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Untitled (selected Brazil works)
Exhibited in Perfect / Imperfect, Galerie Andreas Schmidt, Berlin, 2017 [with Penelope Umbrico and Mariken Wessels, curated by David Evans]
The Mangueira favela, prominently situated alongside a concrete highway and the Brutalist Maracanã stadium, is home to the famous Samba School from which Rio’s carnival originated, and also the site of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticia’s 1960s experimental Parangolés - “habitable” and “active” colour-structures in space that have both a tactile-corporal and a visual dimension and are meant to convey the total yet fleeting experience of colour in action [The Body of Colour, Tate, 2007].
At the Vila Olímpica da Mangueira - a social project in the favela - I encounter a troupe of rhythmic gymnasts and spend time with them exploring their vibrant body culture as well as the broader politics of their situation. The Mangueira gymnasts and I have no common language. We discover a connection through a shared passion for gymnastics, music and movement. Funding for gymnastic coaching (and for a future art project) collapses after a series of political / corporate corruption scandals. However the girls still train in the corporate colours of Petrobras, the disgraced state petroleum company, linked to the (subsequent) downfall of the Brazilian government. The tightly choreographed gymnastic performances of these young Carioca girls embody many group identities: they simultaneously speak of locality, race, class, gender and nationality. Their elaborate performance costumes are hand–made by their mothers and grandmothers. The favela ‘make do and mend’ approach prevails.
In the spirit of favela living I re-purpose a cheap scanning wand purchased on Ebay. I pare back my representations of their body movements, removing the literal, and leaving an abstraction of colour, movement and form, as shaped by favela life. I develop a potent archive of body scans – particular, but not specific: individual girls deliberately unidentifiable in the resulting flattened 2D images. National and team identities are stripped away to expose passion, flair, the tough reality of their lived experience, and their dynamic agency.
I invite the girls and their families to the opening of a work-in-progress exhibition at my studio at Largo das Artes. They rarely come to Centro (the old business centre of Rio), and it is their first time in an art gallery. They are not intimidated and engage enthusiastically with my projections and the work of the other studio artists. On my return to the UK I produce New Order (Brazil), a cluster of small quasi-abstract dye-sublimation prints made direct to aluminium, whose shimmery effect de-stabilises a sense of time, body form and place. The other body scans are printed as colour copies, and compiled into multiple workbooks, a physical record of a digital archive awaiting further activation.
The images here are a selection made in response to an invitation to exhibit at Galerie Andreas Schmidt. They are presented as a counterpoint to my other exhibited work, Twelve bitches, 2003.