El primer fuego
El primer fuego is an exhibition that replicates the material and relational ecosystem that has emerged at Jose Dávila’s studio throughout several years of constant and continuous production. Taking advantage of the geographical proximity between the studio and the exhibition space, the gallery has been transformed into a work space and functions as a reflection of the procedures that precede the consolidation of Dávila’s sculptural work.
The exhibition presents different moments that take place between the selection of raw materials and the conclusion of sculptural objects. This highlights the importance of the interrelation between objects which is channelized by the artist in order to generate structural systems of dependence. This sort of objectual reliance is characterized by the borrowing and exchange of qualities between contrasting materials in order to assure a certain degree of balance and permanence. The creation of these hybrid circuits implies a cyclical understanding of the transformation of matter. A fluctuating motion between self-preservation and disintegration.
The central piece within the exhibition represents a return to an early work by Dávila which was exhibited in 1999 at the Museo de las Artes de Guadalajara. The recreation of this work involves a small bonfire which is lighted intermittently inside the gallery space, the fire is surrounded by piles of logs witnessing the ignition process and awaiting as potential fuel. The metal tray that works as a platform for activating the bonfire operates as a liminal space where matter is forced to undergo a transformation process. Dávila’s minimal gesture presents fire as an autonomous symbol, referencing the notion of origin and the primitive; this sort of raw energy is able to reconfigure the reality of things and unveil the internal dynamics that are concealed within objects.
As a prelude, the bonfire is preceded by a couple of sculptures that work as mirrored counterweights. A raw stone is fastened to an industrial pulley which is fixed to the ceiling; this heavy object is faced by an apple made of bronze which remains suspended in the air. These two elements are part of Dávila’s recurring sculptural vocabulary; the apple is a recognizable reminder of the effects of the force of gravity. These compositional formats are continued in the next room where a group of metal barrels are affixed to the wall, making a pyramidal shape. The sequence of works generates a tangible rhythm that suggest the prevalence of a certain order. The ratchet straps, cables and chains that Dávila uses to connect objects function as forms of mediation and construct a structural itinerary. The trajectories between objects reconfigure the spatial experience of the gallery, dialoguing with its architectural disposition, modifying and dislocating the displacement dynamics that take place there.
The intuition of a certain order is interrupted abruptly by a chaotic accumulation of raw materials in the adjacent rooms. Concrete volumes, rocks, marble slabs, acrylic plates, fragments of wood and other construction materials occupy the entire room. This installation is a glance at the objects that inhabit the studio; and it is also a draft of Dávila’s work ethic that is characterized by the intuition of a series of possible interactions between objects. Since most of these objects are normally used as construction elements, these implies the suggestion of practical associations. Dávila does not reduces the interaction between objects to these practical terms, rather he is inclined to intertwine these elements through a poetic resonance that could attribute them with autonomy. The coexistence of these lithic bodies and industrial objects in the studio is what enables the appearance of these possible connections that are characterized to be more organic rather than an imposition from a predetermined conception of the sculptural. The circulation of these material presences in the exhibition culminates with a work that shows a tilted metallic cabinet being balanced out by a mound of coal. The relation between both objects arises as something mainly chromatic, adding a pictorial dimension to the sculptural object, but it also highlights the cyclic configuration of the whole exhibition: a circle that unfolds into itself towards infinity, intermittently raging from the human, constructed world to the unaltered configuration of raw matter.
Ofrenda (“Offering”) is the title chosen by the Brazilian artist Ana Prata for her exhibition in the Guadalajara space of Travesía Cuatro. She has converted the gallery’s Project Room into a small temple where a group of paintings are arranged around a mural made to present the gifts. For the artist, painting can be understood as the materialization of a desire, as well as an offering, which is always a feeling materialized in an object. Her gifts are still lifes of fruits, bowls and trays that appear cut from the landscape. An interior landscape that is hardly insinuated as it is not used as a resource of reality or context, on the contrary, it confronts us with a lyrical and symbolic dialogue with the domestic.
These works are related to the modernist repertoire in a way that is neither reverential nor nostalgic, rather Prata seems to probe it as if she were an archaeologist, borrowing and distorting hieroglyphs to assimilate them into the conversation on contemporary painting. Among her references she quotes the Brazilian artists Tarsila do Amaral, her colorist figuration and radical modernity in terms of form, as well as Eleonore Koch and Alfredo Volpi, from whom she has inherited an apparently static spatial structure, even half empty, but which incorporates transparencies that give an atmospheric, solar and light effect. The result are optically dynamic images, a work that flirts with the decorative arts and graphism. With the use of bright and contradictory colors, whose beauty, which seems simple at first, hides a subtle complexity that breathes freshness, freedom and humor.
Ritual de lo habitual
Amid the uncertainty and pessimism of the current moment, Brazilian artist Ana Prata (Sete Lagoas, Minas Gerais, 1980) presents before the public an offering, a joyful, celebrative and good-humored universe, which remains however enigmatic, ambiguous and, at times, disconcerting.
Without following in the footsteps of the majority of her peers, Ana decided to be a painter. Trained to a large extent on the margins of the faculty of Fine Arts that she attended, she developed her language in close dialogue with other painters of her generation and of the previous one, who stood out in Brazil in the 1980s, emphasizing gestuality and researching new painting materials, contrary to the nature of the predominant production in the 60s and 70s —more conceptual, socially committed and interested in experimenting with new media.
Ana does not justify her painting nor the act of painting through great narratives or activist discourses, which again is an unusual attitude in these times. Her work is dispossessed and spontaneous. The artist moves smoothly through multiple references, which seem disparate at first glance. The visual culture of her adolescence, lived in a rock band and in the world of skateboarding, contaminates and mixes freely with the official History of Art, with a fascination for cave painting and ancient civilizations, and for the so-called popular iconography.
The title of her first solo exhibition in Madrid is also the name of the second album by the American rock band Jane’s Addiction, released in 1990. In addition to recalling the artist’s musical past — and present — Ritual de lo habitual draws attention and pays homage to the domestic environment that we have all experienced so intensely and endowed with renewed significance in recent months. The title also suggests a ritualized way of approaching life. If many of the rites and cults of the past have disappeared, Ana claims the possibility of celebrating the quotidian and living day to day as a ritual, that is, avoiding automatic habits and putting care first.
Tous les jours fête sur votre table is what Portuguese artist Lourdes Castro announced in her Livro de Cozinha (1961), perhaps in a mixture of irony and celebration. Almost sixty years later, Ana’s still lifes are also an invitation to a feast or banquet of the senses. Produced without resorting to real arrangements or photographs, her compositions are born from the artist’s imagination and are constructed during the pictorial process, which is, in itself, in addition to a material exercise, a mental, spiritual and ritualistic doing. From quick gestures and ink overlays, simple and schematic shapes emerge, reminiscent of children’s doodles.
The drawings, made with gouache on paper, are ambiguous and escape univocal readings. With warm, fluorescent or metallic colors, they make up a reduced vocabulary of signs, surrounded by a rounded edge. Within this limit, which could represent the edge of a table, the frame of a mirror or the oval of a face, the different elements are repeated and articulated, suggesting multiple possibilities: a table with pots, oranges and bananas; two eyes, a nose and a mouth; a Mexican wrestling mask; a school sheet with the diagram of a cell; a cartoon monster, etc. The dissonance between planes, objects and points of view gives the different compositions a cubist air. This fragmented and somewhat fantastic aspect is reinforced by the fact that Ana brings distant universes closer together and thus avoids locating her scenes in a precise space-time: alchemy coexists with the Amerindian tradition; Cosmetics from Ancient Egypt, oils, perfumes and ointments stored in precious jars of translucent alabaster are confused with the objects arranged in a rococo dressing table or with the makeup case of the past carnaval.
The oil paintings, consisting of thick layers of pigment, constitute, even more so, horns of plenty. They are true pagan altars whose limits are defined by the frames that give a body to the cloth. The relationships between the figure and the background become more complex and the boundaries more blurred. Geometric patterns, painted or previously stamped on the fabrics, suggest a picnic tablecloth, a stained glass window, a 1950s table, the weft of a basket, or many cherries in a pot. In the darkness of the receptacle that is the painting itself, there is a world of objects —which, in turn, contain other objects— with different scales, histories and textures. A world that cannot be fully deciphered with the sense of sight and which invites other forms of perception.
Still lifes often trigger time travel and, if we think of baroque vanitas, they will frequently be interpreted as meditations on the transience of time and the finiteness of life. However, throughout history the genre has admitted a variety of color temperatures and moods: we need only think about what goes from Zurbarán to Caravaggio, from Claesz to Gris, from Chardin to Cézanne or from Morandi to Matisse. As far as we know, few women have ventured into these lands in past centuries: Josefa de Óbidos or Clara Peeters in the 17th century, Anna Maria Punz in the 18th, María Blanchard in the early 20th, and perhaps a few more. Curiously, this is a genre that transports us to what is most common and even banal, and that is why it brings us closer to the customs of our remote ancestors.
In the few fragments of walls that have remained from the Roman villas we encounter, possibly, the first preserved still lifes. Composed of food, animals and vegetables, as well as objects used in banquets or for the preservation of food —such as plates, pots, cutlery and glasses— they sometimes also included masks, money, and instruments for sacrifices, games or writing. It is an irony of fate that —connecting with Ana’s work—, many of those wall paintings from the 1st century BC, joyous and celebratory, and magical at the same time, radiated over dining rooms and other domestic spaces what the Romans called xénias, gifts that the hosts offered to their guests as a sign of hospitality.
Ana Prata (1980, Sete Lagoas, Minas Gerais, Brazil) graduated in Visual Arts from the University of São Paulo (USP).
She took part in the 33rd Bienal de São Paulo – Affective Affinities, which took place at the Bienal Pavilion in São Paulo (2018); she also presented solo exhibitions at Auroras (São Paulo, 2019), Isla Flotante Gallery (Buenos Aires, 2019); Mário de Andrade Municipal Library (São Paulo, 2018); Millan Gallery (São Paulo, 2014 and 2017); Pippy Houldsworth Gallery (London, 2016); Instituto Tomie Ohtake (São Paulo, 2012); Centro Cultural São Paulo (2009), among others.
Her upcoming solo shows include: Gato Preto at Centro Cultural SESC Pompéia in São Paulo (2021) and Tobias Mueller Gallery in Zürich (2021).
She has taken part in group exhibitions at institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art of São Paulo; Caixa Cultural (Rio de Janeiro, 2017); Beijing Minsheng Art Museum (Beijing, 2017), Instituto Figueiredo Ferraz (Ribeirão Preto, 2015); SESC_Videobrasil (São Paulo, 2011 and 2013); Instituto Tomie Ohtake (São Paulo, 2011 and 2018); Instituto Moreira Salles (Rio de Janeiro, 2013).
She was one of the nominees for the PIPA Award in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. In 2011, she was a resident artist at the Red Bull Art House in São Paulo and at Unlimited residence, New York in 2016.
The artist lives and works in São Paulo, Brazil.