São Paulo

View of “Laura Lima,” 2018. Photo: Isabella Matheus.

View of “Laura Lima,” 2018. Photo: Isabella Matheus.

Laura Lima

On entering the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo’s vast Octagon Space, one saw multiple workstations for various activities related to clothing production: reviewing template models, cutting and sewing fabrics, displaying a garment for a fitting. Likewise, the materials and tools of the tailoring trade, from spools of thread and rolls of fabric to pincushions, scissors, and sewing machines, were everywhere. Within this setting, Laura Lima’s Alfaiataria (Tailor’s Shop), 2014/2018, brought together a group of real-life tailors and seamstresses to create made-to-measure clothes modeled on the artist’s designs. But rather than clothing people, the ensuing garments covered empty frames. Stacked against a wall awaiting their individual “fittings,” the frames, with their irregular shapes and monochromatic mounting boards, recalled modernist abstraction and the experiments with the shape of the support undertaken by the mid-century Argentine movements Arte Concreto-Invención and Arte Madí. But the tailors’ and seamstresses’ work with fabrics and frames was geared toward another end: the production of nonfigurative “vestment portraits” with proper names for titles, among them Zezé, Marilina, and Ernestina (all 2018), in reference either to invented figures or to real individuals the artist knows.

Unlike the first installment of Alfaiataria, at the Bonnefanten-museum in Maastricht, the Netherlands, in 2014–15, where the finished portraits were hung on white gallery walls, at the Pinacoteca the works, once completed, were transferred to an open storage system in the same octagonal space. In other words, the public was invited not to see finished artworks in a conventional display but to witness their making over the course of the exhibition’s three months, displacing the aesthetic focus from objects to processes, from product to production. One of the first pieces completed by Lima’s garment workers was Lúcia, in which fabrics of different colors and textures are combined through machine- and hand-sewn seams. Fitted to a large rectangular frame, the garment’s central red fabric, flanked by two elongated black-and-white striped triangles, displayed three almond-shaped openings that revealed the support below. Though the abstract portraits varied in style and texture (at times harboring veiled references to art history), this one evoked the sartorial trappings of a harlequin, presenting a refined version of the figure’s motley pattern through its exaggerated geometries and elegant white running stitch.

Active agents in the production of Lima’s work, the tailors and seamstresses were what the artist calls the viventes (livers) of the experience, as curator Fernanda Pitta explained in the opening wall text. This nomenclature recalled the writing of Guy Debord, who used an identical term in his 1957 Report on the Construction of Situations, a foundational Situationist text. He wrote: “The role of the ‘public’ . . . must constantly diminish, while that played by those who cannot be called actors, but rather, in a new meaning of the term, ‘livers,’ will increase.” For Debord, these viveurs engaged the capacity to revolutionize life, while Lima’s stated goal was to draw attention to it—that is, to the body’s movement, to concentration and fatigue, as well as the physiology of flesh, its temperature, sweat, and smell. That said, Alfaiataria inevitably engaged questions of labor. The Pinacoteca building’s original function served to enhance the link to tailoring: It used to house the São Paulo School of Arts and Crafts. And it is located near the Bom Retiro neighborhood, home to a robust tailoring tradition still evident in streets filled with textile shops and clothing stores, many owned for generations by immigrants to the city. By using living beings, workers, as both the subject and object of her exhibition, Lima asked visitors to observe and think about labor, its value, the materials out of which objects are made, and the forces that give objects form—both within and beyond the frame of art.

Kaira M. Cabañas