The Destructive Character (1931) by Walter Benjamin, and Na Europa, a casa do homem ruiu [In Europe, Mans Home has Collapsed] (1947), by Lina Bo Bardi. It could equally be Claude Lévi-Strauss commentary on modern cities in Tristes Tropiques (1955), or Albert Camus profile of the absurd man in The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), or even W. G. Sebalds retrospective description of his generations mindset in Air War and Literature (1997). Not to mention Samuel Beckett, Guy Debord, Tristan Tzara, Le Corbusier, Jean-Luc Godard... there are several beacons that, with some form of power, illuminated paths amid the debris that piled up over the course of the first half of a century that was as destructive as it was infatuated by promises of progress.
This exhibition by Lais Myrrha for the Galeria Jaqueline Martins
inherits a portion of that intense, bitter and somewhat cathartic legacy. Today, at another historical site, she does not nostalgically repeat those lessons, but rather, almost literally makes them into her ambience, her soundtrack projected from the past. But tThe first two texts cited above constitute the script of the album "Lado B [B-side], that she presents on a record player on the top floor of the exhibition. They are actually two B-sides, on one we hear the reading of Bo Bardi, and on the other, Benjamin.
In front of the audio equipment is another piece that displays the complex character of the ghostly presence of these references in the exhibition. This video entitled O instante interminável [The Interminable Instant] is a montage of reproduced newspaper photos which feature some kind of explosion fire and smoke snapped by photojournalists. By passing through details in different degrees of amplification, the video mounts a peculiar moving picture, the result of postproduction and, at the same time, loaded with graphic marks of the lens, the ink and the newspaper from which the images were removed. Thus, let's say, the fire crackles, the smoke spreads and the explosions, well, they explode - but are never confused with the hyperreal images from Hollywood or videogames.
The video loop delivers what its title promises by transforming the very instant of explosion into a cycle with no beginning and no end. Its an allegory of the destructive character. Its a smokescreen, effect of the perpetual fire the fuel of which is nothing but the mediafication of catastrophes of all order and meaning whether they be protests, roadblocks, terrorist attacks, building demolitions, war bombardments or urban accidents. Images that are consumed on a daily basis and become old news are in this case kept, blown up and placed in continuity. Making use of such raw material, the video draws on the permanent state of crisis and indifferent present that the 21st century has maintained as one of its hallmarks.
And that is precisely where the irreducible distinction lies between moments that contextualize the texts cited above and the time in which we live and which is explored by Lais Myrrhas work. What early 20th century civilization witnessed as a laceration of their own flesh was the violent acceleration of History, with a capital H, in a limitless accumulation of rupturing and reconfiguring events, ranging from national border to the sovereignty of peoples, passing through technological and scientific regimes and through habits and customs. Therein coexisted the feeling of irreparable loss and the expectation of an unsurmountable leap by each base of civilization. So it seemed at the same time inevitable to be haunted by destruction and irresistible to acknowledge the vigor of progress, with an unnamable perception that history was so accelerated that it had lost its inherent capacity to be formulated as a grand narrative.
The quantitative multiplication of such processes ended up qualitatively transforming their experience, leaving for the end of the last century and the start of this one a sense of radical banalization of the actual experience of shock with the speed of the times. With the story expired through exhaustion, we are divided into those who speculate about the end of the world, those who ignore any off-the-wall noise and those who watch mesmerized without interpreting the burning flame of the present. It is increasingly difficult to see any trace of potency in the voids left by the demolitions around us; almost as difficult as genuinely lamenting any recently-announced loss. Convinced of the banality of crying over spilt milk, we have become specialized in a modality of anesthesia produced by over-stimulation.
The destructive character lives from the feeling, not that life is worth living, but that suicide is not worth the trouble, concluded Benjamin in 1931. Today we could paraphrase him thus: The destructive habit does not provoke the feeling that life is not worthy of being lived, but that planning is not worth the trouble. Lais, like the artist Leonilson said of himself, cannot change the world its not enough for her to reflect alone. What she can do, in her own way, is dispute the conditions of acceleration, transparency and disposability of the evidence of the banalized destruction of reality. To ensure that the everyday fire is somehow a perennial, present and indigestible flame.
Another of the artists works, Avesso [Inside Out], further multiples the operation of persistence and indifference that guide her relationship with the images of destruction. This is a backlight the size of a sheet of newspaper in which we see, as if projected onto a microfilm reading desk, the back-side of one of the explosion photographs collected by the artist. Through an indiscriminate montage, colors subtly emerge (through the hues of an explosion) of a clipping from a news item, advert or classified ad, almost always connected in some way to the accelerated cycles of destruction of our cities. Although newspaper editors present articles about catastrophe and, for example, those that announce the construction of new condominiums, as separate and distinct, one must only take a longer, closer look to guess the countless causal and interdependent relations between such events.
And, on the bottom floor of the gallery there is space for another work, analogous, yet substantially different, to the one discussed above. It is called Dois quartos [Two bedrooms], a large mass with a concrete surface. Under its skin of artificial urban rock resides an agglomerate of rubble taken from a single room destroyed by one of the many demolition firms that wander from one neighborhood to the next opening the way for vertical buildings which can equally bring obscene numbers of bathrooms and parking spaces in the garage for each apartment and miniscule cubicles piled up with barely enough room to open the doors and cupboards.
As volume, this pile of rubble is, in truth, an endless sample of the weight of the accelerated obsolescence in the dense city of São Paulo, which destroys its fabric as quickly as it launches new developments. And, nonetheless, there are so many. Amid this debris so many things might be found, a significant proportion of someone's life may have taken place between the walls that were one day the bulk of this jumbled mass. When Lais Myrrha creates her installation, she separates, fossilizes and makes no distinction between urban fragments that would otherwise be taken far from our eyes, to one of the countless garrisons of the citys excretions.
Also in this work, Myrrhas efforts stress notions such as duration, opacity and persistence. Employing a certain resistance against the pathological amnesia of the contemporary world, her work might come to be compared to the mnemonic justification that monuments bring in their epistemology reminders of something that would tend toward oblivion. However, from a critical point of view, here work and the monuments are antipodes. Its that the ideological function of monuments reaches far beyond feeding nostalgia for the past: they are demonstrations of power, corollaries of the history books as written by the winners and translations into the status quos cultural field of the symbolic systems of the economically, politically and socially strongest.
As opposed to this, although they reflect a certain commitment to the deceleration of forgetting and prolonging the present moment, works like this can only be associated to the idea of monuments if one considers the new monuments of Robert Smithson or the anti-monumentality of Georges Bataille. Like in Smithson, it deals with the image of power where it fails, transformed into ruin or wheelspin, never where it is idealized and perpetuated sanitized. Like in Bataille, it is about mistrusting hegemonic discourses and seeking in the present that which can be emphasized as shapeless and nameless mass: obstinately opaque. Instead of the horse-mounted hero, the white elephant in the middle of the room.
As one would expect, there is no bronze plaque identifying some memorial day to be celebrated. What completes the installation is the floor plan of a house. On it, everything follows the code of the architectural representation, except for the fact that it's a technical document on which everything is erased, leaving only the plan of the room which is present in the exhibition (as cemented rubble). Again, a subtraction of meaning and discourse is performed.
In what way can these subtractions and opacities be pertinent for dealing with the current time? This time evoking Lina Bo Bardi, one is reminded of the importance held by the ruin of symbolic systems in making any alternative to the state of affairs conceivable. Lais Myrrha seems to acknowledge this need, above all in relation to language itself. Often using techniques and media on the verge of obsolescence (like printed newspapers, vinyl records and backlights), the artist displays detailed attention to operations of cyclic infinitude, interruptions, fading and other narrative aphasias.
This exhibition brings allegories of the worlds contradictions that are resolved as the opposite to the rapidly assimilated images, discourses and headlines that flourish through high-speed information networks. Such opposition is materialized more than through any ideological imposition through a radical deceleration of the correspondences between image and message. If the reader allows, I can conclude this idea with another paraphrase, this time of the title of Lina's text: in Lais work, the speed of the image has skidded.
Many are concerned about the monuments of the West and the East to know who built them. For my part, I should like to know who in those days did not build them who were above such trifling. ---Henry David Thoureau