Southern Realism

Provide the place:
Is man able to penetrate the materials he organized into hard shape between one man and another, between what is here and what is there, between this and the following moment? Is he able to find the right place for the right occasion? Is he permitted to tarry? [1]

If you read the title of the exhibition repeatedly, you will realise that in the original version, Southern Realism is a kind of imperfect palindrome to begin with. Realismo do Sul, Sul Realismo, Su(l)realismo do Sul, which translates to Surrealism of the South. Firstly, it is a reference to a movement that was a successor to an exacerbated romanticism until the mid-19th century and a predecessor to a surrealism that was profoundly subjective and transcendent in the face of rational understanding. In turn, as a reaction to an era characterised by the changes of the republic and abolitionism, Brazilian realism stands out for its fierce objectivism and social indictment of a ruling class driven by alleged hypocrisy and bourgeoisie. Now, what becomes evident in this exhibition – which is the artist’s third at Galeria BRUNO MÚRIAS – is precisely the opening of a conceptual and formal reflection on the space-between that emerges within this meander of artistic movements from the early 19th century, in counterpoint with contemporary manifestations since the 1950s. However, the frequent aesthetic of abstraction in Marcelo Cidade’s work (São Paulo, 1979), as well as his consistent socio-political voice, remind us that any objectivity, duly verified, refuts the results of the first contact with the object [2].  It is on this premise that we will allow ourselves to present the exhibition which, alongside its projections onto the phenomena of Art History, evidently manifests itself in relation to the situation of present-day Brazil – as well as a generalised Global South – strongly marked by extreme social and economic polarities and irregularities, to which we will return.

Let us consider the relationship between the artist’s country of origin and the country hosting the exhibition. The former is considered by the Western sphere to be a developing country, having only recently abandoned the term third world country and being regularly included in the extension of what is geopolitically recognised as the Global South – a kind of prosthesis of the first term which usually refers to states whose troubled history of colonialism and neo-colonialism has affected the growth of a solid social and economic structure in the long term. The second, considered by others to be a developed country, objectively located in the northern hemisphere and therefore Global North, and yet culturally seen as a southern country by those often referred as Scandinavian countries. Faced with these social constructions, which may be more abstract for some than for others, questions arise – or rather, the absence of answers – that seek the protocol legitimacy to the origin of the terms, particularly regarding the heterogeneity of the countries that are arbitrarily lumped together on both sides of the coin. We can then marvel at the lack of a space that resides between them, something from which the North-South overlap gives rise to a new heterotype – essential on a social level, urgent on an affectionate one.

Intersections between North and South are images that are constructed in the encounter of old hotel stickers, very common due to their collectable character in travel bags and as a materialization of what is an iconic and media-savvy symbol of the global hotel industry. Their ostentatious and classicist character harks back to a memory sometimes obliterated by history – often ignored by its benefactors –, an image of wealth and luxury, strongly sustained by the labouring hands of an underpaid and underappreciated proletariat. The artist is thus proposing a series of collages in which the cut-outs of two stickers intersect and reconfigure themselves and which suggest, in addition to the inversion of the North and South polarity originating in each destination – dragged to the periphery of the composition – the existence of a white, empty space. The mismatch of the images thus places them in their proper place of questioning and the unknown quality of their dance presupposes the creation of the previously mentioned space-between. Using a concrete aesthetic, the visual structures of the intersections [3] draw places actively inhabited by their content – or should we say its nullification – in the face of the form that expands on the surface of the paper, governed by the same annulment logic that subverts the idea of propaganda, which can also be seen in the Propagator sculpture that rests in front of the group of works.

This untreated steel tube structure is a faithful replica of the advertising objects typical of the urban landscape of São Paulo – the city where the artist lives. By bringing the object into the exhibition space, Cidade inverts its reliable function, placing an iron plate in place of the information sign, where only the textures and patina of the material can be seen. As if in a gesture of suppression, the structure is now rendered useless, falling into the obsoletism of emptiness, and its original function of materialistic propagation is then reconfigured into a non-function of self-propagation of nothingness – a loop of emptiness and superficiality. We might even say an advertisement for the very matter of propagation.

Formal and conceptual abstraction, based on the appropriation and displacement of an object from its original space, is also developed in the sculpture that stands alone at the back of the gallery. Once again, it is the concrete aesthetic in the line of the Gate that awakens a strange sense of familiarity. With its disconcerting scale, its weight seems to drag almost as if it were falling through the floor that supports it, as if it has long occupied a place that does not belong to it and is unsuitable for it. The image is reminiscent of the gates of houses on the outskirts of the city which, in contrast to those of homes in the economic centre, have gaps in the intervals of a geometric design, thus allowing visibility between the interior and exterior. Returning to a central concern in his work, the artist recovers an object of division between the boundaries of public and domestic space, which ultimately become symbols of resistance against the alienation of social segregation.

Finally, in Steps we see the perception of a commonplace. Inspired by the Estremoz marble steps for the social housing in the Malagueira neighbourhood – conceived by the Portuguese architect Siza Vieira in the 1990s – these places symbolise the spatial hiatus between the private interior and the public exterior and are often used as resting places for socialising and fraternising among the local population. Despite being examples of vernacular architectural extensions in both countries, Brazil and Portugal, there is a distinction in the way this community space is recognised. While in Portugal the comfort of sharing seems like an assured movement and an absolutely undeniable right, in Brazil, particularly in São Paulo, this act can be understood as a gesture of political resistance, suffering from an installed fear of the possibility of invasion. In this sense, they are perhaps the sculptural ensemble that leaves the problem addressed by Cidade regarding the privatisation of public space the most evident.

The vulnerability and marginalisation of the citizen as a symptom of a society in a constant state of oppression, reverberates in social objects a function that is quickly transformed and self-flagellated. This premise is introduced by Cidade to us, which, in a constant effort to displace formal situations, proposes a chain of new experiences and social coexistence – both in terms of the inversion of the collective structure to the detriment of individual well-being, and in terms of the insertion of the urban situation into the exhibition environment. Rather, the dystopia of outside and inside is annulled in its own attempt to be understood, leaving only the space that does not exist – the inbetween space, the space-between.

Eva Mendes

[1] Van Eyck, Aldo, in Beyond Visibility: About place and occasion, the inbetween realm, right size and labyrinthian clarity. The situationist Times facsimile edition, Ed. Booray, 2012.
[2] Bachelard, Gaston, in Psychoanalysis of Fire, Beacon Press, p.7, 1987.
[3] Intersectionalism was also a Portuguese literary movement with a strong influence on modernist poetry and characterised by the simultaneous combination of various realities.