ADRIFT

“where there was an apple
there is hunger”
 

João Cabral de Melo Neto

 

The images by Ana Calzavara – especially some paintings and engravings – produce a strange effect on those who see it: the will to speak. The silence is so big, the melancholy so deep, that we soon feel the urge to fill in the voids, inhabit the houses, open the doors wide. These are images of loneliness, abandonment, but, also, of surprising delicacy. This contradictory description exposes the quality that sustains Ana Calzavara’s work. We are in front of work that chooses the edge of the blade, and because of that, needs to balance between softness and violence. 

An artist and academic, Ana studies and systematically reflects about her doing, not only in artistic exercise but also in her essays. This combination is not this artist’s “privilege”, but is revealing itself more and more commonplace in modern day Brazil. The artist who is also a product of academic life is becoming common amongst us. A sign and symptom of a reluctant class division that allows few the dedication and fruition of the arts. In this way, the research world becomes a possible territory for artistic creation, be it by the promotion of grants (minimal, by the way) or for the mandatory existence of an interlocutor, perhaps the only way to drag out of the loneliness that shapes intellectual or artistic life those who aren’t often at parties. In visual arts the signs of this are even more severe and evident: the exhibition and appreciation circuit is permanently for the elected few. However, this is not exclusive to visual arts. The same occurs in literature, especially poetry. The consequences and specificities of each activity or of the groups of artists or writers involved don’t matter right now. What is interesting to notice is that this phenomenon is very different from the marriage between art and intellect from which the country saw grow its best intellectual production, in the now long gone 30’s and 40’s of the past century.

Unlike what we are going through today, that conjunction meddled in our gaps as a young and underdeveloped country, and because of that was able to create among us specific forms of thinking, through dialogues and space for debate. That’s not exactly what happens nowadays. With various and distinct results, we have been watching artists choose an academic career due to the strangling of creation spaces. With that, the creative force has, many times, to submit itself to self-analysis – as if work came accompanied by its own criticism. All things ready, the work speaks to itself, making the existence of the observer or reader unnecessary. But, in that fashion, does it still exist?

The work of Ana Calzavara, in its material existence condition, is inserted in this new movement that unites the academic world to the artistic one. And, although this is its work condition, her creation is capable to escape the self-referring and sterilizing monologues. With the power to stick her head out, Ana makes possible creating spaces out of her dissertation and doctorate work, both in visual and literary arts. The dialogue in her work establishes itself towards literature, and, as such, the composition of the work is made out of the mix between text and images. Texts that speak of the creation process, of the depuration of looking, and of the interest of the eyes. Ana’s eyes are always in search of movement, she herself is always moving, and, maybe because of that, she chooses engraving more and more over painting: her body needs to move in order for her to create.

Her doctorate work is titled “Entremeios” (“In-between”) (2012). Before that, her master’s thesis was named “Frestas” (“Cracks”). It is in her consciousness, therefore, the production of images that are non-places:

“Entremeios” refers to a way of looking, indicates a place, a “being”, a journey: “the intermediate space between two extremes, space, things or time between limits”. Therefore, to be in-between means “to insert between, to mix, to interval”.

Her engravings and paintings keep the melancholy of something that has finished or hasn’t even begun. Each house, door, window with curtain, shut window, landscape, road, are recently constituted deserts that put us in front of voids. More than voids, it would be better to say “voided”. The spaces created by Ana Calzavara are the concretization of the imminence of quitting, as if she captured the instant in which the movement just happened. It is in this way that the engravings leave their mark not only on the objects, unexpected angles that break the scene and the objects (for this, see the beautiful “Norte” or “Ruína”), but in the production method, in the power and movement that impregnate and produce the matrix, but that fade away in face of the lightness of the result print on paper. This is also what happens with the photographs, taken inside cars, cutting hills, tunnels, the Marginal Pinheiros in São Paulo. If the first definitions of photography spoke of the suspended, frozen moment, Ana brings time and movement to her images, made in passing. Then there are also the small drawings (almost sketches) made in the 90’s, inside the bus between São Paulo and Campinas, that leave a trace of humanity in minimal tracing, a bit like Mira Schendel’s “monotypes”.

The works of Ana Calzavara try to capture that which is already lost, sways of time and space, but mostly of a possible subjective existence. Although her paintings are almost always of landscapes without people, the subjective presence is the power that drives the painting’s existence. I speak not only of the artist’s hand that sustains, with her inner world, those compositions, but of presences that are internal to the images. Very differently, for instance, of Osvaldo Goeldi’s engravings, in which the people appear, inhabit the city, give us the proportion of space, making it familiar, recognizable, even if melancholic, exasperated or fragile.

In Calzavara, people, and more than that, subjectivity, is the presence of an absence, as Lacan would say. We don’t see them, but they’re there, and that’s what constitutes the images as deserted means. Even in the beautiful woodcut “Exilio” (“Exile”), in which we see a man in the foreground. His massive presence should point to the contrary of what I just said, but, however, when he turns his back to us, preventing us from seeing him and the sea in front of him, he leaves us exiled, excluded from the painting. Immediately, the sea loses its amplitude because it is smaller than the hollow of this arid man. Ana’s exile, then, ceases to be a concrete reference to the expatriation or an individual experience and starts composing along the long interpretative tradition of Brazil and Brazilians, that has transformed the experience of patriotic deportation in subjective and identity exile and loneliness. Since Gonçalves Dias’ “Canção do Exílio” (“exile song”), the placeless female heroes of Alencar’s romances (such as Iracema, Aurélia, Berta) or Graciliano Ramos’ retirantes (“refugees”), or even the men that go along the Capibaribe river in João Cabral de Melo Neto’s poems, through our best historical and sociological interpretations, we are in front of placeless figures, with no feeling of belonging. The photographs, paintings and woodcuts by Ana give us that same experience. Symbolic spaces, the registry of the impossibility of solid existence, of inhabiting houses, occupying spaces. The denser the paint, or the deeper the cut in the wood, the smaller the density of men.  Men hover Calzavara’s world, not in a very subtle, metaphysical way, but as a force that is prevented from being born, from stepping, from arriving anywhere. The “Caminho do mar” (“Way to the ocean”) of the artist is more (or less?) than the trails, the iron, the ground. It has everything but the obvious, ready image, expected in freedom or vastness. Like João Cabral, Ana cultivates the desert as a reverse orchard.

The road is there, the car, the sea, the boat, the train tracks, the train, the house with its doors and windows, but how do we make an access to existence out of this materiality? The exile is not self-imposition, it is a symptom. The symptom of an underdeveloped country, divided between art and daily survival, the symptom of consciousness split in half. 

‘Norte’ (‘North’), woodcut print in color on Wenzhou, paper P.A., 2009

‘Ruína’ (‘Ruin’), woodcut print in color

‘Exílio’ (‘Exile’), woodcut print on Wenzhou paper, 2009

‘Encrocio - Caminho do Mar’ (‘Encrocio - Way to the ocean’), woodcut print on Wenzhou paper, 1/2, 2009