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The machines of the world of Marcia Pastore, by Fernanda Pitta | 2019

Text originally written for the catalog “Marcia Pastore: Contracorpo”, whose exhibition of the same name was presented at Estação Pinacoteca from November 23, 2019 to June 1st, 2020.

The machines of the world of Marcia Pastore

Fernanda Pitta 

Peso-contrapeso [Weight-Counterweight] by Marcia Pastore presents an exposed and complex mechanism. The machinery, made of pulleys, cables, tubes and weights, is on show, with all its complexity laid wide open. The pieces cause a tension with the elements of the space, in their verticals and horizontals, the high and low elements, the full and the empty.

Arranged in succinct operations, in what we could call reverberations, pulleys zig-zag across each other and steel cables constrain and are constrained by tubes of sand and weights. These simple elements create a game of strengths in the space, where they create tensions and, at the same time, draw shapes. Design and structure are made explicit, re-presenting what was drawn – what was in the design – at the same moment that these dynamic and hidden, though potentially existing, forces are materialized. Nothing is hidden from the spectator’s view, not even the dust from the marble that fills the tubes and balances the washers supporting the structures. Everything is very clean, clear, well-lit and polished.

Yet, rather than creating the experience of something being revealed, this strange machinery transmits, instead, a feeling of perplexity. The space cannot be described or unveiled, understood, by its mechanisms. Unlike an experience of modernist architecture, where weights, dimensions and other material qualities of the space are always made clear to the viewer (thinking here of MASP’s parallelepiped) and, although the spatial dimensions and forces are all explicit in the space that Pastore has created, the function and the objectives of this spatial-structure are indiscernible. If the viewer can understand, and therefore master, a modernist space, here they are unable to reach that totality. Herein lies the interest in the work.

The elements of the space are not distinctly or clearly felt from the unique and indivisible point of view of a supposedly universal subject. The experience of these elements comes from an initial imperceptibility, which forms a visual perception of weight, that transforms into a tactile sensation, and then into a kinetic one, guiding the course that the individual submits to, in the ways that their body behaves throughout that course. At the end of the process, the machine is complete, revealed, even though no sense of satisfaction, or of completeness, is produced. You experience the intensification of a promise of completeness, that is generated by the machine in the space, but the result is one of restlessness.

Although we are fully aware of the workings of the machinery on show, we have a profound difficulty in embracing it as a whole. Something is produced that obscures what is right in front of our eyes. It is a clarification that blinds. In its complete honesty, the structure proves its explicit complexity.

The work bears a certain likeness to mechanisms created by contemporary artists such as Olafur Eliasson and Anish Kapoor. But, unlike in their work, where the intricacies of how the devices work are usually hidden or not made evident, here, everything is there to be seen. What we experience is the sensation of a certain circularity, of an expansion and binding of the senses.

“Everything is in sight and nothing is left behind”, explains Antônio Cicero of Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s 1949 poem A máquina do mundo [The Machine of the World2]. In the poet’s anti-epic, all the mechanisms of the universe are revealed, but
the individual remains elusive:


the Machine of the World began to open

for one who’d lost all desire to breach it and mourned for once having wanted to.

Majestic and circumspect it opened, without emitting one impure sound nor more light than could be suffered

by these pupils sore from scanning so much desert, or this mind exhausted from imagining

an entire reality that transcends its selfsame image drawn on the face of mystery, in the depths.

With perfect calm it opened, and bidding whatever senses and intuitions remained to one who’d worn them out

and no longer wished to recover them, (…)


In Drummond’s poem, the mechanisms of the machine open, inviting the poet to perceive, to understand and to feel;


“What you’ve sought in yourself or outside

your limited self and never been shown, at times being fooled, as if you were close,
even as it drew farther away,

look, take note, listen: that treasure worth more than any pearl, that noble and mighty but hermetic science, that total explanation of life,
that first and singular nexus, which now you can’t even conceive, so elusive

was it while you spent your strength in ardent research … go
ahead, look at it,
open your breast to give it shelter.”


But the poet, whether confused or tired, can only find “the strange geometrical order”, “the primordial/ absurdity, its riddles, its truths”, “the solemn / feeling of death, which also thrives / on the stalk of the most sublime existence”.

Reluctant, without faith, without longing, with a neutral face, the poet rejects the unveiled machine:

I lowered my eyes, indifferent, tired, scorning the thing that had opened up to give itself to my understanding.

The sternest dark had already settled on the stony road of Minas Gerais,
and the Machine of the World, rejected,

put itself carefully back together while I went on my way, hands
at my sides, weighing what I had lost.

It is as though, without motive, without reason, the individual clings to the rei cation of the world that then crumbles there before their eyes. Consider then that Pastore’s work faces us with this same situation, the same dilemma, this “clear enigma”3. The mechanism is there, clearly revealed in front of our very eyes, all of its secrets unveiled. Yet still, we do not break the machine.


Werner Herzog’s film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011), was a reminder of the fascination we have for drawings made by the “primitives” – cave men and women – on the walls of the ancestral caves in Chauvet, Lascaux, Altamira, amongst many others.

Enigmas interpreted as illustrations of real-life events or as invocations of desires to be realized, these drawings oscillate between record and design, defining an intention to perpetuate, through image, something felt with the force of reality, whether that be something remembered or imagined.

This transition from the real to the figurative is translated in these drawings in a process that is spatial, that goes from the three-dimensional to the two-dimensional. This results in a synthesis, where elements in the space felt in three dimensions must, first, fit into two dimensions, those of the irregular cave surfaces onto which the inscriptions are made.

We don’t know whether this experience of two-dimensional synthesis was historically prior or simultaneous to the creation of three-dimensional objects. Is the act of molding forms and creating from the inert one step further along in the assumed evolution of human thinking on visual art, or is it simultaneous, contemporaneous, to that of two-dimensional representations? What is distinguishable and apparent, considering the formal and the symbolic, in these two processes?

If the action of drawing on walls seems to be born from a dual impulse to record and to imagine – where reason and myth are proven to be inseparable – its product is related on a two-dimensional surface, in a reality that is its own, although it remains in permanent relation to the reality that surrounds it. The action of molding, of forming, often seems to come from an impulse to create something from nothing. For, although it can function as a model, and it can clearly also become a representation of something, sculpture tends to give its product a real-world existence, in the continuum of life, that is not confined to the reality “projected” onto the two-dimensional surface. It creates something that goes from having zero presence to becoming a thing, inserting itself into the continuance of space. In some ways, this creative gesture comes close to resembling that of a demiurge, not of the simple scribe.

Marcia Pastore’s Impressores [Printers] presented at the Caixa Cultural gallery in Fortaleza in 2012, make up a set of works by the artist where the process of imprinting body forms into plastering paste is utilized. This group of works, which also includes sculptures made by casting body parts cotovelos para fora [elbow outside], cotovelos dentro [elbow inside], Esculturas-moldes [Mold-Sculpture] and their voids, Frestas [Crevices] deals with the starting point of these two processes, the inscription – incision – impression-cutting, and casting.

In Impressores, the artist literally imprints body shapes into big rounds of plastering paste, parts that leave their mark, fixing themselves into a definite time.

These impressions appear to us as permanent records of someone or something that once existed, but that now remains materially only as a fossil, in the same way that the casts of body parts appear to us as vestiges or crystallizations of things that have already disappeared, or that only ever had a spatial existence, never one that was material, as in the case of the voids.

In fact, the process used in all these works is reminiscent of one of the most common types of natural fossilization, that of casting, in which an external mold is made from the solid parts of a living being, directly within the rock or sediment in which that being was encased.

Their placement within the exhibition, which is fundamental to these works, sometimes alludes to the moment when substances are differentiated– when the shapes of the body emerge embedded in the walls, situated as though records of something discovered. When these fossils are presented, suspended by cables and pulleys (like Impressores in 2012 and Linhas de força [Lines of Force] which was made for the Pinacoteca exhibition), they start to resemble molds taken from archaeological sites, to be collected and studied. Suspended in space, they produce a sense of being witness to a new finding, to the opening of a crack in time, where the objects found could give us the key to many mysteries yet to be solved.

They are cast in bronze and presented painted white, or silver plated. Such pieces test our perception by drawing attention to indents and protrusions and, as in the cave drawings, forcing us to take our time observing, and imagining, to identify the shapes, oscillating between each part and the whole, between the detail and its surroundings.

As we walk through them arranged in the space, as we get used to studying them, they gradually reveal knees, elbows, legs, backs, parts of a body that existed and left its traces. Petrified, it seems these fragments of limbs have been impregnated by this substance, consumed by it forever, but it also seems as though we are expected to find these remains, to decipher them and return them to a wholeness.

They are traces of things that are no longer present, but which assert an existence that, ultimately, demands their reconstitution. What was organic transforms into the inorganic. The simple imprinted form of a body that has been extinguished, its effigy retraced onto the substance that encased it and robbed it of its contours, but that cannot capture its contents.

The Esculturas-moldes, in turn, are in a way reminiscent of another process of fossilization – the mummy cation of organisms preserved by immersion in coatings of resin or amber. The sand mold is encased in a rose-colored resin, whose translucent, warm and smooth qualities give them the semblance of capsules, preserving their contents forever, at the cost of our never being granted access to what they contain.

Whether traces or markings, these objects contaminate us with the dual sensation of being both summoned and forbidden. They are preserved and exhibited for us, for our contemplation, but we cannot touch them. They ask to be reconstituted, but they are extinct. The only way of their being renewed would be to destroy the very thing that preserves them, or to recreate them.

Here we return to the initially discussed second effort. The effort of creation from the inert, of casting three-dimensional shapes. Would it have been a case of making use of impulsiveness once more, of giving life to a substance? Pastore knows that there isn’t room today for big demiurgic gestures: everything, it seems, is already present, or otherwise permanently lost.

What can be achieved is a repeated subtle gesture – she insistently transfers the empty form to the plastering powder. Remaking the mold of what is not there, recreating its content, trying to restore wholeness to a thing that is lost. What emerges from this process is incomplete, they are fragments.

We don’t know if they are promise, hope, or even memory – again, they start to resemble the hunts on the cavemen’s walls. They are imprecise, fragile, changeable forms. With just a breath, they could fade, or they could remain forever as fragments, as ruins.

Fernanda Pitta is a senior curator at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo and a professor of art history at Escola da Cidade, in São Paulo. She holds a PhD in art history from the University of São Paulo, with a thesis entitled “A peaceful and bucolic people? Costume and history in Almeida Júnior’s painting ”. His research interests focus on the discussion of national art paradigms and transnational contexts, also writing on modern and contemporary art. He regularly contributes to academic journals with texts on Brazilian art and art historiography. His exhibition “In the same place: an anthology by Ana Maria Tavares”, held at the Pinacoteca in 2016-2017, received the APCA Best Retrospective Award in 2017. Currently, he is International Awardee from the AAMC and AAMC Foundation International Engagement Program. He was a FAPESP scholar and in the summer of 2017 he was a fellow at the Clark Art Institute. His most recent curatorial projects are “Laercio Redondo: Glance and Artist’s work: image and self-image (1826-1929)”, Pinacoteca (2019). During the month of February 2019, she is a visiting researcher at KMD Bergen, developing an exhibition project by the artist Adrià Julià for next October at the Pinacoteca.

1. This text is the publication of a talk and is a presentation of Marcia Pastore’s work. The talk took place at Funarte on 21st November 2012, in
the context of the exhibition “Peso-Contrapeso”, at the same location and curated by Nelson Brissac, Prêmio Funarte de Arte Contemporânea. “Modelo, molde, rastro, resto” [Of model, mold, trace, residue] was written for the lea et accompanying the exhibition “Impressores”, which took place at the Caixa Cultural in Fortaleza, also in 2012. It was at this time that I became more familiar with Pastore’s work, having the opportunity to accompany two of the exhibitions that I consider as emblematic of her sculptural practice, in which space and the body, two features central to the artist’s production, merge into the exploration of the registering of gestures and of movement and its tensions.

2. The English version of the poem was taken from: Carlos Drummond de Andrade. In Multitudinous Heart. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Translated by Richard Zenith. 2015. E-book edition.

3. [Editor’s note] Claro enigma (Clear Enigma) is the
title of the book by Carlos Drummond de Andrade in which the poem “A máquina do mundo” [The Machine of the World] was published for the first time. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -