A SEA ALL WAVE . JACOPO CRIVELLI VISCONTI

A wave that was stopping

in breaking, interrupted,

would stop itself, immobile,

at the height of its crest

 

and would make itself a mountain

(being horizontal and fixed)

but in becoming a mountain

would yet continue to be water.

 

João Cabral de Melo Neto, Imitation of water

 

Getting lost is hard to do. Going off into the world, or out to sea, and then not managing to find one's way back is something ordinary, even banal. However, getting oneself really lost is altogether a different story, it takes specific planning, which begins the moment one takes in all docking lines, sets sail, and thus becomes more prone to getting lost. In other words, one accepts the possibility or perhaps the certainty of never again returning to that same land. It is also possible that everything (the journey, the getting lost) is condensed, or interrupted as in the poet's wave, in a single instant: the eternal split second in which the aircraft wheels lift off the ground, the acrobat lets go of the hand of his supporting partner, and the skipper releases the line that, just a moment ago, kept the boat docked to the pier.

 

Or perhaps we never begin to get lost: getting lost would be an ontological condition, and one that most intimately defines us. In the United States, the indigenous Wintu, of northern California, do not use the words 'left' and 'right' to describe their own bodies, they use the cardinal directions, or yet references to their surroundings. The mountains, the valleys, the desert, and the rivers are what describe them. That which in an individual's eastward travels is referred to as 'the mountain arm' will be 'the valley arm' in his/her westward travels. This continuous osmosis with the territory makes it virtually impossible for these people to get lost, whereas being lost (i.e., being literally invisible, for they are made of a same matter) remains as the only imaginable condition. Poetically speaking, we could say that their condition is comparable to that of a writer who disappears into the language he uses, or of a musician turned into melody.

 

On occasion, Sandra Cinto's amazingly powerful landscapes lead the viewer to experience a similar feeling, that is to say, the feeling of being lost in the nearly dazzling beauty of her drawings. Yet the sensual shine of her stars or of her voluptuous waves is merely the surface of her works: the profoundly romantic character of her oeuvre, which constitutes a far-reaching and articulate reflection on the sublime, shifts Cinto's main focus from object to viewer. To see mere landscape studies in her nocturnal skies or enraged seas would be the same as trying to reduce Caspar David Friedrich merely to the beauty of his mountains, just when the minute figures looking at them on canvas – a metonymy of a spectator – are what really matters. Even if the figure of the lost spectator in awe of such great beauty is never actually represented, it is central to Cinto's work, in particular to the large and embracing installation.

 

It should be said, however, that the spectator is not alone. Before him -- way before him --, the artist had plunged into that same sea. Hers was a physical immersion, resulting from countless hours of a slow and monotonous work, line after line, finer lines, thicker lines. In the course of this time-consuming process, rarely does she stop and steps back to look at the whole picture. It is as if instead of creating a drawing, Cinto were transferring it by copying a deep sea that she kept inside herself. There is, in this monotonous repetition of the same gestures and of the same motifs that gradually, little by little, make up each single wave, something meditative. And, with its lines and curves, the final drawing could in fact bring to mind the design of a Zen garden, except for the absence of islands, stones or rocks punctuating its surface. The plantation-sea makes no allowance for contamination: either it is absolute, or it is not. Like an ocean without ships, a blank sheet of paper, it is a clean slate: its pristine purity of white paper inhibits and, at the same time, sets free.

 

In his commentary about the large drawing installation by Sandra Cinto shown at Museu de Arte Moderna Aloísio Magalhães, in Recife (2003), Moacir dos Anjos pointed out yet another fundamental aspect of the artist's oeuvre: its attempt to reverse time and retain that which, in an ordinary life course, either ends or is lost. The inclusion of music scores (the place for time notations) in the installation further enhanced the observer's impression of watching time go by, despite the apparent stillness of the scene. Comparable, in this sense, to the enchanted mountains of Alberto da Veiga Guignard, Sandra Cinto's landscapes remained motionless and yet pulsating before the spectator. Islands and rocks suddenly outcropping from nowhere, spanned by decayed bridges and fragile rope ladders, frequently attended the nocturnes of Noites de esperança [Nights of hope] and the metaphysical landscapes of A travessia difícil [The difficult journey], the two series of works that preceded the sea series. It would seem that, suspended as they were over ravines and fathomless abysses, these bridges and ladders led nowhere; that their visible fragility excluded the possibility of their being used, and that the precariousness of the only escape route on sight would have as only objective to contribute to the spectator's despair. Notwithstanding, they were bridges and ladders; at times, candelabra and lamps (as if to illuminate the night and the journey) and, rarely, towers and trees from the top of which one could spot a place -- probably a distant and cold, and even steep and rocky place as most islands, but yet a place. Thus, this entanglement of roads represented the possibility of envisaging both a path and the pale and labile sign of the presence of a community: after all, a bridge is a result of human action. Perhaps this is too optimistic a reading, but the advent of the sea suggests a less dramatic retrospective interpretation of Cinto's earlier series, as if they were a dress rehearsal of the getting lost act, and an attempt to extend time to postpone the ineluctable moment of departure.

 

In this sense, it should be noted how, in the early drawings executed during the year 2007, featuring the sea as absolute protagonist, the water surface was still compact, nearly solid, or it was fragmented, made up of sparse waves. It was, that is, a circumscribed sea, nearly a river, on which the artist could render her entire symbolical repertoire: bridges, rope ladders, candelabra... It was as if, in this way, Cinto were trying to linger on the land a bit longer, even after she had departed, like someone who tries to retain on the fingertips the warmth of the hand that is no longer held. However, soon and inevitably the sea stretches over the land in waves, relay waves that go on unfolding, even dry waves from other tides (...) as if it all were the sea. Except that, strictly speaking, here the sea, understood as a flat and continuous expanse of water, does not exist: it is the wave that gives birth to it, outlining it against the blue background of the wall or canvas. It is a sea all wave, so extremely and pristinely pure that it does not belong in this world, for sure: it belongs exclusively in the realm of poetry, just as João Cabral de Melo Neto's knife all blade.

 

And a sea that, precisely for being so pure, does not accept instances of contamination or distraction. Even the minute, fragile and visibly frightened paper boats that come up in some of the installations cannot but barely touch it: they cannot share the same space, there is a ninety-degree angle separating them. In the artist's dense symbology, the whiteness of paper-turned-into-boat alludes to the unwritten letters and the silence of those who, having left their land for good, sought to make a new life for themselves overseas. The unwritten letters and the little boats that don't sail the sea turn into pale metaphors of the artist's family history, the history of the millions who landed in Brazil by sea, and perhaps the history of the country, the birth certificate of which is a letter drafted by a navigator. It is as if the white waves with rising crests rolled over everything, contaminating unwritten writings and even this text that is all about waves – a text that mimics waves by breaking up into uneven and disorderly paragraphs, which nonetheless bear witness to an attempt at grasping something about the vastness of the sea.

 

Sandra Cinto works at night. Little by little her silvery waves materialize, at times long and gentle, at times curly, as if broken by a sudden western wind. Her romantic sea could only be tempestuous, it just had to make itself a mountain (being horizontal and fixed), but in becoming a mountain would yet continue to be water. Before he knows it, the viewer is in the eye of the hurricane, completely surrounded. He is lost. Immersed in the sea that covers every inch of the walls of the round room at Instituto Tomie Ohtake, he might recall Giotto's frescoes in the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padua, which made such an impression on Sandra Cinto; or perhaps the Sala dei Giganti painted by Giulio Romano in Mantua, where everything seems to be collapsing onto the viewer; or even Hokusai's celebrated print representing a great wave off the coast of Kanagawa, or yet the waves that, from the distance, imperil Géricault's fragile Raft of the Medusa. All these references and many others are in fact right there; they constitute the invisible bottom of this sea, the still and silent foundations that support the tumid, warm weight of something living. Possibly this is the arsenal of images and recollections that will lead the spectator outside the exhibition room, beyond the dark night and the rain, as far as the morning twilight, where he can sit on a simple bench with one leg made up of books containing all these references and, from the distance, fearlessly watch this sea that belongs to him.

 

Jacopo Crivelli Visconti