The work of Carmela Gross (São Paulo, Brazil, 1946) can be seen as a constant exploration of the visual and existential repertory of the city. Strongly rooted in the urban experience and landscape of her native city of São Paulo, Gross’ artistic production incorporates the use of various media (drawing, graphics, sculpture and installation), and puts together a body of work where urban environments never seem to run out. She belongs to a generation of artists that began to work in the late sixties and early seventies—a critical period because of the political and social climate arising from military dictatorships in various countries in the southern part of the continent. While in the artistic milieu questions such as the dematerialization of the art object, the fading of boundaries between traditional genres and the incorporation of elements of everyday life marked creation processes and the emergence of categories such as pop art, conceptual art, performance or happenings, in the North American and European context they had scarce resonances. Clearly, artists glance beyond the museum setting and the art system circuits, leading many of them out to the streets and to consider their practice from another position: the public realm.
A Carga (The Load) was this artist’s first show in Mexico and gathered a set of four pieces that made manifest Gross’ sculptural impulse linked to the city and the body: A Carga and Escada (Ladder), both from 1968; and Cuba and Ithaca, from 2011, the latter two from the Ilhas (Islands) series. With this constellation of works she set out to activate a series of sculptural and conceptual operations by placing within El Eco A Carga—a large-scale sculpture presented as a geometric volume constituted by a canvas, whose materiality blurs the contours of the volume, complicating a fully accurate identification. The canvas came from a cargo truck and as such has a very particular, everyday function: to cover the boxes of trailers and trucks and protect merchandise or whatever was being transported from the inclemency of time; in this context, it becomes a skin that envelops the very shape that holds it.
The year in which Gross made A Carga—1968—was a year of political upheaval in Brazil and other parts of the world. Four years after the dictatorship began with the 1964 military coup, censorship and repression of the military regime provoked revolts by students and other sectors of society, spreading throughout the county in 1968 and leading to disappearances and the incarceration of political activists. On December 13 of that same year, the government decreed the Ato Institucional Número 5 (AI-5) granting full powers to the president and suspending constitutional rights and guarantees. A Carga was shown in 1969 in the Sala Especial de Nuevos Valores in the X São Paulo Biennial, along with other pieces that, in the opinion of critic Ana Maria Belluzo, revealed an interest in the presentation of “de-aestheticized” constructions that serve as indexes of urban and suburban lives by subverting the artistic realm through the use of precarious materials brought from urban culture. A Carga contains at least two registers of memory—the one of this cloth’s journeys and moves (including its transfer to Mexico City), and the historical memory that crosses paths with the glance that attempts to unveil what is hidden, that seems to be silenced but in fact screams; concealment as something that makes the contours of individual and shared subjectivities visible.
Escada is a photograph that documents an intervention made by the artist on a cliff on a peripheral area of São Paulo. This extremely vertical city—unlike Mexico City—seems to delineate a different notion of a skyline. The black line sketched by Gross on the urban landscape broadens the scale and action of graphic and sculptural thought by means of this simple gesture that points to the distribution of spaces and roles in the public sphere. Cuba and Ithaca, on the other hand, are two sculptures where the importance of drawing in Gross’ work is evidenced. This is the primary impulse behind the projects, and the generating matrix of ideas sometimes crystallized in other media. These “islands” mark an autonomous territory within exhibition spaces, by means of the tension and elasticity of the rubber material with which they are constructed.
The strident and fleeting flows of city courses are present in the work of Gross in a fashion that we could call decanted, assimilated—in such a way that, rather than commenting on the surrounding reality or using the city as a subject, her work is crossed by the jumbled and stimulating visual language of a metropolis like São Paulo. She speaks of this crossing when she paraphrases something I once heard her say: “It is the city that is made, shaped within oneself, that makes it possible for one to think from individual contraction, from one’s own subjectivity crossed by this experience.” Her work has an emotional relationship with the city that confronts the spectator poetically and convincingly. There is proximity, at once crude and sensual, with the city and with materials. One body against another. Thus, in this exhibition it was up to us to activate and elaborate everything that appeared in the shapes: in this site—in the broadest sense—and in the moment our country was traversing.
Paola Santoscoy, curator.