Cinthia Marcelle has often staged situations and performative acts in public spaces, interventions designed to transform quotidian actions into poetic events. Video and photography are her chosen artistic media of documentation. On several occasions, the artist has explored the ruin as an allegory of history divorced from any conception of beauty, drawing on Walter Benjamin’s understanding of history as a process of inexorable decline. One material that recurs throughout Marcelle’s oeuvre is dust. She sprays the loose particles into clearly delimited spaces, where they settle to demarcate a new space. At the same time, the deposited layers of dust and grime embody the materialization of time.
For her installation Dust Never Sleeps (2014), Cinthia Marcelle transforms the Secession’s Grafisches Kabinett into a seemingly abandoned space in which everything—the floor, walls, and ceiling, the windows, doors, and light fixtures—is thoroughly covered in black soot. Brighter contours stand out; variations in the density of the accumulated material generate a sort of drawing in space, not unlike a photographic negative. Only a narrow corridor has been left blank and is open to visitors. The sense of confinement in the neatly clean walkway and the manifestly unstable condition of the installation, which consists of loose powder, produce a palpable tension; the sharp line separating the two areas, meanwhile, establishes an exterior within the interior. A similar aesthetic of dilapidation prevails in Cinthia Marcelle’s installation À margem dos dias, which will soon open in São Paulo, but the creative approach she took at the former Hospital Matarazzo, which has stood empty for around twenty-five years, is the opposite of the one in Dust Never Sleeps: instead of adding material, the artist removed a quarter-century’s worth of grime in a strip along the walls to produce a narrow zone of tidiness. In this instance, the visitors are restricted to the dusty corridor running down the suite of rooms.
For Temporário (Edelweiß-Zünder) (2014), the artist has filled the display case in the staircase with around 4,000 neatly stacked matchboxes. Given the soot-blackened installation in the Grafisches Kabinett, their presence feels densely charged with a latent menace. The work, which is part of the Temporário series (2011–), alludes to Cildo Mereiles’s installation Fiat Lux (1979), which bristles with a similarly alarming energy. The alternating dark and light parts of the boxes, meanwhile, form the variously wider and narrower bands of a geometric pattern that bears the mark of industrial manufacturing, its rigid uniformity disrupted here and there by gestures of human action, recognizable in minor irregularities and faint traces of use on the dark striking surfaces. Like all pieces in the series, the work seems to suspend or call in question the display case’s designated function: we cannot actually see into the space behind the glass pane, which has been repurposed as a flat visual medium.
A photograph on display in the staircase leading up to the Grafisches Kabinett is part of the diptych The Tempest (2014). It is a vaguely surreal scene: a dark-skinned woman stands in front of a rock wall in an otherwise empty white room. She holds a cleaning rag in one hand and wears white rubber boots; one foot is stuck in a bucket filled with a dark liquid, and her pant leg is visibly wet up to below the knee. The second part of the diptych, which appears on the invitation card for the exhibition, suggests a blunder (and, in an inversion of the sequence of events, anticipates it): the bucket has been knocked over and a dark wet spot marks the rock wall, while the perpetrator of this mishap is nowhere to be seen. As in a number of her photographs, Marcelle brings the theme of ostensible failure or misfortune into play.
For her artist’s book, Cinthia Marcelle created a series of frottages, imprints of folded sheets, which is also titled The Tempest (2014). The choice of an analogue process of reproduction is interesting. As the support medium becomes a motif in its own right, the variations of the folding pattern relate a poetic narrative whose muted force derives from the simultaneous presence and absence of what lies underneath.
Ultimately, the dualism in the composition of Giorgione’s Tempesta (ca. 1508) is a shared point of reference both in the works assembled in the exhibition Dust Never Sleeps and in the frottage series in the artist’s book. The Renaissance painter’s figures seem strangely isolated from the painted action around them. The gaze of the woman nursing her infant in the foreground crosses the threshold of the picture to address the beholder directly, emphasizing and simultaneously overcoming the division between the pictorial space and the outside reality of its perception. She seems to be within the painting and at once outside it, intimating that the viewers (like the visitors to Marcelle’s exhibition) can bridge the gap between themselves and the work of art by power of their imagination. The passage between exterior and interior comes full circle, opening up another (spatial) dimension.
Invited by the board of the Secession
Curator: Jeanette Pacher