Photograph from the series "Heart, mirror of the flesh". Photo: Miguel Rio Branco, courtesy of IMS Paulista.

PCrosswords, Dreamed, Torn, Stolen, Used, Bleeded provides indications of what the new exhibition is about in its title, in the Moreira Salles Institute, by Miguel Rio Branco, one of the most relevant names in contemporary Brazilian photography. Also engaged in painting, visual arts and installations, he has been photographing less and less, therefore, the works that make up Crosswords they are, as the photographer himself calls them, his “new old things”. In this unorthodox retrospective – organized by the artist himself and by Thyago Nogueira, curator and editor of ZUM magazine – we get a taste of the emblematic images of Rio Branco and his “eroticized cornea”.

the visit to Crosswords is another walk through Miguel's cities, his urban and collective experience, with all its contradictions, with all its violence; “forged, by flesh, skin, saliva, sweat, blood, nerve, moans, vertigo, coming from boxers, prostitutes, boys, the elderly, dogs, who live among knives, drinks, cigarettes, scars and tattoos, and inhabit the regions where the cities still pulsate”, as you observe curator Luisa Duarte in the critical text of the show. In this direction, Nogueira also comments: “The city is the stage for the encounter of a series of issues, cultures, smells, flavors, people, totally improbable. How many metropolises he circled… I look at these images today and I hope that we have not lost this reality, so that it still has a meaning”, he adds.

One of three component images of "Billy's Triptych". Photo: Miguel Rio Branco, courtesy of IMS Paulista.
One of three component images of “Billy's Triptych”. Photo: Miguel Rio Branco, courtesy of IMS Paulista.

For the curator, it would be difficult to imagine the personal interactions captured by Rio Branco in the aseptic world in which we had to isolate ourselves because of Covid-19. In relation to the virus and the necessary adaptations to be able to reopen the exhibition – with the health standards respected -, Nogueira explains that the most significant changes took place in the institute's building. A circulation route, scheduled visiting hours, availability of gel alcohol by IMS Paulista and a limit of people per room were indicated.

the planning of Crosswords, despite the setbacks, did not suffer so much from the pandemic. In theory, the exhibition would open to the public in April, shortly before restrictions are applied at the national level. With that, the team was well on its way to concluding the show, whose final details were resolved by video calls with the photographer.

One point that perhaps permeates the quarantine is the removal of printed materials from the show. Even the continuity of the catalogs will be evaluated, due to a market already injured before the pandemic and injured even more by it, considering the lack of movement of people through bookstores and a drop in the sale of photobooks, a particularly negative point in this case, since that Rio Branco treats the making of photobooks as a separate work – in fact, in the exhibition catalog you can see some slides, some more melted than others, survivors of a fire that burned a good part of the photographer’s archive in the 1980s. In the previous decade, nothe beginning ofthe 1970s is when the journey through Crosswords; swill everyday records of New York, in black and white, that anticipate various marks of the artist, the striking contrasts and sharp diagonals, for example. Having started his career as a painter, Miguel began to explore photography and cinema: in 1970, at the age of 24, he went to New York City, to the School of Visual Arts, where he stayed for just a month before deciding to make his own explorations of New York with street photography.

Untitled, from the "New York Sketches" series. Photo: Miguel Rio Branco, courtesy of IMS Paulista.
Untitled, from the “New York Sketches” series. Photo: Miguel Rio Branco, courtesy of IMS Paulista.

In these 50-year-old images, their marginal theme is also recognizable, as noted by Luisa Duarte"In the first two photos that open the sequence, we see what can be considered cliché images of the city — the Empire State Building and the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It is worth noting how both appear displaced from their natural vocation as postcards — in the first, the top of the building is deformed; in the second, the towers appear in the background, still under construction, occupying only the left side of the photo, while, in the foreground, what is seen is an open field in which a house stands on wheels, made of reused materials. There seems to be more interest on the part of the artist in what happens on the ground floor than on top of the immense buildings”.

“I see that most of the population is marginal. I was attracted by human situations that shocked me and that at the same time attracted me because there was a vital force of resistance there.”

After all, the urban environment that allows encounters and stimulates the vivacity mentioned by Thyago is the same that puts exclusion under a microscope, a world of social inequalities on steroids. It is a complicated ambiguity to take a chance on, a tightrope between protest and embellishment of tragedy, visibility and fetish, shock and attraction, call to action and hopelessness. The challenge is multiplied by counting that each photograph in the exhibition is added to another in a constant exercise of the Kuleshov effect. For Nogueira, in addition to Rio Branco's ability to capture moments and their composition, it is worth noting the constant reconstruction of these scenes in larger works, the "new old ones", reassembled to provoke each time a new reaction in those who watches them.

There are huge panels, some monochromatic, like the big red wall at the back of the room. “Color is never used just for the sake of color, it has to have a connection with a part of either the pain or the pleasure that the image is bringing”, says Miguel. She takes on an even larger role as time passes in the exhibition; although not a retrospective in the literal sense, Crosswords allows a look through a chronological line, to which Thyago establishes the following reflection: “The great thing about Miguel is that over time he was cutting the documentary ballast of the image, he was removing from the image everything that connected it to the context in which it was made”. The curator explains that “in 1970s and 1980s, for example, he still uses 35mm, which is a more agile type of image, taken with the camera on his stomach, because he goes over the scene, he almost leans over the scenes and captures that with his heat of the moment. Then, progressively, he changed the 35mm in the 1990s for the 6×6, which generated much more composed images, until an almost sublimation of the image itself and the idea of ​​narrative in the frame, so the image became almost abstract”.

Photograph from the series "Monalisa". Photo: Miguel Rio Branco, courtesy of IMS Paulista.
Photograph from the series “Monalisa”. Photo: Miguel Rio Branco, courtesy of IMS Paulista.

Can these provocations occur outside the show? For Thyago, the concentration of those who observe the photograph is independent of the physical space, although the “exhibition offers another scale. You make the person enter an architectural space to feel something, you envelop them inside a capsule”. It “puts a more physical struggle with the body,” he says.

“The perception and impact you have of an image on this scale in relation to your observation, to your physical body, to the proportion that things take on within the image, but also what that causes you, in the displacement, in the looks.”

About Crosswords, he notes more specifically: “It's very different from what you have from Miguel's work, seeing the works with a book in his lap. In the exhibition we have, for example, an installation, this is a kind of physical experience that I think is the great thing about the exhibitions: to engage the spectator, the spectator's body in the experience”. The artist's thinking on the matter is in line with Thyago's speech, adding that “going to an exhibition is not a social act, it is an individual act; an individual act of the person with that work he is going to see”.

Rio Branco, in his speech, reinforces the commitment to contemplation. A more or less attentive look at a detail in Crosswords it can be crucial, after all we are talking about works that establish relationships of meaning among themselves and that together compose a second work. “I really wanted to focus on the issue of syntax, on the way he articulates the images and builds a reasoning, he builds these visual phrases, which are the product of the combinations and the way of editing the work, which I think is very original”, says Thyago .

Enemy to contemplation is the “Mundo Cassino” that Luísa Duarte names, also in her critical text in the exhibition catalogue. A place, perhaps a point of space-time, where and when there is a “monotonous stimulus that anesthetizes rather than calibrates or stimulates perception”. A world that incessantly praises acceleration, wakefulness, and is the enemy of idleness, sleep, dream, imagination, being, thus, disenchanted. It's hard to imagine a golden age that anticipated this “Casino World”, but the difficulties of 24/7 logic and the fourth commercial revolution are palpable even in art. For Rio Branco, it became an element linked to the market, to a large part of marketing, “that thing you think about, but it doesn't have an aesthetic consistency”, and laments: “The gallery convinces the curators, and collectors, that this is a fantastic thing and doesn't let the art mature for a long time. herself”.

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