Irene V. Small

  • Leonilson, Ninguém (Nobody), 1992, thread on embroidered cotton pillowcase, cotton fabric, pillow, 9 1⁄4 × 18 1⁄8 × 2".

    Close-Up: Negative Capability

    NINGUÉM. NOBODY. NO ONE. Ninguém, as in: There’s nobody at the door; nobody knows him. Ninguém merece: Nobody deserves that. But also ninguém, as in: nobody of significance, an individual of little consequence, a body with no name. Ninguém inhabits the underside of someone, somebody. Somebody entails distinctiveness, or its possibility. Ninguém is a placeholder, the anonymity and abstraction of a person who is no one in particular. Anybody, anyone—alguém—but defined through the force of negation.

    Leonilson’s Ninguém dwells within this deliberate absence of identity. Even so, it is a work that

  • Allora & Calzadilla, Puerto Rican Light (Cueva Vientos), 2015, solar-powered batteries and charger, plywood crate, Dan Flavin’s Puerto Rican light (to Jeanie Blake) 2, 1965. Installation view, El Convento Natural Protected Area, Puerto Rico, 2015–17. Photos: Allora & Calzadilla.


    DEEP IN A CAVE in Puerto Rico, a light burns: The evanescent glow is that of Dan Flavin’s fluorescent sculpture Puerto Rican light (to Jeanie Blake) 2, 1965, placed there by the artists Allora & Calzadilla in a startling transposition of time, material, and energy. Art historian Irene V. Small makes the descent to explore this numinous geopolitical network.

    A TAÍNO MYTH associates the origins of earthly existence with the crepuscular return of distant ancestors to the fabled Cave of the Jagua. The sun seized on those who did not come back before dawn, transforming them into stones, birds, trees. Those remaining in the cave eventually left, relinquishing their nocturnal affinities to bats and opías, spirits of the dead. The condition of life as we know it, in other words, is one of belatedness, and as a consequence, we live in a diaspora formed in blinding light. In geologic time, of course, humans are also belated—staggeringly so—inhabiting

  • Sandra Kogut, Parabolic People, 1991, video, color, sound, 40 minutes 42 seconds. Installation view.


    ARE IMAGES TODAY dematerialized, ephemeral configurations of pixels and electronic signals that merely pause as they migrate from screen to screen? Or are they more multifarious in their ubiquity, inhabiting visual surfaces as well as imaginaries and modes of apprehension, historical sedimentations and cartographies of power? Of course, this is a false opposition: It is precisely the image’s mutability that allows it to so deeply infiltrate our materialities, politics, and patterns of perception. Yet since the beginning of video art’s relatively short history, there has been a certain dream

  • Cachorro Vinagre, Os brutos (The Raw Takes), 2013, digital video, color, sound, 22 minutes 25 seconds.

    Irene V. Small

    AN UNREMARKABLE SIGN conveys a remarkable occurrence: SMILE, YOU ARE BEING FILMED. Alerting visitors to the presence of security cameras, the notice echoes an infinite number of similar placards that have proliferated in banks, stadiums, prisons, casinos, airports, and malls—the countless sites where visuality is harnessed for the purposes of management and control. Every such sign corresponds to a vast archive of footage recorded and stored on tapes, disks, hard drives, and digital clouds. These archives’ images unfold in real time, but their longue durée is short-lived, since they are

  • Anna Maria Maiolino, Mother/Father, 1971/1999, india ink and Letraset on paper in wooden box, 19 7/8 x 19 7/8 x 1 3/8". From the series “Mapas Mentais” (Mental Maps), 1971–76. From “Sensible Geometries: Brazil 1950s–1980s.”

    “Sensitive Geometries: Brazil 1950s–1980s”

    Anna Maria Maiolino’s Mother/Father, 1971/1999, offers a concise exercise in the absurdity of genealogical charts. The Italian-born, Brazil-trained artist made the ink-and-Letraset-on-paper work in English, a language she struggled to understand, the same year that she left New York, after a three-year sojourn, for Rio de Janeiro. In the piece, the words MOTHER and FATHER are repeated, rotated, and scattered willy-nilly across the square units of a grid, the randomness of their occurrence and orientation sabotaging the very idea of hereditary flow.

    It is rather ironic that Maiolino’s work (from

  • Mira Schendel

    Swiss- Brazilian artist Mira Schendel made art as she lived life, laying waste to oppositions. A practicing Catholic of Jewish heritage, she was displaced from Milan to Sarajevo before settling, via Rome, in Brazil in 1949. In São Paulo, her circle included philosophers, poets, physicists, and Dominican friars. Her spare, deeply sensuous work spans media and pictorial modes: Her monotypes and graphic objects propel representation and language to the point of abstraction; her rice-paper sculptures transform translucent voids into knotted, tactile webs

  • Matheus Rocha Pitta, B.O., or Boletim de Ofertas (Offers Bulletin) (details), 2010, ink on paper, fourteen-page flyer, 11 3/4 x 9 3/4 (closed).


    FOR ALL THE MYSTERY of the commodity—its “phantasmagoria,” as Walter Benjamin put it, or its “magic and necromancy,” per Karl Marx¹—its convertibility is surely its most spectacular sleight of hand. Commodities are at once solid things and ineffable potentialities, static objects and relational forces spinning within dizzyingly complex circuits of trade. Commodities convert from brute matter to dematerialized value with unsettling ease. But they are also sites of conversion in which wildly incommensurate entities (the yield of the laboring body, the symbolic weight of culture, and the

  • Rivane Neuenschwander and Cao Guimares, Inventario das pequenas mortes (Sporo) (Inventory of Small Deaths [Blow]), 2000, still from a black-and-white film in Super 8 transferred to video, 5 minutes 12 seconds.

    Rivane Neuenschwander

    Rivane Neuenschwander’s first mid-career survey features more than forty works, many of which are premised on looping, noncomposition, systematization, and temporal delay

    Rivane Neuenschwander’s first mid-career survey features more than forty works, many of which are premised on looping, noncomposition, systematization, and temporal delay. Interactive installations that probe the relationship between language and desire, such as First Love, 2010, in which a police sketch artist generates portraits from verbal descriptions, are sure to draw crowds. Others fret more delicately at the edges of perception and relational practice—a bubble floats mysteriously through a house in a video titled The Tenant, 2010, while the newly commissioned The

  • Hélio Oiticica

    “THE FIRE LASTS and suddenly one day it goes out, but while it lasts it is eternal.” This was the Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica, writing in July 1966 about appropriation as anti-art. The appropriation in question was a fire can, one of the innumerable makeshift road signals fashioned from empty oil tins that lit the Rio de Janeiro night, as Oiticica wrote, like so many “cosmic, symbolic signs”: anonymous, ubiquitous, yet unquestionably “a work” as soon as singled out by the perceptive act.

    Oiticica died unexpectedly at the age of forty-two in 1980, thereby extinguishing a fire that, by all