(two or three things I know about her) [in english]1
Item-4, november 1996
It is late afternoon of one of those busy days in which many conflictive tasks are present. And I am having coffee with a (not so close) friend when she suddenly says: “My two favorite artists are Leo(nilson) and Felix (Gonzalez-Torres)”. I notice a certain morbidity in her statement (Gonzalez-Torres died a week before our meeting) but I let it pass by unheard, but what comes next arouses my sensors – I have to react! “They are two poets”, she says.
But I know it is useless to engage myself in any discussion with her, since she belongs to that intellectual contingent who repeatedly and insistently make use of the word “poetic” in order to characterize what they cannot or do not want to discuss openly. It would be an interesting academic piece of work to compile all the words (so empty!) which this intellectual caste uses with complete disrespect to critical precision and rigor (another widely used term is “intuitive”), but this is not my purpose here. Nevertheless, I take some advantage of considering the term “poetic” by way of an introduction.
My aforesaid friend, a plastic artist in her own say, makes constant use of the term “poetic” to describe her own work, as for instance in: “I use diverse materials in order to create a poetic space”. I do not have the slightest idea of what the word “poetic”, under such circumstances, may mean in plain Portuguese. But I can safely say what it hides. In Leonilson’s case, for example, it was used and will be used to wrap his art in a package which masks the nasty odor of homosexuality it gives off Being a homosexual in Brazil is not easy, and Leonilson played his role in the context of the Brazilian plastic arts with bravery and genuine intelligence, always avoiding simplistic classifications. When, at the end of his life and after his death of Aids, a “poetic” cloak was used once more (and it seems it will still be like that in the future), it is not he to blame.
Notwithstanding there is a traditional segment of the Brazilian culture which radically refuses to be “poetical” as well as to gather in ‘schools’ or ‘movements’. Formed by great individualists, this tradition has its origins in the writings of Adolfo Caminha or Lima Barreto, for example, and it reaches the plays of Nelson Rodrigues and the soft porn on a tight budget filmed in São Paulo and Rio (these films belong to two cultural movements still to be duly recognized). More recently it found a new vigor in the plastic arts especially in the works of Victor Arruda and Márcia X.
A constant refusal of letting be seduced by the metaphor is the main characteristic which pervades the works of such unlike artists. The brutal colloquialism, even when highly stylized as in Nelson Rodrigues’ dialogues, as well as the refinement of a direct, almost journalistic plot, as for example Adolfo Caminha’s, share a stoical attitude of avoiding the pitfalls of the artistic conventions in force in their respective periods.
[I a going to call this tradition damned (“danada, in Portuguese), instead of “maldita”, because this word has been contaminated by the French notion of the “maudit” author and, therefore, is presently drained of its original meaning. Besides that, who would ever incline oneself to handle such an impure material (so antimodernist), but Eve’s disinherited sons?]
Although Márcia X and Victor Arruda’s works share countless stylistic and philosophical similarities which can accordingly serve as a fascinating material for a comparative study, I intend to limit myself, for methodological reasons, to Márcia X work.
That what we see before us is a manifestation of a person: herself. If we identify ourselves with some aspects, or even with the work in its entirety, this identification happens to grow gradually after our own inhibitions having been disarmed by the work.
The strength of the contents in a work of art should lie on an accurate aesthetic structure, otherwise the contents fade away through the breaks. In Márcia X’, case, her aesthetic organization is firmly rooted in some of the most controversial branches of the recent history of art, especially the Kinetic Movement of the 1950s, together with elements from other contemporary currents, such as the North American Scatter Art2 and the tendency of the artists of the new generation to work on questions concerning the human body.. Notwithstanding, what is more instigative about these influences upon Márcia X’ work is precisely her revaluation of these styles.
From Kinetic Art, for example, she has conserved its more literal and immediate feature, the ‘kinetics’, and has endowed it with a new meaning. In her work, the ‘movement’ is no longer just an abstract element added to the pictorial or sculptural ground as in Abraham Palatnik’s or Mary Vieira’s works; on the contrary, in Márcia X’ work the idea of movement is directly related to the sheer nature of the idea of movement. In her pieces, the ‘movement’ works as (and/or refers to the physiology of) the object itself, thus revealing the perception of the object as an alive body. Her pieces move not because of an aesthetic necessity, or a tendency to amuse the viewer, but on account of an inherent need in the pieces themselves. In the manner of Jean Tinguely, another Art Kinetic exponent, who distinguished himself within the fact that this role of moralistic intellectual has traditionally been a male privilege. The role of women has been continually relegated to a “poetic” space by the Brazilian culture; in broad outline, women have only been able to opt between being a “muse” or a fragile, ‘intuitive’ artist. Female critical voices are rarely heard in the Brazilian cultural diction. This inversion of the values in the traditional socio-cultural scheme is of vital importance in Márcia X’ work. In the early 1980s, Lauro Cavalcanti and Dinah Guimaraens made a survey of the architecture in Brazilian motels (Arquitetura de Motéis Cariocas. Rio de Janeiro. Editora Espaço, 1982), which worked in the sense of relaxing and unmasking the sterile and rigid posture of the Brazilian (modernist) architectural tradition. Like this study, Márcia X’, work embrace the formidable task of reminding us that not all is sublime (or sublimable) in the field of the Brazilian plastic arts.
The very sources that nourish Márcia X’ imagination indicate the explosive nature which pervades her work. Two out of these sources (objects for sexual simulation and toys for children) are situated in diametrically opposed positions due to social conventions as well as to moral codes. The equation sex/childhood touches a nerve of the social fabric which inevitably arouses the most impassionate reactions. In a certain humorous way one could say that Márcia X’ work operates in an area of the Brazilian sexuality whose chief priestess is Xuxa (doubly “X-rated”?). Although the transformation of the ex-soft-porn star into a children’s idol is a powerful remark about our culture (sex, stardom, childhood), such a phenomenon is still relegated to folklore.
In her work (performances and installations), Márcia X repeatedly assumes an childlike entity. Take, for instance, Arte Erõtica (1993), a group exhibition held at Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM), and her solo exhibition held at Sérgio Porto Gallery (1995), in which the scale of the pieces as well as the choice for installing them at ground level invited the viewer to assume a (physical) posture that would force him/her to observe the pieces from a child’s point of view. For a proper appreciation of her art, the viewer has to regress to a childlike state. This strategy is both passive and active, since it transforms pornographic objects into toys for children and at the same time turns toys into aggressive erotic objects. Márcia X does not explore this strategy in an objective way (after the German Neue Sachlinhkeit1), or from a merely sociological point of view; her perspective is extremely subjective, what imparts an almost autobiographical character to her production, thus releasing the viewer from any guilt. Márcia X makes it clear from the very beginning movement by precisely infusing a chaotic element (a remnant of our most destructive instincts) into that aesthetic, the movement in Márcia X is also used to remind us of our ‘lowest’ instincts.
The ‘movement’ has a disturbing connotation in the context of the plastic arts, since what we expect from an object of art is that it remains static, unmoved before our eyes. There us a bewildering effect when the (art) objects begin to move. They become threatening, vertiginous and we, art lovers for centuries, have always depended on the inert passiveness of the object so that our projections come true in full and without resistance.
On the other hand, it is still possible to argue that in the history of the plastic arts the ‘movement’ has always had an implicit sexual connotation since Eadweard Muybrigde’s photos. Marcel Duchamp made this question more explicit with his painting/charade “Nude Descending a Staircase”, and even in “Le Grand Verre” which, although immovable, delineated the path and the components of a devouring sexual machine.
The outbreak of the eroticism in art began at the start of the 29th century and is doubtless one of the most important politico-cultural strategies ever accomplished, and its subversive meaning is the direct cause for undermining the Victorian moral code. It is practically impossible to imagine much of the contemporary art, including Márcia X’ one, without the work of those precursors, even though the controversy which aroused some years ago about the work of, to cite an example, Robert Mappletorne (or even Kiki Smith’s or David Wojnarowicz’s), indicates that there is still a lot of resistance when myths and taboos related to human body are dissected.
What makes Márcia X’ work remarkable in a certain way, in comparison to most artists of the Body Art, is the lack of mustiness or even anger which characterizes much of the production of this movement. It is unlikely that anyone may charge her with suffering of the ‘penis envy’, or with being a ‘recalcitrant feminist’, since her art is not accusatory, let alone divisive or defiant; her sculptures, for instance, made out of dildos, first of all have a more celebratory and an almost religious character. With equal doses of charm and tenacity, Márcia X created a rare niche for herself in the scenery of the plastic arts, which gives her a political voice linked to her artistic creation.
In her reformulation of the kinetic art, Márcia X brings the questions peculiar to that tradition to an extremely personal level. After all, it is she who originally manipulates the objects; in her performances it is implied that the pieces are her personal objects. In Lovely Babies, there is a moment when Márcia X, after having suggested a delivery, pulls the doll’s head and throws it to the audience. This simulation of the Mother Goddess, sexy, vengeful, castrator, is simultaneously fascinating and frightening: it is Medea coated with a morbid sense of humor.
This performable aspect of her work is in the end what brings the personal character of her work to the foreground. Márcia X does not hide herself (or disappear) behind either a smoke screen (mystification) or an aesthetic organization (revelation); on the contrary, the question of the authorship is taken on as an integral part of the work. The objects are like extensions of her own body, and even her body is also part of the work. Its presence functions as an element of uniting the work. It is most improbable that someone can see Márcia X as an articulator of a style or even as a produce or a new series of work, in the same way our favorite artists are generally considered. Her production is so personal that it becomes unforeseeable. Hence the necessity of considering Márcia X and her production as a whole; a sort of Gesamtkunstwerk3 in itself. This process of assuming a persona usually requires that the initiate be rebaptized, and this is a probably the reason why Márcia Pinheiro calls herself Márcia X. What is a name, then? Is it something that indicates a fate, an archetype? If this premise is accepted, then her transformation from Pinheiro to X has to be extremely significant; like a Daphne’s myth turned upside down, Márcia rejects the vegetative world in order to assume an active sexual life. This rite of passage is in the end what giver Márcia X’ work its political dimension, since the manifestation of this kind of work invariably presupposes that a public position is taken, its articulation and its respective liabilities are assumed.
1 Neue Schalichkeit (New Objectivity) refers to the beginning-of-the-century aesthetic tendency defended by the German photographer August Sanders. This movement, extremely significant for the photography, furthered the documentary and social side of the art(s), to the disadvantage of the subjective expression, and survives today in Hilla and Bernd Becher’s works as well as in the works by its most outstanding followers; Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky.
2 The North American Scatter Art is rooted in Barry Le Va’s post-minimalism. In the early 1990s it was resumed by some artists interested in installations, like Cady Noland, Karen Kilimnik and Mike Kelley.
3 Gesamtkunstwerk (total or organic work of art) is a widely used term which defines the work by artists, like Joseph Beuys, who do not separate their private person from the public persona; on the contrary, they fuse these opposites and use its fusion as material for their works.