São Paulo

Fernanda Chieco

Galeria Leme

Fernanda Chieco, a graduate of the University of São Paulo and Goldsmiths’ College in London, is among the most promising of Brazil’s new generation of artists. Her works are bizarre narratives of the body, strange stories that seem to echo the absurdity of human life. While her first pieces were sculptural objects, suggesting bodies whose openings were connected by tubes, conduits, and passages, soon her work with objects gave way to drawing, a medium in which, in her view, everything is possible. Her first large-scale drawing was Tabula Prima, 2003, an enormous piece more than twenty-six feet in length depicting instruments invented to connect people.

Chieco is still thinking about bodies and their connections, as one saw in her recent show, “Os Catamoscas” (The Flycatchers). Using the techniques that have become her hallmark, the artist draws human and animal figures with clean, spare, graphite lines and uses color only for interstitial elements. Her new work focuses on the tongue as a means of interaction. And Chieco’s tongues are quite singular. At the gallery entrance, a sculptural drawing, Catando Moscas (Catching Flies; all works 2009), laid flat on an elongated plinth, served as an introduction to the atmosphere of strangeness: Two crouching people, a man and a woman, are united by a flesh-colored tongue more than thirty feet long.

The artist explains that the tongue is the most powerful muscle of the body and as sticky as a flycatcher. In Chieco’s alternate world, the tongue grows ad infinitum, connecting people and animals; if cut in two, tongues double their ability to connect bodies. Her figures may lack mouths, in which case they have tongues emerging from their anuses. If the anus, in turn, is blocked up, their bellies swell, looking pregnant, full of coiled tongues. The installation in the gallery was strangely clear and systematic, as if offering a scientific demonstration of some esoteric research on flycatchers. Each wall of the gallery’s main space displayed four drawings featuring human bodies with animal heads and, of course, elongated tongues. The bodies are drawn with graphite pencil; the only color lies in the tongues and the heads of some animals, interacting with them. To color the tongues, the artist used watercolor for the first time, relating the fluid medium to the organ’s wetness.

One drawing, Umedecendo a pele do sapo (Moistening the Frog’s Skin), shows a group of people with intertwined tongues above the body of a frog; they are keeping it wet, since the frog is accustomed to living near water. In another, Prea levita em campo magnético lingual (Guinea Pig Levitates in Lingual Magnetic Field), eight people join their long tongues to form a field in which a guinea pig floats. Estimulação cerebral profunda do peixe bicéfalo (Deep Brain Stimulation of the Bicephalic Fish) portrays a two-headed fish-person performing a yoga headstand, supported by the network of tongues formed by the people around him. In these curious, often grotesque fables, presented with refined technique and delicate line, Chieco redeems the power of the absurd.

Katia Canton

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.