Katia Maciel: A Day of Dappled Seaborne Clouds

Have you been watching the horizon lately?(1)
Kátia Maciel’s sensorial landscape

The interactive installation, Waves: A Day of Dappled Seaborne Clouds by Katia  Maciel, on display in the large circular gallery at MIS, examines the nature of electronic images through video projections of waves, which when activated by the viewer, generate new images. Surrounded by the murmur and the images of sea waves and sand projected horizontally and vertically, we enter a parallel space and temporality and experience the poetic dizziness caused by the de-centering of the vision, between fiction and non-fiction, between the volumetric emptiness, the flat surfaces of the gallery and the stacked horizons that challenge the force of gravity.
Displayed for the first time in 2006 in the exhibition Interconnect@between attention and immersion in the prestigious art and media center ZKM, in Karlsruhe, Germany, this work is not only shown in São Paulo for the first time but is also being staged in its original scale for the first time.  Maciel, has been working for 15 years in the very fertile space between the cinema and the visual arts; with Waves…, she continues to question the condition of the image in relation to the movement of the viewer’s body, simultaneously exploring projective and sensorial mechanisms.

Between art and literature: James Joyce and Georges Bataille

The title – Waves: A Day of Dappled Seaborne Clouds – associates visual and verbal representations and favors the notion, also championed by translation philosopher Vilém Flusser, that language not only reflects but also creates reality. (2) The title is a phrase taken from the work of James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where in the same paragraph we find the answer to the question: “Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and color?” In this “rhythmic rise and fall of the words”, in which Joyce declares himself more interested in the contemplation of the internal world than in the observation of the perceptive world, Maciel creates clouds, through the ascending and descending motion of layers of waves, visually translating, as in Joyce, the image of the oceanic sublimity as a metamorphic theme and form.

In the rhythmic pulsation of the waves and the proliferating sea streaks, the artist highlights – the formless – which  art critics Rosalind Krauss and  Yve-Alain Bois searched for in Bataille, not as a qualifying adjective, but as a category with productive performatic strength. (3) With the purpose of de-constructing old metaphysical conflicts in art, such as form and content, some 20th century artists and critics explored the registers of materiality, horizontality, pulsation and entropy, as a means to challenge the unity of shape, as well as notions of style and chronology. Along with the questions triggered by the disincarnated vision, the installation Waves… also undermines the hermeneutic circle, based on the sum total of understanding and conclusion. The circular walls of the gallery do not close and the rising and falling movement of the waves is also a non-linear temporal measure. It is a pulsation that does not seek rest and definition, but rather moves toward the referential logics of the representation.  Maciel’s work sails in the waters of the quasi-cinema, the proto-cinema or transcinema, (4) where unlike Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey, we accumulate what we see with the eyes, what we know with the body and what is murmured to us by the waves and the song of mermaids. Anthony McCall. (5)

Staging oceanic sublimity in the abyss of vision

Standing on the edge between the sea and the land, between the materiality of the image and the poetic reverie, the viewer sees his shadow reflected in the sand as part of the abyss of reflections produced by the installation. The installation evokes sublimity as a mathematical infinite, i.e. as something that cannot be represented or located, and that as indicated by Clarice Lispector, for example, in Àgua Viva,   is part of the ontological stream. The waves that pile up on one another create a vertical memory, a rotation of deep layers with the potential to trigger a ground swell, an incident that cannot be controlled.  Hence, anxiety is also present in this abyss of the vision which, however, is solar, clear, as it stems from the sun light and from the electric light of the projectors, both of which are captured in their materiality and reverberate, for example, one of the most beautiful passages of Lygia Pape’s book Livro da Criação, as well as the magic of Anthony McCall’s projected light cones. (5)

The diving body in the era of the ubiquity of the image

What would be the place of the body and of the senses in the textual nature mentioned by Joyce? And where do we locate the human scale in the image-oriented architecture that Maciel stages on the edge of the oceanic sublimity? How do we bring perception into focus in the abyss of the vision? Where do we locate the frame of this marine landscape where we are not able to distinguish the inner and the outer boundaries of the work? In the proliferating dappled seaborne clouds that surround the viewer’s body the scale is elastic, like a dream, a reverie or even a tempest in a tea kettle.  In Waves…,  Maciel brings one space into another space – what cannot be restrained or represented and the reality of our presence within the video’s projective space, and at the same time, inside and in front of an abstraction of dappled blue clouds and patched waters. Here, interFACE is interBODY and the diving body is diving into a sea of senses. (6)

Simone Osthoff – PhD in media and communication from the European Graduate School. She is an art critic, curator and art historian; her numerous essays have been published in periodicals, magazines and books in several countries and translated into 8 languages. Since 2000 she has participated in the Leonardo Review panel of critics. She is an international speaker in dozens of events and teaches at the School of Visual Arts in Pennsylvania State University. Osthoff is the author of the book Performing the Archive (New York, Atropos Press, 2009).
Written for the catalogue of the exposition “Waves: a day of dapples clouds coming from the sea” at MIS – Sao Paulo.

(1) Have You Seen the Horizon Lately? Oxford: Museum of Modern Art, 1997. Catalogue of Yoko Ono’s retrospective.

(2) Vilém Flusser, Língua e Realidade (Language and Reality) , São Paulo: Annablume, second edition 2004, third edition, 2007 [originally published in 1963].

(3) Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois, Formless: A User’s Guide, Zone Books, 1997

(4) Quase-Cinema is a concept conceived by Hélio Oiticica and Neville de Almeida to designate the audiovisual experiments and programs they developed together in the 1970s, such as the series Cosmococas. Proto Cinema refers to the early forms of cinema in the end of the 19th century, such as the magic lantern. Transcinema is a concept devised by the artist to express the experimental passage between cinema and visual arts. See Kátia Maciel, org. Transcinemas. Rio de Janeiro : Back-cover, 2008.

(5) O Livro da Criação(The Book of Creation)  by  Lygia Pape was conceived in 1959 as part of the Neo-concrete movement. Anthony McCall’ s projected light installation  — Line Describing a Cone, 1973 —was part of the important exhibit Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977 organized by Chrissie Iles at the  Whitney Museum of American Art in  New York in 2002. An installation similar to McCalls’s , 2007, — You and I, Horizontal III — was part of the exhibit: Cinema Sim: Narrativas e Projeções (Cinema Yes – Narratives and Projections at  Itaú Cultural in 2008.

(6) Mergulho do Corpo (The Diving Body) is the title of the work B47, Bólide Caixa (Box Bolide) 22, 1966-67, by Hélio Oiticica. This shooting meteor is a water tank made in asbestos with the title-poem printed in the bottom of a tank filled with water.