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Critical Essays

Between the Being and Things

Luisa Duarte | 2014



The title of Cristina Canale’s solo show Entre o Ser e as Coisas (Between the Being and Things) holds a precious clue when it comes to breaking down the vectors that drive the selection of this set of paintings. Philosophically speaking, Being is what lies beyond the physical and sentient field, beyond visual phenomena; it concerns the realm of ideas, of concepts. There are the things, the entities: a chair, a shoe are things, are entities. And then there are the ideas of what a shoe is, of what a chair is. There is an idea of universal character for a multiplicity of entities. The Being supposedly endows things with a sense of a universal root. From the late 19th century onwards, art came to be regarded as a privileged place at which for the entity’s Being to come to light and be unveiled. As such, it is a realm where sensible content and intelligible content merge, providing food for thought and sight at once. Note that this view of the artistic fact was not born with philosophy; quite on the contrary. To Plato, artists had to be expelled from the city, for they inebriated the mind by falsifying the world with images that did not represent truth, whose truth supposedly dwelled in a place beyond the sensible, in what has come to be known as metaphysics.

A potential analogy to this parity between Being and entity (thing) in the realm of art is the geometric abstraction-figuration pairing. Geometry and the grid are expressions driven by a belief in the purity of reason, in cognitive abstraction, which are procedures underpinned by the modern dream. In Brazil, Constructivism, whose foundations lie in the neutrality of geometry, was contaminated by Neoconcretism. There, pure forms merged with the body and the organic, chance and passing life entered the scene.

This digression can be helpful in grasping the key vectors of Cristina Canale’s poetic program. Since the 1980s, the artist has conducted thorough research into the pictorial field. While tension between abstraction and figuration is central to her work today, early on, the poles of matter and landscape constituted the chief dialectic in her research. We are aware that a prominent feature of the so-called comeback of painting in the 1980s was the material presence that endowed the artistic gesture with expressive character. At that time, Canale did not fit the recipe altogether; her works dealt with formal issues, employed colors intensively, yet her goal was to build malleable landscapes, with a sunnier, less melancholy tone. Her palette was courageously more open and varied than those of the vast majority of her then-colleagues, who embraced a cloudy, dark monochromatism indebted to the German school of neo-expressionist painting.

Fast forward thirty years and this tension, which sets out to deconstruct a will to order, perennity – or, better yet, chooses to inhabit a space in between, which straddles abstraction, lines, the evocation of figures, all in big splatters of color – is seen in each of the pieces featured in Entre o Ser e as Coisas, endowing the entire exhibition with razor-sharp cohesion.

Let us see how these poetic tactics occur in each of the pieces. In the painting Anjo (Angel) we see a geometrical pattern in green and white. Enmeshed in this pattern there arises the figure of what would be a girl with angel wings reaching out her hand to another “someone,” whose clothes, face and body are shapeless. What should have been a figure becomes abstraction. What is abstraction appears to beg to become a figure. The moment the scene and the narrative seem to be drawing to a conclusion, an intentional recoiling motion takes place. All is not given. The painting keeps questioning our gaze. The artist, akin to Penelope, builds and takes apart, knowing well that precisely in this dynamic lies the deviant method to her poetics.

This unsuspected path whose method is deviation persists in Barroco (Baroque), its background arranged into straight lines, like a needed foundation so that afterwards, the flight can be taken where representation will be put in check. A pattern of organic blue-and-white contours hovers around the midsection of the painting. One gradually realizes that there seems to be the figure of an animal, or more than one (a rooster and a dog?). The picture is intentionally confusing, for incision is the place this piece inhabits.

That which should convey a portion of the world represented, figured, is instead frayed, bleared and interconnected with what is pure painting, pure color. Not only in Barroco, but in Canale’s entire work, there is a constant questioning of image. The use of traditional painting motifs and day-to-day scenes, which supposedly draw us close, is tensed up. It is a universe that sounds at once familiar and strange.

The use of traditional painting motifs in a fragmented narrative, which shuns
any hint of completeness, its edges constantly diluted, as we sail a sea without a coast, are all aspects that point back towards a primordial question, namely the crisis of representation that emerged in modernity and worsened in contemporaneity. Painting arises as a space for questioning the reach of our gaze, and ultimately the possibilities of painting itself still representing or saying something about the world.

Canale’s paintings do not mean to “say” anything about what exists around us, nor do they turn their backs on the context in which they live. They neither embrace the modern textbook that has turned its back on life nor the thematics that abdicate form merely to illustrate something. Her paintings set out to erect upon the flesh of pictorial language their narratives devoid of starting point and endpoint, and are always journeys.

Her houses are triangles, the flowers are lines, a hat melts down into a pure
mass of color, hair turns into circles and cones. It is thus, by allowing a prosaic vocabulary of trite living to appear erected underneath abstract forms, that these paintings infiltrate the fissure between Being and thing, between what is perennial and what is transitive. This work chooses to interlock in conflict – for it is precisely in the short circuit that its potency resides – what is worldly, what is passing, what is near, and what is sheer abstraction.

Canale’s works thus erect a subtle subversion that employs modern procedures and a fragmentation contemporary in its nature. In that same stroke, the artist gives us back as surprise the more commonplace day-to-day rendered anemic by our habit-dulled eyes. If painting in itself is a challenge as it calls upon us to stop and contemplate in hyper-accelerated times, the paintings we see in Entre os Ser e as Coisas further disconcert us with the reminder that it is not a bad thing for things to be found yet again, and every day, in the same places. Yet one must “chastise the eyes by gazing at what crosses the sky and cunningly accepts its name as cloud, its response catalogued in memory.” And in this fixed gaze at what we seem to already know, at what has become automatized and what we no longer truly see, we discover unsuspected beauty and uniqueness. “To resist, so that the delicate action of turning the doorknob, an action that could transform everything, does not take on the cold effectiveness of an everyday reflex.” The paintings assembled today constitute themselves as a space of resistance where we remember the chance to resume looking at what our eyes glimpse every day, wiping off the dust that habit has caused to gather. For let us remember that for each thing there is a Being. Art has the power to endow life with a second life. Faced with Cristina Canale’s work, we are targeted precisely by this second skin endows the more commonplace experiences with singularity and meaning.

DUARTE, Luiza. Solo Exhibitions at Galeria Nara Roesler, São Paulo, 2014

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