Some time ago, when I expressed my interest in a work by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei – a porcelain plate on which he imprinted the image of the corpse of Aylan Kurdi (the little Syrian boy found dead on a Turkish beach in 2015) – someone asked me : “why do you like this exploration of the pain of others? Could you eat on that plate?” I didn't respond to the provocation for having more to do, but the answer stuck in my throat until today: "Of course not, boy, that's not a dish, it's a work of art." arte!"
The episode came back to my mind when visiting the Dora Longo Bahia exhibition at Galeria Vermelho (São Paulo, on display until August 24). Dora is an artist who also usually goes straight to the point and the show, which could be titled, for example, “In the heat of the hour” (or even “Front to crime”, among many other titles), appropriates an interjection which, equally, expresses the urgency of the current moment, the anger and perplexity that arise when we are daily trampled by the most perverse debacle that has occurred all over the world (and in Brazil today). Produced “in the heat of the moment”, “in front of crime”, the exhibition is called Ka'rai – a tupi word. However, in phonetic terms, it sounds like a very current interjection in Brazil, meaning, at the same time, anger and indignation at images that denounce injustice, pain and revolts.
Dora, like so many artists nowadays, collects photographic images that reach her through the most diverse means: newspapers, magazines, internet, etc. From the use she makes of some of them, the artist presents works that are often of a disconcerting rawness.
Em A Girl A Gun – American Shot, 2015, Dora presents a series of 195 drawings produced from stills of films in which actresses are shown holding weapons in an American shot. In Paradise – Consolation, 2019, a collection of portrait drawings of indigenous Brazilians, images that fix the viewer, originally conceived to be transformed into banners to be placed on the central median of Avenida Paulista, in São Paulo. In Revolutions (calendar design), 2016, the artist presents 12 drawings produced from photographs that marked revolutions that took place in different parts of the planet, following the monthly sequence in which they occurred.
What seems to unite these three works – collections that belong to the collection of images collected by Dora –, in addition to the states of tension that emerge from them, is the fact that they are the result of a translation work produced by the artist. All the images that constitute them are graphic productions, autographs, of photographic images.
I think that the main issue in Dora Longo Bahia's practice lies in her refusal to be deceived by the speed with which the photographic image (notably that of a journalistic nature) is treated by the media. Any image, regardless of the potency of its meaning, tends to be quickly replaced by another and another, preventing everyone from perceiving its meaning and, in the limit, transforming the reality that the photo registered into a mere index of itself. Another focus of interest of the artist is reacting on another characteristic manifest in most of these images: their configuration from visual structures elevated to the cliché that, when repeated indefinitely, reinforce this ability of photography to transform itself into a pure signifier.
It is against these characteristics of photography that records disasters, rebellions, violence, that Dora takes a stand, strategically granting to the photographic trace of origin the density of the drawing as a result of a human action, of the human body. The line, sometimes incisive, sometimes fragile, on paper transforms the photographic image into a work, as a result of an all-too-human operation that tries to seek/recover a meaning, some depth in what, in origin, seems to be pure surface.
But is this art? No, that's what art is (to use an expression from Ronaldo Brito). One of the possibilities of art today, after the end of art. And it's not from today, or it's not from Dora's practice that art has been showing that this is what it is. Andy Warhol, when he managed to re-signify the Mona Lisa turning it into an allegory of death, demonstrated that art was what it was. Geraldo de Barros, when repainting photographic images of outdoors also; as well as Wei Wei, when migrating the photographic image of little Aylan Kurdi to the porcelain plate.
More Ka'rai is not restricted to these three works. Fogo, 2019, which reproduces 10 photographs of the facades of Brazilian cultural institutions recently consumed by fires on aluminum thermal blankets, although it does not use the drawing strategy to reconfigure the meaning of the images, it is also committed to the artist’s refusal to let herself be alienated. by the succession of images of this type of disaster, already made “natural” by the media. By reproducing the supposedly innocuous photos on material similar to that used by firefighters in rescuing victims of catastrophes, Dora gives them the dramatic dimension that they began to carry after the results of the disasters of which they were victims.
lava Jato, 2018, in turn, is the most controversial work in the exhibition: a series of 98 interventions made on pages full of color photographs taken from a pornographic magazine. On the pages, the artist paints other images of photographic origin, simulating b&w photos taken from newspapers and magazines. Below them, words or expressions that do not necessarily have a direct relationship with the painted or printed images, but that make reference to the different phases through which the operation passed.
Looking at the whole, it seems impossible not to establish relationships between the photos that depict mechanical and bureaucratic sex scenes, the paintings about them – strange paradoxes between “expressiveness” and “anonymity” – and the operation that gives the work its name (even more so now, after the episodes involving the protagonists of that investigation, which have been revealed by the website Intercept Brazil).
Mere pamphlet work? I don't think so. Controversy? Undoubtedly, but perhaps as much for the political content it reveals, as for the complexity of records used by Dora (photography; painting; words; expressions) to configure the work – which, of course, does not fail to support the political dimension of the work. herself and the artist's commitment to the here and now.
I would like to mention two more works by the artist present in Ka'rai: Escape (Third voice) e Escape (Subject), both from 2019 and having as one of the points of contact between them the fact that, in order to apprehend them in their entirety, the interested party must use an Augmented Reality application.
Very interesting, in itself, the fact that Dora, known for painting and drawing, makes use of a procedure so current, of a technology so new that not everyone still knows how to use it (I myself am one who does not know , or did not know). This availability for new technologies, in my view, is another positive point of the exhibition, as it demonstrates that, for the artist, there is no prejudice regarding recent technologies and, much more than that, that they are used because Dora knew how to insert them to his poetics and not the other way around (as so many artists do out there).
Se Escape (Third voice) suffers from a certain sentimentality that is barely visible in the artist's production, for me there is no doubt that Escape (Subject) it is one of the best works on display: on the gallery's black-painted façade, a large red brushstroke gives way to the face of a screaming woman, if the visitor uses the app. A work that says well what she came to, which summarizes the artist's horror when faced with crime, the crimes perpetrated daily and of which we are sometimes victims and almost always accomplices.
 - Ka'rai means scratch and is at the origin of the word crab (in turn, synonymous with caracara which, for the artist, would have to do with condor, reference to one of the works in the show, The condor and the carcará, 2019),