Katia Maciel: Mantenha Distância

The abduction

In the vistas and panoramas of 19th century Brazilian iconography, the glory of nature depicted could dispense with human presence – which sometimes is placed at a corner of the picture, timid, minimised, almost nullified by the landscape, and sometimes yields to the temptation to tame it, assuming an attitude of defiance.

In Floresta Virgem [Virgin Forest], an 1853 lithograph by Araújo Porto-Alegre, two men enter the dense forest. One carries a gun, the other a folder or notebook under the arm. Both are probably the same person: the nineteenth-century intellectual who penetrates the native landscape with a will to dominate and certain eagerness to make it exotic or picturesque.

Katia Maciel has the same urge to penetrate the thickness of the forest. But, unlike her predecessors, members of expeditions and travelling artists, she neither contemplates nor attacks its wonders. She is enraptured by the landscape.

The figure hanging from a tree branch, in the clearing of a forest – Vulto [Shadow] – is the core of Suspense, the expanded cinema project that the artist began in 2013. That Shadow gives a rhythmic structure to Katia Maciel's choppy cinematic discourse.

The first exhibition of the project laid out the plot: a woman lost in paradise (the farthest possible place in the forest?) sends photographs as if they were clues to her impossible location. Now, in the second chapter of the project, there are no longer photographs, therefore, the clues are tenuous. Human presence, imperative in the first part, practically disappears and nature is ubiquitous. At the Cavalariças spaces, all four works on display mirror the green reality surrounding them.

Expedition, abduction, or misplacement? The question remains about what, precisely, attracted or brought this woman of disguised identity to the heart of the forest.

But her fate and her condition – tied to a tree, swinging – reveal the tracks of the ancestral inhabitants of those forests beyond the lagoon. Where Parque Lage is currently located, in the prehistory of Rio de Janeiro, the fearsome Karajá people lived, who hated the human gaze and could turn into jaguars. According to the myth, there was no darker forest than that in which the Karajá lived. Like Medusas, they devoured whoever looked at them. Facing them with open eyes was fatal. (1)

Before embarking on an expedition to the Amazon, to shoot his legendary film, combining ethnographic research and fictional drama about a white girl kidnapped and deified by the natives, Flávio de Carvalho kept in touch with the Karajá people of the central region of Brazil – in 1952, when he took part in the filming of O Grande Desconhecido, by Márcio Civelli. But nothing indicates that those are the same Karajá involved in the abduction of Katia Maciel (I choose to take the case as an abduction, deepening the relationship between Suspense and A Deusa Branca [The White Goddess], an unfinished feature film by Flávio de Carvalho, given the entire mythical and symbolic charge implicit in this kind of episode).

In secret correspondence with the magical thinking of the ancient peoples of the forests of Rio, Suspense is projected onto the walls of the Cavalariças like an unfeasible map of paradise lost. Now latent, the clues seem to want to enter the infinite tracking shot of Trilha [Track], a video which occupies an entire wall of the central building of the Cavalariças.

In addition to the illusion of glimpsing signals in bark, there are also traps, the most dangerous of which is perhaps Verso, a cannibalistic technological device, which devours the visitor as soon as they enter the building, placing them at the centre of the ritual it sets up.

In the next room, Uma Árvore [A Tree] (which breathes like an animal, or which seems to have devoured one, in order to assimilate its lung's ability to expand and contract), a work from 2009, included in Suspense, leaves no doubt about what side the artist takes when she develops a discourse based on the principles of organisation of the world she grasped from her experience of the forest.


(1) Mussa Alberto. A primeira história do mundo. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Record, 2014, pág. 98-100

Paula Alzugaray
Janeiro, 2015