Thursday 17 February 2022

Fernanda Lago 10 Out of Almost 3

From Fire to Fire and into the Future

Brazilian artist Fernanda Lago has just completed an impressive show, '10 Out of Almost Three',  at sp.armazém, an alternative space owned by Clara Moraes and Tom Chambel, located in a thriving district of São Paulo, surrounded by galleries, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and stylish retail. I wrote a text to accompany the exhibition, which I reproduce here, together with photographs taken in the space during the run.

Fernanda Lago, Smiles, photographs mounted on wood, 100 x 7 x 2 cm

Journeys are usually conceived as something fixed, whether in time or place. They can denote a physical movement from one place to another, or a metaphorical one constructed through emotional experience. They have a beginning and an end. In reality, the journey exists before its putative start and continues afterwards, leaving the questions, when did we become aware of something beginning, and when did we decide that it had ended? In 10 Out of Almost 3 Fernanda Lago presents the journey of a relationship, at once experiential, psychological and temporal. It is, in its primary sense, the personal story of a period in her life that is still raw in its affect. Because she is an artist, and so the journey is presented through art, the work also speaks to universal experiences and feelings that will find echoes and recognition in the responses of all viewers. In that sense, 10 Out of Almost 3 represents something cyclical. A journey whose timings and specificities are constantly redefined, but whose general mythos already existed and continues without end.

Fernanda Lago, Fire, painted wood, lamp and vinyl, 30 x 20 x 12 cm

    The exhibition consists of an installation that is complete in itself, but which also has clearly defined elements signifying different stages in the journey of the artist’s life that could also arguably be viewed as distinct works. The first elements viewers encounter speak to powerful emotions that are positive and, significantly unquestioning. Smiles consists of a series of six close-up photographs of the artist’s mouth that track the unfolding of an expression familiar to us all. The smile, of course, denotes happiness. Yet even here, because viewers are unable to see any other facial features, there are perhaps seeds of a less positive denouement – is that a broad smile in the final image, or a tearful grimace? Fire is, if anything, even more equivocal in its signification. We commonly talk of the ‘fire of love’, meaning that period at the beginning of a relationship when each protagonist gives themselves to the other unquestioningly and without judgement, and when the rest of the world seems far away and unimportant. Fires, of course, inevitably cool and the material from which they drew their power is irrevocably consumed and altered. Similarly, the metaphor of fire, when describing first love, contains within it always already the sense of an end. Consisting of a small black box containing a lamp that mimics flames, and a dictionary description of fire – ‘A phenomenon consisting in the release of heat and light produced by the combustion of a body’ – Fire is conceptual art memory of a particular moment and state that is no longer accessible directly and can only be alluded to.

Fernanda Lago, (left) Impression of a Being, acrylic print, 30 x 30 cm, (right) Description of a Being, painted wood and fabric printing, 30 x 30 x 4 cm

    The appearance of a third party in the relationship in the form of a child is one common strand in relationship narratives. In this instance the child looms large as a loved being, symbolised through two works, Impression of a Being and Description of a Being, which emphasise the reality of this new entity born of the relationship between the couple, in turn as incipient and manifest personhood.

Fernanda Lago, Labyrinth #1 and #2, painted wood, vinyl transparency, photograph, 27 x 36 x 5 cm

That the pregnancy was not without its challenges, however, is powerfully communicated in two self-portrait photographs overlaid with drawing. The geometric drawn shapes, in turn a large spiral and a teetering spinning top, contrast with the still solidity of the human figure. In this way inner and outer states are suggested, speaking to the dizziness and inner ear problems that were a feature of the pregnancy.

Fernanda Lago, Origin, umbilical chord, resin, jewellery box, metal, perspex

A third element in this suite, Origin consists of an umbilical cord contained in a box within a box. This can be read as the symbolic giver of life and the thing that connects mother and son forever. The cord’s separation from both mother and child occurs at the moment of separation of the two and the true individuation of the child. In that sense Origin is suggestive of some precious reliquary containing a once-powerful object now put away for safekeeping.

Fernanda Lago, No Empathy, No Love, print acrylic, 53 x 14 cm

    If the birth of a child might be characterized as part of the ascent of the relationship, the subsequent three works belong to its descent. No Empathy, No Love is a rebus offering an elementary sum that adds up to nothing. It is heartbreaking in its simplicity and emotional emptiness – the very image of psychological withdrawal.

Fernanda Lago, Remains of an End, Five framed photographs, each 21 x 15 x 3 cm

Blank existential confusion is the dominant feel of Lost in my Had, which speaks in the language of the sketch and thus suggests something unfinished, and perhaps something that will never be (satisfactorily) concluded. In contrast, the five photographs consisting Remains of an End already indicate a state of reflection. Utilising a cool vernacular documentary style, reminiscent of the lost Polaroids to which they allude, each image contains an object whose traditional symbolism has been undermined or inverted. In that sense Remains of an End is at once a song of innocence and experience.

Fernanda Lago, Resurrection of the Phoenix, watercolour and fabric, 150 x 220 cm

    Reflection can result in a destructive spiralling inward and down, or in a release of sorts. The final element in the installation, Resurrection of the Phoenix is the most unformed image. Derived from a watercolour painting the colour of a half-cleaned, dried bloodstain, and placed behind a veil, this work nevertheless speaks to a suggestive optimism. The thrust of this simple form is upwards and outwards. It somehow contains hope for the future.

Fernanda Lago, installation view of 10 Out of Almost 3

    If this short description speaks to the intentional narrative direction of 10 Out of Almost 3, it is worth remembering that as viewers each of us is at liberty to engage in whichever order we desire. In any case, each journey within the gallery space will be differently constructed. The only things for sure are that we will enter Fernanda Lago’s world of 10 Out of Almost 3 and, at some moment, we will leave it. I would like to think that this ‘final’ act of leaving the gallery constitutes the last conceptual element in the installation, since it always already signifies the existence of the future and the multiple possibilities of the journey continuing.

10 Out of Almost 3 was at sp.armazém, Rua Alvaro Anes 154, Pinheiros, São Paulo, Brazil, 26 January - 13 February 2022

All photos courtesy Estudio EmObra