Écoute les pierres

Caio Reisewitz
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Bendana | Pinel Art Contemporain is pleased to present Caio Reisewitz’s third solo exhibition “écoute les pierres” at the gallery.

This text was written in February 2020. From then on, Covid-19 was considered an epidemic and the first cases were diagnosed in Latin America. Although signs of environmental disaster permeate the text, we did not know that the urgency of imagining other futures would arise as acutely since the crisis triggered by the virus.

Outra educação pela pedra: no Sertão
(de dentro para fora, e pré-didática).
No Sertão a pedra não sabe lecionar,
e se lecionasse, não ensinaria nada;
lá não se aprende a pedra: lá a pedra,
uma pedra de nascença, entranha a alma.

João Cabral de Melo Neto
A educação pela pedra,1965

As a photographic exercise, the Brazilian artist Caio Reisewitz (São Paulo, 1967) has chosen to train his gaze on a subject lacking in visible quality, and whose starkness sets the tone for this exhibition. Out of the images presented, only two are displayed in brilliant, vibrant colour, which is one of the characteristics commonly attributed to his work – the other being the grandiosity of scale, which here is also limited to these two dissonant images, whose brightness disrupts what might otherwise be a unified discourse of a set of pale photographs.

The artist’s recent series, which have been increasingly political, are inextricably interwoven with the internal conflicts experienced in his country, as in Altamira (2013/2018) where he documents the forest region of Belo Monte, which is disappearing due to the construction of a hydroelectric plant. Or in Água escondida [Hidden Water] (2014), where his critique focuses on human aggression towards springs, dikes and rivers, cut off by the voracious growth of cities.

The new images here, symbolized by the brutality of the stones, are situated as a dystopian combination of the two aforementioned series. In these images, nature is no longer depicted as a romantic marvel, nor does it appear in all its power, sublime, grandiloquent, seductive and frightening. Instead it is much smaller and more artificial, at times resembling a potential set design for Samuel Beckett’s Endgame: stones skittering over the barren terrain of a newly discovered planet, or settling in post-apocalyptic remnants similar to the landscapes evoked in the play.

The artist’s decision to almost always erase any trace of human existence – which can only be perceived indirectly, for example through the presence of buildings – is decisive here. In the absence of protagonists, we become – ourselves – the testament to the human side of nature. But nature no longer has a visual imperative. Our body is confronted by silent, monotonous, dark and nebulous landscapes, which don’t belong to any specific time or place. In the distance they appear as steely visions of a process of the desertification of life.

Hence Reisewitz’s radicalism with this new set of images: abdication as a means of denouncing depletion. The concealment of the true colours of the landscapes, along with the constriction of their physical potential, are a way of saying that anthropology’s founding dilemma, the clash between culture and nature, has its end in sight. If western societies have prevailed thanks to a “universal” cultural model and a specific mode of production that endangers life itself, nature throws us off course in the form of dwindling resources that are indispensable to existence.

As an artist who looks at the long view of the landscape – the interplay between vernacular nature and nature built by man – as one of his primary poetic subjects, there’s nothing arbitrary about Reisewitz’s choice of the two images where he’s chosen to preserve the vividness of their colours. The first spills red onto the earth and refers to two serious environmental accidents resulting from the collapse of dams in the state of Minas Gerais: Mariana (2015) and Brumadinho (2019). The torrent of mud that swept across vast territories exceeds our capacity for metaphor: it is the sheer embodiment of chaos.

Inversely, the dense blue of the Amazonian photograph acquires the value of a synthesised image of the vestiges of a pre-anthropic world. In the context of this exhibition, the work denotes a rupture; it unsettles due to the sobriety of the adjacent images. Surrounded by faded landscapes, it embodies the potential for a Brazil-liberation, like a Shangri-La. Lifesize, its luminosity is an oasis of what we still have left, or what we will have left, like a future utopia.

Luise Malmaceda

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