PHOTOGRAPHY AS A MEANS: THE REFLECTIVE DEVICES OF MARCIA XAVIER . LISETTE LAGNADO

I tought of a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinous spreading labythrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the starts.

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths”*

Following the way Marcia Xavier works is no easy task. Starting with ideas in profusion, the materials find possible groupings and soon follow parallel directions – some investing in a prolonged search for formal solution, others returning form it without success. This is speculative ground in which certain photographs remain stored away for years on end until they acquire a meaning to determine their fate.

The description of this creative process does not reflect confused intentions. On the contrary. If I have been able to witness so many circumvolutions, it is because an aesthetic decision imposed itself in each case. In fact, the temporal dimension is specific to photography. The exploitation of its immediate results is quite common, the swiftness of technique at the service of visual effect.  A hint of prejudice haunts this sort of commentary, undercutting the finest characteristic of the medium in question.

For photography not only revolutionized our concept of the future but conferred upon memory an indispensable power. As a sort of latent archive, its vocation for storage allows us to alter the sense of the prefix “re” – the renewed experience of discovering subjacent meaning when one speaks of rereading, when the gaze revisits the past for review. Having ultimately changed our attitude toward the expressive value of the “returns”, tradition consequently ceases to be an immutable point. This latency must therefore account for a duration, rendering the author permeable to successive renunciations, deferring the act of concluding a work so that its content, once suspended, may find in time that structure which best suits it.

So it makes sense to observe the trajectory traced by Marcia Xavier, who began her investigations with self-portraits, in that genre, self presented itself as the nearest field of action, tirelessly apprehensible and accommodating malleable, free from the embarrassment of external factors such as public authorizations and weather conditions. We shall see to what degree this principle of individuation affected a way of thinking, arked by questions of the double and of repetition and simultaneously presented in the guise of fragments and multiples.

For now, it is important to underline the fact that this pilgrimage of the self was not biographical in nature. Marcia Xavier treated herself as an object or a place never as a subject. The image of a dismembered body obeyed formal principles absorbed throughout the history of art [notably in Cubism and in Optical Art]. But what stood out from the process even then was the desire to “flesh out” the body, to create volumes for photographic representation as in Waldemar Cordeiro’s formulation of “three-dimensional will” [surely the exhibition’s most pulsating reference]. As in Ambiguity [1962] or in Semantic Light [1966], to mention but two examples, Marcia Xavier’s indispensable elements are mirrored surfaces, corrugated glass, prisms and light.

Since the installation with the revolving photograph of a child crawling across a floor of geometric squares, Marcia has sought to express the proplem of passage without, however, giving up the possibility of conferring, through the construction of objects, a concreteness upon the phenomenon of the displacement of image1. Starting with thid work, her investigations ceased being purely photographic to occupy surrounding space. The scale is transferred from the body to architecture, absorbed as a necessary measure in the dialectic between the self and the external world.

It would therefore be necessary to understand her objectives in the light of Helio Oiticica’s Bólides. There is, in fact, a clear sensorial analogy between Box Bólide 22, a concrete water tank containing the poem “body plunge”[1967] and Marcia Xavier’s current Devices, metal vats lined with aluminum foil. Both invite the viewer to experience virtually what it feels like to look into an abyss. By taking advantage of the reflecting surface inside the cylinder, Marcia leads us to a sensation of vertigo which stems from the multiplied image. The referential sense of a center is lost, and reality is viewed as if through a kaleidoscope coupled to our retinal circuits.

Lastly, her choice of vocabulary could not be more transparent, divided into two families of works: stairs and games. An ineluctable fascination with deformities introduces variables in the regularity of the stairs continuity, forming pivots which subvert the habitual meaning of going up and down stairs. The changing combinations of the kaleidoscope may be found at the heart of the games.  Whether in billiards or in chess, color and structure elude any attempt at definition, causing the objects to gain dynamic force in accordance with our ever-changing position in front of them. It is curious to observer Marcia Xavier’s interest in games of precision whose moves dependon a partnership. Although governed by systems of rules ans calculations, they involve an “abstract perception of the world”, the indeterminateness of forking moves.



 

* from the English translation by James E. Irby originally published in the Spring 1958 issue of the Michigan Alumnus Quartely Review.

 

1 Antarctica Artes com a Folha, at Padre Manoel da Nóbrega Pavillion, Parque Ibirapuera, São Paulo, 1996