Quiet nights of quiet stars
Quiet chords from my guitar
Floating on the silence that surrounds us
Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams
Quiet walks by quiet streams
And a window looking on the mountains
And the sea, so lovely
This is where I want to be
Here, with you so close to me
Until the final flicker of life’s amber
I who was lost and lonely
Believing life was only
A bitter tragic joke
Have found with you
The meaning of existence oh, my love
Lyrics written by Antônio Carlos Jobim (Tom Jobim) in 1960
The Passion According to G.H. (1964) is a disturbing and shocking novel by Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. Set in Rio de Janeiro, it tells the story of a wealthy woman, G.H, who encounters a cockroach in the service quarters of her apartment. The occurrence leads to a nervous breakdown and an existential crisis and ends in our heroine eating a part of the roach…
“The roach is an ugly and sparkling being. The roach is the other way around. No, no, it doesn’t have a way around: it is that. Whatever is exposed in it is what I hide in me: from my outside being exposed I made my unheeded inside. It was looking at me. And it wasn’t a face. It was a mask. A diver’s mask. That precious gem of rusted iron. Its two eyes were alive like two ovaries. It was looking at me with the blind fertility of its gaze. It was fertilizing my dead fertility. Would its eyes be salty? If I touched them — since I was gradually getting more and more unclean — if I touched them with my mouth, would they taste salty?
I’d already tasted in my mouth a man’s eyes and, from the salt in my mouth, realized he was crying.
But, thinking about the salt in the roach’s black eyes, suddenly I recoiled again, and my dry lips pulled back to my teeth: the reptiles that move across the earth! In the halted reverberation of the light of the room, the roach was a small slow crocodile. The dry and vibrating room. The roach and I posed in that dryness as on the dry crust of an extinct volcano. That desert I had entered, and also inside it I was discovering life and its salt.”
Grenada makes its debut at the Trio Bienal, a new International art show set in Rio de Janeiro and focused on three-dimensional contemporary art in its full scope – ranging from sculpture and installation to other mediums acting as three-dimensional research. Inaugurated this year, it is showcasing the work of over 150 artists from 44 countries including two Grenadians, Susan and Asher Mains, alongside art superstars Marina Abramovic, Anish Kapoor, and Ai Wei Wei, amongst others. Susan and Asher are currently also on show at the first Grenada Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. In fact it was in Venice that they were scouted and selected to participate in the Trio Bienal by its director Alexandre Murucci.
Susan Mains is an established painter with a career that stretches over more than 30 years during which she has exhibited around the world and had her work included in numerous public and private collections. More recently, she has begun experimenting with mixed media – specifically video and installation. In addition, she is a patron and supporter of art in Grenada and runs her own gallery, Art and Soul, where she promotes Caribbean art. Her son, Asher Mains, has been exhibiting at the annual Arts Council show in Grenada from the age of 10. He works primarily as a representational painter and is currently exploring the significance of the materials used in a work of art, investigating alternative art materials sourced entirely in Grenada, with the purpose of giving a deeper meaning to his work and creating a more sustainable practice.
Both Susan and Asher presented installations which incorporated found objects and local materials, giving their work a strong link to their home island. The Caribbean aesthetic and language is something intrinsic for both artists, from the sea fans and sailing cloth in Asher’s piece, to the heliconia and dried spices in Susan’s – Grenada’s presence was felt strongly. Their proposals were remarkably humane and approachable, firmly rooted in the Caribbean and directly referencing the local culture and environment, but still equally accessible from a non-Caribbean perspective.
Susan Mains showed her piece in the main exhibition next to some of the most relevant names in contemporary art, including Ai Wei Wei and Vik Muniz. The exhibition, titled Utopia: Preterites of Contemporarity, was located in an underground hall at the Memorial Getúlio Vargas and brought together pieces with a political or social focus, confronting issues of war, migration, identity, and hope amongst others. Susan’s multi-disciplinary piece, What If, is a meditation on fragility and deterioration, based on her own experiences after undergoing serious back surgery. It consists of a video projected onto a make-shift bed laid on the floor, made from coarse crocus bags and surrounded by Grenadian spices. The bed is laid with a crisp white sheet and contained inside a mosquito net canopy. In the video, images of a heliconia flower are alternated and overlaid with original X-Rays from Susan’s own surgery.
The structure of the heliconia recalls the framework of the human spine and the resemblance between the titanium screws in the X-Ray and the heliconia flowers is startling. As the video progresses the flower laid on the woman’s back begins to decay, it speaks of the deterioration of the human body and our coming to terms with illness and mortality. The remarkable connection between the structure of the heliconia and the human spine inspires the viewer to question our relationship to nature and the development of medical technologies, Susan asks, “What if these natural forms could replace the surgical knife to heal a broken spine? What if human cells could be taught to imitate the stem cell differentiation demonstrated in the heliconia flower? What if tomorrow could be better by honouring what is already in our hands?” The overall effect is a tragic and beautiful montage.
Asher’s installation, Sea Lungs, is located at the IED (Instituto Europeo di Design) set on Urca beach at the foot of the famous Sugar Loaf mountain. The exhibition, entitled Reverberations: Crossed Borders of Three-dimensionality, brings together art of three-dimensional research. Asher’s Sea Lungs, for example, is an installation of hanging paintings, representing an intersection between painting and sculpture. Using stencils, spray paint, and a sea fan as a filter, a woman’s face is portrayed in various positions on the six canvases, her face bathed in light. The “canvas” is actually a piece of sail cloth, fixed on to simple wooden frames and hung against the light, creating a dazzling blue glow. Sea fans, collected from the beaches of Grenada after they have died and washed up on shore, are fixed on to the back of each frame, their silhouette and intricate details show through the cloth and resemble the human cardio-vascular system, giving a mysterious body to the detached faces and alluding to the intrinsic connection between all life-forms. Hung in the middle is a seventh frame, empty except for a single sea fan suspended within, representing death.
Asher reflects on the dying Caribbean reefs and in the last frame depicts the sea fan contemplating its own death. This object of nature is converted into a work of art, allowing the viewer to fully appreciate the beauty of its organic form and the importance of keeping our reefs alive. The effect is a moving and visually stunning piece full of light, delicate shadows, and gentle movement which evokes a figure swimming through water, reaching out to the light. It can be viewed from all sides, and from each point a new beauty can be appreciated – there is a dynamism to it, because it is always changing. It stresses the importance of our connection to nature and our environment, and as the artist says, it is “a reminder that our own life-force can be found in the sea.” Asher’s piece has a magical aura and holds a privileged position at the entrance of the building –the first thing people see as they enter the room, it sets the tone for a great exhibition.
Perhaps it is from being Caribbean myself, but Susan and Asher’s pieces felt like home – comforting and warm. Their work stood out not only for their energy and humanity but also for the high standard of the technical skill and conceptual foundation. There are only good things to come for both artists, and for Grenada as a whole. Asher has an upcoming residency in Bolivia and Susan is cooking up some interesting projects and collaborations to bring further opportunities to local artists.
The Trio Bienal, curated by Marcus de Lontra Costa, can be seen from 5th of September to 26th of November, 2015 in various locations around Rio de Janeiro.
Questions of Travel, a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, was written in Rio and published in 1956 about five years after she first moved there.
There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
–For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren’t waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.
Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?
But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
–Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
–A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
–Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr’dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
–Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages.
–And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians’ speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:
“Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one’s room?
Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?”