Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sou uma passageira. Tô em trânsito. (I’m a passenger. I’m in transit.)

Artists, residents and directors at Largo. The photo was taken at the end of the opening. We are facing a mob of flashing smart phone cameras. Standing from left to right: Consuelo, Devaney, Sarah, Ricardo, Timea, Bodo, Miguel, Julia. Sitting from left to right: Raphael, Tobi, the medicine man, Marta, Felippe, Carla, Fred, and Anthon. I'm wearing a dress/accessory that I made for the occasion. It is actually the title of my installation It reads "Sou uma passageira" in the front and "Tô em trânsito" in the back. 
Wednesday, April 29th is the exhibition at Largo das Artes. The day starts with the overwhelming smell of floor polish and the sounds of vacuum cleaners. Two cleaning ladies maneuver around artist and artworks patiently. We are turning our work spaces into a gallery. As an exhibition space, Largo is a very proper one. It used to be a commercial art gallery under Miguel Sayad, whose brilliant idea it was to reopen it as a studio/art center that houses and supports artists.
Largo's remarkable artistic director, Consuelo Bassanesi is tirelessly running around all week, finding us space, equipment and solutions for tough problems that inevitably arise. We are expecting a lot of people, as it is a double event: Ricardo Castro is presenting a solo show of his work from his 3-month long residency. Ricardo, a Paulista (person from São Paulo), won a national art award, which also presented him with the Rio residency. The four of us international resident artists are doing a group show of the work produced this month. 
Late in the night, people are hanging out around the beautiful windows.
There is a cachaça brand that sponsors our event (and serving up shots of cachaça, a distilled spirit made from sugarcane) and security, hired for the night, at the door. Guests arrive and leave in cabs, which is quite common in Rio due to he poor public safety and low taxi rates. There is a definite festive and glamorous atmosphere to the celebration. Having been to many art events in the past month, I learned that each place takes pride in being good hosts: serving up drinks and refreshments, sometimes entire dinners, carefully planning information materials (in our case, a brochure with introduction to each artists' work by curator, Carla Hermann) and being open as late as there are souls still lingering in the gallery.
On top of all this, Marta's sound installation is planned to be opened by a shaman, an indio (Brazilian indigenous people) medicine man, whom we met at the Day of the Indio celebration. 
Indio medicine man performing a ritual purification before Marta Ferracin's sound installation. The speakers hold spices and herbs collected from indigenous and colonial cultures and they vibrate and spew their contents with the imploding sounds of Rio.
Ricardo de Castro's video installation, called Hora Mágica (The Magic Hour) is full of spiritual symbolism. Mirrors bouncing the rays of the sun while performers act out some kind of mystic ritual.
I'm presenting two larger pieces. Both were made with the same technique, cutting synthetic-leather (upholstery vinyl) with X-acto knife and scissors. I haven't been doing hand-cut work since it became extremely popular in the artworld. I felt that I've run out of things to say with it when I stopped but here in Rio it makes sense again, having not much more than a few basic tools with me. 
I like the large size of these and the potential to drape them over objects, which is exactly what I'm going to try in order to finish the black piece, pictured below. Having been inspired by the gates and fences that I see everywhere, it is, in a sense, a soft barrier.

Untitled (for being still work in progress) cut upholstery vinyl. 1.5meters by 2 meters. Inspired by colonial tile patterns and wrought ironwork, both ubiquitous in Rio.   

While the pattern is extremely ornamental and tight, the actual piece has a sense of freedom and irregularity that is part of the process and evident in the detail. In order to make it, I create a drawing in photoshop—based on a collage of actual patterns that I photograph—then project the drawing and draw it directly 
onto the vinyl. Following the drawn lines with scissors and a knife is simple enough but can still be confusing at times: when zooming to work on a tiny detail I sometimes lose a sense of the bigger picture. I'm interested in what gets lost in this transcription process and how the form—abstracted and approximated at each step of the process—changes. 

The fallibility of translation is also part of my daily experience in Rio, struggling to get by using Portuguese. This filters a bit into the second piece, a video installation, which consists of a projection onto the large golden hand-cut Rio map and gold text wrapping around on the dark walls. Mainly, I've been thinking a lot about what makes a place, how it is inhabited, how we make sense of it as outsiders (travelers) and insiders (inhabitants). 

Entrance to the black room with my video installation entitled Sou uma passageira. Tô em trânsito. (I’m a passenger. I’m in transit.)
There is gold vinyl lettering on the wall that one catches the glimpse of word by word. The text reads: 
Uma paisagem pode ser um lugar, se explorada ou vivida. Continua a ser somente uma paisagem se for apenas observada. (A once lived-in landscape can be a place, if explored, or remain a landscape, if simply observed.) which is our collaborative yet amateur translation from Lucy Lippard's Lure of the Local. 
Inside the black room: A video of ants carrying pellets of food swarming on a sandy ground that is projected onto a golden map of Rio. The scale difference creates a surreal feeling of looking down on another planet from space, seeing both the micro and macro world. The text on the wall circles around the space. This part reads: 
It’s a peculiar human habit to make a home in just about any environment. This is my translation of Hungarian emigrant writer, Imre Kertesz, from Europe's Oppressive Legacy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Gold and black...and white? Now that I think about it, maybe hot pink too...

My work has always been more focused on form and materials and avoided big statements of color. I use a limited color palette and lots of white. Before coming to Brazil, I got interested in Beatriz Milhazes' paintings, for the layering of various components. There is a really cool way she makes these, by painting each component onto plastic and transferring it onto the canvas layer by layer.
Beatriz Milhazes, O Elefante Azul, 2002; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin. Image credit:
I think her paintings have been in the back of my mind ever since, even though I haven't looked at them for a while. In the bleakness of the Pacific Northwest winter they seemed like the most fantastic and outrageous explosions of color. Being in Rio and seeing them again, they fit in harmoniously with the world around.
Graffiti in Botafogo.
A small paining by Ernane Cortat in the Museu Internacional de Arte Naïf
Under the table in the studio.
This tree, called "Monkey's apricot" is very common in public squares in Rio. The blooms are fantastic!

Wednesday morning fresh produce market in front of our apartment. Look at the colors of the produce!
Escadaria Selarón. Stairs leading from Lapa to Santa Teresa by the late Chilean artist, Jorge Selarón.
Colonial stained glass roof in the Royal Reading Room Biblioteca Real - Gabinete Portugues de Leitura
Biblioteca Real - Gabinete Portugues de Leitura
Baroque lavishness in the Igreja Venerável Ordem Terceira São Francisco Penitência. Gilding galore. 
Stained glass windows in the austere Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro

Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro. Designed by Edgar Fonseca, the cathedral is entirely made of stacked concrete panels and stained glass. It has a futuristic look with a hint of Mayan architecture.
When searching for material options for my work, I quickly landed on leather and fake-leather (vinyl). I like their resemblance to skin. They pliable and can be cut easily but, unlike paper, can also hold a form. It is also worth noting that certain materials, like paper, typical art making supplies, metal and clay are extremely limited here in Rio.

The finished map. This way of presenting it seems uninteresting to me right now. 
This way is better. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Rio! Rio? Rio.

After much procrastination, here I begin a record of living and making art in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
I had been fortunate to be selected for a two month residency at Largo das Artes, one of the prominent art studios/galleries in the Centro area of this bustling megapolis. This is my first time in South America, at a location below latitude 32° N, and it is also the first time to have managed to wrangle our schedules to coordinate research travels with my husband, Sándor Kovács.
While I'm working at Largo das Artes,  Sándor is a guest researcher at IMPA, which is located in the beautiful Jardim Botânico district in the "Zona Sul"(South Zone). Although the residency was kind enough to offer housing in the historic Cosme Velho neighborhood, we decided to split the commute difference between our respective work places and rent an apartment in Copacabana. With advise from local friends, we narrowed down our apartment hunt to Bairro Peixoto, a lovely residential block tucked away between the mountains. For those never been to Rio, this area is a gem: Entirely peaceful, with weekly fresh produce markets (feira), kids on the playground, retirees walking their tiny-apartment-sized dogs, housewives carrying loaded grocery bags, and older men watching soccer on the TVs of the ubiquitous mini-bars that spill their battered plastic seating to the sidewalk. The beach (praia) is only 5 blocks away—a completely different experience.
Map of Rio Centro and Zona Sul, with home and both of our work places marked. This map shows only a fraction of metropolitan Rio de Janeiro. 
View of Zona Sul from Christ's feet (Corcovado Mountain).
Largo das Artes is a short flight of stairs up from a bustling street in the heart of SAARA (pronounce: Sahara), which stands for Sociedade de Amigos das Adjacências da Rua da Alfândega. In former life SAARA was where immigrants from the Middle-East had settled and established a market. Now, it is the place where everyone goes to snatch up some bargains. Absolutely everything is available here, from useless plastic trinkets to serious professional materials like leathers, fabrics, construction materials, uncommon spices and semi-precious stones. In between the shops, stalls and street vendors feed the hungry shoppers with fried foods and sweets. What an inspiring location for art making! A cacophony of sounds and smells from SAARA waft through the open windows into the cavernous spaces of Largo das Artes all day long. My walk from the subway station to the studio is a constant and exciting exploration of possibilities for new sculptural materials.

View of the square in front of Largo das Artes. This place is a tiny oasis in the crowded maze of alleyways of the SAARA. This photo was taken during a participatory project by resident artist, Marta Ferracin. Marta offered to give away cooler boxes in exchange for people's creativity of wrapping these with colorful tape. Many of the street vendors and homeless were eager to participate. We were all sitting on the pavers, wrapping, laughing, and making awkward conversations in Portugese.
More about the project on Marta's terrific blog:
Largo's banner with our beautiful floor to ceiling studio windows.
At Largo das Artes, the studios are hopping with international and Brazilian artists who are part of the residency program, and also with local artist who rent studios here. This month, besides Marta Ferracin (Italy via Australia), there are Bodo Korsig (Germany), Sarah Beatty (USA) and Ricardo Càstro (Brazil). We are joined by several other Brazilian artists, including Devaney Claro, Júlia Hartung and Pablo Ferretti. 

Perhaps not surprising that my first project has been a map. I carry a large Rio map in my bag and it is my to-go reference for every sight, store, or bus-stop that I need to locate. I'm intrigued by how we make sense of maps in relationship to the real physical space and what these maps reveal and leave out. For example, the favelas don't have any maps. Many of them are not even on the map. The same is true for exclusive government, police or military facilities, which Rio has plenty of. The city has a real temporal and spacial existence. Many of the stores, restaurants and bars have no street presence outside of their open hours. During the time when they are closed, business hide behind unmarked metal shutters and locked impenetrable gates. 
Drawing the map on the back of a large sheet of synthetic leather. Photo by Marta Ferracin. 
Working on the map. It took about a week to cut out all the spaces between the streets.
Wearing the map (half-done). Photo by Ricardo Castro.
I forgot to mention: The map is GOLD. More about this in the next blog entry.