* By Rodrigo Neves
One of the last series made by Mira Schendel became known as Monochrome (1986/1987). These were wooden surfaces worked with plaster, forming slight unevenness, and painted with white or black tempera. The light shadow created by the reliefs produced optical lines that subtly differed from other lines, traced with an oil stick. At the time Mira was almost 70 years old and needed the help of assistants to make bigger works. The artist Fernando Bento, one of her assistants, says that she used to point out the white traces left in the sky by the planes, in an attempt to show him more clearly the type of relationship she sought to establish between the surfaces and the two kinds of lines that ran. For them.
I think that this episode reveals with precision and lyricism the notion of form that presided over Mira Schendel's works and the links she sought between the different elements used to produce them. Regardless of the physical condition of the Monochrome differed from natural space and its phenomena, within certain limits they aimed to obtain similar connections.
The drawings on rice paper that he made in the mid-1960s – more than two thousand and, in my view, mistakenly identified as monotypes – are among Mira's works that best reveal these concerns. Even his technique of realization emphasizes the concern of not operating on the surface of the papers, externally. Made “from behind”, the drawings emerged from the porous paper’s own weave, like an organic material – fungi, for example – that could be confused with its texture. However, few times such fragile lines have produced interventions with such intensity.
In these drawings, the feeling of belonging – of something that was not imposed on the support – was only fulfilled by their ability to accentuate the presence of the medium that sheltered them (rice paper), something that the drawing tradition rarely took into account. During this period, Mira practically worked for herself and for a restricted circle of friends who supported those experiences. In 1989, after the artist's death, these works were still selling for $100!
In a sense, Paul Klee – whose work Mira knew well – would be the modern artist closest to her concerns. Mira shares with him the modesty of dimensions, the discreet presence, the economy of interventions and a charm for wise relationships, capable of calmly bringing disparate elements together. And then the lines of the drawings were led to approach writing. The search for meaning through such precise inscriptions brought a singular movement – the individual hand acting on paper – closer to broader meanings, which would lead from graphics to letter and word. Intense experiences aim at a public sphere, and the universality of language then unfolded naturally, as if expression and meaning gradually tended to coincide.
However, when words acquire greater autonomy, leaving aside their link with hand movements and acquiring the generality of concepts, Mira Schendel once again returns them to a situation full of ambiguities.
In 1959 – with the publication of the Neoconcrete Manifesto -, several artists who had taken part in the concrete movement began to criticize its rationalist dogmatism and defend an art that gives greater importance to the empirical, the sensual and the subjective. However, I believe that, even moving away from Max Bill's dogmatism, several neo-concrete artists remain operating with a notion of form supported by clearly apprehensible logical concatenations. At Drugs reveal very well the relationships that the artist sought between experience and meaning. Mira had already transformed writing into quasi-things, in her graphics on rice paper. To then transpose them to space in the Graphic Objects.
However, I also believe that establishing easy affiliations between his works and the history of Brazilian art can lead to misunderstandings. An art history as sparse as ours must serenely accept solitary paths, routes that do not have an easily identifiable origin or clear developments: Oswaldo Goeldi, Guignard, Bakun, Iberê Camargo and many others.
As much as Mira occasionally returned to tonalism and the search for a pleasant approximation between beings and things, it seems clear to me that, from the drawings onwards - that is, after the mid-1960s - there are other criteria that the guide. the slats – which, together with the Monochrome, are part of his last works – they keep the memory of drawings from the 1960s: black on white, ambiguities between plane and surface, a certain slowness in the differentiation of things. are, with the Monochrome, his larger works. But they also seem to be a testament: in those troubled years - in which the demonstrations against the military dictatorship gained strength and in which a more powerful public sphere was beginning to be constituted in the country - the possibility of non-violently bringing people together required the configuration of individualities. with greater potency.
In 1987, after carrying out the Monochrome and battens, Mira begins to make works with brick powder and glue, in dimensions similar to those of the last two series, in a space provided by the gallery owner Paulo Figueiredo, her dealer and friend. And then come the light tonal passages and the creased invoice of some regions. The artist seemed to want to atone for a fault, and on a scale similar to the one on which she let herself be carried away by temptations.
Rodrigo Neves is a critic and art historian