There is something that occurs when a new experience passes through the body. Something abundant, anti-figural, and soft that presents itself as a challenge - almost like our body fails to assess its current position and maintain balance. Laís Amaral’s exhibition Cement and Water presents to the viewer this course of movement, where two agreements seem to be necessary: 1) that the process responds to the inhabiting of the experience in the multiple times in which it happens, and therefore the aesthetic manifestation is a possibility of organizing what is both past and present, and 2) that the body is the receptacle where the process takes place, in this sense, perceiving and listening to its concerns giving shapes and compositions for its expression in the world.
Amaral’s paintings explore the sensations that comprise a body — one that walks up and down the streets and the slopes, that finds the air passing through the cracks in the houses, making magic in movement. As Fred Moten reminds us, the danger of movement is "knowing that we are affected, that we are affective. There's danger, too, in the very fact of this reminder, even if it's just a taste, of what you haven't seen." But in the case of what you confront us with, no, it is not a mere visual account of what has been lived, an autobiography that attests to the terror that our history experiences. "The only way to come through this bildung in the service of destruction and rebuilding, that contract, that contact, that refusal of surrender, is to extend the ante-autobiographical modalities of our story. Our constant escape, even from time, and our consent to be inseparable, requires us to live in danger."
Organized in three chapters - Settlements, Ruin of Color, and Magnetic - Cement and Water also takes the form of a relationship. Between territory and displacement, Amaral moves through Gamboa and Saúde - neighborhoods located in an area known as Little Africa in Rio de Janeiro. In that region, part of the sea was landed, like other parts of the natural landscape that were inhabited before the construction of the city of Rio de Janeiro, as we know it today. Creating from a place between where she lives and the place where she imagines herself, the artist composes landscapes, ruins, and non-human characters to map her experiences. In this game of forces/(re)hydration of experience, Amaral produces a pictorial field that testifies to knowledge outside our known vernacular pattern, oxygenating our mind and body to other ways of feeling our own places.
"Making those paintings was a gesture of establishing the memory of water in this place. Dealing with its existence in all dimensions... as an offering given to the mystery that inhabits this crossroads where the wall and the ancient sea are."
To settle is to establish and echo at the same time. Both gestures summon forces that are sometimes buried and felt by our collective bodies. Starting from what she calls "recipes," Amaral’s paintings work like thick and sinuous territories where proscribed quantities are disavowed. Instead, the paintings resonate with each compositional cell as they convey Amaral’s testimony to experience. The series of works now presented, which is also an index of her current research on her own techniques, is developed from the observing, imagining, and speculating environments that announce the effects of colonization and civilization through the modern text printed in Brazil. From these studies, the artist's attention turns to the drying up of natural water resources simultaneous to the whitening of the population, nature, and the organization of life in its subjective and spiritual dimensions. Water, for Laís, is a device of freedom that opposes the aridity of our normative society as it is known today. The act of painting is a "leakage" — a response to this desertification and a desire to "water the ways of existing." Such an experience is directly linked to the mysteries and the apprehension of the sensitive reality that permeates memory and time.
In this sense, leaking the ways of knowing and feeling seems to be an everyday exercise to free the body: unlearning coded gestures, hydrating dormant muscles… looking at entities (material and intangible, human and non-human, signifiers or signs) as someone who identifies with an a-political territory that is not yet socially recognizable. The right to these forms is the right to know/feel oneself. Thus, settling down is also to interrogate each trait, each line in our intimacies. Not to fear stains, error, abstraction, but to establish a counter-hegemonic aesthetic position, and advocate through expression in favor of the unheard forms, thinking together with them in the most possible ways.
"Color layers impregnated in sheds, houses, mansions, pull-ups, the interference of paintings, graffiti, pixo, overlapping colors, color shells that form the link between background paintings with paintings closer to the surface, the concrete, the action of the sea air on the iron structures, the floats that are parked in the region."
In her preoccupation with expanding sensation through color and composition, the artist exercises a literalist experience of Time through process of scraping. Amaral’s abrasive scraping of the canvas simulates socio-historical experience of the subject land, that is, the State’s systemic interference and abandonment of the Brazil’s latent waters. The paintings’ chromatic ruin manifest Time, a multidimensional entity. The sgraffito chosen as a guide technique, in which a tool is placed on the outer layer of paint to make the lower layer uncovered, presents this game of care and density typical of someone who wonders at the edge of the depths.
From this place, the meaning that moves the abstraction in her painting is born as a tool to explicate the process of the body. If it is on a set of a priori data that we live and are socially co-recognized, would abstracting other forms of the self and the world, undoing the known possibilities of capture, also be a political action in the pictorial gesture? Less interested in the construction of a theory of abstraction as an experience opposite (or conflicting) to the representational, what touches us is the possibility of understanding abstract space as an act of creation that moves the real towards what has no form, and for this reason, it makes tangible in itself the material that is necessary for the face of the exhaustion of the living. When the creation of a place that still has no precedent is what asks for passage, abstracting is also experiencing the imagination of new policies for oneself and for the world: 1) Through the fissure operated in the cultural territory captured by socio-historical-political formalisms; 2) By building statements that go beyond verbal exhaustion, literalness and rhetoric; By the interruption (even if partial) of the circulation of the replicable meaning of the images of violence and control primarily destined to bodies that escape the regulatory models.
At this point, we are already pure maritime flow, and Laís Amaral makes us encounter palettes that are texts/homages. "Magnetic Woman, underwater, go to the bottom, the impression of the calm lake." Cement and Water demarcates the language that flows from this process through fractals, which is why its written expression also lacks reinvention. The invention is not one of language but of the process of inscribing (writing) itself in the world. Constantly writing, we pass from one being to the other. Embracing the aquatic passage in front of the ground is to consent to not exist as unique beings, as well as learn to accept our dynamism, navigating the multiple physicals, psychic and spiritual planes of our existences, concentric or superimposed. Dismantling the representational field by effectively breaking, abandoning, or even giving up on it is an excellent investment in the waters. In them, everything waved. And, on the limit between the deep and the surfaces of the trace, the artist shows herself as a worker of the sea.
— Words by Tarcísio Almeida
— Translated by Igi Ayedun and Wisrah Villefort
Laís Amaral (b. 1993, São Gonçalo, Brazil) graduated from Universidade Federal Fluminense. Her work was included in the institutional exhibitions, Crônicas Cariocas at Museu de Arte do Rio de Janeiro, and Onde se espreitam vias somos aquelas que permeiam o abismo em busca das frestas with Ana Lira and Helem Salomão at Tomie Ohtake Institute in São Paulo. Her first solo exhibition, Vazante, was held at Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói in Rio de Janeiro. She has also participated in the group exhibitions Between Rivers, Waterfalls and the Deepest Sea. Open Roads at M+B, Los Angeles; Formation and Deformation at Parque Lage, Rio de Janeiro; Vesicle at Espaço BREU, São Paulo; and Encruzilhadas at Galpão Bela Maré, Rio de Janeiro. Cement and Water at M+B marks her solo show debut in North America. Amaral is the co-founder of the Trovoa group, a national women's collective in Brazil based on the tenet that artistic production arises from different contexts, and from processes uncoupled from academic or specialized training. Laís Amaral lives and works in Rio de Janeiro.