“Terra Trema” at Thomas Dane Gallery, Naples
Leticia Ramos and Paloma Bosquê in conversation
On the occasion of the collaboration with Mendes Wood DM, Thomas Dane Gallery will present Terra Trema, a group show featuring works from an intergenerational selection of Brazilian artists, spanning a period from 1968 to 2019. Including painting, photography, sculpture, and film, the show is framed by the atmosphere of Naples, becoming the inspiring backdrop for a discourse on materiality, whether geographic, photographic, or pictorial. In this exchange, artists Leticia Ramos and Paloma Bosquê discuss influences on their artistic practices as well as principles and multiple approaches to making art.
LETICIA RAMOS: I really like words in Italian. I think they suit dramatic situations better than any other language. In Italian, everything seems bigger. Naples has one of the world’s most famous volcanoes: Mount Vesuvius, near Pompeii. When they asked me to suggest an exhibition title, I pondered: what do Brazilian female artists from different generations—whose works do not have a direct relationship with each other—have in common?
I came up with Terra Trema, which translates as “earth trembles.” Recently, I have been researching earthquakes, instability, and resilience, common themes among Brazilian artists. Coincidentally—or perhaps not—this is also the title of Luchino Visconti’s film La Terra Trema (1948) (The earth trembles), a classic of Italian realism. The film, which takes place in a small fishing village, tells the story of a family of fishermen that decide to run their own fishing business in order to escape the exploitation of wholesalers. They mortgage the house and buy their own transport boat. Faced with the pressures of paying off their debts, they risk everything on a fishing trip on a stormy day. The fishermen lose their boat, and they are forced to go back to fishing for the greedy mediators. The film ends with the narrator repeating the sentence: “The sea is bitter… sailors die at sea… and return to the sea.” Being bitter is the natural condition of the sea. Terra Trema could be the world right now.
PALOMA BOSQUÊ: This makes me think of Barravento, Glauber Rocha’s film from 1962. It must have been inspired by Visconti’s film. It also features wholesalers who exploit fishermen, and the sea is also the ruler of people’s destinies. However, Rocha’s movie depicts human passions and popular religions (the community is made up of descendants of slaves), and these aspects are so strong that they end up interfering in their destinies. People are not only subject to the forces of nature and capitalist exploitation; they are—above all—subject to their own desire and faith, which are as strong as nature. Human passion and faith are mirrored in the violence of natural phenomena. This point of view interests me a great deal, as it blends nature and culture. In any case, I think this is a beautiful image for a title. I also like the idea of starting an exhibition from the specific place where it happens, from the ground, which is, literally, the exhibition’s floor.
Going back to your first reference, when I was a child, I used to have a recurring dream about Pompeii: the eruption’s remains, the petrified people, and the way those final moments are still preserved today. I think I once watched a program on Brazilian television about it that really touched me.
Thinking about the exhibition title, there is another recurrent reference: Alberto Burri’s Cretto di Gibellina (1984–89). For me, it is like the symmetrical reverse of Pompeii’s mortal remains. The blocks contain the matter of the destroyed city, preserving the outline of the old urban layout, while at the same time freezing the moment of the brutal tremor that devastated the place. However, in this case, the remnants are kept away, protected from sight; they have been converted into the indexical sign of a tragedy. It’s a very powerful and effective operation by Burri.
LR: And it doesn’t age. It has no contact with the world. If opened, it could disappear forever. It’s a frozen instant. A photograph, in a way.
PB: Exactly. It’s the record of a brutal event, of a trauma, eternalized in a real-scale artwork.
LR: The frozen moment triggers the feeling of time travel. You can travel to that moment, to the exact moment when the volcano burned those bodies. How do you see the aging of an artwork, of matter, of an idea? How do you start something completely new?
PB: For me, matter and concept are inseparable. A body is always doing the thinking. But matter is what ages. Time exists only to matter. It is, in fact, the only way we can measure it. I live in a sort of circular time. It is as if, throughout the years, I have accumulated a repertoire of concepts. New concepts are incorporated, and old ones are transformed by the arrival of new ones. I have the impression that there are a few “base concepts,” which are always the same. So I don’t believe there is a brand-new work; instead, there is a body of work under construction. The next work is always the consequence of a previous one. They are born already pregnant with siblings.
LR: The title of your series of sculptures Arranjo Cego (2018) (Blind arrangement) makes us think of arbitrariness, of chance. However, arrangement is often something planned, studied. Do you tend to plan your sculptures, or does the material lead the way? Are your works born with names?
PB: The original idea behind the word “blind” for the arrangements came from the fact that the sculptures are built from compositions guided by an internal, intrinsic order, therefore, closed in themselves, hence the word “blind.” For instance, in architecture, a building’s blind wall is its windowless facade. The series was made after another series called Inventory (The Blind Leading the Blind) (2017–2018), which is the name of a painting by Pieter Bruegel. Its scene and title refer to a very old parable found in Sanskrit texts. I’m actually more interested in the phase than the painting.
The phrase takes the perspective of those who can see, and the painting shows a group of blind people walking together. The blind lead each other via an internal arrangement, which is totally different from our navigation based on sight, and something that we know nothing about. They are a close-knit group, following their own logic. In reality, we are the blind, trusting our own senses, following an order intrinsic to our own limited and ignorant condition in relation to everything else that we are not able to apprehend.
My compositions are never random. There is life; the materials are often still in a process of stabilization, they follow their own internal order. But in this process, there is no room for randomness. The sculptures are the result of a sort of dance between matter and concepts, which—according to my own interpretation—the matter evokes.
Names orbit in my mind. Sometimes they find a material reflection, so name and work are attracted like the opposite poles of magnets. These are the names that were already there before the works. Sometimes, works are finalized but take more time to be named. These are more painful.
PB: Your works often stem from research that has a factual departure point but that ends up heading toward a fictional approach. In the same way, you often use photography, but in an almost sculpture-like way. Have you always worked like this, or is it a process that has evolved from your work’s narrative?
LR: My work is based on two principles: narrative and technique. This process results in scientific romances that have their own language, which is made possible only by the fusion of these two spheres.
By taking analog photographs, making the models for the films and the sculptures for the photograms, I establish a daily debate between concept and material. I build images of something that supposedly doesn’t exist in the world. My research is about imagining and building these universes, and each one of them has its own complexity, its own multiple approaches. I think it’s difficult to finalize a line of research as it always reverberates even when you add new subjects.
In Não é difícil para um investigador da natureza (2018) (It isn’t difficult for a nature researcher), I use an excerpt from Immanuel Kant that I found during my research on the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. It describes how to simulate an earthquake with chemicals and a heat source. Without a specific timescale, at a certain point “smoke will rise and earth will tremble”, as stated by Immanuel Kant. I redid the experiment using iron and sulfur as my aesthetic basis. The models are the testing ground, and the film’s image is the experience itself, in different proportions and “scenes.” When I think about the process of making the film, I can say that I have always worked this way; I have always approached photography as sculpture. And the more aware I am of this type of process, the more maturity my work gains. There is an unsettled tranquility, so to say, in accepting mistakes and successes as part of the work, in knowing when to stop or not midway because it’s sometimes in the middle of the way that you find very interesting things.
PB: “Non c’é niente di naturale nella natura ragazzo mio. Tienilo bene in mente. Quando la natura ti sembrará naturale, tutto sará finito e comincierà qualcos’altro.” This loosely translates as: “There is nothing natural in nature, my young man. Keep that in mind. When nature seems natural, everything will come to an end and something new shall begin.”
This is a line spoken by the centaur Chiron, Jason’s tutor, in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Medea (1969). When you mentioned that you create images of something that supposedly doesn’t exist, this is what it reminded me of. It is also something that constantly guides my research. Everything is created because everything is perceived and turned into language by a thinking body. Yet there is the world “outside”—the world as an event. However, beyond our perception, the universe is all a mistery.
Participating artists: Paloma Bosquê (b. 1982, Garça), Anna Bella Geiger (b. 1933, Rio de Janeiro), Sonia Gomes (b. 1948, Caetanópolis), Patricia Leite (b. 1955, Belo Horizonte), Solange Pessoa (b. 1961, Ferros), Letícia Ramos (b. 1976, Santo Antônio da Patrulha)
Terra Trema, a collaboration with Mendes Wood DM
24 September–30 November 2019 at Thomas Dane Gallery, Naples