Jonathas de Andrade

New Museum
235 Bowery
January 25, 2017–April 9, 2017

Jonathas de Andrade, O peixe (The Fish), 2016, 16-mm film transferred to HD video, sound, color, 38 minutes.

Fishing is a display of male sensuality that is supremely underrated. In Jonathas de Andrade’s thirty-eight-minute film O peixe (The Fish), 2016, the handsome protagonists are the ageless, chiseled fishermen of a coastal village in northeastern Brazil. Wet skin catches the glimmering sunlight on the surface of the water. They steer their boats and swing their hooks. Muscles swell.

Interrupting the tranquil ambiance of lapping water and wind drifting through the palms is the tug of a line, a ripple below. But then a sudden urgency to retract the net causes an explosion of violence and primal masculinity. From this point, de Andrade turns abruptly toward maximum absurdity. Each fisherman takes his catch and lifts it to his chest, entering a meditative embrace. As the fish struggles for its life, he strokes its scales, reversing the role of the midwife—rather than ease the entrance of life into this world, he lovingly assists in its departure.

As in much of de Andrade’s work, there is an intellectual subtext here about the relationship between modern and precolonial Brazil. But that pales in comparison to the many contrasting visceral impulses he forces us to confront at once. This imagined shamanistic ritual in which a hypermasculine, exoticized, and sexualized figure cradles an alien body—the size of an infant, with strangely human lips—is violent and bizarrely romantic. O peixe evokes a shock further heightened by the sounds of labored breathing from both parties. As viewers, we get the sense that our emotions are being played with—much to our delight.

— Janelle Zara