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Anna Maria Maiolino

Fundació Antoni Tàpies is pleased to present the first major European retrospective of Brazilian artist Anna Maria Maiolino. Anna Maria Maiolino was born in Scalea, Calabria, in 1942. She emigrated with her family to Venezuela, before settling permanently in Brazil at the age of 18. In the 1960s she participated in various events and exhibitions of the Neo-Concrete movement, together with Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark. This movement, which renovated Brazilian art, abandoned the dominant trend for geometrical abstraction and sought to reconnect art and life by echoing the social resurgence of the body and subjectivity.

Maiolino’s complex works have developed through a variety of media: poetry, woodcuts, photography, film, performance, sculpture, installation and, above all, drawing. The wide spectrum of subjects, interests and attitudes that underlies her work does not follow a linear development, either in the work itself or in time. Rather, through the diversity of her work, she creates a web where themes and attitudes intertwine while meanings slip between one work and another.

In this way, the subject of her first woodcuts and reliefs from the mid-1960s (Glu Glu Glu, 1966–67), which relate language to food and allude to scatology, reappear in two actions from 1978 (Monumento à Fome [Monument to Hunger] and Estado Escatológico [Scatological State]), which exemplify Maiolino’s embracement of the theme of the body: to connect what comes in and out of it. This subject reappears in the 1990s, firstly in the sculptures that evoke food on a platter or scatological forms (Segmentada nº 1 [Segmented 1], 1993; Um, Nenhum, Cem Mil [One, No One, One Hundred Thousand], 1993), and later in the installations where the artist accumulates basic clay forms that resemble pre-industrial accumulations or excrement (Mais de Mil [Over One Thousand], 1995; Ainda Mais Estes [And These As Well], 1996). These installations of rudimentary, equal and different forms, directly moulded from primordial and repetitive hand gestures, evoke the pulse of life in everyday objects and insignificant gestures. Made of unfired clay, these big installations are ephemeral, as the clay, once dry, slowly turns to dust. The sculptures and installations from this period appeal to our tactile senses rather than the visual.

The correspondence of Maiolino’s work with excrement is directly related to the construction of subjectivity. The subject is formed by language but also by the abject, by what has been expelled from the body and transformed into an alien element. And therefore, the abject establishes not only the limits of the body that are socially regulated and controlled, but also the limits of the subject.

For Maiolino, subjectivity is relational and her work moves between dichotomies — in-out, positive-negative, absence-presence — that are constantly reconnecting in a process of transformation. In her drawings from the 1970s, which she defines as works ‘with’ paper, not ‘on’ paper (Buracos [Holes], from the series Buracos/ Desenhos Objetos [Buracos/Drawings Objects] , 1972–76, or Projetos Construídos [Constructed Projects], 1972), Maiolino is interested in the space that is not visible,in what lies behind. To that end, she cuts, tears, rips and then stitches or superimposes the different papers, incorporating the back of the work, in an attempt to unite dichotomies and explore the corporality of the material. The artist uses paper as space and body. These works reveal an intimate negotiation of space, and the holes seem to allude to the interior space we imagine within ourselves (as in the Buracos/Desenhos Objetos series, 1972–76).
This same interest for the ‘other’ space, for the negative, reappears in some sculptures from the 1990s, where the artist incorporates the cast used to make the sculpture that would normally be discarded: the negative. The titles of these works (A Sombra Do Outro [The Shadow of the Other], 1993; Ausentes [The Absent], 1996) refer to what is missing: they reveal the vacant space where the memory of the other lives, and evoke the nostalgia of the matrix for that which creates a single body.

In Maiolino’s work, there are also numerous allusions to the political situation in Brazil during the years of the dictatorship. Her film In-Out (Antropofagia) (In-Out (Anthropophagy)), 1973, unites language and body through saliva, while talking about censorship and the lack of freedom during those years. This subject is present in many of the artist’s works, such as the film + – = -, 1976, or the action Monumento à Fome (see above). One of her better-known performances is Entrevidas (Between Lives), 1981. Here, the artist walks slowly on a floor full of eggs that evoke the biological mandate of reproduction, while the path taken by the artist suggests a caring for life and its potentiality. This performance was realised at a time when Brazil was beginning to open up to democracy.

By putting the accent on relational subjectivity, on the relationship between food and language, or by uniting what comes in and out of the body, Maiolino’s work rejects the phallic paradigm of aggression or identification, of assimilation or attack, that socially excludes all that is deemed to be different. In her work we find many subjects that interact through the diversity of media that she uses, such as everyday gestures, the pulse of life, food, the abject, the fusion with the Other, the social body, affective topology, the body as a place for reinventing existence, difference and repetition, construction of subjectivity, anthropophagy, relational subjectivity, etc. Seen as a whole, Maiolino’s work appears as a rhizomatic structure, where the many semiotic steps, charged with linguistic, perceptive, social, gestural, and cognitive acts, establish transversal connections between them. And what results is a world in progress described by a female voice. All of which, together with its rigour and precision, have turned Maiolino’s work into a reference for successive generations of artists.

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