal –, all the while taking into account issues pertaining to artistic work and the system that both feeds and exploits it”. But instead of weaving up a pamphleteering commentary on labor in Brazilian history (thereby making the proposition a mere illustration, like so many around), the exhibition consolidates the idea that history and memory are “topographies” of images, knowledge and places. The biggest risk in operations of this sort, which shed light on characters and subjects that were left out of history (the Benjaminian perspective of the “defeated”), is that of creating vain utopias, ones whose preferred vessel of denunciation is art, for its supposed ability to transform the world, which is untrue. On the contrary, this exhibit by Ícaro Lira reiterates the notion that art thinks (not the same as provokes thought), featuring a scheme at once sensitive and intelligible whereby matter and form combine – special care was taken in framing up the materials (“Objeto encontrado #1” and “Sem título, parts #1 and #2, from the ‘Frente de Trabalho’ series”).
And since this – like all of his – is a script-less project, one gets the sense that Frente de Trabalho delivers bits of “debris” (like those found on a beach after a storm) and invites us to rely on them as compasses to navigate the exhibit. The occasionally casuistic, nihilistic way in which objects refuse to fixate into definitive forms is deliberate. It stems from an acute perception of the colonial obstructions that still operate in the present, and is visible in the “hide-and-show” of the velatures, the boxes, the superimpositions, the audios distorted to the point of cacophony, the stones and unexpected objects, seemingly displaced from context (like the milk box the Italian government gives immigrants and refugees).
But to me, one particular set among these “castaways” sums up the entire show. It’s a composition of postcards from dictatorship-era Brazil, advertising the “great achievements of the regime” (the Rio-Niterói Bridge, Itaipu and the Castelo Branco Mausoleum) and “snapshots” of stone breakers, taken in the 30s as writer Mario de Andrade (1893-1945)’s “Folk Research Mission” toured the Northeast documenting folk culture. And although both of those image sets were born of an utter belief in the technology of photography, their natures are very distinct. Whereas the postcards express the incursion of technology into the domains of politics – propaganda had to be spread in order to build national cohesion –, the stone-breaker “snapshots” are testimony to the urgent need to catalog professions and cultural traditions that were on the verge of disappearing. As Mário de Andrade wrote: “[Brazilian ethnography’s] practical orientation must immediately become based on strict scientific norms. We don’t need theoreticians (…). We need young researchers to knock on doors and to collect, in a serious and complete way, what these people put away and quickly forget, rendered directionless by invasive progress”.
Dissemination and resistance, propaganda and “time capsules” walk hand in hand in our historical present and in this Frente de Trabalho. In a time of over-visibility when it doesn’t seem to be up to neither artist nor art to play ethical roles of any sort, perhaps we must betray, as does Ícaro Lira, the dictatorship of labor… Lavorare Stanca [“to work is tiresome”].
¹ Here we of necessity refer to Luis Ospina’s and Carlos Mayolo’s “pornomiséria” cinema (Grupo de Cali, Colombia); Glauber Rocha’s texts “Estétyka da Fome” (1965) and “Estétyka do Sonho” (1971); Artur Barrio’s 70s actions, among others. Now showing at Museo Jumex, the exhibition Memorias del Subdesarrollo: el giro descolonial en el arte de América Latina, 1960–1985 sets out to exhaustively survey practices associated with the critique of developmentalism.
- "Endless": Artur Barrio's new solo show curated by Luiz Camillo Osorio and Marta Mestre opens this Saturday
- Check out the Nominating Committee of PIPA Prize 2022
- Read "Frente de Trabalho", critical text by Marta Mestre
- Read "Struggle", critical text by Marta Mestre
- Carla Chaim discusses pleasure and pain in "The Little Death"
- Meet the members of the PIPA Prize 2018 Nominating Committee
- "Potência e Adversidade" explores Latin American art
- Featured Video | "Thinking About Art"
- Marta Mestre is nominated as new curator at Inhotim Institute
- “Actions, strategies, and situations at MAM-Rio” has works by Marcius Galan