“Dissolving the curtain of words
Your shape encompasses the earth and
Carlos Drummond de Andrade,
“Contemplation in the Bank”, Claro Enigma
Writing texts about artistic trajectories is, in most cases, an outdated undertaking. Besides the inherent risk of photographing only a moment of something that is still in motion, words seek to restore that which the image itself already states. In this expressive space, writing must find ways to simultaneously limit and broaden the scope of reading of those who come in contact with the work. There are many resources: biographies, technical analyses, historical contexts, comparative methods, biographical approaches. It then becomes necessary to make the intelligible text an additional force in that which seeks the limit of the sensitive.
In the case of this book dedicated to the work of Maria Laet, the writing goes through more than ten years of uninterrupted and proficient production. Any of the paths indicated above would undoubtedly help to introduce a qualified appraisal of her work. But just as texts can modulate multiple readings, works of art may also suggest, in their own materiality, other writings. And that is the case here.
The art of Maria Laet proposes a series of layers for the enjoyment of the senses. Beyond the visual, we must always imagine a meeting of bodies, a dynamic of gestures, a breath suspended by the capturing of a moment, an eye fixed on the ground that perceives the surroundings of what escapes us in such a situation. Some of the texts that have been written on her work accurately indicate a vital and unavoidable issue: a silent thought about surfaces and their limits. They emphasize divisions, fusions, membranes, skins. They are textual strategies to approach various situations proposed by her topology of the sensitive, summed up in this book by the artist herself in one word: pore.
The word locates with precision this moving boundary of spaces, for it acts both on surfaces (the skin of things) and on their interstices (among things). Porosity, that is, the quality of being the permanent boundary of one between — between worlds, between lives — always establishes a poetic and political horizon in Laet’s work. She turns art into a mindful plunge of the gaze, both on the open risk of stability and the patient persistence of that which is fleeting.
Writing with her work can be, therefore, an experience in which distinct registers intertwine, prolonging its aesthetic porosity in a type of writing without limits between object and fable. The artist herself puts such porosity into practice in stating that poems are sometimes creative engines, imaginative motes, or founding names of works and exhibitions. Words and images are pores of a larger idea — a body on and between worlds that takes shape through Laet’s work.
To blow, to tear, to trickle, to sew, to fold, to perforate, to fill, to empty, to print, to abrade, to balance, to infiltrate, to decant, to scratch, to imbue the papers, the sea, the sand, the asphalt, the soil, the snow, the slab, the skin of nature.
There is, in much of Laet’s work, a play between chance and materials. Without the need to join the legacy of art history, but attuned to the fact that every artist forms his or her own universe of references, such play is loyal to an artistic practice in which the core of the creative process is the investigative clash with matter. In this dynamic between hands and the material, the doing in its crafted repetition can be greater than the will to define in advance the final product and its execution. It is in the surprise of what creation merely suggests that appear the paradoxically precarious and potent conditions for what will happen. Even in her needlework, whose defined perimeter or chosen location are usually the result of previous ideas, the act of sticking in the needle hook and crossing the line on the ground are not guaranteed in their certainty. Resistances of all kinds appear. Each case requires a different effort, a negotiated control of movement. The fugacity in the act of sewing the world’s surface moves a broad energy for the artist; it demands an almost ritual physical dedication. It is work that springs from persistent acts — such as the monotypes made from repetitive paths, her footprints on the ground (Path [Caminho]), or the traces of ink produced from blowing on the paper’s surface (Breath [Sopro]). What is seen as a result never shows us the internal effort in its making.
This play takes on cosmic dimensions when the elements are in the world, without the manufactured intervention or the creative act as the artisan producer of an image. This is the case in works where the natural elements and their physical-chemical dimensions are perceived, collected, adopted, stored. They need to be seen, first and foremost. Collecting stones from rivers may seem like a trivial, almost unpretentious action. Turning the stones into singularities in texture, weight, size or color, however, requires a loving eye for the things of the world.
This love for things that go unnoticed does not choose between the solid presence of a stone or the viscous transience of feet in the sand. It is a process of affective attention that gives density to what is brief, expanding our organic dimensions. By making itself available to the flow of nature, Laet’s work creates molecular intimacy with the world. The stones that fit in the grasp of a hand acquire the marks of the ink palm and turn a monotype into much more than the impression of one surface on another. There, the mark paints only one thing, an act in which the memory of the stone joins the memory of the artist’s gesture. They are stones of the real, that is, presences that remain as a single event (closing the hand with paint around it) and they take on the force of an existence.
This density of briefness can also be seen in Laet’s works that capture gaps in the hours, unstable swings of nature, and our eye in contact with it. This is the case in works that sustain unique minutes for the whole length of a video — such as the one with sunlight cropping the bulge of a palm tree’s foliage (Poente [Sunset]). Such immobility — of the eye that sees through the still camera — is pregnant with movement. Again, persistence is one of the fundamental methods of an artist who sees mindfully. The light of a sunset does not recur every day with the same intensity or even temporality, just as the rhythms of the winds or the shape of the tide fringes are not repeated. Although everything is routine, there is no guarantee of sameness. And if it is the same, there is no guarantee that its beauty will be perceived. That is the play proposed by Laet’s work: producing lyrical and accurate attention, whose minimal gesture perpetuates the ephemeral and shows that nothing is the same, even that which is supposedly always in the same place.
This quality of understanding the instant as something connected to a difference within a repetition can register even absences. Because it is an abstract feeling whose materialization of what is lacking makes it paradoxically inexistent, absence cannot form a body. But it always leaves a mark. Here, footprints on the seashore. Their imminent disappearance becomes the image of the one who has been there — or rather, who was just there. Marking the foot, losing the mark, marking again, losing the mark again, a game of losing and winning of shapes that, in the artist’s view, can be transformed into the phantasmagoria of someone who has been there and no longer is. The presence of an absence.
Every artist develops a particular repertoire throughout his or her career. It is made of supports, materials and gestures. In Laet’s case, this procedure produces concentrations, rather than expansions. She works, once again, in a kind of silent exhaustion of what she manipulates. Fine papers, gauzes and black ink feed a myriad of procedures. They are saturations, fissures, folds, actions that exploit to the limit the possibilities of these multiplied surfaces. The chiaroscuro that sets the tone of most of her work focuses our gaze on the essential, all the while deceiving what we see. After all, the black ink that saturates the paper is evident, but it is not clear how it got there.
The economy of colors and materials enhances their own investigation. The observation of the ink stain slowly expanding on account of a neighborhood of surfaces, an operation that detonates a series of works by the artist — as in Dialogues (breath) [Diálogos (sopro)] — indicates this procedure of infiltration. Such procedure transforms each sheet of paper into unique layers of this trail of blackness. Again, presence, trail, memory, the perennial mark of the minimum, all intertwine in these operations in which it is necessary to let things come into contact in their own time. Porosity and infiltration are fundamental pairs for Laet, not only in their physical senses, but mainly in their amplified dimensions — poetic forces that allow her work to acquire this light density, this fragile force, this lyrical brutalism.
Matching your weight to a stone. Transfering what makes you a mass to another existence. Motionless, Laet and the Stone have the measure of a perfect force. Here, balance is not limited to the object that produces the equilibrium among bodies. There is also balance among existing forms, a kind of fusion between animal life and mineral life, eye to eye, looking at what unites them: the weight of existing.
Within this repertoire developed by Laet, an idea-form moves through several modes and supports. The line, one that binds and divides, is a fundamental force that organizes and disorganizes bodies and worlds; it is present in the seams of sands, soils and snows or in the viscosities between gaps in the asphalt. But it is also in the tangle of a knot or in the weaving of gauze. It is the lines that define the delicate thinness (complementing the density of the stones or of the light in the palm tree) of these supports and gestures proposed by the artist. At the limit, everything can be grid, everything can be stitching, loose thread, sewing. Lines that form spirals and cross boundaries.
In its different weavings, the line that divides space also defines a multiplying presence. They open up another surface — at once mended and torn — that releases our moving boundary between an inside and an outside of existence. The stitched line erases our boundaries between high and low, between over and under, between life and death. It is as if the act of binding the ground also bound planes of existence. In this operation, sewing the spaces we step on makes them become exposed. Between the line that sews and the one that forms the ground’s infinite horizon, the metaphysical spiral between worlds settles in. The white line that crosses the sand’s mutant skin (Notes on the Sea’s Limit [Notas sobre o limite do mar]) forms a braid of planes and times — between what joins and what will never remain joined.
If seam lines are actions that delimit and multiply planes, the white liquids that run between cracks in the asphalt do the same without the necessary hand-needle in combat with the soil’s density (it is crucial to see the videos of such actions). Here, the drawing is the result of the unstable streak of a flaw in the flat world. The line becomes an image when filled with the fluid that flows in the ground’s crevices. Both are completely different scales and gestures, but they cause a third space to be founded. When they are displayed in photographs (as in the series Milk on Pavement), Laet turns the horizontality below the feet into the front plane, freezing what flows and defying gravity. In the image, the white line devours what constrains its flow and, although it is in the background, it becomes the front. We are contaminated through our sight with the thread of color, in imagining it, insidiously overtaking each and every crevice in the world.
The lines also intertwine in constant doings and undoings. Some works dishevel the limits of what the thread organizes. The gauzes in the water (Gauze and Water [Gaze e água]), for example, present us with lines in the disorder of their movement, raveling out what was once woven. There is also the Dress [Vestido], patiently made of small gauzes stitched together one by one, the monotypes made with the same material (Gauze); they are works that reveal a grid of sinuous, holey, irregular geometries. In the video Separation [Separação], however, the line remains within a game of impossibilities; the more we seek to separate what is tangled, the more we see the uselessness of an action that, at the limit, wants to restore this line in its organizing individuality. It is a tangle that shifts from the impossibility of order to the assertion of chaos.
Things dance. The balloon traces a dialogue through the dance proposed by the body that displaces air around it. The gauze dances on the water’s uncontrollable skin. Milk dances between the ground’s crevices. The balls dance in their disorderly propagation. The waves dance by drawing lines on the seashore; the ink stain dances according to the blow of air it receives. More than making things dance, these works suggest that any movement is in itself a way of being in the world in a state of dance.
Still in the interweaving between the work itself and the writing of this text, it is necessary to mention breath as another important element. Breathing as a way to slow down the frenetic pace of the flows around us. Observing the movement of light and its surface abysses is a form of breathing. Waiting for ink to infiltrate the paper, sewing for hours something that the tide will eventually cover. All these practices are breaths. In these cases, however, the act of breathing acquires a contemplative connotation.
There are works of Laet’s, however, in which such a fundamental action gains more concrete and complex dimensions. In Pneuma I, a video in which the musician plays a tuba with the bell covered by a translucent film, the act of breathing becomes a block of sound in which the blow of air is materialized. The tuba becomes a lung, while the act of playing it produces its inspiration and exhalation. Watching the film inflate to its limit and retreat into its void is to create an internal body through the eyes. Feeling a lung that is sound. At the same time, the lights that affect the film give the tuba’s sonic lung the acoustic image of a breath.
Breathing, therefore, can be as much a deceleration of time as a production of space. In Breath [Fôlego], a gas balloon is filled with a single exhalation and retained — between beauty and affliction — in a glass cube. Restricting the expansive space of an object filled with lightness gives density to the ephemeral act of the lungs and materializes a poetic extension of existences (as in the equilibrium with the stone). In its full exploitation of elements that are already in the world, the use of air in its different materialities allows Laet to explore different gaseous bodies. If the tuba’s giant bell invents lungs of light and sound, the balloons draw because they are susceptible to the air that surrounds them.
In the book series titled On That Which Is Unseen [Daquilo que não se vê], the artist produced brochures made of leftover paper of various textures: tracing paper, Japanese paper, waxed paper, glassine, newspaper, acid-free paper, mostly cheap and blank sheets, bearing the marks of time through mold and tears. The emptiness — of images or words — is filled with the marks of stains, folds and wrinkles that are found on every page observed. Their surfaces show either subtly or sometimes intrusively vestiges of what is not there. As in the absence of the feet in the sand, we do not see the processes that have transformed these remains of pages into a kind of existential periphery of the pieces of paper used. Laet’s empty book transforms negatives into positives, without having to offer anything more than what was left. Its gathered pages produce another performative instance of what we see in her work. A dimension between sleep and wakefulness that retains whatever escapes. And tying them, delicately, are lines in their permanent weaving of memories, spaces and existences.
To settle oneself into a space between things produces an existence whose transit must be constant. From one plane to another, what settles in is a flow in which everything that exists simply is. Without deep metaphysical or obscure meanings, what we see is what is happening in the moment. This record of ephemeral existences in Laet’s work, marks that draw and print times in monotypes, infiltrations and videos, makes this transit space constant. The transit between weights in the stone-body, the transit between planes at the seams, the transit between the air and the tuba’s sound, these are all ways of presenting the beauty of this interstitial world. More than exploring the surfaces of skins, the artist creates a space-time in which earth, water, air, light, stones, paper, memories and sounds are in full motion. In exploring what inhabits the surface of the world, Maria Laet manages to throw us into the gap of the things that make it up. Skin and pore.