Garden of Eden, Garden of the Hesperides or Babylon, gardens are millennial, often mythological constructions. They represent fictional spaces where the tension between nature and artifice appear, where the inside is protected from the outside, the fences creating a magical place of particular topography and temporality, singular yet not attached to any specific identity.
When thinking about Latin America and Brazil in particular, one can’t help but think about lush vegetation, golden beaches and blue skies, just as the colors harbored by the Brazilian flag. Tropical Gardens approaches this outsider perspective through a series of artworks by Alice Quaresma, Mano Penalva and Daniel Barclay, questioning the idea of personal and collective identity and their representation.
The materiality and spatiality of Daniel Barclays´s artworks relate to the complex imaginary linked to the national flags ‘concept. Using the canvas raw materiality, the artist defines territories and bodies through colors fields or seams while painted signs suggest new identities and alternatives to the burden of traditional nationalist narratives. Vibrant pink and orange paintings take over the exhibition space, while a red canvas proposes a horizontal relationship between body and territory, defying the military interdiction to lay the flag on the ground. Fardo, a hammock referring to the traditional Peruvian funeral cloth, adds an allegoric layer to the impossibility of the immutable condition of the flag. In this context, the painted symbols used to guide the dead in its last journey are seen by the artist as a static image that only serves the living facing the fear of the unknown, or, in other words, what lies beyond the image and its perception.
Mano Penalva´s artworks also carry their symbolic weight. With the series Acordes, the pre-established measures of industrial fabric contrasts with the folds created by the artist to suggest new identities and realities. Evoking the essential reproductivity of things, each fold carries nonetheless an entire universe in itself while their support highlights the fragility and sharpness of human interactions. The translation of Acordes enhances the proposition, as its multiple meanings can designate either an agreement, a musical chord or the imperative “wake up”. A close- up slow motion video of the artist´s asking “quem vai pagar essa conta ? ” (who´s going to pay this bill ?) echoes in an absurd, almost monstrous way with the command to wake up. Bringing relief to the tension established by the former artworks, a unified white flag made of adorned construction bags proposes a tabula rasa of identities, welcoming every human being, independently of their origin or beliefs. Ultimately, a series of artworks from the series Samba, made of the same fabric used to make beach chairs, floats on a wall. With this series, Penalva pays a tribute to the colors of Mangueira, winner of the samba school contest of 2019 Rio de Janeiro´s Carnival which honored outsider characters of Brazil´s popular history as well as Marielle Franco, a young politician assassinated in 2018 by militias linked to Rio de Janeiro´s political elite.
Eventually, Alice Quaresma playfully searches for her past origins and current identity through her physical displacements. Intervening on pictures from her childhood in Rio de Janeiro, the artist, now living in NYC, gathers her affective memories and enhances their subjective meaning through colorful geometric interventions, breaking the flatness and the objectivity of the picture. Her intuitive and generous approach favors a certain animalism, a childlike point of view that brings us past our differences. The apparent simplicity of the proposition implies however a complexity that the artist wishes to appear in its dependence with the viewer´s gaze. Enhancing the political background of the show, an artwork in the gallery entrance echoes with the concerns expressed by Penalva regarding the death toll of minorities in Brazil and Mangueira´s victory, bringing the colors of Mangueira and of the Brazilian flag, overlapped by images translating the country´s chaotic side.
Using matter and form to deconstruct and perform a slippage of the references that inspired them, searching for new meanings and substituting places and geographies with colors and geometries, Alice Quaresma, Daniel Barclay and Mano Penalva may be seen as the creators of a garden. A garden where art and life gather in a heterotopy, a place inside and yet outside of the world ruled by their desires and emergencies.
Anchored in the here and now of nationalists and populists movements in Brazil and worldwide, the artists use their intuition and visual research as a thread to guide us toward a broader truth in an anthropophagic operation that merges their references. Despite their contemporary approach, Barclay, Penalva and Quaresma dialogue with the formal and political heritage of Brazilian neo-concrete artists such as Hélio Oiticica or Lygia Clark. Likewise, the artists reverberate the dark times Brazil went through during the 1964 dictatorship and is facing since the “white coup” of 2016 and the recent election of Bolsonaro, reminding us how fragile and mutable the concept of democracy can be.
Tropical Gardens eventually evidences the contradiction of the idyllic exoticism linked, in the collective imaginary, to South American countries and the inherent violence of post-colonial, pseudo democratic systems, addressing by extension the European migration crisis and the rise of far right movements. This reminds us that the appeal of distant gardens should be taken with care, because as they say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, only this is a lie.
Julie Dumont / The Bridge Project
ALICE QUARESMA (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1985), lives and works in New York. Quaresma got her MFA from Pratt Institute in 2009 and was selected as one of PS122 Exhibition Prize winners that same year. She won the Foam Talent Prize in Amsterdam in 2014 and had her first institutional solo show in 2018 at the Caixa Cultural (São Paulo, Brazil). Her work has been published in Brazil, Japan, US and Europe. Quaresma participated in exhibitions and residency programs in the USA, Europe and South America. Alice Quaresma also created commissioned projects for Hermès, Air France, Red Bull, Samsung, Première Vision, Unseen and Music from Memory.
Alice Quaresma has been experimenting with materials that allow her photographs to be sensorial and playful, pushing the boundaries of photography as a flat surface. She uses images from her personal photo archive to elaborate on the idea of displacement and identity. The painted geometries over the images break the perfection of the camera and bring the beauty of the hand gesture to the foreground, questioning photography´s rigid assertion of objectiveness.
MANO PENALVA (Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, 1987), lives and works in São Paulo. Penalva has showed in Latin America, the United States and Europe. Amongst his solo shows are: Acordo, Central Galeria (São Paulo, 2019). Requebra, Frederic de Goldschmidt Collection (Brussels, 2018); Hasta Tepito, B[X] Gallery (New York, 2018); truk(ə), Soma Galeria (Curitiba, 2018), Estado Sul, Camelódromo (Porto Alegre, 2017); Andejos, MARP (São Paulo, 2017); Balneário, Central Galeria (São Paulo, 2016); and the group shows: Recipes of B.R.S.L?, Spring Break (New York, 2019); O Maravilhamento das Coisas, Galeria Sancovsky (São Paulo, 2018); Ser, Habitar e Imaginar, Concrete Space, (Miami, 2018); Hecha la ley, hecha la trampa, Hangar (Barcelona, 2017); Symphony of Hunger: Digesting FLUXUS in five movements at A PLUS A Gallery (Veneza, Itália, 2015). His work is held in private and public collections such as: Frédéric de Goldschmidt Collection - Brussels - Belgium, PAT Art Lab - Augsburg - Germany, Museu de Arte de Ribeirão Preto - Brazil, Laje - Bahia - Brazil.
Mano Penalva documents the material culture and behavioral changes linked to globalization. His artworks are deliberately nonrepresentational, allowing materials to dictate form and come together on their own. His process involves his interest in anthropology and cultural education, which materializes his emergency to appropriate found and purchased articles from the street, popular markets or travels in the composition of his work, breaking down frontiers into a globalized language, subverting values and meanings and evidencing social and philosophical discourses in the forms of created objects.
DANIEL BARCLAY (Lima, Peru 1972), studied Fine Arts at the School of Visual Arts Corriente Alterna in Lima and Central Saint Martins Art School in London. In 2010, he participated of the FAAP Art Residency in Sao Paulo and moved to Brasil where he currently lives. Between 2011 and 2018 he participated in different art residencies in Brasil, Colombia and Italy. Amongst his recent shows are: Siesta at Emma Thomas Gallery (São Paulo), Pavilhão / Pabellón in Cecilia González Gallery (Lima) and Caderno Jornal at gallery 55SP (São Paulo). Daniel Barclay participated in the collective exhibitions “O Maravilhamento das coisas” at Sancovsky Gallery (São Paulo) and “La voz que se oye/ deja oir” in Amano Museum (Lima).
Multidisciplinary artist, his research focuses on the representation of identities and geographies through paintings, drawings and installations; bringing closer the concepts through installations and paintings in which diverse reading codes coexist, merging them in an anthropophagic operation.