Guardian-embryos enclose the male/female
The egg coupled
Is on the plate
On the valuable pedestal
In the middle of the space
Lies the threat of death in the false step that crushes
In treading upon this field of seeded lives
In religious silence feet walk under the unfolded canopy
This is a portion of heaven determining the amount of earth
That will be occupied
Thus we relive that which had been forgotten
And step-by-step we recall that which is known'
Poem by Anna Maria Maiolino accompanying her egg sculpture.
At the Antoni Tapies Foundation in Barcelona I went along, lacking sleep, to the first major retrospective of Brazilian artist Anna Maria Maiolino. Working with installations, videos, sculpture, photography and just about every modern material available and engaging with the political climate of her country, I will try to do Maiolino and her work some justice.
Because I don't think I can say it better; 'Seen as a whole, her work unfolds like a rhizomatic structure where all the different pieces, like semiotic steps charged with linguistic, perceptive, social, gestural and cognitive acts establish transversal connections with each other.' Wow, lets be honest I could not say that in any of the words I have.
But I do understand what the curator means; Maiolino is constantly challenging her medium, asking for new ways to communicate and experimenting with the boundaries between mediums in order to express the inexpressible. Her 'Mental Maps' and 'Secret poems' play with the powers of visual linguistics. Words can be read in any direction, as associations and voids. Locating and mapping words leads to the emergence of a narrative of the artist's life.
Experimenting with paper and ink in Marcas de Gota 2, Maiolino describes herself as 'Like a ship's captain at the helm, I move the drawings decisively in the air' so that the ink moves about the paper to make Rorschach ink blots where I find incidental letters and objects. That is the other notable thing about Maiolino; she is engaged with words. A lot of the information in the gallery is written by her, she can explain her working practice, which is a skill not every artist can claim.
Her sculptures in clay explore the organic qualities of her material; a huge landscape of thumbed clay fills an entire wall as though it were a child's obsessive experiment. The entire first floor is filled with earth colours; three tables are laid out like production benches in a pasta factory with identical clay shapes laid out. The works from the 70's explore absences and spaces. Rips and holes in paper and in rocks gape as if she is reaching towards something incommunicable.
In her photography Maiolino becomes more blatantly political. She describes a 'difficult moment for Brazil' where 'fear had gripped the country' and people were 'blindfolded'. Her photographs and portraits speak out against this blindness in their gesture towards self-mutilation.
In her Super8 films she creates what she calls 'photopoemaction' , articulating a 'totally new alphabet of images' (everything she writes is poetry.). She says that she tries to find in the 'act of poetic freedom a resistance to the establishment'. This is the problem with Maiolino, that I have to step down and admit that words defeat me, although they have not defeated her.