In 1927, the Czech modernist architect Adolf Loos (1870 –1933) created a never-built design for the home of Afro-American singer and dancer Josephine Baker (1906–1975). The design was based on the revamping of two existing houses on a corner of Avenue Bugeaud, in Paris. The residence, whose exterior walls were to be decorated with horizontal stripes of black and white marble, was to have small, deeply inset windows to ensure the privacy of its illustrious inhabitant, while also keeping the attention focused on the house’s interior (as was prefer by Loos). At the center of the house there was to be a pool that would pierce through two floors of the building with windows on the lower floor for underwater viewing, allowing Josephine’s guests to watch her body slicing through the water. The design for both the façade and the pool evince modernist architecture’s obsession for surfaces.

In the solo show Sinfonia Tropical para Loos [Tropical Symphony for Loos], Ana Maria Tavares seeks a path running counter to that of the surface. In the installation Parede para Loos [Wall for Loos], the artist brings the façade of the Baker House into the interior of the space. Tavares puts the stripes of the original exterior design on all the walls circling around the exhibition space, overlaying them with a projection that conveys the spectator from the outside of the house into its interior. In the video, the camera moves along the building’s façade and its opaque windows until the latter are dissolved in a view of tropical nature. This interplay between the natural world and the regulatory modernist architecture is repeated until it immerses the spectator into the pool at the center of the house. We then see ourselves encapsulated both by the pool as well as by an architectonic structure created by the artist, called Bunker, which seems to contain the pool in the video. It is at this point that the exterior and the interior become equally fascinating, revealing a core theme often ignored in discussions about modern architecture: its disciplinary function historically linked to the medical science of eugenics. While eugenics was a discursive project that provided a structure for cultural prescription and medical-moral investigation, it is also found in, and interacts with, the modernist discourses concerning alterity and the search for a national identity. From this standpoint, Tavares’ installation makes us question whether Loos’s obsession for keeping the attention focused on the interior of his designs is perhaps linked to a view of a sanitized identity: eugenics.

Also in the pieces called Vitrines, da série Paisagens Perdidas (para Lina Bo Bardi) [Display Cases, from the Lost Landscapes Series (For Lina Bo Bardi)], the interior is raised to the exterior. Working with museum display elements conceived by Lina Bo Bardi to serve in conjunction with her celebrated glass display easels – and that were in fact never built – Tavares creates bodies suspended in the air that reveal their empty interiors, though surrounded with images of the teeming natural world printed on the glass surface of each of their faces. It seems that Tavares reveals the modernist initiative to organize, select and contain the natural as something that conflicts with its project for the formulation of identity.

Finally, Sinfonia Tropical para Loos, resulting from the artist’s investigations for the exhibitions Natural-Natural: Paisagem e Artifício (2013), e Atlântica Moderna: Purus e Negros (2015), features a large number of Vitória Régias [Victoria amazonica lily pads] encapsulated by Plexiglas boxes with stainless steel structures and divided into two sets, designated as being for the Brazilian rivers Cocó and Purus and Negro, respectively. Like the other works in the exhibition, the Vitória Régias compose a critical apparatus that, according to the critic and curator Fabiola Lopez-Durán, “relativizes the supposed tropical threat and the so much desired sterile geometry of the modern aesthetics”. Here the poetics, however, refers to the legend of Naiá, a Tupi-Guarani Indian girl who was so fascinated by the reflection of the Moon in the water that she got too close to a river and drowned. The Moon (Jaci) felt sympathetic and recompensed the Indian girl for her sacrifice, by transforming her into a unique and perfect “Water Star” – the Victoria amazonica. There is an evident parallel between the legend of Naiá and the myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image and pined away on the banks of the lake of Echo, admiring his own reflection in the water. The son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Leiriope, was transformed by Aphrodite into a flower (the narcissus), in which form he eternally tries to contemplate his image in the reflection of the water.

If we recall Parede Niemeyer [Niemeyer Wall] – which Tavares constructed in 1998, re-creating a large wall of mirrors designed by Oscar Niemeyer for the Cassino da Pampulha (Belo Horizonte), and which the artist sees as a synthesis of the modernist utopia – we can understand Jaci’s reward as actually being a sentence, making Naiá a hostage of her flower form; just as our fellow citizens, when they admire Niemeyer’s mirror, contemplate the never fulfilled promise of the Brazilian modernist project.

Verbo and Belas Artes

The VERBO Performance Art Festival, organized by Galeria Vermelho since 2005, has entered into partnership with the Centro Universitário Belas Artes Artes to organize an area for the presentation of performances at the SPArte art fair, in the Bienal Pavilion, at Ibirapuera Park. As part of the programming for this space, on April 11 Galeria Vermelho is hosting three performance art actions at its headquarters.

Verbo e Belas Artes: Program Saturday, April 11, 2015

2 p.m.
Parábola [Parabola] (Leonardo Akio, 2010)
The performative object consists of a long iron rod with a support for the body. The point of the object should be placed in the corner between the wall and the floor, and the performers should use the weight of their bodies to bend the line of the iron. Placed at waist level, the prolongation between the object and the people’s legs forms a curve.

2:30 p.m.
Reconhecer-se [To Recognize Oneself] (Magaly Milene, 2010)
The performer enters a space containing a wooden chair, a white table, tubs with water, and bowls with pieces of plastered gauze. She undresses, sits down and plasters the front of her body from feet to neck. After a few minutes, with subtle movements, she unsticks the mold from herself, stands up from the chair, dresses, and leaves the space, leaving the seated image of her body.

3:30 p.m.
Eu sou você [I Am You] (Merien Rodrigues, 2008)
The artist opens a large umbrella below a stream of sand falling from the ceiling. The sand grains accumulate around her body, forming a white circle on the floor. When the sand stops falling, she walks to another stream of falling sand and repeats the same action, and so on and so forth. At the end, the performer leaves the space, though the circles on the floor remain.