By: Xenia Bergman
The study of her production leads us to believe that we are facing a true interpreter of the postmodern era, even in a more global than local sense. The variety of media used is justified by revealing all these paradoxes and folds of art as a structure.
Pluralism is among the constants in Tatiana Blass’s work, but there is one aspect that helps the whole coalesce. Even if, technically speaking, each artistic work knows few boundaries, something always tenses its condition as an image, its etymology, its folds. This tension is continuously testing the structure, the vanishing, or precedence points of the work. Certainly, what was brought to light when industrial pigments burst into the surface of her early works was the organization of this uncanny palette to illuminate the painting’s indelible state of constant crisis. In her sculpture, in general, visible parts coexist with absent ones, and in that way, the genre is reinforced. In video art, while projection devices multiply almost to excess, stage design is kept minimal.
Then, the labyrinthic character of the representation restores the image, whether virtual or mutant, to its former leading role.
Blass first became known in São Paulo at the turn of the new millennium, with a mostly tactile series of paintings/collages on wood. Then she presented her first work in situ, Atavío(Adornment), from 2004, a pink lacquer stain that slid down the floor of a gallery, if you will, proposed a subtle metaphor of the feminine: “dress up,” “adorn,” a reiteration of artifice and the artificial.
Sculpture between the exotic (naturalia) and art (artificialia), both categories of the Wunderkammer (Cabinet of Curiosities), gained greater relevance in Siege (2007), the work with which Blass jumped to the international stage, as a finalist for the Nam June Paik Prize in Germany. Blass seemed to be measuring herself to a generation of young artists in the global arena, such as the Young British Artists, including the famous Damien Hirst, with their bodies of colossal animals exposed in formol showcases, causing high doses of controversy. But in Siege, she would choose a bird of nobility, the pheasant, supported by a golden belt in a tension pose, suggesting a hunting trophy exposed next to her trap.
In Siege, however, she had a noble bird, the pheasant, held down by golden ties, suggesting a hunting trophy on display next to the trap that caught it. Sculpture between the power of the sublime and the act of domestication, something that the marble columns and the Renaissance artworks at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, where it was exhibited, complemented to perfection.
Nature was already a leitmotiv in Blass’ work before Siege. Created in 2006, Páreo (Race) is evidently concerned with classical techniques and equally classical themes, equestrian sculpture in marble. However, Blass opted for creating only one-third of the hippogriff, triggering a tropological, typically contemporary discourse. The severed legs arranged on the museum’s stairs turn this work into a perfect metonymy: the part substituting for the whole, where, if you will, the limbs (parts), refer to the animal or bullfighting as such. Isn’t the gesture of showing and hiding the best evidence of a pulsating, restless image, completed only with the help of the viewer? Isn’t the placement of this work on the staircase at Paço das Artes, whose yearly selective programs serve as an effective means of ascent into the art circuit, a game of allusions to the starting line in the arena of institutional apparatuses?
Years later, the artist again surprised audiences with the installation Zona Morta (Dead Zone, 2007), undoubtedly one of her best-known works. In a room filled to the brim with couches, corner tables, a piano, plants, and even paintings by Blass herself, each element was sectioned at standard eye level. The room created the effect of two suspended halves. The empty half provoked perplexity, bringing to mind Paul Virilio’s statement: “A ‘fixed image’ cannot exist, because the physiology of seeing always depends on incessant and unconscious movements of our pupils (motility) and constant and conscious motion (mobility).”1 It also resembles the classic tautology of an artwork, “object to be contemplated,” after a complete sweep of the remaining field of vision, the object here being absent itself.
Time after, Tatiana Blass presented Cão Cego (Blind Dog, 2009), her debut with a solo installation in an institution as prestigious as the Museu de Arte de Bahia. In this beautiful series, Blass once again explores paradoxical situations of her chosen medium, which, rather than merely being sculpture, becomes “sculpture-performance,” a pairing that would appear, in principle, irreconcilable. Taking dogs as her subject, Blass not only refracts the representation but also gives it a controversial meaning. The dog transcends the iconographic associations of loyalty or protection that Seventeenth-Century European paintings generally attribute to it, since, according to the artist, the allusion directly evokes a blind person’s guiding animal, yet, one prevented from working in that capacity by its blindness. Otherness also acquires a Platonic halo. If, for Plato, the limitation of art, in painting, was its circumstantiality, which never exceeded the mimetic plane since the most perfect bed was not used for sleeping, what this series wants to suggest is also a denial of the work as utility and as mimesis. Therefore, the negative mold fixed on the wall does not coincide with the sculpture in positive, arranged contiguously as if derived from it. The matrix is unable to produce a similar, and instead, proposes a hypothetical, but literal, escape from the dog from its own image.
Over time, this image disappears or is dissolved by the action of spotlights. Like a boomerang, fixed art (sculpture) returns the transitory (performative).
Starting with this series, Blass began to systematize the idea of the dilution of the work of art. Wax became the ideal material for sculptures that happen in time, or for the matter that swallows other objects and dismantles reality. In this way, based on the concept of "sculpture-performance" and its appearance at the 29th São Paulo Biennial with action on opening night, in September 2010, Metade da Fala no Chão (Half of the Speech is On the Ground) takes shape that same year. In it, an elegantly attired piano player interprets several Fréderic Chopin pieces on a grand piano, while an individual dressed in coveralls and a mask bursts in from backstage to pour a liquid wax concoction on the instrument’s strings. The action repeats until the sound is impossible, and the dripping paraffin creates the effect that the title alludes to sound, words, the logos, or perhaps a portion of it, reach the ground. Blass recreates other musical instruments using the same resource, like drums or a trombone, slowly covered by wax to create effects of poetic beauty based on abrupt clashes.
This dialog with time finds its highest expression in Fim da partida (Endgame, 2011), inspired by Samuel Beckett’s 1954 play of the same title. Beckett is considered the first postmodern writer for the univocal, repellent, absurdist bent of his work; coincidentally, in this work, where a group of wax sculptures gradually melts under incandescent lights, the viewer—as is the case for the audience of a Beckett play—is kept in a state of fasting and waiting. What we see in operation here is what a scholar of the Irish playwright summarizes as six basic compositional principles: “Contradiction; Permutation; Discontinuity; Fortuitousness; Excess; and Short-Circuiting,” 2Similarly, in Luz que cega (Blinding Light, 2011), a human figure disappears, but not before revealing the vestiges of a body, a metallic spinal cord that has been driven into it. With this work, Blass competed in 2011 for the PIPA Prize, one of the most important for mid-career artists in the local scene.
Thanks precisely to the PIPA Prize, during the artist’s residency at the Gaswork in London, it included, Blass created Hard Water (2012). Here, new lexical connections make their appearances, such as relationships between characters, short dialogs in the manner of Beckett’s dramaturgy, and threads that evoke the plot. Strewn about the exhibition space in great profusion, hung from walls, emerging from hats, or the two women’s dresses, they impede free mobility. Some of the dialogs help reinforce the conflict, as when one of the women repeats: “useless, like drool.” This work is enriched by the multiplication of meanings that derive from it, and by the sustained allusion to the what and how of language, the simple materials, and resources that seem to maintain an unending connection.
Communication as a bond and as a thread reemerges in another residency project in Norway, Encrenca Trøbel3 (2014), where Blass discusses a similar subject matter: estrangement in culture, language, and landscape.
The abundant use of thread necessarily brings to mind a series she began in 2008 and recently re-engaged at the Museu de Arte de Pampulha, with the installation Mais dia, menos noite (More Day, Less Night, 2019). Here, a red tapestry, tens of meters long, was held on one of its ends by the loom where it was created, but as it moved through the operatic space, its solidity decomposed. It was as a bunch of threads that the original red of the tapestry vertiginously inundated the museum hallways and gardens. Be it in allusion to power or luxury, this obsession highlighted an idea that is highly symptomatic of today’s art: the desire to transcend, at any cost, the exhibition space. In replicating the classical myth of Penelope, Blass reproduced an undeniable feature of contemporary duality, the work of art that to be built must be
No panoptic reading of Tatiana Blass’s work would be complete without her video installations. Electrical Room (213), made with the support of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, is a veritable anthology of the genre. Ten sets of audiovisual equipment were arranged in the exhibition space. Both in its spatial disposition and its general concept, the arrangement resembled an electronic forest blocking our view of the devices’ beginning or end. To reinforce this idea, the installation unfolded in two different rooms or stages, one where the monitors were located, and one where outlets and power supplies were on view, emphasizing the “chaos” caused by the sinister network. Projected on each of the monitors was a person attempting, “paradoxically,” to converse with the projection next to it. The calculated, well-executed dramaturgy of short and basic speeches made it possible for the devices and the individuals, reduced to projections, to establish a dialog. Still, in the end, the communication process failed due to differences in language and place, and technological mismatches.
Bocejo (Yawn) follows a similar logic. In this work, presented at the Arco fair in Madrid, Blass similarly juxtaposed two rooms, one with projections and a second one with cables and outlets. The images projected included photographs, videos, and film fragments edited in a loop, but, unlike its predecessor, what was represented here was a “Babel” of the virtual world, with tedium as its metaphor. The sequences were not mere “speakers,” but images of people in the act of yawning — each type of projection corresponded to the device that captured the image. Thus, the recordings of a surveillance camera or those emanating from a tape projector, allude to the image of an anonymous individual inside an elevator and a vintage film, respectively. And they both differed from the photograph of a yawn taken from a Facebook page, seen in a laptop set next to a selfie visualized on a smartphone. The reiterated image prompted the same reaction it does in real life: insomnia, tiredness, and even a yawn of one’s own. At the same time, the metaphor symbolically interrogated our anatomy, which has been mutating since we became tele-spectating subjects, cinephiles, and, these days, voracious internauts. As Tatiana Blass notes, this entire experience involves the “feeling of wasting so much time with these devices, a sense that, in turn, consumes us. The end of certainty or the opacity of innocence?
In summary, the study of her production leads us to believe that we are facing a true interpreter of the postmodern era, even in a more global than local sense. The variety of media used is justified by revealing all these paradoxes and folds of art as a structure. The work, more than anything, becomes a sort of Narcissus, visage, appearance, the subtle incorporation of its congenital aspects. We see in it the ability to transport us through a key that lies in its own occurrence and its inherent motion. Even if subjectivity is stripped or at risk of disappearing under the threat of the image, of its mutations, of the metaphor, or the vestige, the artist will always bring us back to life as inhabitants of the great labyrinth.
1. P. Virilio, Translated from “A imagem virtual mental o instrumental.” In A. Parente (org.), Imagem máquina, Río de Janeiro: Ed. 34, 1993.
2. See D. Lodge, Working with Structuralism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.
3. The Portuguese word Encrenca and the Norwegian Trøbel can both be translated as problems.