New York

Regina Silveira


Masterpieces (In Absentia), 1993, seemed at first glance to be a reedition of Regina Silveira’s installation In Absentia, presented at the 17th Biennial in São Paulo in 1983. On that occasion, the work consisted of the silhouettes of two of Marcel Duchamp’s most popular readymades: Bottlerack, 1914, and Bicycle Wheel, 1913. Both shadows, enormous and deformed in a sort of perplexed simulacrum of perspective, extended over the floor of the enclosure, rising vertically against the panels that encircled the room. The bases on which the objects should presumably have stood were empty pedestals, of an immaculate white in violent contrast to the dense darkness of the shadows.

In her recent installation, the entire series of elements with which Silveira has been formulating her work repeated itself: the white empty bases; the disproportionate shadows subjected to a process that goes beyond anamorphosis in its violation of the laws of perspective; the clearly allegorical intention in her choice of objects. In this case, though, the absent works were Man Ray’s Gift, 1921, Meret Oppenheim’s Object (fur-lined teacup), 1936, and, again, Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel. The implications of choosing these seminal Modernist works are clear; their absence signals the absence of paradigms, an absence art seems to be confronting head-on in the last decade of this century. They are, again, and in this same sense, signs of the certain absence of models in Latin America, and particularly in Brazilian culture, whose Modernity is still a work in progress, endemically in crisis, for which the culture has never been able to formulate a practicable paradigm.

This is perhaps why the shadows in Silveira’s work are the signal of a presence even more powerful than the real, effective presence of the object. Reduced by force to their immaterial condition, the shadows exercise their influence in a more savage and impious way. Consequently, the images overflow onto the object and submerge it into a proliferation liberated from cause and origin. The limited space of the gallery complemented the artist’s intentions: the shadows of the absent works, subtly threatening, looked like silhouettes of animals, or the scenery in an old Expressionist film. The desire of the gaze to reconstruct the original space, and thereby locate the absent object, quickly ceased and surrendered to the suggestions of those strange forms, estranged even from themselves. The result of this process is not only that the relevance of the original in relation to the copy is progressively lost, but also that the effective limit between original and copy becomes cloudy, unnecessary. The white, empty bases are like a testimony to the loss of contact between the real of the object and the fantastic of the mere projection. And as this mere projection reaches the opaque materiality of the shadow—a materiality which is a pure exercise of negation—the object becomes merely an excuse for the free play of the imagination. But the shadow does not, on account of this, cease to beta mark of absence, and the free play of the image is always condemnatory: Masterpieces possesses at once the feverish atmosphere of a feast and the inevitable remorse that accompanies a funeral.

Carlos Basualdo

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent T Martin.