Rio de Janeiro

Lais Myrrha, Corpo de prova #5 (Body of Proof #5), 2017, bronze, concrete, watercolor on paper, dimensions variable.

Lais Myrrha, Corpo de prova #5 (Body of Proof #5), 2017, bronze, concrete, watercolor on paper, dimensions variable.

Lais Myrrha

Galeria Athena Contemporânea

Lais Myrrha, Corpo de prova #5 (Body of Proof #5), 2017, bronze, concrete, watercolor on paper, dimensions variable.

Lais Myrrha’s exhibition “Cálculo das diferenças”(Calculation of Differences) explored the problem of equivalence as it plays out formally and materially. More importantly, the show addressed the ideological underpinnings of equivalence itself as a social and cultural doxa. Such was the case in recent works such as Dois pesos, duas medidas (Double Standard), 2016, shown at the Thirty-Second São Paulo Bienal (but not on view here), in which a pair of twenty-six-foot rectangular structures combined indigenous building materials (vines, logs, and straw) with those of industrial construction materials (bricks, cement, etc.). The scale of the structures was key to the project: Their size, somewhere between that of a small building and a large totem, rendered the juxtaposition all the more uncanny.

In Soma (não) nula (Non-zero Sum), 2017, part of the Athena Contemporânea show, Myrrha works with yet another juxtaposition, this time on a much smaller scale. The work consists of twenty one-gram gold plaques serially arranged over a framed horizontal paper sheet, with one-gram deposits of cocaine on top of each plaque. In some marketplaces, the illicit substance may rival gold in its preciousness and shares the element’s (sub)cultural imaginary—one might recall the violence often involved with the extraction of gold itself, or perhaps the euphoric booms and busts that drive financial markets, whose traders often indulge in flamboyant and tacky lifestyles.

During the opening, Myrrha replaced the work with a photographic replica, further complicating her investigation of equivalence. Historically, it was the unilateral closure of the gold window by the United States in 1971 that allowed world currencies to float freely against each other, thus plunging the very notion of value into a crisis of representation—a key backdrop for the work of Cildo Meireles, who, like Myrrha, also deals with the subject of equivalence and exchange. Soma (não) nula mobilizes photography as a means of counterfeit, with an image that both falsifies and “legalizes” the work. Material authenticity is thus rendered little more than a fetish, cast aside to permit the smoother circulation of commodities and signs.

The work that lent the exhibition its title comprises four identical Plexiglas boxes filled with either bricks or wood. In two boxes—one containing wood and one containing bricks—the matter within the vessel occupies its allotted space in an orderly and efficient manner, recalling Minimalist sculpture and industrial arrangements. In the other two, however, the same quantities of the same materials are subject to entropy: The bricks have been broken and dumped into and over the box, as they can no longer be arranged to fit in, and the wood has been burned, in a process that has yielded a shallow layer of ashes and cinders that resembles the scattered remnants of a bonfire. Such ritual overtones highlight the coffin-like proportions of the boxes themselves, thus unsettling their own cool regularity.

In this context, Corpo de prova #5 (Body of Proof #5), 2017, stands as a poignant meditation on monumentality and impermanence. To create the work, Myrrha stacked concrete cylinders on top of each other until they began to tumble. Then she left the fallen pieces wherever they happened to land and cast the pieces still standing in bronze. The material contrast produces a temporal rift that paradoxically highlights the work’s small-scale disaster. The piece is like a modernist Tower of Babel: In the end, the only thing left for contemporary sculpture to monumentalize is the demise that follows modernist hubris.

Sérgio B. Martins