Transes, rituais e substâncias
August 14 – September 18, 2021
Curated by Marcos Amaro
Critical text by Márcio Harum
Galeria Kogan Amaro São Paulo
Alameda Franca, 1054
Jardim Paulista, São Paulo, SP
TRANCE, RITUALS AND SUBSTANCES is Carlos Mélo’s first solo exhibition at Galeria Kogan Amaro in São Paulo. The artist shows a set of works that range from painting, to drawing, to photography, to textile sculpture to a neon sign.
Having been in a pandemic for over a year, we live in a state of constant oscillation, swinging between uncertainty and self-care in the face so many new fixed rules of social distancing, mobility limitation and such a long time spent at home. Our reality awareness and of other people and ourselves have been profoundly changed by insecurity: the way we walk, smell, work, sleep, learn, love, get informed, look at artworks, read something, taste food, touch somebody’s skin. Our senses have been guided by instability.
That is the question, 2021, comprises a neon sign displayed on a plexiglass base. The contraction TUPI-PITÚ (Pitú being a brand of spirits from Pernambuco) reaffirms Carlos Mélo’s art practice and research on anagrams and performance actions in recent years. What hidden meaning lies behind this neon light? It might be a reflection from the artist upon Manifesto Antropofágico, originally released in 1928, which particularly updates his vision on the eve of the 100th Anniversary of Semana de 22. A debate on a critical and decolonial revision is here suggested since its emerging underlay would be the issue of alcohol addiction among indigenous peoples. Upon the publishing of a manual made in 2019 with the support of the Pan American Health Organization for monitoring the harmful consumption of alcohol among indigenous peoples, the acute social health crisis created by alcohol addiction as an invasion strategy of indigenous land became clear. A drunken semiotics makes us see, tremblingly, what’s in front of us: TUPITU.
The 2021 series Abismos is comprised of three untitled pencil drawings on 40 x 27.5-inch paper. A figure with multiple arms and a figurehead for a head alludes to São Francisco River’s mythical aura. The plan for the river’s transposition has been in our minds over the past decade, due to the fear of the destructive power of floodings. Another figure, a male one, with “Shiva arms”, seems to levitate while holding a flower bouquet, like a romantic knight riding an invisible animal, covered in bones. The third (and somewhat baroque) figure resembles a body dressed in jeans, next to which there are bones, flowers and a helmet. In Melo’s own words, these three drawings are like the artist’s signature in the exhibition.
Overlock, 2021, is comprised of three textile sculptures, crafted with the use of machinery from a sewing cooperative. Overlaying sturdy fabric scraps from the local textile industry, the pieces are installed on 6.5 feet-high iron structures. The sculptures reference maracatu attire, and the reality of textile modeling and customization centers in the recently established jeans industrial park in the countryside of Pernambuco State. The fast-paced flow of merchandise between the traditional Caruaru Fair and other regional fairs makes Toritama’s hub a banner for this process (“tori” is Latin for rock and “tama” means “region” in Tupi). The cultural impact of implementing this industrial district is what has been making it a non-agricultural countryside area. Farmers are today’s manufacture working class. The subversion of economy is hinged, and has had a highly transformative effect on order, such as, for example, the lack of donkeys and horses for work and transportation there, giving rise to motorcycling. The mindset responsible for inciting the anticipation for Carnaval festivities triggered the creation of a well-known advertisement slogan: “Jeans are figure flattering”. Carlos Melo’s artworks help us question an idea of the Northeast we have (not) yet seen: which new shapes are being established in this context? What kind of foreign body is being established there? Which symbolic residue echoes such a dramatic change on the local economy? An additional aspect of Overlock sheds light on the public debate around the looting of cultural heritage perpetrated by colonial processes, such as the occurrence of Tupinambá mantles in several collections around the world. The repatriation of historical and cultural goods plundered by colonial states and strategies has been guiding an array of movements and urgent themes among diplomatic institutions and international museology.
The wall sculpture Cascos, 2021, was created with the waste of disused helmets collected from motorcycle couriers in Itu, a city in the countryside of São Paulo where the artist has gone through an art residency at FAMA. Once the helmets had been collected by the local Motorcycle Courier Association, they were glued, bolted and installed alongside a wall base. Surprising colors and volumes comprise a cartography to which the dynamic life of this network of professionals on wheels sets the tone. Such labor activity has been maximized to the fullest during the pandemic, reminding us once more that motorcycles have been substituting the use of animal labor in Brazil’s hinterlands.
Êxodo, 2020-21, is a series of four paintings on truck tarps of various sizes. The material has been covered in many layers of paint throughout the year-long period of experimentation. The process only came to an end after many industrial launderings. Touched by a story he has read during his social distancing period on migrant families who went back to the Northeast region hidden under the tarps of illegal trucks, in an attempt to bypass sanitary barriers while escaping the pandemic, the artist applied many layers of paint depicting parapet details — those horizontal strips that frame the façade of houses. The intended perspective is street view. A credible hypothesis for this architectural detail arrival in Northeastern lands is that it would have been brought by the French Artistic Mission in the early 19th Century. This façade motifs are often seen in old buildings and were created to hide roof tiles and gutters. Compositions are manifold, and made to fit the taste of each house owner. The intersection between the remarks and the theme in Mélo’s work take place in the simultaneous quest for reviving aspects from the country’s cultural background.
Sapukaîa, 2021, comprises performance captured in a series of three 35 x 59-inch photographs and a 24 x 31-inch backlight display featuring the artist wearing a jacket covered in live chickens, over a landscape background. Brought from Europe by colonizers, chickens were terrifying to indigenous groups, becoming known in Tupi as sapukaîa (screaming bird, in one of its versions). The issue of conviviality and animal exploitation, both for ritual and for feeding purposes, makes itself present once again in this exhibition. Employing conceptualism imagery, Carlos Mélo’s work rearranges the idea of body under conditions of interaction to that particular rugged environment that surrounds him. According to the artist, TRANCES, RITUALS AND SUBSTANCES corresponds to that screaming chicken noise.
Views of the exhibition
Carlos Melo is a creation of his own self, a knowledgeable, soft-spoken artist, humanist, writer and poet, born in Pernambuco. Carlos is a shark! He has won awards, fellowships and public recognition. His work speaks to the gut. This exhibition reveals a segment of his work: drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptures, videos and a performance that provide us with a taste of his homeland. Carlos adds religious myths and traditions to his imagery, revisiting indigenous peoples’ rites and customs. He’s a researcher and a trailblazer of our language, constantly broadening definitions and interpretations. Carlos Melo is a complete artist. Head to toe. His legacy is a sphinx. I have nothing but admiration and pride for his work and also for our friendship.
About the artist
Riacho das Almas, Perenanbuco – Brazil, 1969
Lives and works in Recife, Pernanbuco – Brazil
Carlos Mélo is a Brazilian artist born in Pernambuco, a region that features complex culture traits, from various African nations, some indigenous groups and European countries of Moorish ancestry. As a visual artist, Carlos Mélo works with video, photography, drawing, installation, sculpture and performance researching the role played by the body in the world. Through anagrams and performance acts the artist approaches images and words by practicing “semantic contortion”. He seeks to merge the body to a scenario of interaction with its surroundings and with conceptual pictures that suggest it’s relationally defined, while simultaneously operating a revival of aspects from the Brazilian cultural background. According to Suelly Rolnik, “Carlos’ work maps out a territory, or rather, establishes it. As it occurs with animals, this happens with the aid of devices that are often ritualized, which are, overall, rhythms. However, unlike animals, ritual and its rhythms are in constant change here; each time being created in accordance to the environment where they’re made and to the issues they seek to approach. For this purpose, the artist settles in the world’s immanence, at living reality’s feet, intelligible only through care.”
He has conceptualized and produced the 1st Bienal do Barro in Brazil, Caruaru (2014). He has participated in group shows such as the 3rd Bienal da Bahia, Salvador (2014); Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois, Champaign, USA (2013); Museu de Arte Moderna Aloísio Magalhães, Recife (2010 and 1999); Itaú Cultural, São Paulo (2008, 2005, 2002 and 1999); and others. He has held solo shows at Galeria 3+1, in Lisbon, Portugal (2010); Paço das Artes, São Paulo (2004); Fundação Joaquim Nabuco (Recife, Brazil, 2000). He was awarded with Prêmio CNI SESI Marcantonio Vilaça para as Artes Plásticas (2006). He currently lives and works in Recife.