October 20, 2010

Anna Maria Maiolino, Retrospective exhibition, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona

Anna Maria Maiolino
Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona
15 October 2010 - 16 January 2011

De Para, 1974
(c) Anna Maria Maiolino

Organized by the Fundació Antoni Tàpies this exhibition the first major retrospective exhibition in Europe of the Italian-born Brazilian artist Anna Maria Maiolino. Curated by Helena Tatay, the exhibition follows the artist’s fifty-year artistic trajectory and includes drawings, photographs, films, sculptures and installations, as well as a series of ephemeral creations in clay, conceived specifically for this exhibition, and realised by the artist in the gallery space during the days prior to the opening. This installation, entitled "Once Again", has been made using 6,000 kg of unfired clay that will be left to deteriorate during the course of the exhibition. These ephemeral sculptures were made by the artist in collaboration with a group of sculpture students from the Escola Massana and a team of professional potters.

ANNA MARIA MAIOLINO (Scalea, Italy, 1942) is a multidisciplinary artist whose work embraces different artistic techniques and a great variety of subjects and interests. In her work, Maiolino uses a series of dichotomies (in-out, positive-negative, absence-presence, etc.) conceived as intrinsically related elements that necessarily establish an idea of movement and transit. In fact, her entire body of work is centred round this idea of transformation.

Anna Maria Maiolino was born in 1942. Soon after, her family emigrated from Italy to Venezuela. At the age of 18 she moved to Brazil, where she still lives, although she spent a number of years in New York and Buenos Aires during the seventies and eighties. These geographical displacements, especially those experienced earlier on in her life, plus the complex experience of facing cultural, social and linguistic environments that were alien to her, are clearly reflected in her work, where we find a constant preoccupation with identity, language and the construction of the subject, formulated for the most part as a reflection on the body. And yet, it is precisely this feeling of having been uprooted that allowed her to break away from certain culturally determining factors and to create her own language: ‘I lost the idea of logic, the need to be coherent, to follow orthodoxy. I gained freedom.’ [Anna Maria Maiolino, “Anthropophagous Banquet: Project for a Conference”, 2009] It also motivated her to see art as a way of compensating for the lack of a clearly-defined identity: ‘Working as an artist allowed me to place my feelings in the world… and to transform this “lack” into compensation through a constant process of elaboration of signs and metaphors… For me, to form myself as a person, to learn to be in the world with its nastiness and beauty, was also a way of forming myself as an artist’. [ ‘A Conversation Between Anna Maria Maiolino and Helena Tatay’, in Anna Maria Maiolino, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 2010, pp. 38–60]

Although she never belonged to the Neo-Concrete movement, Anna Maria Maiolino participated, together with Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, in some of its exhibitions during the sixties. The movement defended the recuperation of the body and subjectivity in art, as a reaction to the geometric abstraction that was then dominant in Brazilian circles. In April 1967, the artist took part in the exhibition "Nova Objetividade Brasilera" (New Brazilian Objectivity) that took place at the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro, and brought together the different national avant-gardes. Maiolino also signed the "Declaração de Principios Básicos da Nova Vanguarda" (Declaration of the Basic Principles of the New Avant-garde) that accompanied the exhibition. The declaration recuperated certain aspects of Oswald de Andrade’s "Manifesto antropófago" (Anthropophagous Manifesto), 1922, which defended a strong, autonomous Brazilian art. It also recuperated a conception of the work of art, not as a machine or an object, but as a ‘quasi-body’, in line with the Neo-Concrete manifesto of 1959.

Anna Maria Maiolino’s work is concerned with language and the body as elements capable of modulating subjectivity and the social dimension of the individual. The artist is interested in the relation between what comes in and out of the body, between the inside and the outside, as exemplified in the connection between food and excrement, or between thought and words. 

Glu Glu Glu, 1967
(c) Anna Maria Maiolino

This is the subject of Anna Maria Maiolino's early woodcuts and reliefs – the series "Glu Glu Glu", 1966-1967 – and of her two actions of 1978 – "Monumento à Fome" (Monument to Hunger) and "Estado Escatologico" (Scatological State) –, but also of her works from the nineties, such as the sculptures of trays containing forms that can be interpreted either as food or as excrement – "Segmentada nº 1" (Segmented No.1), and "Um, Nenhum, Cem Mil" (One, No One, One Hundred Thousand), both from 1993. The mouth, as the part of the body most directly related to language and food, appears frequently in her work. Most of her works dealing with the body allude to the biological mandate of reproduction, and show an interest in the matriaxial, understood not only as a paradigm of femininity, but also as a reference to the origins, to the primitive form, to seriality and to legacy. Notable in this respect is the presence of images of eggs in her work, as a symbol of life and of the union between feminine and masculine, and the photograph "Por um fío" (By a Thread), 1976, which shows the artist seated between her mother and daughter, with a thread that passes from one mouth to the other.

Many of her works allude to the political situation in Brazil during the military dictatorship (1964-1985). Examples of this are the affective cartographies "Mapas Mentais" (Mental Maps), 1973-1996, especially "Alma Negra da América Latina – Situação Geográfica" (Black Soul of Latin America – Geographical Situation), and the performance "Entrevidas" (Between Lives), 1981, where the artist walks barefoot over a pavement covered in eggs, in reference to the mixture of fear and hope that the country was experiencing at a time when a slow and gradual process of democratisation was beginning to emerge. 

Entravidas, 1981
(c) Anna Maria Maiolino

Another important aspect of Anna Maria Maiolino’s work is her interest in the most basic materials, such as clay and paper, and the use of unconventional artistic procedures and techniques in the realisation of her works, especially drawings and sculptures. Maiolino does not use a brush in her drawings, rather she lets the ink drip on the paper while she moves it in different directions in a process of mark-making. In her works ‘with paper’ (and not ‘on paper’, as the artist is keen to point out), she often sews, tears and cuts the material, superimposing various layers, giving prominence to the void, the non-space, the hole. In some of her sculptures, the artist recuperates the mould or negative used in the process of creation of the work and gives it the status of a finished work to emphasise her interest in the ‘non-matter’, which is akin to her preoccupation with the body and the residual elements. Since 1994 Anna Maria Maiolino has been making large installations with unfired clay. Here she dispenses with the mould and works the matter directly with her hands. These installations, which demonstrate the artist’s interest in the artisan process, highlight the sensorial aspect of manual work and the physical effort it requires, as well as the ephemeral condition of creation, something that allows her to avoid taking responsibility for the work’s permanence.

Anna Maria Maiolino is also interested in the process of creation – in the physical condition of the work of an artist, as evidenced in the resulting piece – and in making manual works in series to explore the tension between the sameness that comes from the continuous application of the same parameters (in relation to technique, materials, form, etc.) and the difference awarded to the works by the unique and irreproducible character of the human gesture. 

Indicios, 2002
(c) Anna Maria Maiolino

Indicios, 2005
(c) Anna Maria Maiolino

Since 1993, Anna Maria Maiolino has been developing different series of works, each made with a specific technique and procedure. Thus, the series "Indicios" (Traces) is made up of drawings done on the front and back of the paper, while "Vestígios" (Vestiges) is composed of drawings created by the common marks left by the artist while drawing on a pile of papers. In an ongoing process of creation, this method of working allows the artist to create open series that continue to grow with the incorporation of new works, each different from one another, although made using the same method. Anna Maria Maiolino establishes a comparison between this seriality and basic tensions: ‘…one thing leads to another, formulates the next, which is repeated but will always be another.’ The artist also finds in this way of working the possibility to escape from the demands of the new currently imposed on artists.

Anna Maria Maiolino’s work is a reference for artists of different generations, whether in Brazil or at an international level.

Coinciding with the exhibition, there will be a seminar by Griselda Pollock, professor of social history and art criticism. Starting with a critical analysis of Anna Maria Maiolino’s work, the seminar will deal more widely with artistic practice and the influence of feminism on the revision of the canon used in art history. 

The catalogue, edited by Helena Tatay, offers a comprehensive survey of the work of Anna Maria Maiolino from 1967 to the present, and includes specialist essays on the work of the artist, plus an interview between her and the editor. Published by Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Santiago de Compostela: Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Malmö Konsthall: Malmö, and London: Koenig Books, 2010.

Organised by Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, in collaboration with Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela, and Malmö Konsthall, Malmö.

Foundation's website: www.fundaciotapies.org

Updated 2013-08