Miguel Chaia

The Art of Exception

Miguel Chaia

Marcelo Cidade is an artist who creates or modifies the environment around him, producing another poetically expressive place. Through different aesthetic operations, he reinvents language forms, thus constituting new and surprising spaces, bringing to surface heterotopies -- mainly possible as an experiment linking art and life. This art-life relation empowers the artist to move in a continuous pendular flux between the social and the subjective scope, generating works that should be understood in this back-and-forth movement from the public space to the internal space.

Works exhibited in "Another Place" illuminate that basic migratory issue in his art creation process. In the "Fire fact" series (2005), photos of the fire marks left in walls or cars by French protesters are mixed with other photos of spray patches made by the artist, simulating vestiges of manifestations. They confound the real action of subjects in streets with the artist's real action, mixing the work's original focuses, which may be found either in the objective dimension or in subjectivity: which presence imposes itself, the collective or the individual? Who is the author or who is the subject expressing himself?

The two series of photographs -- "Impossible realization or Power as a sum of seductions", "I must be sure of you", 2006 -- which register interventions on a given scenario, also indicate the artist's ability to act within a public space. Artistic action emerges then as an activator of new situations, giving continuity to the anonymous action. The aesthetic result is obtained by the sum of the undetermined subjects who have acted on the environment with the artist's singular effort. A recently cut tree trunk receives a silver transverse plan, a discarded shade starts shining, an abandoned garbage container is bandaged with silver tape, and a burned car body reappears with new colors.

Confronting socially established relations and values, Marcelo Cidade produces an "aesthetics of resistance", creating works in a complex conflict in the social field, bringing the streets' signs and situations to the art circuit spaces. Cidade's works emphasize a re-encounter of art and society, without forgetting to privilege the poetic expression and the discussion of language, even under the political inspiration of defiance and transgression. Despite all that involvement, works produced by this artist are aesthetically autonomous. And, an important fact, Cidade is able to feed himself of this paradoxical pair, art--politics, recognizing their specific natures, approximating them, but also knowing how to distance them in favor of freedom and language experimentation. It is an artistic project whose foundations are in the elaboration of the idea or the concept for a later objectivization of the result, finding the required support in research and experimentation. It is worth recalling the work "Love and hate to Lygia" (2006), a double brass knuckles in real size, molded in bronze, which departs from the contradictory possibility of aggression-union to discuss interactivity and participation in art. This work is another good example of the crossings between art and society, and also of the relation between art history and product, since this artist has a constant approach of a researcher.

Marcelo Cidade's interest locus is the public space, engendered in the urban and technological flux of the control society. Therefore, he focuses on one place to reach another, performing a dislocation process from the historical-geographical to the poetic, mediated by a critical subjectivity and acting within the field delimited by the already constituted, by the active subject and the desired one. In a way that is similar to the cinematic play of "Matrix", the artist wants to attack the dynamic nucleus of the system's workings; the city is the privileged place of events, and it is there that he searches his work materials. Streets, walls, overpasses, squares and objects defy his glance. But also policemen, office workers, gallery owners, collectors and artists provoke Marcelo Cidade, inciting him to political and aesthetic confrontations. From these meetings and from the productive quarrels with agents and things of the system and the art circuit, Marcelo Cidade's works are born.

"Intrawalls" (2005), presented at Paço das Artes, in São Paulo, is composed by hundreds of bricks with glass splinters on top of the several walls that cut the exhibition space. Much like this one, all of his works elucidate the issue of criticism to established social relations. In that sense, it is worth mentioning two series of photos, made in 2002 -- "I am him, as you are him, as you are me, and we are all together". The series, produced in Belo Horizonte, assembles anonymous passers-by side by side on a downtown sidewalk, sharing an unusual social gathering that interrupted those people's solitary and impersonal path. A work made in São Paulo repeats that process, but including friends of the artist beside the population, on Santa Efigenia Viaduct. The T-shirt each one of them wears (beige in Belo Horizonte, gray in São Paulo), is a sign of a new social possibility, and the disposition and enthusiasm of the bodies make clear the power to reorganize space that those people and the artist possess. Mass and anonymity are undone to reinsert the collective value of neighborhood and the discovery of one's own identity.

Attacking directly and poetically the system's neural center, Cidade has made "Enter without knocking" (2005), an installation exposed at Base 7, São Paulo, in which he denudes the abusive economical and political power that controls and manages people's bodies and minds, using the resource of a large door that doesn't open and surveillance cameras. Previously to this work, between 2004 and 2005, the artist produced "Image Rights", scattering in several places false cameras made of cardboard, to capture the inadvertent gaze of the population, and to indicate the possibility of cheating security systems, ordinarily set in several places. In this visual metaphor, Cidade is able to blind the vigilant panoptic. Thus, he brings back to circulation the system's symbols, in a critical way, originating a short-circuit in the reception scheme.

From the I-world intersection, a simple and incisive work is originated: "Guilt Note" (2005), exhibited in the attic of Grapixo store, at Galeria do Rock in São Paulo. It is composed of two documents issued by the police, when Marcelo Cidade was detained for graffitting an urban train, in Carapicuiba, and confirms the idea of aesthetic resistance when thinking on this artist's production. The work, made specifically for the exhibition space in the store, is composed of a "guilt note", describing the detention in flagrant delict, and the "liberation permit", signed by the prison ward, which the artist must constantly carry as a document until the legal process is over. Two antagonistic visions are manifest, that of the police, which considers graffiti a crime, and that of the artist, who understands graffiti as an artistic need. In this work, the discourse of power is emptied of its authority, to resurface as a language and confirmation of freedom in art. It is also a work that clarifies the idea of conflict that is established between art and capitalist society, which has theoretically and philosophically developed since Karl Marx, passing by Arthur Rimbaud, Henry Miller and Octavio Paz, being the latter two the inspirers of the term "times of murderers" to indicate hard times for poets and artists. In those circumstances, the significance of the artist as a resistant in confrontation with the rule is amplified.

"Guilt Note" also helps to notice Cidade's artistic process as something that looks for a result beyond merely visual experience, understanding art as a mental, or rather, conceptual thing, in a link with Marcel Duchamp. The aesthetic product in Marcelo Cidade is a conveyor of the strength of ideas, since the artist's action and the object's presence are organically linked to thought. There is no objectivization without knowledge, and the approximation with anti-art is very close.

Maybe now two previous works that restate the cruelty of the human being's presence in the world acquire more significance, showing that Cidade's reflection has a philosophical dimension. They are "Untitled - Backpack" (2001), an old backpack completely full of cement, and "From gray to dust, from dust to ashes (or what's left of an animated cartoon)" (2004), made of an old threadbare slipper, covered by a little mound of cigarette ashes, also containing butts of tobacco and marijuana. Those two works enhance the use of humor, a frequent resource in several works, and point to the approach of the juvenile universe issues, which gives a greater empathy to the artist's works.

Marcelo Cidade is a resistant -- a rebel -- for questioning the system and the agonic life it produces, accomplishing works that catch the tensions and paradoxes that cross places and social structures, spreading on the world's cities and equaling São Paulo to Amsterdam, Paris or any other metropolis. One may note, thus, that the artist deals with relations and things in the scope of de-territorialization, making art's universal meaning even more piercing, in this time of deepening globalization. In the interstices of those places, at their center or their periphery, originates the aesthetic micropolitics of Marcelo Cidade, reestablishing hidden connections between what the artist thinks and searches for, and what the unnoticed passer-by or the security agent think and wish. He speculates, through his works, on the meaning of the city's layers, on the meaning of relations and places, not satisfying himself with the well organized and managed aspect of the polis.

In that sense, the artist aesthetically reorganizes the public space and poetically intervenes on the street, imprinting new meanings and trying to make possibilities flourish from impossibilities. In the video "... for your protection" (2003), he registers his nocturnal intervention on an Amsterdam street, in which he rounds a group of bicycles and motorcycles with silver tape, showing the private occupation of public space, and alerting to the ambiguous use of the control discourse to acquire the support of legitimacy, since the artist justified his act to the vehicles' owners as a protection of their belongings. In the photographs "I-horizon" (2000-01), the event site is delimited by his body in action, spreading it naked on the street signs' posts in São Paulo. He defies the prohibition of nakedness as well as he compares the human body in verticality to the sign plates. Those two works reveal that, through the conceptual foundations and the artist's active presence, Cidade creates zones of indefiniteness between the public and the private.

These experiences in streets, geographic units of the system's flux, show up in different ways in Cidade's works. In this present exhibition, "Another place", the artist includes a concept of graffiti that may be clearly seen in some of the works, or barely noticed as a slight influence in others. From 1996, Marcelo Cidade has used a heteronym and graffitted calligraphies in black, white, and gray in the city streets and its surroundings. In this exhibition, the artist presents "Corporation" (2006), a wall drawing using an affixed T-shirt and using spray and different kinds of pens. With such resources, he draws arrows of different sizes that come out of the shirt's collar, sleeves and hem, in a graphic explosion. The work "The man who builds his own house is a free man" (2006), a sculpture made with wood plates, concrete and a shovel, brings inside the gallery the effort of manual work, the productive activity of the streets. The legacy of graffiti allows the artist to develop a series of works, sophisticating the use of this technique in visual arts, as he has done, for example, in "Gray monochromes" (2002), a dialogue with minimalism using spray paint and adhesive labels to compose one only plan in the shades allowed by the color gray in about ten canvases. The same process of relocation of signs from the street to the restricted plan occurs in "Technique to elaborate a sketch without any meaning" (2004), in which the Fepasa (railway company) symbol is freely drawn with black paint jets over a blind light box. In the milky acrylic plan, the visual power of the form constructed by the company and the power of fragmentation, the gestures and the freedom of the graffiteers live together.

From the streets, Marcelo Cidade channels a flux of affection that solidifies his artistic creation process, by the approximation with subjects and the values that circulate in them, erasing the boundaries that separate the street from the interiors of houses. Attracted by the events in public routes and their internal reverberations, Cidade goes through them not as a passer-by, but as an invader, not as a voyeur, but as an active person, not to follow the course of things, but to interrupt them. Finally, he acts to de-structure the socially-given meaning of spaces, values and objects disposed in them. In the video-performance "When there is no dialogue" (2005), the artists discusses what is reality and what is fiction, and dialectically relates external space and subjectivities, registering the misunderstanding and fights among people, around a garbage container, with no understanding of the conflicts' reasons (issue retaken, in another way, in "Love and hate to Lygia"). One could say that the foundation of the poetic power of Marcelo Cidade is as much in the individuality of the own artist as in his meeting with the street, as shown by the Kafkaesque ambiance and the Hobbesian choreography of this video, whose characters insist in a painful dance of confrontation among human beings.

That concern with the boundaries between reality and fiction leads Marcelo Cidade to question reality, approximating documentation and fiction or discussing the relation between register and memory. In this case, the artist presents in the exhibition "Another place", a work with a photographic camera fixed on a wall with silver tape, and the observer, looking through the ocular, follows a sequence of pictures from any place or anyone.

Pursuing the reflection on the nature of Cidade's creative process, one could make some other questions. If Helio Oiticica, of the environmental art and the "Parangoles", of the "Homage to Horse Face" and the banner "Be a marginal, be a hero", may be remembered as a reference assimilated by Cidade, Guy Debord also brought foundations to the artist's practice. It is worth reminding that Marcelo Cidade does not act only in the system's periphery, nor just in the privileged center, but, taking forward the indications of these artist-thinkers, he occupies all possible places and interstices, recognizing the importance of decentralization as a possibility of art practice. All fields are available, from Carapicuiba to Avenue 9 de Julho, from São Paulo to Amsterdam. At this moment, it is worth highlighting the importance of the situationist strategy in Marcelo Cidade's creative process, considering the pertinence of art's logic against the entertainment society's logic, and the visual exhibition created by the artist against the self-exhibition of the capital. In the scope of this experimentation process, maybe the most interesting idea to be pointed is that of "situationist psycogeography", through which Debord launches a specific vision of urban spaces that require attentive eyes and particular actions to modify the dispositions given in those spaces, and to launch new human and artistic perspectives about cities. It also gains prominence the complementary idea of "theory of drifting", also put forth by Debord, to explain a procedure or a technique of unceasingly circulation through different urban spaces. Linking the effects of psycogeographical nature to the possibilities of drifting, one arrives at playful and constructive actions that involve artistic interdisciplinarity and critical analyses of environments, in a movement that is similar to travelling and walking.

Marcelo Cidade has been building his own language, freely advancing in the use of aesthetic resources, in a constant experimentation and specific appropriation of the urban social space. He modifies the distributions and architectural equipment in the capital's place, and so he creates new perceptions for subjectivities. He translates in poetry the system's stiff social structure.

The work in progress of Marcelo Cidade allows to plunge in an original aesthetic sensibility for, then, to unveil the meanders of contemporaneity.

P.S.: Why is Marcelo Cidade a good example of the relation art-politics without losing the creative and radical dimensions of art?
- because he exerts the artist's individual freedom;
- because even in his works' titles he tries to open spaces for stating his world views, producing noise and information for one to glimpse other places;
- because he fractures language through the ability of crossing the most different scopes and supports in the art field;
- because, in a political stance born from aesthetic radicality, he denies politics, that which constructs the system's public space;
- because, in a critical stance, he questions and interrogates reality;
- because he is disenchanted with western society when he makes clear the difficult socialization, and from this difficulty he proposes new perspectives and readings;
- because he makes an intromission, calculatedly poetic, in the system's organization;
- because he inscribes his name, graffitting his personal mark in the polis' anodyne wall, and also subverting the hierarchy of places and values;
- because he incorporates the doubt, the enigma and the incomprehensible in aesthetic expression;
- because his actions are experiments that empower new looks and aesthetic actions;
- because he wrote two thousand times the sentence "To resist = to (re) exist", he left the notepad with the phrase on the top of a building occupied by homeless people, in 2005, downtown São Paulo, and -- this is the relevant decision -- he left the wind to take care of spreading it through several places;
- and because, recuperating Jean-Luc Godard ("JLG by JLG"), he defies coercion and confronts the system, turning art into the exception to the rule.
São Paulo, February 2006 Miguel Chaia - professor and researcher at the Nucleus of Studies in Art, Media and Politics of the Post-graduation Studies Program in Social Sciences at the Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC).

Translation: Luiz Roberto Mendes Gonçalves