First of all, the work demands that we find a satisfactory approach – generic, less perceptive, more conceptual – to apprehend this group of clay artifacts, which Carmela Gross has suggestively named KNIVES. Then, we begin to hesitate about the topos in which they effectively are. For if we are facing a situation that encompasses several elements, disposed in a certain manner and in a certain space, imposing a scale that runs from one to the multiple, from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous and vice-versa – we could never consider it to be an installation, and on the other hand, neither could we confer formal autonomous status on the universe of objects included there.
That is to say, given the singular position – apart – from the work, it appears to be insufficient to try to comprehend it through anything prior to it, whatever its points of possible contact with the contemporary production or its possible dialogue with the history of modern art. In fact, the work requests a kind of “weak” involvement with the agenda of contemporary art, both concerning its “contents” and its recurrent, formal issues. It is as KNIVES had a motion outside history and tradition, as scrutinizing its inner layers, its own experience of historicity and of tradition.
Besides, the artifacts and their peculiar arrangement do not spatially point to a presence, formal evidence, but to a generic and rigorously abstract field of action, intertwined relationships depicting a kind of universal system of producing objects. The clay arises, then, not as a material, which expresses a certain psychology in the history of art, but as a conceptual kernel of this system, emblematically playing the part of “raw material”, since it combines with its primitive and elementary nature a minimum coefficient of “historicity”. Thus, it presents itself as a memory of the natural world, and at the same time, as a passage to the historical and social realm. In other words: here the object becomes the means of passage to other objects. This being said, nothing better than a so formidably operative significant as is KNIVES to allow us access to purely motive instances of which the real material of this work consists.
Not to mention the fact that the multiplicity of artifacts does not correspond to a multiplicity of objects, but concerns the incessant transitiveness of the process of production of objects, in which the exhaustion of the preceding artifact and beginning of the next takes place in endless succession.
Thus, the apparently serial proliferation of form in the interior of the group of tools – I call them so to emphasize their transitive and symbolic dimension – is actually deconstruction, an analytical process which aims to explore the genealogy of the object at a condition in which it still has not placed itself as an object, in which the urgency of subjective action is still at odds with the infinite possibilities of form. With this, the work would have withdrawn to a stage where heterogeneity dominates, a kind of experimental game, at the mercy of an initially free action, pointing to the present and primordially cognitive.
It is clear at this point that the tendency to repetition, an almost random development of a formal matrix, results, in this case, in just the opposite: an inquiry about the process of individuation, of qualification of an unique and unrepeatable action, in spite of having to develop in situations which tends to domestication, to adaptation, to consumption and the precocious senility of things. Therefore, it is the very system that produces, in the course of its turn, always presents itself, first, as a liberating action.
It can be perceived at this stage that such a system refers to an economy of the cultural object, even though here things happen differently, continually disposing the objects to a subjective appropriation that reconstitutes them on new bases. What is in question from the point of view of this appropriation, is to re-encounter the plasticity of the object in its original condition (which can only be seen historically and socially – we are reminded that in its most obvious aspects KNIVES immediately evokes the remote archaeological finds, pebbles worked as blades), a condition that would be, therefore, beneath imperatives of publicity and “institutionalization”, so to speak, that finally reach the object. It is about recovering its historicity, its real time, not allowing the implacable motive power of the productive process to spoil it, alienating its subjective dimension.
Since the idea of series and repetition is crucial for Carmela Gross, one must examine the singular relationship that the artist maintains with minimalism, even when irrelevant to explaining her work as being connected, in a certain manner, to this trend. It can be said that the relationship is suspicious and that this work steals strategically in by a subtle detour from the minimalist lineage. If the minimalist gesture of repetition incessantly reaffirms the adaptability of the object to the world, the capacity of such an object to install itself from the beginning in a public and anonymous space, the artist, on the contrary, seems to want to suspend provisionally all the “presences”, forcing the injunction of a subjective and labile recess (since it has the prerogative of exteriorizing or retreating) in this very space.
In this way, the work introduces a striking factor of indeterminateness into the system, by which the subjective action can always retreat a step in process of “institutionalization” to which it will soon fall prey, becoming an anachronism. This distension of time is but a way to preserve the actual and simultaneously to auscultate an historic temporality.
Thus, the endless slow motion of recovering the heterogeneity of form and the re-appropriation of objects for new skills, performed by the work, can only become possible because it questions the positivity and their eternal present. It is as if the objects were placed between parentheses, so that the work is now produced in the abstract time-space between them. From there come the aspects of molecular dispersion and of decentralization, which characterize it.
Given that KNIVES is comprised of alternating doses of repetition and change, would it be in order finally to ask what intervenes to make the change, since the system in question spends all its energy to overcome inertia, to continuously resume the possibility of change and, as I said, to make the unrepeatable action flourish. What then, makes the artist pass from one object to another? What pushes the consumption of one formal series into the advent of other?
Carmela Gross’ answer to such a question is on the strict order of experience, because every issue that the work summons to the sphere of the subject, its uneasiness whenever facing the struggle to constitute the subjectivity in contemporary art, are exclusively expressed in the practice of the work itself, are immanent to the technical instance that gives them origin. Things happen more or less thus: the material accumulates a practical knowledge that ends up physiologically exhausted in a function; then the process comes to a halt, describes a self-reflective turn, incorporating the previous apprenticeship, and due to a subjective action that is naturally cognitive and do, given to transforming, it rescues incessantly the enigma of the indifferent beginning. At this point of contemporary art, this means, in some sense, “de-culturing” the esthetic object, that is, peeling off its cultural layers, so as to catch it unawares, in its ordinary existence.
Carmela Gross: Facas. Rio de Janeiro: Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, 1994. p. 5-7. Exhibition catalogue.