A good part of Carmela Gross’ poetics carries in it an approach to urban space. Since 1969, the year she completed her undergraduate degree in Arts at FAAP (Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado), in São Paulo, Carmela (1946) has been reflecting on the city as her living universe. In these more than 50 years, her body of work has been built on a vocabulary in common with what is seen in the streets, avenues and other urban settings, such as the neon that the artist incorporates from the facades of commercial establishments.
When I say that I work with street elements, I refer to what constitutes my body. All the living, historical, memorized and incorporated experiences in my way of being inform the work, but the work has always been lonely. It is an experience that becomes a body in the sense of incorporating it. The work is mental, it’s physical, but it’s lonely. It is a discipline of solitude.
All of this until the pandemic came with the confinement and, like many artists who live this period in their home-studios, Carmela maintained a daily routine of heavy work, which in the end changed little in her artistic production practices. She continued pasting, drawing, packaging, staining, drilling, painting, filling and tearing despite the invisible witch who sometimes wouldn’t let her do anything.
Born in São Paulo, the city where she lives and works, Carmela carries in her work an affective aspect whose genesis is in the public space.
Affection constituted from the elements of the city, from the living experience with the city, forms you. As evidence, I used to work in public squares with children, I used to go out in the outskirts photographing bakery paintings, rubber repairmen, popular paintings on the facades of houses, on advertisements. This entire universe of urban language ends up being a center, a focus of important interest.
But what is the aspect of the city that matters? Is it the light, and the advertisement, is it the way people circulate, is it the way of walking, is it a certain color, is it a certain walk through the city? For Carmela, the constitution of the fundamental core of the work is linked to the perception of spaces and their surroundings: it is the buildings, it is the architecture, it is the interest in this cluster of things that is at the heart of her vision of the city. Unlike many artists, she is not a traveler.
Many artists don’t use this being in a place to articulate their work. They work around the world and articulate other elements. As my work is highly concentrated on my experience of a single city, sometimes it sinks deeper, sometimes it notices a very shrill surface and sometimes it seeks the core of that surface.
The beauty of art is that it always works with a kind of surface and the surface is always the deepest; what is evident is the very deepest. The art is whole on the surface. The work has an ability to magnetize itself from the surroundings. Sometimes it feels like it was made for a specific place, but it’s actually the ability it has to contract and absorb the surroundings; it is a pole where everything that surrounds it ends up forming a certain meaning with the work. It’s not the work that goes to a specific place, it’s the opposite, the place becomes specific because that work was done there.
The solo show that Carmela shows at Vermelho presents three new installations, and the video LUZ DEL FUEGO II (2018).
On the façade, installation X (2021) creates tension between the vertical and horizontal axis causing that large rigid surface to connect with the floor. The idea of bringing these two axis together is fundamental in Carmela’s work, and especially in X, as we are no longer on the plane of the visible, but on the participating level required as a condition for the physical participation of the observer.
Fire is an element that appears in its various states in the exhibition.
LUZ DEL FUEGO II uses images of fires published in daily newspapers. Fire in cars, fire in buildings, burning tires, streets blocked by fire. Images of conflicts and confrontations in several countries, as well as images of fires that have consumed Brazilian cultural institutions in recent years, make up the work. LUZ DEL FUEGO II is a black and white negative document of the events that since 2008 have occupied the pages of the main media outlets in the world.
Fire reappears in FONTE LUMINOSA / LUMINOUS FOUNTAIN (2021) in the shape of lava from a volcano. In the installation, Carmela draws on the wall with the incandescent gas contained in red neon lamps.
The matter from the volcano is already present there. It is made with filaments, with lines that are the lines in the drawing. This design was adjusted so that it acquired its own dynamic, an internal coherence that would allow this expansion and aboundance. But, it actually is an enlarged drawing, an archetypal drawing from collective memory; of an extraordinary event called an explosion of matter and rock liquefied by heat and pressure.
The light produced by the neon will invade hall 2 of the gallery, which will be occupied by the installation composed of 226 drawings with different dimensions, CABEÇAS / HEADS (2021), which uses paper and India ink, referring once again to the idea of carbonization. Drawings are made with a smear of paint on glass. Afterwards, Carmela puts a thin paper over the stain that absorbs the ink, and, after drying, she removes all the white burr and pierces the place of the mouth and the place of the eyes. This shapeless figure insinuates itself by chance. It is not, then, a sought or constructed form, but a process that leads to the discovery of unimagined figures. It’s a possible crowd, from a city like São Paulo, that embraces all of its diversity.