Tales with no Kings
Casa França Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2013
In this exhibition, the artist presented a series of works exploring the construction of a Brazilian national identity, revolving around the history of Casa França Brasil and using the building as a symbol of the city of Rio de Janeiro. Designed by Grandjean de Montigny, architect of the French Mission to Brazil, this building is the most important example of neoclassical architecture in the city. In 1820, it served as the first Commerce Square, which was inaugurated by the king Dom João VI. Four years later, when Brazil had recently had gained its independence, emperor Dom Pedro I turned the building into the Custom House. It was later used for many different purposes until it was restored during the 1980s and converted into its current function as a cultural center in 1990. Tales with no Kings not only established a dialogue between contemporary art and neoclassical architecture, it also critically reflected upon the building and its surroundings: the city centre of Rio de Janeiro – at a time of major urban transformations.
The main hall presented the work entitled Blind spot, a wooden structure spelling the word REVOLVER (trans. REVOLVE, in the sense of investigating, examining). Built out of thin wooden rods, the piece measures 12 meters wide by four meters high. The word’s legibility, however, depends on the observer’s point of view. The visibility of the word and the illusion of its deconstruction suggest a rupture in history through the word’s alternating presence and absence.
Blind spotalso consists of a sound piece played from loudspeakers sited in the perimeter of the main hall. In this recording we hear a text written by the artist that deals with the passage of time and the relationship between the history and architecture of the city. Click here to hear the text.
Lastly, a convex mirror sculpture at the former entrance of the building completes the installation.
In the first of the two adjacent galleries, Redondo appropriated images from the book Viagem Pitoresca e Histórica ao Brasil by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Debret (1768-1848) in order to present three other interconnected works. Known as a meticulous observer of Brazilian society, Debret, a key figure of the French Mission (1816) together with Montigny, appears in these works as a privileged witness to the economic and social changes in Rio de Janeiro during the early XIX century.
One of the works – Printed Landscape -consists of 77 wooden stools, which when assembled together reveal one of Debret’s landscapes of Rio de Janeiro printed across the stools’ tops. Below each seat a small shelf displays a book portraying a view of the city. Individuals from a variety of fields recommended the books, which suggest a new contemporary landscape of Rio while forming an intimate library that could be consulted freely. This space also hosted a multidisciplinary seminar that addressed urban transformations in Rio de Janeiro yesterday (XIX-XX centuries) and today (XXI century).
In the work Be sad if you are able and you will see, the artist recreates a carnival scene by Debret from 1823 and adds to it a pile of confetti made from newspaper. This pile, which was located in a corner of the gallery, grew daily as more confetti was added throughout the duration of the exhibition. The artist explains: “the displacement of fragmented daily news, turned into confetti, refers to the gap of the image of Rio de Janeiro presented as an idealized city, at this time of major changes in its urban structure.”
Scenes of Debret’s street sellers are also the starting point for the third work in this series. In Sale – faulty memory game, Redondo contrasts images by the French artist with present day images of local street sellers, each printed on opposite sides of nine plywood panels. The visitors could hold and turn the panels around, but the two surfaces could not be seen at once. Similar gestures were nevertheless recognizable in this faulty memory game, suggesting social relations of inequality persisting to this day.
Connected to Debret’s African-Brazilian representations and completing the exhibition, Carmen Miranda – An Opera of the image was presented in the second side gallery. The work focuses on the image of Carmen Miranda, a Portuguese-Brazilian samba singer, Broadway actress and Hollywood film star from the 1930s up until the 1950s. Her artistic career began in Brazil and continued in the United States, which was her international breakthrough. Miranda crafted her persona by making use of self-exoticization and deploying key elements in the Latin American imaginary. She exhibited a sensuality that oscillated between a parody of herself and a caricature of the “bahiana” with fancy clothes, trinkets and multicolored turbans inspired by Afro-Brazilian clothing.
The sound sculpture (collaboration with Márcia Sá Cavalcante Schuback) that forms part of the Carmen Miranda installation discusses the problem of representation by referring to Miranda’s bodily performativity. Hers was a public body that was also political and marked by the controversies between Brazil and the United States in the 1940s. Miranda’s image may be read as a body that contains and uncovers fantasies and anxieties of the dominant ideology in relation to gender, sexuality and ethnic difference. She both reveals and conceals conflictive messages. Her image has subsequently contributed to the “carnavalesque” interpretations of the tropics throughout the world. Carmen Miranda and her eclectic style are also considered to be a forerunner of the Tropicalismo movement in Brazil.