São Paulo

View of “Cibelle Cavalli Bastos,” 2016. Photo: Gui Gomes.

View of “Cibelle Cavalli Bastos,” 2016. Photo: Gui Gomes.

Cibelle Cavalli Bastos

Mendes Wood DM | São Paulo

View of “Cibelle Cavalli Bastos,” 2016. Photo: Gui Gomes.

Cibelle Cavalli Bastos’s first solo exhibition in São Paulo, “Mil Maneiras de Matar um Monstro” (A Thousand Ways to Kill a Monster), opened the night before the world’s largest LGBT parade took place in the same city. Appropriately enough, it embodied the London-based Brazilian artist’s farewell to old-fashioned gender and identity conventions.

Cavalli is a musician as well as an artist; hers was the main voice on the acclaimed 1999 album São Paulo Confessions by Suba (Mitar Subotić)—she was just twenty-one at the time it was recorded—and she has since released several albums under the name Cibelle. She’s also worked under a variety of pseudonyms such as Xanayanna Relux and Sonja Khalecallon, and while her studies were in painting, performative elements remain a constant in what she describes as a conceptual post-medium practice.

The exhibition opened onto a wall clad in mirror tiles near the entrance. Instructions for a performance (held during the opening) were applied in vinyl lettering onto the tiles. They read, in part: WALKING THROUGH THE SPACE / CHOOSE A PART OF YOUR BODY AND MOVE IT WITH MOVEMENTS STEREOTYPICALLY SO-CALLED FEMININE. . . . / LET THE MOVEMENT SPREAD THROUGH YOUR WHOLE BODY. . . . / CHOOSE A PART OF YOUR BODY AND MOVE IT WITH MOVEMENTS STEREOTYPICALLY SO CALLED MASCULINE / MOVE THROUGH THE SPACE / LET THE MOVEMENT SPREAD THROUGH YOUR WHOLE BODY. . . . / LET THE MOVEMENTS UNDO THEMSELVES / LET THEM LEAVE YOUR BODY. . . . / REPEAT THE EXERCISE IN PUBLIC SPACES, PARTIES, WHILST MAKING LOVE, WALKING, IN CONVERSATIONS. . . .

On the opposite wall the artist placed two large-scale “Paucetas” (The series title is a neologism she translates as “Vagenisses” or “Peninasses”), 2016–, hybrid genitalia produced from painted foam and other materials. These objects had been used during this year’s Cordão dos Mentecaptos (Line of the Fools) carnival procession in which Cavalli Bastos participated along with a group of other artists in downtown São Paulo. She describes parading the “Paucetas” in public as a “liberating, silly experience,” firmly rooted within the local trans-inclusive feminist movement.

The two galleries were separated by a series of “stretched skins” produced from a mixture of cloth and latex, whose toxic smell permeated the space. Titled Cas(c)a/\Carniça (Shell/House/\Carrion), 2016–, the suspended skins were hung on hooks like those used in slaughterhouses. Reminiscent of Eva Hesse’s sculpture Contingent, 1969, or remnants from one of Hermann Nitsch’s Actionist orgies, they here seemed to function as proxies for discarded human carcasses or gendered forms of behavior. High on the rear wall hung the red neon run naked with the wind dressed up in courage, 2016, as if urging the viewer to participate in a campaign for identity experimentation. The sculpture ASS-NU DOYRADX, 2016, also produced from painted foam and employed during country’s Carnival, was placed on the floor in front of the neon work as a seat from which to watch the video SUR-FACE, 2015. Presented on a large HD flat-screen TV, the nine-minute loop portrays the artist applying makeup almost as if she were creating a drawing, using lipstick, mascara, and so on to construct an unidentifiable face that contradicts the clean design of conventional female beautification.

The colored glazed ceramics from the series “Linguarudx” (Long Tongues), 2016–, were mounted at different heights around the gallery, and depict mouths, tongues, and assholes as metaphorical stand-ins for repressed desires. If the first few waves of feminism went largely unnoticed during a military dictatorship and a Brazil governed by a white male patriarchate, Cavalli Bastos’s work is an example of how emancipated Brazilian artists have moved beyond the emblematic exploration of Neo-concrete legacies to address urgent sociopolitical realities. Her advocacy for nonbinary identity formulation amounted to a niche monument for queer communities gaining momentum in a society that remains in shock after the recent coup d’état.

Tobi Maier