The exhibition Ana Maria Tavares: Deviating Utopias is on view at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts
from Oct. 11, 2013 through Jan. 12, 2014 in the Gordon CAP Gallery. Reflecting her ambivalent feelings regarding Brazils efforts to modernize during the post-World War II years, Tavares creates works that examine the ambiguities and tensions associated with architecture as an instrument of social progress. Extending this historical narrative to the present, she creates works that inspire the audience to consider the psychological disorientation that often arises in todays public architecture and interior design.
Oscar Niemeyer, the utopian Marxist architect behind the creation of the modern capital city of Brasilia, looms large in Tavaress works. Tavares notes that, "In Brazil, modern architecture [such as Niemeyers] has been responsible for projecting the country to the world as a "modern nation" but we have never been able to completely overcome the paradoxes generated from that project in the tropics: How can a hybrid, mixed, savage, undomesticated nature be completely framed?" In this thought lies the central tension of the exhibition: modernisms utopian promises of egalitarianism and connection to the world stage comes into conflict with the dystopian realities of isolation and estrangement in modern megalopolises such as São Paulo, where the artist lives and teaches.
Frist Center Chief Curator Mark Scala notes that ―Works in the exhibition are created fromor depictmaterials such as steel, glass and mirrors to deconstruct ideologies hidden within the design of contrived environments, in Brazil and elsewhere. The Eclipse series, for example, is inspired by Niemeyers 1951 Oca building in Sao Paulos Parque do Ibirapuera, a simple white dome that was intended to convey an optimistic vision of national progress. Tavaress views of the structure, digitally manipulated to show variations in reflectiveness and transparency, dissolve this declaration of modernist ideology into veil and shadow, more will-o-the-wisp than practical agent of social transformation.
Other themes in Tavaress work include contemporary consumerism and surveillance technology, as demonstrated in Inventory Control, a wall-mounted sculpture of twelve mirrors. Scala comments on the piece:
"Inventory Control alludes to the surveillance occurring in many sites of contemporary existence. Our acceptance of this in the marketplace and online may lull us into a similar acceptance of governmental control of its ‗human inventory, as happened during Brazils dictatorship (which ended in 1985) and is again in the news in terms of our own current National Security Administration imbroglio."
By focusing on transitional spaces like airports, malls, and other public areas, Tavares evokes sensations of floating and meditating. The centerpiece of the exhibition is an immersive, four-screen video projection titled Airshaft (to Piranesi). "The viewer is surrounded by a virtual space filled with architectural fragments that remain constantly morphing, sinking, and shifting, giving the viewer a sensation of being a bodiless consciousness floating in an endlessly unstable world," explains Mr. Scala.
Of note is a new sonic component to Airshaft titled Niterói, water that hides, created by Nashville composer Brian Siskind specifically for the Frist Center installation. In this haunting accompaniment, Siskind interprets the rich discordance of the urban experience in Brazil and other urban centers. He describes the sound piece as "a collage of mid-century/post war orchestral vinyl recontextualized into a dark, deep and teeming sound environment."