Construction site

Marta Bogéa



I see you wandering around[1] I told you the city was void…[2]

It is a truck canvas cover, a tent, a shelter, a load, a construction site. It is not just about picking up formal fragments from those situations, but to make the object itself in a way that it is constructed with these elements from the streets. I remember when I was looking for a company that would be able to execute my canvas objects. The same canvas they use to cover truck loads or that workers use to build their temporary shelters when they are fixing the pavement on a street. It was near the gasometer. I entered a large shed with a wooden frame and dirt floor. It was a sewing workshop. Some old machines and no more than five men putting together a circus canvas. Excited, I started to describe, then, what PRESUNTO[3] (1968) would be: sewing, cuts, dimensions…[4]

The city throbs in Carmela Gross’s works. It is a presence hatched into her works, not exactly in their forms, but brushing their materiality and their production, and her always well-judged and precise implementation of works in their spaces.
In a way, there is a wisdom about the city emerging from her works. Without didacticism or quotations. Where does this non-evident nature presence that inhabits cities come from?

… Street signs make you colorful / And blur my view… 

EU SOU DOLORES (I AM DOLORES, 2002) inserts itself between the architecture and the city’s skin. It crosses the opening where a window stood previously, leaving the work’s “I” on the street abyss. Glanced from outside, the work insinuates itself entering the building without limiting itself to its interior scale. It is an exterior object, it carries the same scale as a façade lettering sign, however, it presents itself both outside and inside, straining and altering both the reading of the building and that of the impervious field in regards to the city, overflowing the experience of the interior of the room through the opening that brings the city back. Inside, “AM DOLORES” is, primarily, a light field tinting the room in red with a kind of material light. A connector, a “bridge” defining the presence of margins – city/building – when installed.
Building and city as one sole spatial field, an occupied brim pointing to its ends. A transit between the senses of some inside/outside that will redefine this experience. It reveals some important freedom regarding the experiences of spaces – whether they are urban, of the city, or interior, sheltered by the opacity of spaces that are built. Here, they are re-enchanted by the domains of light.

EU SOU DOLORES is a red light transcribing the lowlands of the huge city in a building anchored at Belenzinho district.
A line of union, or, who knows, of disjunction between what is private and what is plural, what is inside disguised as what is outside, the smaller as the largest.
Wagon-letters made of metal and weld, glass and incandescent gas, one behind the other as if in a twenty-four-meter-long train, which invades the room and explodes the walls.
An actual body, a being of light, a concrete horizon of sweeping parallels, steep.
An internal exteriority projecting itself as tiny into the red eyes of those who
pass by.

EU SOU DOLORES is part of a group of works bearing other women’s names, in luminous letters, unexpectedly inserted into interior spaces.
DOLORES (2002), AURORA (2003), LUZIA (2004) …women made of light matter with chromatic intensity, pink, red, green… An announcement of their moods? Stable, ordered, oscillating, each one of them fixed through supports that delicately make each one of their structures unique. LUZIA emerges staggering from wires that uphold her green light; Dolores, rigidly ordered by her metallic lattice-work, structured in intense red; Aurora is almost a manuscript, outlined in successive movable lines that hold up her fleeting pink name.
These letterings become subjective through a feminine presence in names that are so unique, installed within the space. They are windows through which we can recognize, so strongly, so out of scale, their chromatic presences overflowing to the city.
The common code of luminous texts that mark the addresses of buildings in the city and allow us to identify their uses, here, becomes subjectivity. It repositions itself, blurring the boundaries of external/internal, objective/subjective space.
Words that construct light fields were used as matter by Carmela many times. One of her surprising spaces, US CARA FUGIU CORRENDO (the guys escaped by running written in bad Portuguese, 2000-2001), a neon light transcribing a street graffiti onto the wall of a museum (MAM – Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo), has red color and light that makes the hallway vibrate as an integral field, thus subverting the Project’s title, “Projeto Parede” (“Wall Project”).
Carmela lives spaces and, in this sense, she coherently fills them in their full volumes. Her fillings do not regard matter only, they are not made by someone who contemplate them in a bidimensional manner, but who occupy them.
At MAM, a graffiti phrase becomes neon, transported to the interior/hallway of a museum, acquiring a new outline, a new power, dislodged from its origins, not graffiti nor neon any longer, two very orn out urban codes emerge entangled here, and bring, as a bonus, the street into the museum space.
There are others, such as her SUL (SOUTH, 2006) installation, positioned under the ceiling of the space: hanging wires building a field between the sky and the ground of the place where the reactor of the bulbs are. They are purposefully shown; however, they are rigorously ordered.
And, maybe one of her most tricky, HOTEL, which occupied the façade of Pavilhão da Bienal, in 2002 (25th Bienal Internacional de Arte de São Paulo).[6] Built with a frame measuring 3 meters by 3.5 meters and fluorescent bulbs, HOTEL happens as lettering. However, instead of “informing”, it dislocates the meaning and usage of space. It operates on a void of a kind of “de-addressing”: isn’t it true that renting space is a strong issue here? The work dislocates the name in regards to an official use of space, entangles senses, acting from a recurring architectonic urban material character that usually gives addresses to places.
An action as pertinent as improbable in using urban codes. It shows such intimacy that goes beyond a mere observation of cities. Traces appear in discussions with Carmela, on the wake of her wanderings that map a specific São Paulo.
Here, there is an important realization: the city Carmela inhabits is an experimented city. Mapped through her quest for its various artifices. In each different material, in each manner of doing something, her art seeks specific contributors. This is how her intimacy with the city emerges, a city that is lived, not idealized; a city inscribed through professional work, by seeking contributors, on unexpected addresses, on unique logical instances that go from a tulle store to an aluminum foundry. In this way, addresses that are at once natural and improbable emerge: Neon Tochi, in Guarulhos town; Fundição Marieta de Alumínio, in Osasco town; Lonas, at Parque Novo Mundo district…


By seeking artifices of each material, Carmela builds a map of work desires; she maps the city. She learns with the city and its strange logic, in order to find once again, with the same unique logic, another city.

When I am old, I would like to have on my home’s hallway
A map of Berlin
With a legend
Blue dots would mark streets where I used to live
Yellow dots, the places where my girlfriends used to live
Brown triangles, the graves
On Berlin cemeteries where those who were close to me are laid to rest
And black lines would retrace the paths
At the Zoo or at Tiergarten
Which I walked while talking to girls
And multicolored arrows would point to the places on the outskirts
Where I used to rethink my weeks in Berlin
And many red squares would mark the rooms
Of love of the lowest kind or of love that is the most sheltered from the wind.[7]

The city Carmela occupies is, in a way, a Benjaminian city, experimented, and her intimacy with it is juxtaposed in a map created by wanderings occurring on the wake of her desires and the logic of her works.


 …Your own shadow multiplying itself…

Carmela’s works are constituted from a significant variety of materials. Her construction site is rich, it shares conviviality and practice, it learns how others work and subverts logic without imposing any unheard-of materials, as novelty is in the way of organizing what is already there. You do not need to invent the bulb, you just use what is already there, accepting their limitations and, with surprising freedom, constituting differences departing from real data.
She knows, as few do, how to take advantage of other people’s knowledge without dissolving it into a principle of self-centered authorship. She builds with others, articulating her domain to that of someone that dominates a material that attracts her, thus constituting unpredicted possibilities and, in this measure, re-informing the world through poetics resulting from practices she barely touches. In this sense, she is quite similar to Lina Bo Bardi, an architect for whom the act of making was part of discovering an otherness that charmed her and that she shared – one of the most well-known and emblematic examples of this is the project of SESC Pompeia.[8]
She does not seek an author’s drawing, she recognizes in the drawing an original gesture that will result in the work when significantly transformed. BURACOS (HOLES, 1994), for instance, result from successive enlargements of a first drawing, made by hand, with an ordinary BIC ballpoint pen, during a meeting about the work’s implementation. Successive enlargements and the definition of dimensions established the final drawing to be dug up.
Here, we have quite a contradiction: an artist with rigorous precision accepting the unavoidable imprecision of the world. She admits that her making of the holes will lead inevitably, due to the handmade character of this digging, to an adulteration of its indicated geometry.
Without turning it into a banner, her way of doing it is probably her most recurrent character. Materials change, contributors change, scales change; ways of facing the world and reinvent it are kept. The elements are there; however, when possibilities are redefined, the look is reinvented. This look recognizes, with serenity, that the world is varied and it does not try to raze it down with idealizations.

… On the gallery, each flash / Is a like a day after another day / Opening a great room…

CORPO DE IDEIAS[9] (BODY OF IDEAS, 1981) results from juxtaposition of Xerox copies on vegetable paper of a visual encyclopedia pages reproduced by heliographic copy. A thick fabric of images redefining other records.
Recovering of an extraordinary field from an ordinary space. Recognizing beauty and poetry in small daily things. Sometimes in technical records that organize the world without recording its charms.
Carmela, re-enchanting the world through records and recurrences, transform them through her unique poetics that cause them to transform themselves.
She is capable, for instance, of proposing her PROJETO PARA A CONSTRUÇÃO DE UM CÉU (PROJECT FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF A SKY, 1980-1981), a series with thirty three pencil and black ink drawings, constructed from the code of technical architecture and astronomy drawings. That projected sky, both possible because it is linked to reality and improbable because it is impossible (but is it really?), has in itself one of the sweetest charms, the human character in a disconcerting power of believing that you are capable of building something. And, when in the wake of a dream, the brilliant beauty that exists in actually being able to build, as in these paradoxically powerful and delicate worlds that are built.
Carmela constructs worlds, because she inhabits them.

For me, it is only possible to “think art” as social and urban machine, which is produced in this environment and that is destined to it, in its active multiple exchanges; this is why I am more interested in frontier cities than in geography, since the work to be accomplished must “belong” to said frontier.
I cannot “think art from afar;” I need to have a concrete, direct, bodily, visual experience with the space that will “receive” the work, or that will “become” the work – its neighborhoods, surroundings, shadows, which will be inseparable components of it.[10]

FRONTEIRA, FONTE, FOZ (FRONTIER, FOUNTAIN, RIVER MOUTH, 2001), a work for a square at Laguna town, in Santa Catarina state, is one among Carmela’s urban projects. She builds on the pavement, in Portuguese mosaic, a shadow, a vestige of a man in round outlines. In the bodily rapport with the passers-by, there is only a vibe, on the aerial view from neighboring balconies, the shadowy form makes itself known. Two moments of the same image that, before everything else, recover a certain way of doing things that is so particular to our public walks, a recurring pavement in our cities, reinvented by Burle Marx, in what eventually became an important reference in our urban imaginary: the walk at Copacabana, a place where people come and go, a territory of joyful wanderings by the sea.
The square at Laguna sums up this powerful imaginary by articulating itself to another one, that of bodies, of subjectivity, of fine arts shadowy forms (Munch’s The scream?), of the vibrations of breaths.
The world Carmela proposes appears thus, geometrically precise, deceitfully fleeting and subjective, charmingly human. It maintains a dense sophistication of so many symbolic and cultured circuits, strategically attached to what you would ordinarily find attached to the skin/ experience of anyone.
And from this improbable world proposed by her it will be possible that a delicate sketch of a map of a river net recorded by geographer Aziz Ab’Saber in variable shades of red will emerge from the hands of a embroiderer woman. Water threads redefining possibilities.[11]

…Picking up the poetry / You pour out on the floor…

Through the realization of otherness, Carmela puts the world in movement. And movement in Carmela emerges as dance.
It can be in the way in which, departing form the materiality of her works, she proposes body movements, such as in EM VÃO (IN VAIN, 1999), in which it is necessary to brush the brim of the space, or in HÉLICES (PROPELLERS, H1, H6, MAX, all from 1993), where an explicit gesture is needed to activate the work.
But her most intriguing movement probably is that in which she gently dislodges things.
And whoever dances in that space is matter. ILHAS (ISLANDS, 1995), EM VÃO, ALAGADOS (FLOODED SPACES, 2000), and FRONTEIRA, FONTE, FOZ retain among themselves similarities of a gesture that recognizes and redefines a certain territory. On the hinges of ALAGADOS, on the elastic of ILHAS and of EM VÃO, and on the mosaic of FRONTEIRA, FONTE, FOZ emerge traces of territories, memories of space experiment, some of them transformed into the space itself. Some of them require wandering bodies in order to understand the outlines of the work.
Or it de-stabilizes the space through a subtle agitation, such as in EXPANSIVO (EXPANSIVE, 1988), in which a fleeting mirror field causes a fixed wall to “retract”. It is different from other occupations of the same nature because it causes matter to retract space, splinters that cause vibrations to an initially stable plan.
In this sense, it is closer to HOTEL BALSA (FERRRY HOTEL, 2003) – a kind of cart where visitors are invited to install themselves in order to go through the space in a slow movement, between light and mirror plans, on which you read “hotel”. A play of reflexes, lights, movements. A gentle movement that dissolves everything that is certain in this world.
However, it is in A NEGRA (THE BLACK WOMAN, 1997) that Carmela transforms the city into a great room and the dance, actually announces itself while “the negress” waits for someone to ask her to dance at Paulista Avenue.
From her mapped city we see paths both improbable and delicately (im)possible emerging; they must be apprehended in a field simultaneously expansive and subjective that Carmela invites us to inhabit also.


[1] Chico Buarque’s song As Vitrines (Shop Windows), is cited during a discussion with Carmela, at her studio, during her projects handling, in a class text she handed out, found among documents referring to her work A NEGRA (THE BLACK WOMAN, 1997). The full lyrics say: “I see you wandering around / I told you the city was void / Give me your hand / Look at me / Don’t do that / Don’t go there / Street signs make you colorful / And blur my view / I saw you sigh in angst / And leave the session, laughing out loud / I can see you playing, enjoying being / Your own shadow multiplying itself / In your eyes I can also see / The shop windows seeing you passing by / On the gallery, each flash / Is a like a day after another day / Opening a great room / You pass by like you are on exhibition / You pass by and you don’t see your guard / Picking up the poetry / You pour out on the floor”.
[2] In Portuguese, the word “vão” has different meanings; it can be an opening, a span or a gap when used as a noun, or void, vain, hopeless as an adjective – among other meanings [T.N.].
[3] The word “presunto” in portuguese means ham. However, in Brazil it is also used as a slang term for designating dead bodies found in the streets during periods of repressive dictatorships, as well as victims of urban violence [T.N.].
[4] Carmela GROSS – 5 Depoimentos ao Departamento de Pesquisa e Documentação de Arte Brasileira, São Paulo, 2/22/1978.
[5] Carmela GROSS – Project for Eu sou Dolores, June 1999, unpublished.
[6] HOTEL, 2002.
[7] Walter BENJAMIN – “Fragmento” (1932), apud Willi BOLLE, Fisiognomia da metrópole moderna, EDUSP, São Paulo, 1994, p. 313 [free translation from Portuguese].
[8] See: Marcelo Carvalho FERRAZ – Lina Bo Bardi, Instituto Lina Bo e P. M. Bardi, São Paulo, 1996 and documental video directed by Aurélio Michilis Lina Bo Bardi, Instituto Lina Bo e P.M. Bardi, São Paulo, 1993.
[9] In Corpo de ideias there is a recognition operation, departing from the discovery of an encyclopedia as matrix, and of juxtaposition
[10] Carmela GROSS, 1999, unpublished.
[11] It is worth to mention here a story told by Carmela regarding this work: its definition came through the embroidery, through the choice of its outline, its technique and its color – red – observing that the position of each shade was decided by the embroiderer woman. We confirm thus the serenity with which Carmela structures her work, accepting the welcome presence of the craftswoman’s gesture with whom she is sharing the confection of her work.


Published in:
Carmela Gross: um corpo de ideias. São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado, 2011. Catálogo de exposição.

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