VÂNIA MIGNONE: Casa Triângulo, São Paulo, Brazil
There are two circumstances in Vânia Mignone’s recent production that I have found most noteworthy. Perhaps they have always been present, but they have just become abundantly clear to me. One is the musical atmosphere that runs through her paintings, and the other is a scenic dimension, the construction of a story through a sequence of frames, as in a language of filmmaking. This second observation is not exactly a new development in her work, but I think that it has become stronger over the last years. This is the case, for example, of a set of paintings that clearly constitutes a unique narrative line concerning everyday life and a fire at a circus. Or, moreover, polyptychs which operate like puzzles, bringing together pieces to celebrate a story, as is the case of an untitled work from 2016 divided into eight parts measuring 60 x 60 cm each. In this work, a woman is lying down, probably awake, in the middle of a garden, and in the background there is a colorful arc with the phrase “A tempestade começa aqui” [The storm starts here] printed just below it. Here lies what I consider one of the key points of her poetics: the way that a narrative concept is brought to light. It is made apparent through a series of gaps, shadows, clues that do not clearly produce the image we are looking at, being rather vestiges which turn us into detectives searching for evidence at a crime scene. They are quick situations, flashes of an instant, a speculative and simultaneously concise action.
There are three artworks, all produced last year, which are part of this exhibition and possess this same condition of being simultaneously autonomous and joined in a network. They are Ali ficou [It Stayed There] O efêmero [The Ephemeral] and Pássaros [Birds]. They are mutually independent at the same time that they jointly construct a narrative thread – which arises through the visual-aesthetic proximity of the characters that inhabit these artworks, coupled with the textual content – which constitutes the narrative connection between them. They are moreover incomplete images insofar as the birds as well as the women who inhabit Ali ficou do not appear in their entirety. They are outside the frame, existing as lateral, peripheral, “twisted” images. I recall the vagueness and uncommon power1 of Manet’s asparagus . Something extraordinary, unsuited, because this is not suspected from a painting. The conservatives would say that painting needs to reveal the world, to illustrate and reflect on what is around us, to give an account of what is placed before us. This is not the case of the work by Vânia, who treads a path akin to many artists such as Manet, Courbet and Toulouse- Lautrec, who are interested in signs of what is truly human: the essence of being human, that which we experience a good part of the time, which is somewhat vague, not at all showy, but rather commonplace, from the tedium of daily life, surrounded by “insignificances.” Nothing is more significant, prosaic and gracious than the faraway look of the woman, or of the bird in Vânia’s paintings.
On the other hand, the abrupt and photographic cuts that she applies to the image, creating a somewhat sensuous and delirious chaotic urban atmosphere that pervades the scenarios she constructs, coupled with the protagonism of a female character, point to a referent for her work: Wanda Pimentel. I definitively do not think that these are works of political activism, or that they allude to some sort of ideology, simply because the protagonist in both cases is a woman (headless, in the case of Pimentel, because what generally appeared in her iconic Envolvimento series, produced in the 1960s and 1970s, were basically legs and torso). The canvases from that phase of Pimentel’s took the house as their setting, inhabited by pieces of women’s clothing, teapots, tables – that is, the private setting of a household surrounded by symbols conditioned as being from the female universe. Even though she is surrounded by household appliances or involved in activities which are in a preconceived way associated to a woman’s life, the character that inhabits her paintings exercises an individual and free will. Here resides the artist’s cynicism. Associating advertising, the photonovela and a slight eroticism, the woman in Pimentel’s art does not limit herself to contemplating the scene, since she is part of it. The artist takes a strongly critical stand in relation to the woman as a defenseless prey of easy consumerism. And despite their being from different times, I like to think that the woman, especially in Vânia’s work, possesses these qualities that are present in Wanda’s work: autonomy, freedom and power. She is a fragile and intense, enigmatic and straightforward, vibrant and shy, fearless and reflexive woman. In short, she defies definition for being a product of this flow of contradictions and feelings.
We return to the series of works in which the circus is the theme. Everything turns around the mysterious, the strangely familiar. Although we do not know the precise origin and destiny of those characters, they are not scattered and autonomous elements. The paintings create a link, a nonlinear montage where past, present and future lose their bearings. In a certain way her paintings kidnap our gaze, since we are seduced into unveiling each plot of the story. We perceive that they are generally close-ups, approximations; nothing is open to chance, and even so, the process is gradual. There is no deadwood in these images. They are concise, mysterious, self-exploitative and musical. Much has been written about the proximity between Vânia’s work and the aesthetics of posters, that is, how a certain production of the industry of the image is part of the universe of the artist’s references. I do not disagree with this, but I increasingly “hear” rock when I look at these works. At some moments the2 format of the artworks themselves makes mention of a poster or album cover .
The straightforward language of the works lends a weight and uneasiness to the everyday serenity insofar as it has the above-described raw, instantaneous velocity. They are typical ingredients of a song with a few chords and which speaks to the world, in frank terms, portraying its cruelty without losing the expectation, however slight, for optimism. This perception of mine that her work blends with the lyrics and environment of rock coincides with a new color palette that Vânia has been exploring recently. So these are two situations that are now put to the test. Even though the background is still monochromatic, there is a larger and more vibrant profusion of colors sharing the same plane,3 such as orange, lilac, blue and brown.
I will now leave you in contact with this instigating production whose power lies precisely in that it offers us more doubts than certainties. The artist’s power in the medium of painting – a way of thinking about the world worn down in the last decade by easy and fragile formulas – arises for its being an eternal enigma, pushing us into a zone that is difficult to locate. As I wrote at another moment about Vânia’s work, they are imprecise situations since they are images of everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
1. I refer to the oil on canvas L’Asperge, from 1880.
2. An important fact for this discussion is that Vania produced the cover for the album Jardim/ Pomar, by Nando Reis, released in 2016.
3. I refer, for example, to two works denominated as Untitled and dated 2016. One of these is alluded to in this text (as it includes the phrase “A tempestade começa aqui,” and the other contains the expression “Na floresta que escolhi” [In the forest that I chose] painted on its surface.