São Paulo

Cinthia Marcelle and Jean Meeran, Capa morada (Stay [Cape Town]), 2003, ink-jet print, 19 3⁄4 × 29 1⁄2".

Cinthia Marcelle and Jean Meeran, Capa morada (Stay [Cape Town]), 2003, ink-jet print, 19 3⁄4 × 29 1⁄2".

Cinthia Marcelle

Cinthia Marcelle: por via das dúvidas” (Cinthia Marcelle: By Means of Doubt), organized by Isabella Rjeille, was a survey of the work of the Brazilian artist, whose career began in the late 1990s. Marcelle belongs to a generation of artists that includes, among others, Marilá Dardot, Lais Myrrha, Matheus Rocha Pitta, and Sara Ramo, all of whose works are characterized by the association of Conceptual language with an investigation of economics and politics. That generation was marked by two moments of transition. The first, around 2003, was the election of a leftist government in Brazil, following a string of dictatorships and neoliberal governments. These artists looked hopefully to the future in a country still treading cautiously around constitutional processes and social policies. The second transitional moment came around 2019, when a far-right government began to destroy the bases of social programs and to create laws making the purchase of firearms easier. Soon after, that government would also deny the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The works in this show assert a narrative of insubordination, a call to uprising, and poetic and political responses to crucial moments in recent history. However, Marcelle’s work does not depict only the Brazilian scene, it also evokes undefined territories and times. In the photographic series “Capa morada” (Stay [Cape Town]), 2003, a collaboration with Jean Meeran, Marcelle drapes herself in fabrics of the same color as the background before which she poses: an experiment in blending into the landscape of the South African city. In attempting to leave no trace of her existence, she becomes a ghostly presence that periodically emerges in different settings. Linking the phantasmagoric to culture, space, and bodies in Africa is a potent metaphor for thinking about forms of domination and power.

The idea of insurrection is revisited in Confronto (Confrontation), from the series “Unus Mundus” (One World), 2005. The video documents two jugglers who toss flaming torches back and forth as they wait for traffic lights to change. “Each time the traffic lights turn red, two more join in the action until they take up the whole length of the pedestrian crossing. By the end of the video, the jugglers have formed a barrier of fire in front of the vehicles and motorcycles,” as Rjeille’s wall text explains. In Brazil, panhandling jugglers are a common sight at traffic lights, but here, an impasse emerges between the performers—representatives of precarity—and the drivers who create a mounting cacophony of honking horns as they huddle in the vehicles emblematic of their socioeconomic distinction.

In Leitmotiv (Leitmotif), 2011, the camera remains static and focused on a concrete surface. Gradually, we hear the sound of water being poured. Slowly, the floor is covered with water and soap, and we see the movement of rodos, wooden toothless rakes. In this allegory of the world of precarious work, its tools are transformed into prompts for potential political discussion. As the video proceeds, the intensity with which the rodos are manipulated increases. They move repeatedly from the outside toward the inside, concentrating foam in the center of the image. What was simply the washing of an area becomes a gesture of revolt and an attempt to empower the periphery. But, in the end, the movement ceases, and the entire effort dissipates.

Marcelle’s work reflects on the contemporary world from the viewpoint of someone who, surrounded by evil and danger and threatened with death by economic, cultural, religious, or political circumstances, turns toward insurgency.

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.