Carmela Gross: a loon in perspective

Aracy Amaral



Carmela Gross’ individual exhibition in 1990 once again brought the idea that the contribution if en artist cannot be evaluated based on a single exposition. When considering an artist, it is his trajectory that is important. The artist is contemplated for his trajectory that is important. The artist is contemplated for his vitality, resistance, the enthusiasm with which he works thought several periods of his life, circumstances of his cultural environment and the word in which he lives. Carmela Gross’ works reminded us of her beginning as an artist in the context of her generation, and the manner in which she grew and developed her artistic-poetic discourse. An individual exposition is a chapter; it does not refer to the trajectory, the telltale sing of the complete validity of the work of an artist.
Carmela Gross began her Brazilian artistic work at the end of a period, the late 60’s and early 70’s, a moment when traditional techniques (painting, engraving, drawing, sculpture) gave way unrestricted innovations possible, based on the examples of the works of English and North American pop artists, on the emergence of happenings and performances, of conceptual art, of the dematerialization of artistic work, lastly. In other words, a young artist who was revealing himself at that moment was motivated by age-old art such as painting, but found within his reach an opening to everything imaginable regarding alternative media. In Carmela pop period we see two objects/ installations:  CLOUDS, 1967, which now belongs to the State Pinacotheca, made on lacquered wood, and HAM, 1969, a soft form, on canvas, presented at the II Art Biennial of Salvador. The 70’s would be a continuous experiment for young artists, who would not approach brushes or oil. They are the times, also in Brazil, of new media: video, audiovisuals, super 8, photocopy, heliographs, records with sounds conceived by artists etc. it is the period of “experimental space” that the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro opened for these artists, and in São Paulo, of ExpoProjeção 73, the first national gathering of artists working with new media, organized by Aracy Amaral, and JAC- Young Contemporary Art – at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo, the museum under the direction of Walter Zanini.
In these years there was actually a kind of prejudice against painting or work “done” by the hands of an artist, even though we must not disregard a conversation with Mira Schendel, who told us that art could not be conceived if not done by an artist. Thinking is something that everyone does. But only an artist can organize these thoughts and make something concrete. For Carmela, in this effervescent period of free experimentation, the exercise was not only with multipliable images but also with the so-called “art of process”. That is, the art interfering in illustrations, images reproduced in books, or superposed images on oversized (5m x 5m) heliographic proofs.
The characteristic of discipline in the obsessive pace of the artist’s style can be seen in her exhibits in 1977 (Mônica Filgueiras and Raquel Arnauld Gallery), with drawings in colored pencil, shapes outlined by paper “masks”, rationality paired with conciseness, the latter already implicit in her work. As of 1978, in STAMPS, the multiplication of the graphic gesture stands out in strict order. The surface of the paper is covered by small repeating lines, or scribbles, outlines, strokes or textures, with a typology unique to each sheet. Certainly the word “stamp” has an ironic connotation peculiar to the era of multiple production, confronting a possible marked concerned with the uniqueness of works of art, and at the same time, of the image of an artist as a designer of a module that can in principal be repeated with the same quality, a isolating the creator of conventional work. The same motive on paper brings to mind this ever-present aspect in Carmela Gross: the repetitive, the reiterative, and the obsessive of her gesture. Even the artist asks herself: “isn’t this repetitiveness a feminine characteristic?” Perhaps. This quality in women’s work is also implicit in decoration: in the repeated motive of needlework, of edgings, of the daily table arrangement, of the flower vase, of the making of a bed. In all of these acts there is not an isolated task, but rituals, which are repeated continuously throughout a life time.
During the production of her well-known series PROJECT FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF A SKY, we find Carmela Gross already experiencing a new phase, the drawing been introduced into the artistic environment as a sketch of the work which will be permanent. But the small marks providing the structure for these drawings remind as of certain image from her period of stamps, in her occupation of space. These apparent structure seems to exist as a basis for measuring in the un-measurable, the spatiality of the top of heaven which we imagine infinite. The artist leans over the paper (1m x 70cm) and in careful lines with colored pencils, tenaciously builds her thirty-three “skies”, a number corresponding to the artist’s division of the sky of the southern hemisphere. Likewise, in her professional course this moment bring other concerns. As a professor of the School of Communication and Arts of the University of São Paulo, the artist faces a challenge: that of obtaining a master’s degree as well as remaining faithful to her previous speculation, and in this case with drawing as a project. So her task was to find a theoretical foundation, which would allow her to realize her project without major changes. It is a work that reveals a great deal about her obsessiveness in the making of an extensive series like this, at the same time laden with visual poetics and imbued with a certain mystery in its designs.
The exposition QUASARS (1983) had an enigmatic name, which according to the artist, meant “sound vibration captured by sound sensors”. Once again we are faced with experiments of the previous decade: off set prints registered apparitional images of inexact immateriality; they are allusive, despite the fact that their inherent indefiniteness did not lead us to the sources form which the artist extracted these forms interfered with by processes up to the graphic printing.
Only then were we able to realize the importance of paper in Carmela work: the stamp is brought to life on paper. Superposed images explore the possibilities of heliographic paper, the drawing for the construction of the sky occupies vast spaces on paper, and the QUASARS prints were also on paper. In fact this sensitivity/intimacy with paper would prompt her, as of 1987, to research a work with crafted paper, producing textures using lead, pigments and glue, diversifying her materials. Even after the beginning of her series of paintings and more recently, painted relieves, drawing for Carmela Gross, emphasizing the conceptual character of her production, seems to be an exercise, discipline for the creation of a “larger” work, sometimes working together, sometimes alongside. But it is in this second half of the 80’s that strongly geometrized forms appear, contrasting the gesture facture of painting.
Would the change in painting be an influence from the 80’s, when the return to paints and to colors was so widespread abroad as well as in Brazil? It may be so, given that the artist is not immune to what happens in the artistic environment that surrounds him. In spite of the fact that in this case it is far from the sheer Dionysian pleasure of colors and pictorial gestures, in Carmela painting the concept always prevails, generation loyalty. Thus, in the painting exhibition of the Luisa Strina Gallery (1986) some classicism seemed to transpire in her canvasses cut in plays dominated by symmetry and composing centralization. Paradoxically there was also a gesture stroke, the curvilinear aspect of the shapes in contrast to the orthogonal once, to the basic dominating square, with chromatic reduction as an option.
The artist refers to this stage as a period of transition (“possible meeting”) between painting and drawing: “…a drawing which delineates, designs, establishes and is solidified in the strict a geometry of connections, and a painting which searches for expressiveness and the fluidity of the chromatic material in de-crystallizations of symbols and clichés” (Museum of Contemporary Art – University of São Paulo Catalogue, PAINTING / DRAWING, 1987). From theses paintings with clipped borders outside the conventional pictorial rectangle, as well as connected or juxtaposed plays, free conceptions would begin to emerge concerning shape, and conceptual albeit figure themes such as flames, columns of smoke, mountains, waterfalls which violently flow in all directions defying gravity, as well as curtains behind curtains on a stage within the picture of the empty half-open scene, an absent space of representation. During this period the repetition of forms can also be observed as the theme in certain works, just as in others the virtual space of the painting is continued in real space, the wall, over which the graphic gesture of the artist begins to complement the pictorial image.
Perhaps this is the beginning of the presence of a great energy, a movement translated into a painting calculated but with fluidity in its execution, with transparencies and styles of drawing to refer us to the poetical image of the platonic cave, were brightness and glimpses of the exterior seem to be projected (International Biennial of São Paulo, 1989). Paintings in acrylic on canvas and wood were to follow, in a smaller form, assembled as a gigantic mural. This production (1988, São Paulo Gallery) seemed to us to be a reference, strange like the atmosphere of Angelo Venosa works, as if we were standing before a free systematic ordering of elements and instruments from the Neolithic era by archeologist researching and extinct culture.
We had a similar impression of her works in the beautiful exposition of the São Paulo Gallery two years later (1990), both in OBJECTS and in TRAIN. These works were in cast aluminum, once again an experiment with new materials that is unquestionably a characteristic of the artist. Carmela Gross’ poetic density reaches a hi point with BEACH. Her four plates of cast aluminum are juxtaposed with rare beauty of conception and result. In front of this piece it is impossible not to recall the work of Ulrich Rückriem (exhibited in the XXth International Biennial of São Paulo edition, 1989), of vigorous hieratic, in an expanded geometrical shape in stone, also composed of the juxtaposition of elements.
Her monochromatic works as of this exposition (in aluminum or wood) seem to bring out, voluntarily or not, the virtual form of the shadow, a subtle constitutive element of each work, while relief, the escape from the canvas, is confirmed. On the other hand, from here on the artist seems to search for organic forms or ordered forms of nature, almost amorphous, as members of the kingdom of aqueous thing; with in this primitivism already mentioned her pieces show relieves insinuating a circular spiral movement, always monochromatic relieves, stiff “tumors” on the verge of exploding, of emerging from the wall, mysterious in their enclosed forms or suggesting and attempt at a central perforation. The movement with had emerged in her works in 1984 reappears with a new form in her more recent work as blades, or mills (or PROPELLERS): pieces of rustic wood, always painted monochromatically, which can be moved by the hand of the observer, starting slowly. In these works occupying a larger space on the wall, again in the hand of the artist, the designer/inventor of these functionless machines, is almost totally absent. They are shapes taken from nature, without angles or straight lines, with little interference on the part of the artist. The liquidness already mentioned above also invades her drawings of the same period, in the inexistence of a rational composition, now on crafted paper with organic forms as if moving in a uterine or oceanic cosmos, an ocean of elements like jellyfish with viscous transparencies, hindered, suspended in their interrupted gestation.
Carmela Gross’ work belongs to the contemporaneity of art. It is part of our time, identifiable with the conceptual currents and with the experimental concerns of the last two decades. It is certain that there exists a great similarity among studies of artists of developed urban environments, and the work of this artist in this sense in no exception. It would be difficult to find in her the characteristics that for the international environment would fulfill expectations for Brazilian, South American Art. She knows this very well and has been confronted when exposing in Latin American: perhaps her art says little, is reticent, compared to the turbulent Brazilian social and physical environment. But this fact, as we have seen with other artist, might be a consequence of our own economic instability and social injustice. The artist therefore shuts herself in her work proposal, attempting to listen to herself and plan the echoes of these circumstances or the denial of them, in her artistic work. That is to say, in Brazil those who express a bit of the social reality are fill and far between; others deny, with eloquent rejection, confrontation with this same reality in a country in which it is difficult to inform people at all levels.
In the case of Carmela Gross, on the other hand we do not see in her trajectory the concern with establishing her personal presence in place of her work, a peculiar situation in contemporary art were what is important is a shout, the spectacular, an instant of planning, not the work which remains. Behind the experimentations of this work there is sequential work, which can be appreciate though the years. She does not contribute any ostensive realization like the hi-technologic execution of the works of Jenny Holzer, nor is the international distribution of Cindy Sherman’s art. One can be contemporary without resorting the marketing of Jeff Koons or Christo. Paul Valéry wrote that “pleasure is disappearing. Fruition is a lost art. Now it is intensity, enormity, speed, direct action on nervous centers, in the shortest way possible”. It is above all in the most talked-about international events that this possibility for fruition of work disappears most significantly, by the fact that only clamor draws attention due to the disappearance of interest in the work, which does not matter much save for the impact that it may have on the visitor who strolls though biennials or exhibition space, superficially regarding the works to know effect given the lack of time. There is surely a price, that of recognition, for the artist who chooses to appear though a work overtime and not pass though the arenas of the jet set of the arts, specially when one leaves in a culturally destitute country like Brazil today. But what is fundamental, in our point of view, is to belong to a place at a certain time (hic at nunc). It is rather the depressing for artists to live in a country oblivious to culture and its manifestations, like Brazil in the last few decades. Giulio Carlo Argan wrote that in western Christian civilization “art certainly had a historic development corresponding to the historicist structure of this civilization, art was created with the intention and awareness of creating art and with the certainty of thus contributing to the making of civilization or history. Intentionality and the awareness of the historic role of art are clearly the main factors of the relation established among the artistic facts of one period, among the successive periods, among artistic activity in general and the other activities of the same cultural system” (G. C. Argan – History of Art as History of the City, Martins Fontes, São Paulo, 1992, p.19). This natural insertion of art in the history of societies is ignored in Brazil, were aghast, we watch a swift process of de-culturing, the intellectual and artistic environment unable to obtain the assistance of the State. And under the circumstance we all feel isolated, struggling for a meaningless area, when there should be an aggressive movement for the appreciation of artistic creation in order to confer dignity to the degraded Brazilian bean. The relationship of art and society is not even present in the stage in which we live, for there does not seem to be any concern with the art of the past which is fundamental to establish create and disclosed our memory; there is even less concern with the present. Perhaps the absence of spiritual and artistic values in Brazil is of such significance that means of mass communication are imposed as the only valid ones, even at the political level above governmental teams subservience to the powerful television mass. We feel these considerations are a necessary reflection upon examining the course of the coherent art of Carmela Gross. But in better days she will certainly have her work established in the panorama of Brazilian art of the second half of this century.


Published in:
Carmela Gross: Hélices. Rio de Janeiro: MAM, 1993. Exhibition catalogue.

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