Fire, Faísca, Funke - a title, a term in three different languages that opens the exhibition of the three Brazilian and Berlin-based artists Marina Camargo, Ana Hupe and Barbara Marcel. The nouns stand for the great, blazing fire that destructively transforms wood into ash and, according to natural laws, prepares the ground for new growth. On the one hand. On the other, it stands for the spark, which flies and as ignition energy lights a fire. To start with, the exhibition literally shows the violence of fire. The new collaborative video work by Ana Hupe and Barbara Marcel, Manioc I grind for you, sister, shows images of the disastrous fire in one of Latin America‘s oldest museums, the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro from September 2018. This fire destroyed around 90 % of the works stored there, includ- ing 40,000 objects by indigenous peoples, collections of numerous extinct animal and plant species, as well as audio recordings of indigenous languages – recordings like those in the world-renowned Phonogramm-Archiv of the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin and its Theodor Koch-Grünberg Collection, witnesses to the historical colonial entanglements between Brazil and Germany. In the figurative sense, the spark also flies and ignites, despite and because of its directed flight toward flammable material, the fire of indignation and activist revolt from below. This red thread runs through the exhibition like a critical commentary, as we understand it today in view of the worrying political and ecological upheaval in Brazil, one of the world‘s richest in terms of natural and cultural treasures.
Marina Camargo, Ana Hupe and Barbara Marcel belong to the youngest generation of internationally-active Brazilian artists who react to this wealth with works that are not only relevant to Brazil, but also to other geographies and political-cultural contexts. In reference to the Uruguayan-Spanish modernist Joaquin Torres-García and his powerful shift of the cultural center from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere, as he pictorially propagated it in 1943 by reversing the map of South America, all works in the exhibition examine phenomena that suggest the dissolution of still valid economic and political power structures. The present shows us how such numerous, global, and unbounded upheavals come from the grassroots. They constantly bring the grown, deeply-rooted, old genealogies of our species and ancestors to the surface of contemporary relevance and explosiveness. The work of these artists is important because, like many other artists in the world, they do not hesitate to lend a voice to minorities and to document the essential importance of the earth‘s resources, be it the diversity of species or the knowledge of them.
Maniok reibe ich dir, Schwesterchen (Manioc I grind for you, sister) is a video work edited to ContraNatura by Brazilian composer Thelmo Cristovan. A film essay, it cross-fades sequences from No Paiz das Amazonas (In the Land of the Amazons, 1922), a documentary about the early industrialisation of the forest by Joaquim Gonçalves de Araújo and Silvino Santos, with inventories of today‘s industry on Brazil‘s rivers and juxtaposes them with the still traditional process- ing of manioc roots. The work’s title refers to Koch-Grünberg’s extremely problematic description of a Macushi song about processing manioc for use as flour, the text of which he published in 1917. Since the 15th century, manioc, which is native to Brazil and widely cultivated, has played a decisive role in the colonisation of the continent as an everyday food. Processing the root into flour has largely been carried out in the traditional way up until today. The extraction and production of manioc flour takes place in the context of a communal extractive economy which, unlike the massively increased industrial cultivation of soya, for which the Amazon is cleared, does not negatively impact the forest’s biodiversity. The link between the different production cycles of soya and manioc is also the topic of the installation BR-163 Cuiabá-Santarém, which consists of transport bags for chemicals or soya beans and with which manioc flour is offered on Brazilian markets (Mercadão 2000, photographs). Marcel has directly linked the chemical substances used in the mass production of soya by large Brazilian corporations like Cargill Inc., to the everyday consumption of a staple food, while also pointing out the transport routes of both food and feed to China, Africa and even Berlin. For the finissage on June 15, the Senegambia African restaurant close to the Mario Kreuzberg Gallery, which serves manioc dishes, will be showing a new video work Senegambia bleibt. about the cultural and political hub for the local African community and its owner Pa Jah, made by Marcel, Hupe and Camargo on the occasion of the exhibition.
Marina Camargo also points to the true complexity of the extractive economy with her work Brasil: Extrativismo (2017). This work, which was received with dismay in Brazil, shows the artist‘s hands transforming a map of the continent entitled „Brasil Extrativismo“ from a school atlas into a white surface by means of an eraser. The geographical contour of the continent is retained, but not the sustainable production sites marked on the map, which are distinguished by their biodiversity. The work refers to a painful and controversial chapter of the economic boom of the Lula years up to the present-day conversion of the rainforest by corporations close to Bolsonaro, which, while producing wealth for certain strata of the population, overwhelmingly function at the expense of the rainforest and its rich plant culture. Camargo sees the Southern Hemisphere, where her homeland lies, as an „exhausted“ continent that loses its form and collapses. With her work Mapas moles (Soft Maps, 2019), she not only takes up the reference to the Trepantes, the „soft sculptures“ of the famous Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, who has become the precursor of a fundamental reevaluation of Brazilian constructive language. Camargo also subverts the concept of the Mercator projection, which since the 15th century has made it possible to reproduce the surface of the earth such that angles are preserved. Through the now sculpturally possible collapse of regions, this projection, a construct invented by humans, also collapses. Here, too, not only cultural concepts of the Cartesian dimensioning and subordination of the world to the human spirit play a role, but also the use of rubber. As with Lygia Clark, rubber is not only a raw material originating in the region, it is also one that was already used by the indigenous population of the Amazon in pre-Columbian times. In the series Fronteiras / Songlines: América do Sul, Camargo is concerned with a further dissolution of ruling narratives. By tracing the political boundaries of South America, the artist makes use of a figure that she formally transforms into a soundtrack. This soundtrack does not follow any compositional law. It can be seen as an absurdity of the abstraction of political boundaries that have no extension per se, but that are of geopolitical significance and consequently are decisive only through their definition.
What all three artists have in common is an interest in a relationship between nature and culture that goes beyond the political or economic structures that are Brazil’s colonial legacy. As part of their work for Manioc I grind for you, sister, Ana Hupe and Barbara Marcel also interviewed indigenous plant healers and caboclas (Tupi for ‘person with copper-coloured skin’, referring to people of mixed white-amerindian heritage) , who present their views on the wealth and state of nature endangered by man. It is known that only a small proportion of the healing powers of the Amazon rainforest have been researched and that the existing knowledge of the indigenous people is only passed on orally. Ethnobotany, which is extremely promising for a pharmaceutical industry keen on accessing the medicinal plant knowledge of indigenous peoples, is for the artists another case of how knowledge is used, but also endangered, by processes of industrialization. Ana Hupe spent a long time learning syncretic practices with Santería priestesses in Brazil, Cuba and Salvador, . Her interest lies not only in the overlapping of different religious ceremonies, which originate from the Afro-Brazilian religion and the religion of the West African Yoruba, but also in ideas of a worldview unknown to us that is shaped by religious traditions. As part of her trilogy Pororocas, whose title is taken from the Tupi Guarani word for the tidal wave of the Amazon, she designed a walk-in cabin called Brillamos con luz propia based on a dress used for shamanic initiation rites. This so-called “gala dress”, made of velvet, is worn by the orisha Obaluaê, who brings illness but also heals, only during her initiation and death. It covers the whole body and especially the face of this orisha. Hupe’s Obaluaê cabin becomes a place of healing. The work is complemented by a series of seven white flags hung in the room, on which the seven symbols of Yemanjá, the goddess of the sea and motherhood, are embroidered. These symbols can only be seen in ultraviolet light. Hupe understands this work, which relies on the clothing, fabrics and objects used in initiation rites, as an offering to this goddess. The work is also called „gala dress“, and will only be visible in a certain light and only at night. In front of the gallery, hanging in a tree, shine the words „Brillamos con luz propria“ („Let‘s shine with our own light“), a slogan the artist has taken from house wall in Havana. Another work, Bananas para o rei! (Bananas for the king!) is dedicated to the fire energy of the god of justice, Xangô. In the Cuban context, the Cuban royal palm is both a symbol of this god and of the Cuban constitution. Legend has it that Fidel Castro was a son of Xangô, while in the Brazilian context its seeds were imported and protected by Portuguese King Dom João XVI, while also being stolen by slaves and used as currency to buy their own freedom.
The practices of Marina Camargo, Ana Hupe and Barbara Marcel can be seen as a search for traces and exploration of references which, despite being in some ways opposed to one another, are some- times even toxically entangled. Their multi-perspectival approaches are equally determined by proximity and distance, which contribute to producing an unmistakable image of current and historical situations. Because only those who have a view from outside can make visible.
is a curator, art scholar and researcher on post-War cultural-political exchanges between Brazil and Germany.
SUPPORT Projektförderung Bezirksamt Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg 2019
Photos Marina Camargo