"X": Journeys of someone who is beyond equations [in english]
Concinnitas. UERJ Art Institute Magazine
Ricardo Basbaum

Márcia X presents a problem to us which cannot be solved through ordinary mathematical equations or calculations of rigid methodologies: the "x" which has accompanied her name since 1985 is more than a first degree unknown quantity adorning her name. The unavoidable effect of this situation seems to be that of a mystery which one does not want to solve - not due to a caprice, but because it is necessary from the start to bet on another way other than the automatic and predictable one: Márcia's "X" demands no solution, answer or finishing, but a continuous postponement until the next stage. When we whistle for Márcia X., it is not our intention to look for a "generalizing equation of the human race", but to have one's attention drawn to one of the most interesting issue-raising agents I have ever met, to someone who has included a particle ("x") to her name which indicates a search for ways bordering the world of all things related to everyday life and its regions where their transgressing potencialities can be concealed.
"Hello, is this Márcia X.?"
"Yes, it's me. What can I do for you?"
"Just to comment that you are bound to be placed as the key figure in the Brazilian art".
The x-particle was added to Márcia Pinheiro's name as a sequel to the performance "Cellofane Motel Suite" , co-presented with the polypoet Alex Hamburger at the Feira Internacional do Livro do Rio de Janeiro [Rio de Janeiro Book Biennial], at the time (1985) held at the Shoppping Fashion Mall, in the neighborhood of São Conrado. Márcia wore, and displayed, a double layer of "Não-Roupas" [Non-Clothes], made of plastic bags: a black layer of "non-clothes" covered another layer of transparent "non-clothes". While Hamburger, dressed as a sandwich man, read one of his poems out, he started to cut the first layer (black), thus revealing little by little the second layer (transparent): something covering but not concealing Márcia's naked body, which was visible under the transparent plastic layer. Their non-authorized performance was held at a commercial temple of literature. And no matter how educated their attitude was, the ultra-informed and avant-garde artists of the duo felt there would have no place for them there. The security guards in the fair were absolutely furious at the performance and their intervention culminated in a revolver being pointed at the almost naked artist and her partner, the experimental poet. On the following day, the newspapers printed on their pages what happened as just another exotic incident which makes tiresome readers laugh. The point is that another woman also called Márcia Pinheiro, a fashion designer, did not like to see her name linked to that scandal and decided to send society columnists a note which read: "I dress people while this woman [one can notice here a certain blasé tone of contempt the socialite used to refer to the avant-garde artist, tuned with to her time] undress herself". Obviously, to avoid having her image associated with the famous designer, Márcia proceeded to attach an "X" to her name, coupling herself for good with the particle which indicates a continuous movement, a permanent alertness to something still undone, to something more yet to be done.
Several activities, productions, interventions, performances, etc Márcia X. realized together with Alex Hamburger, between 1985 and 1990 are memorable. It's quite possible to make a list of at least seven works of unparalleled incisiveness and unequal daring (for the moment), in which the duo presented (and sharpened) strategies in order to discuss whether it would be acceptable to artists from the mid 1980's or not to retake some aspects of the (neo) avant-garde model. Let's keep something in mind: those were times when the oil crises belonged to the past and the Gulf War, to the future, that is to say, a period of conservative economic euphoria which preceded the awareness of the communicational simulacrum - all that amidst the reactionary, "slow and gradual" process of the Brazilian political opening. With their activities, M.X.&A.H. marked an important and alternative position to those artists who firmly and "naïvely" endorsed the maneuvers which reconveyed art to the trail of the "correct and safe economic investment". By filtering motivations from Dada&etc (with Duchamp-Cage-Fluxus in the background) M.X.&A.H.'s performances invaded in and off spaces, many times without asking for consent. Daring and lucidity were not absent in "Tricyclage" (1987), carried out at the concert in homage to John Cage, at Sala Cecília Meireles (Rio de Janeiro). While 97% of the audience showed reverence for the composer of "4´33"", Márcia and Alex had an eye to doing something else. Without letting anyone know it - not even Cage himself, who was there - they mounted the stage and pedaled tricycles while a piece for pianos was being played. At that precise moment, "Winter Music" was renamed "Música para dois velocípedes e pianos" [Music for two tricycles and pianos]. What M.X.&A.H. did was precise and punctual. As they reported on the occasion: "we are alert; we know that art languages conquer their experimental density by dint of an invasive and excessive availability which is not supposed to wait for official permission".
It is out of the universe of the references to the tradition of the avant-garde movement that "As Anthenas da Raça" (The antennae of the race) is born. It was presented in two different occasions in 1985: at the Circo Voador (before an audience more accostumed to the adventures in pop music) and at the Botanic (a bar where the audience is rocked by weekly poetry recitals). Ezra Pound's famous statement ("artists are the antenna of the race") was transposed to a situation in which it was taken in its literal meaning, literally: M.X.& A.H invite a married couple of street vendors specialized in selling tv antennae to join them on the stage. Up there, being the centre of attention and having all the spotlights turned to them, what the street vendors usually say and how they usually act when at work are evidenced in their verbal, visual, physical dimensions. Indeed, the lines taken from their ordinary working days, such as "these antennas will eliminate any noise in communication and will help you to connect without any interference", etc have their meaning multiplied when associated with the gestures, text and visual effects added by the duo of performers. In the event two true antenna-sellers are associated with two authentic antenna-artists in the construction of a doubled ritual of the the practices each participant of these duos of "clerks" does everyday: Márcia brushes her teeth and acts other series of everyday gestures interspersing them with reading of texts aloud; Alex also reads out occasionaly. Both artists, who consider themselves as belonging to the avant-garde, are dressed in somewhat garish clothes, so bringing to the scene poor garbs like the ones pertaining to the people in a traveling troupe. The effect is devastating: signs of a radical experimentalism, so dear to an advanced tradition, become suddenly visible and astonishingly present when the street vendors are on the stage at the same time when advanced experimenters are able of updating a chain of links which ranges from Hugo Ball to Maciunas and all of a sudden is crystallized in the city of Rio de Janeiro. It is clear that humor is the basic spice of this strategy, an element which unites surprise with and difficulties in digestion, which becomes then empathy but without having lost its character of strangeness. But what what stands out is an evident transformation and an investigative questioning of the artist-character: can it be that the "avant-garde" is just another cliché, with stereotyped procedures whose operativeness would be pasted to parody, or will there be a place yet to be constructed in which the critical powers of the investigation of languages could be concentrated? M.X. & A.H. have the merit of fanning the flames of this debate (by allying themselves several times with Dupla Especializada (Duo Specialized) and the group Seis Mãos (Six Hands) , among others) at a moment when the inventive energy of the artists was instantaneously sucked like blood by the vampire-like dynamic of the commercial maneuvers of the market..
On the turn of the century it may be impossible to grasp the real dimension of what was the meaning of having invested so much time and energy in experimental maneuvers in the midst of the ebbing away of the 80's. If we wish to think positively about something from this difficult decade - and its great difficulty seems to be spotted in the undisguised implementation of an enlightened liberalism of the capital which unsettled the traditional models of organization and planning of the collective strategies of thought and sensibility - that will be found on the surface of what is called "image" and its virtues of linkage, empathy, a critical vehicle and communication: it is only from this point of view that events like the coming of personal computers, the inauguration of MTV, the "return to painting", the theories of simulacrum/fakery/artificiality, etc can be put together. All this has a merely instrumental, resegment-maker dimension, in which experimentation has lost ground; and still houses an unparalleled potentiality which is reorganized little by little in new inventive and investigatory strategies. It is in this line of escape that Márcia X's activities and performances. (whether working solo or with Hamburger) move ahead, through her effective creation of visual strategies, her refusal to have her eyes closed to the surroundings and to definitively avoid fulfilling what was expected from an artist who was willing to be admitted to the meager circuit of art in Rio de Janeiro/Brazil.
I met her when while she was projecting slides which recorded her "Chuva de Dinheiro" [Money Rain] (1984, in a partnership with Ana Cavalcanti). In a room at the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, amid the show "Como Vai Você, Geração 80?" [How are you, 80's Generation?], Márcia Pinheiro (Márcia still with her real name and before having added the "X" to it) explained to an interested audience her very opportune act which directly echoed the prevailing and current atmosphere both in Brazil (moribund inflation, euphoria of redemocratization) and in the world (neoliberal euphoria). What she did then was to throw gigantic banknotes (around 120 x 60 cm), printed in silk-screen, from the top of the buildings in downtown Rio (Cinelândia). At ground level, people watched those giant notes flying down and thrilled to each new launch of them. I think of this work as a tropical-pop discussion, via Warhol, on our [Rio's ? / Brazil's?] micromarket and of the relationship between value and work of art, having the circuit as a reference. Circuit, at least as it manifests itself here, means the place, in contemporary art, where the esthetical and values and financial values converge. Márcia hits the target by promoting the "x" in a concrete problem, at one of the moments when the question was manifesting itself more acutely (the 80's). Large-formatted banknotes in silkscreen were freely distributed. They flew according to the strength and direction of the wind at that place and at that time, and could be easily picked out by any passer by. Banknotes issued directly to customers, a disobedience of the mechanisms of intermediation in the art circuit (which values art works by holding them, therefore forcing them to circulate through institutionalized ways), an esthetic pleasure as consumption turned in capital: a short-circuit à la Bataille.
Two other important works by Márcia X. establish an interesting and critical discussion about the peculiar panorama of the dinamism of the "official" art in the 80's (namely, the one labelled as "return to painting"). "Baby Beef" and "Soap Opera" (1988) present a similar structure: large monochrome panels built on a wall on which a coat of paint was applied. Appropriated objects are later juxtaposed onto these surfaces. "Soap Opera " is also complemented by a video-performance, that is, a videotape showing specific activities shot when the work was being developed, so making the installation have a sequel. Moreover, "Baby Beef" and "Soap Opera" were designed for presentation at events at institutions, what makes the works deal with the limits of not only a group show ("Baby Beef" was shown in "Novos Novos", at the Galeria de Arte in the Centro Empresarial Rio) but also of an official salon ("Soap Opera" was selected and presented at the VI Salão Paulista de Arte Contemporânea, in the Pavilhão da Bienal). Maybe because of this set of features, the two projects may be seen as critical exercises of "expanded painting", paintings to go beyond their canvas, whose meaning involves the preparation of a colored surface, so creating an area for the artist to work in (Yves Klein), the appropriation of ordinary objects (Pop) and the image of the artist in a performance, combining his/her body and work through music (in "Baby Beef" the presence of the Brazilian rock group "Os Mutantes" is invoked through a video documentary; while "Soap Opera" is permeated by the aria "La Donna é Mobile".)
"Baby Beef", as one may imagine it, occupied a shop window totally red: sides, back wall and ground, all was painted in red. This makes "Baby Beef" be characterized mainly as an experiment on three-dimensional painting. And it is also important to note that even the internal lights were red. On the wall, several aligned red plastic tongues (an imitation of our auxiliary organ used for digesting, responsible for tasting and fundamental to speaking - prostheses in parody?) hung forming a sinuous line. The set composed an ambience with a strong chromatic concentration, whose impact was dissolved in the ironic shock of the tongues outside an imaginary mouth: a work in monochromatic red as if stucking its tongue out to you, absent-minded onlooker. The meaty aspect of the painting transformed into a (medium-) rare steak, the sublime consumed like a question of taste. In a spiced way, Márcia X. set clear limits and parameters in order to negotiate her admission to the circuit of the artistic conventions: all hypocrisy must be abhorred, it is up to the artist to negotiate each centimeter of his/her presence, without making it easy for the intermediaries to appropriate it. These people (allow us to go on being sour) like to promote gambling in a personal sphere/scope, according to a fragile line between a contemptible taste-non-taste, where most interests are sponsored near the spheres of power (and the artist is admitted as a minor, and guided, agent to this process). "Soap Opera" doubles this formal reasoning of extended painting, now by heading towards show business, television and soap operas. Here the monochrome surface serves as a support for a wall built of bars of soap for cleaning clothes, all of them having the same color. Repetition of repetition (utilitarian objects for consumption), a wall facing another wall, thus transforming the object into a module, an element for the engineer-artist X to build: what do you intend to construct?" Characteristically, the soap wall is not finished, its second part is incomplete, in relation to the first one - both of them being fields in an intensely monochrome color. Once again, wall on wall, or, using the Portuguese language as an aid - parede (the Portuguese word for wall) on parade: this is what we see/hear on the video: now Márcia X. repeats the musical line (her musical theme/her theme song) "La donna é mobile", then Aimberê Cesar (cameraman, image editor, videomaker, performer) parades on a handcart, in front of the "Soap Opera". Ahead of the debate which concerned the 80's art, "Baby Beef" and "Soap Opera" have defined important points, since they construct an enlarged reference to the issue of painting, by pointing to lines of escape to regions beyond, showing, to a narrow group, the amplitude that a acuter debate should assume and going beyond the conventions concerning paint on canvas (that is to say, taking into consideration the relations with the circuit, the construction of the artist's figure, the relation with performance languages, objects, technological imagery, etc).
But Márcia X. is in truth attentive to more than one subject, detecting a true dynamic of the textures of the works, in relation to the art circuit. It is really in a dialogue with the circuit - plus with the formulation of languages itself and with the city of Rio de Janeiro and its resident-characters - that works like "Academia Performance" [Performance Gym] (1986) and "Exposição de Ícones do Gênero Humano" [Exposition of the Icons of Humanity] (1988) are inserted. Each one of these event- shows (which are not just happenings) deserve a comment, no matter how brief it may be.
"Academia Performance": At a moment when people in Rio had much of their attention drawn to "performances (the word appeared on newspapers, artists formed into groups to work on them; all the same, little of the most interesting aspects of this time was recorded, but one day this shall be done), it so happened that a gym, precisely named Academia Performance, to be located in the same commercial gallery in Leblon where Galeria Contemporânea (a stage for many significant events of that epoch) had its offices. The place was full of apparatus for physical exercises and other sports equipment to help people become fit - suitable for those who want to be in good shape -, all generously displayed through a shop window, so allowing the passers-by to see who was working out inside. A place adequate enough for an artist who makes performances to occupy it, as Márcia X put it: "occupy the Academia Performance to develop varied perfomances around the place, transform it into a "grand" installation, change the equipment into a series of ready-made works of art, work out according to unexpected as well as with no esthetic purposes movements , etc". A very clear message to be also addressed to those performance academicians - wherever they may be found - who, like Brazilian Immortals, are much more worried with having tea, imortality and their green livery. The event lasted only a night's period of exercises. Márcia X., wearing something like a gymnastic plastic dress, went around the place using pratically all the equipment available, demonstrated what their purposes were, put a "paint machine" in motion, etc. Two main exercises were repeated on and on: 1- to set "the paint machine" in motion; 2- to squeeze oranges on a ''bra'' made of two plastic lemon/orange squeezers she wore. Several artworks were brought to that space and distributed among the gym equipments: "A Noiva do Governador Valadares" [The Governor Valadares' bride] (a wedding dress), "Emplastro poroso modelador" [Modeling porous patch] (a cushion covered by an orthopedic rubber belt), "Márcia Revista" {Márcia Magazine] (centerfolds of an erotic magazine for men), "Alvará de funcionamento" [Business License] (the business permit of that establishment), "A Glõria Instantânea" [The Instantaneous Glory] (an empty painted can of Glõria powder milk), among others. The artist let the public then know the content of her text named "Noite de Artes Marciais" [Martial Arts Night], from which the following passage is taken :
"Exercises, physical tests, tests of tolerability towards materials of an experimental background and towards adaptation to the given conditions, represent a great step towards the transformation of all artistic performances into art- labor. (...) The privileged role of the brain as the center which generates values is over, replaced by a machinery which, through its luxuriant operation, is apt to generate an entirely artificial language, one of extreme and unique possibilities, more adequate to the optical perspectives that are finally outlined. (...)
The strangeness of the forms which then appeared may cause some problems, nevertheless, the success of our gym, of its owners's knowledge of the mechanism of the equipment is undisputed, exercising an unusual attraction, conquering followers and enthusiasts everywhere. ''COME AND ENROLL RIGHT NOW"
Much of this more than plastic exercise articulated/made in "Academia Performance" goes beyond and evidences the presence of the written word, the key element in the sewing of all the texture of the work. Márcia X., "Artes Marciais", "Márcia Revista", etc, display the awareness of an inter-signal slide punctuating the work that X. does not give up, and which points to a differentiated place for this work in the circuit: when the works demand a textual load for themselves - and bet their materiality on it - they assume a slower displacement on the trails of the market, the reception of the critics and the collectors. At least as it is so in Brazil. For the time being.
"Exposition of the Icons of Humanity" : this event was developed in two days, according to the following structure: March 30, 9 pm: "Extra Icono-graphics"; March 31, beginning at 3 pm.: "VTR module; one-hour photos; air chambers". Here the proposition was to build a strategy for the show in which the visitors themselves in the opening were the works, the "icons of mankind", made evident in their (bio)diversity and similarity, a vast fauna formed by those who are usually attracted by cultural events/situations - personages of the microuniverse of the plastic arts (besides friends, relatives, etc). As the artist wrote, "An extended invitation to artists and habitués (art dealers, critics, gallerists, collectors), as well as representatives of the phenomenon of the fan club and the general public who from this group show on will begin to figure on the same statistical chart and appear on snapshots." That is: the first day of the event was like a show in which the guests were the works of art themselves: in an empty gallery, people met to talk, to make comments, change ideas, accompanied by the usual white wine served in these occasions. A guestbook specially prepared for the occasion, named "Minha cara Marlene" [My dear Marlene], celebrated the presence, among the guests, of members of Marlene's official fan club, connecting the event with the activities of the fan clubs of artists (so skimming the old rivalry between Emilinha Borba and Marlene ): the artist character - now included among the works of art considered icons by humanity (by becoming equally visible and present in that space) - expressed a comparison between Márcia X's and Marlene's fan clubs, which are different symptons of the same collective hysteria that permanently raids (according to different gradations) the world of art. It is on the image of the artist surrounded by her fans that echoes a peculiar trace of the 80's, when many artists used to portray themselves like "celebrities", in order words, trying to think of their place of social insertion as pop-stars and movie and tv celebrities do (Jeff Koons is probably the artist who more decisively had experimented this role; in Brazil, groups such as Dupla Especializada and Seis Mãos had the boldness to discuss the profile of the artist dialoguing with the media universe). It was very important that Márcia X. had insisted on building a visible place for her as an artist, among the icons on display, because this strategy led to the second stage of the work. The artist moved around the gallery like a magnet which imparted dynamism to the space. Her movements were recorded on photos (taken by Aimberê Cesar and Maurício Ruiz) and on video (directed by Alex Hamburger); so the "icons of mankind" were duly recorded in their anthropological, sociological and psychological aspects. On the following day, beginning at 3 pm., the gallery had its space occupied by the documentary material, and all people who were present there at the previous night were expected to come again and appreciate their images on film/video. Now, on the walls of the room, a vast series of images completed the course of the study : deconstruction of one of the most well-know rituals of the plastic arts environment, a dive for aspects of the strange ceremony on the opening day of art shows. An active strategy to neutralize and reverse certain conventional forces of the circuit, investing the active energy in the process of management and insertion of the work.
Almost all the events described and commented above were experimented by me. Immersed in the intense dynamic of those years, I feel very close to Márcia X- more than that, I feel like being her partner - for I have been following her notable journey, marked by so many interesting and instigative activities and, especially, by her courage to impart dynamism to the local circuit which served as an open confrontation to it. The image of the artist brought to the stage by Márcia X., Alex Hamburger & Companions did not match in any way with what was coveted, attracted and shaped as "what should be expected of a sucessful artist in the 80's". Whether Márcia X. was able to transform herself and to develop her work from these shocks this is due to her giving undivided attention to the thread of language which exists in whatever she has created, always with an eye open for the levels of intensification of what happens currently. She is also aware of the outlines of the situations, circuits, means, things, ways people behavior - in their lines of escape, lines of shadow of what is not said or is articulated in an undertone. It is on this trail that Márcia X bases her recent (August 2000) installation-performance called "Desenhando com terços" [Drawing with rosaries] (at Centro Cultural Casa de Petrõpolis). She worked, uninterrupted for 6 hours, with about 400 rosaries, using them two by two in order to draw several penises on the floor of the room. She carries her work on until the whole floor of the room is filled with the drawings of the erect male organ in stylized, simplified, iconical, images. She worked as if extracting the perils of the flesh that are implicit in one of the symbols of Catholicism and that the moral and religious imperatives choose to hide, causing the disembodied spirit to stand out. Through an almost unpretentious strategy as well as great concentration, rigor and devotion which pervade her long and exhaustive action, Márcia X. sets, through phallic imagery, an inexhaustible source of energy in motion. This source, i.e. virility, is what clearly nourishes her. Through a continuous unfoldment of unrivaled and impactive inventions, Márcia X. draws near all the sources available, whether they belong to the feminine or masculine world.
"Yes, she always wants to look at everything straight ahead, to breathe and keep her eyes wide open."
"No, do not forget to redraw the diagram of the art that deserves its name, and include the index 'x' as of decisive importance."