Saturday, November 14th. Exactly eight months after a confinement taken very seriously, I visit the first art exhibition. I choose the Sesc Pompeii for being one of the most welcoming places in the city, for the architecture of Lina Bo Bardi, for the exhibitions on display. Exhibitions are usually the place of surprise, amazement, research, questioning, it is where you can review everyday life, rethink the real, propose new worlds, and also the possibility of fantasy and activism.
But in a world in pandemic, which in Brazil has become a policy of death, what does it mean to return to an exhibition of contemporary art? Can you look at art with a mask, fear of approaching other people and the impossibility of touching the work? Or is an exhibition experience compromised and its architecture and organization can no longer follow pre-March 11, 2020 parameters, when the WHO announced the pandemic?
Since the 1980s, with AIDS, the art world has incorporated the idea of “contamination” as a positive statement and the word has flooded curatorial, critical and even exhibition description texts. Perhaps now is the time to review the use of that word, especially since it is clear that contamination is everywhere, even taking into account the necessary sanitary measures, and it remains deadly.
on the visit to sesc, the measurements are given by the limited number of visitors, who can only enter with prior registration, and by the temperature measurement at the entrance. The place, moreover, is a large place, with a lot of ventilation, another important aspect that makes contamination difficult.
Sesc Pompeia has two exhibitions on display, which will continue until the end of January: farce. Language, Fracture, Fiction: Brazil–Portugal e Kader Attia – Irreparable Repairs. As an experience, and I believe this is important now more than ever, the exhibition of the Franco-Algerian artist seemed to me more suited to the present time, despite both having been conceived and designed in the pre-pandemic world.
An exhibition that talks about repair, such as Attia's, is very current, based on his poetics in approaching colonial legacies, especially their repercussions in Africa, and the possible resignifications of objects and actions of violence. It's the case of the video Mimesis as resistance, where birds reproduce the sounds of motorbikesrras, the machines of destruction of nature, an irony about how victims assume the discourse of power.
Attia's works, moreover, often create environments that refer to a post-apocalyptic situation, which in 2020, seems very close with the increasingly intense alarms of climate catastrophe and the escalation of devastation in the Amazon. This scenario is an explicit reference in the installation with scorched and burned wooden masks and sculptures, originally sold to tourists in Africa, and which refer to the fire at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro in 2018. The power of the artist's work is in be a synthesis of several exposed problems of a world on the brink of the abyss.
Part of the power of the show, curated by German Carolin Köchling, is precisely in bringing the stories of vulnerable groups, whether peoples colonized by other countries, trans women's collectives, or survivors of the 1st World War, in a year that the entire planet became vulnerable to catastrophe.
And it's very moving to hear, in the video Reflecting the memory (2016), on the need to experience grief, based on testimonies about Phantom Limb Syndrome, when people who have had their body parts amputated continue to feel these limbs. When the world has already passed 1,5 million deaths due to COVID-19, Attia's work becomes a reflection on the pandemic itself and shows terror as an everyday construction in human history. But there is also hope, as in the sculpture Chaos + Repair, a globe constructed from pieces of broken mirrors sewn together by metal threads, a bit like the feeling of someone who has crossed 2020.
The show has few works spread across seven rooms and a generous architecture, which conveys a feeling of security, on the one hand, and the possibility of total apprehension, on the other. It is especially from this perspective that Farce becomes a kind of antithesis of what could be a show nowadays. It would have been a great show under “normal conditions”, but since they don't exist, the question is why the curatorship, in charge of Marta Mestre and Pollyana Quintella, didn't rethink it for the moment.
There are from interactive works to many monitors that require the use of headphones placed in the space, but without adequate hygiene conditions. Why venture to pick up an object that other people may have touched without cleaning it?
The concept of the show revolves around the limits of language and communication, focusing on artists working in Brazil and Portugal, in two periods: in the 1960s/70s and in the 21st century. the search for the expansion of art to new fields beyond the circuit itself, an attitude that lost space in the following decades, only to return in recent years. These are important periods of renewal, transformation and transgression.
The problem is that the ambitious show has an encyclopedic character: more than a hundred works by 68 artists, the size of a biennial. All of this takes time and concentration that is somewhat difficult in the new context, with limited visits, when it is not possible to watch videos in small rooms, when it is not possible to manipulate works.
Farce It is a very well-crafted language exercise, but I believe that the moment is now one of synthesis, not dispersion. Therefore, Irreparable Repairs gains power. It manages to forcefully express relevant issues, which if they already deserved attention before 2020, are now urgent.