Considerations on “Between the Wall and the Sidewalk Shifting Boards”
Prologue: More than to mediate the proximity of the spectator with the art works and the artist’s processes, the present lines try to theoretically go deeper into certain aspects not always clear in what one may see at a first sight in the one-woman exhibition. They wish, this way, to verify other layers of existing senses of the art works, thus dialoguing with the recent art theory, with Goeldi’s “nocturn imaginariun” and with both installation/immersion polarities in the virtual spaces.
1. In 1979, Rosalind Krauss wrote a seminal essay for the theory of art, named “The sculpture in a broad spectrum”. In the essay, she commented that the regular use of the term “sculpture” between the years of 1960 and 1970, contributed to the straining of its sense: on that context, art works very distant of a consensual notion of what could be considered a sculpture were included in that artistic category. As a consequence, Krauss came to the conclusion that, in what we understand today as contemporary art, “the praxis is no longer defined in relation to determined means of expression – sculpture –, but in relation to logical operations within a set of cultural terms for which several means – photography, books, lines on the walls, etc. – may be used”. This way, in order for the artists not having to report to a specific means with their materials and procedures, (the term) is supposed to represent the wish to assume a more transdisciplinary attitude and, not rarely, of an experimental character. In order to paraphrase Krauss’ title, the series of works belonging to the exhibition called Between the Wall and the Sidewalk Shifting Boards should be understood as an example of “a printmaking in a broad spectrum”, since it declares an intrinsic relation not only in the appearance but in the procedures as well, with a few languages of the so called artistic engraving. Nevertheless, if Sonia Távora speaks about a process in which painting and engraving do mix – and this already evidences a certain hybridism –, one shall highlight that the processual operations in these works essentially have less to do with painting but get close to the woodcut engraving – a technique in which the image is engraved on a wood surface that will receive ink and be printed, after what it will be reproduced over a paper sheet (in a mirrored position). But here, the matrix itself is the image and there is no interest on reproducing what is engraved. Not being one thing nor the other, and not presenting a rigor in the processes used in each technique (what many times is employed and defended as something essential by many engraving practioners that still believe on virtuosism or purity feelings), and not making use of the pattern support – for the artist makes use of corrugated cardboard of low value, with a merely utilitarian function of a dischargeable nature –, Sonia Távora subverts the engraving tradition, creating her own way of working and using her own language, both methods incorporated into the poetic and conceptual fields of the work.
2. The cutting crosses the substance, severs the black surface and brings the light out. All the trimming on the material is, in essence, a tearing glimmer that not only runs over the surface but deeply penetrates the space. Such “rip” shows certain details of the subjects and the space occupied by them; they define – by contrast – an atmosphere. Master in how to achieve such aesthetic profundity, Oswaldo Goeldi contributed enormously to the constitution of the imaginary on the artistic woodcut produced in Brazil. In 1924, the artist said: “Each trace is a piece of nerve exposing the vehemence of a brut heart.” More than a simple cut and a proof of the drawing over the matrix, the lines give to Goeldi’s images a strong-willed, forceful atmosphere, untimely, depressive: images that represent sleeping towns, their mansions, posts and sidewalks, a few solitary silhouettes wandering by its wilderness, an unfinished, instable space. It was not a world of
certainties, but a displaced environment, so typical of an expressionist temper. The critic Paulo Venâncio Filho ensures: “The interstices by which Goeldi went through, the landscapes that he discovered, have revealed a live and disturbing atmosphere, where one does not choose the ways wanted to follow and follows the ones that are not avoidable. The interior disorientation and symptom is also an interior bewilderment; time abandons the wander and a parallel digress to nature not finding a substantive for the social urban life.” The existing spaces “Between the Wall and the Sidewalk Shifting Boards” remember the nocturne visions of Goeldi’s urban landscapes. But what in Goeldi is an expressionist cut, in a domestic scale (the small dimensions which belong to the engraving tradition and the modernist circuit known as “atelier-gallery-residence”), here is a projective cut, in human scale (it transforms itself into installation, in a work that incorporates the walls and the volumetry of the gallery). Sonia Távora’s education in architecture and urbanism does not allow us to perpetrate equivoques: there is a trace which builds, balances the light and shaded areas, and organizes these urban elements in a differing mode of the expressionist artist. There is still a little narrative to be imagined by means of these solitary individuals that wander on the dark surface of the printing over the paper; here is an installed space, absent of human traces, but completely available to be imaginarily occupied by the spectator that, this way, builds his own story.
3. Virtuality was an aspect exhaustively explored by different ways in the elapse of the history of art. For Oliver Grau, the illusion functions in two ways: “First, there is the classic illusion that is the ludic and the conscious submission to the appearance, i.e., the aesthetic pleasure of the illusion; second, the temporary inhibition (by the intensification of the effects of the suggestive image and by the appearance) of the perception of the difference between reality and the imagistic space.” In this process, the suggestive power of the images reaches, for a determined time, the produce of its effects: one can think the rupestrian paintings of the Lascaux Cavern, or the walls of the temples and the Egyptian mortuary chambers, or the Pompeii residences; the perspective paintings of the Renascence; the ceilings of the baroque churches, or else the XIX Century panorama. Nevertheless, to think the virtuality today is to consider a series of experiences with immersive spaces, mainly from the technologies that contrast immensely with the most traditional means of art. This is not the Between the Wall and the Sidewalk Shifting Boards case. When installing the huge panels of corrugated cardboard to the walls of the gallery, Sonia Távora, in a certain way, recovers these different manners by which the mural paintings occupied and transformed the architecture spaces. Here we are, at the same time visitors of the gallery, spectators of the cardboard panels and virtual wanderers on the spaces suggested by the artist; images that insinuate urban environments, fragments of places of what is defined as a recognizable location. Nevertheless, if there is the perception of the illusion to which not only the appearance but the configuration of the works as well can induce, when exposing in the center of the room the “rests” of its procedures, the fragments of the cardboard extracted from the surface during the process of construction of the image, the artist “breaks the illusion” (let’s put it this way), thus transforming, in fact, the virtuality of the space into an illusion and not as a reality possible. This way, the spectator is confronted all the time with a double impossibility: first, to visually embrace all the installation at a sole glance (what can only happen through the temporal apprehension of the fragments); second, to elaborate a complete fusion of the represented image with the environment that holds it (the gallery), since the conflict between image, support and real space contributes to a permanent polarization of such instances.