Photo by Carmela Gross


Considerations on the exhibition by Carmela Gross, on display in São Paulo.

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What is the purpose and what is the interest of an artist's archive? In general, it is subsidiary or dependent on the interest in the work to which it is linked as a document. The show that presents the transfer of the series' archives stamps, by Carmela Gross, for the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea, on display until May 06, 2023, alters or inverts this current stratification.

Fig 1 Carmela Gross: Stamps (exhibition view), Institute of Contemporary Art – IAC, São Paulo, 2023. Photo Pedro Perez Machado.

Fig 2 Carmela Gross: Stamps (partial view, documents), Institute of Contemporary Art – IAC, São Paulo, 2023. Photo Pedro Perez Machado.

In fact, with the presentation of archival materials containing preparatory elements of the work process, the current show gives rise to the revisitation and expanded or extended reinterpretation of the content and meaning of the series exhibition. stamps occurred in 1978 at the Graphic Arts Cabinet, by Mônica Filgueiras and Raquel Arnaud. It is not a case of a refusal or essential alteration of the meaning of what was exposed in 1978, but of being able to consider – through the added materials – the addition of new layers of meaning. This re-dimensioned circle of original meaning emerges. In this way, historical connections, which escaped observers at the time, now emerge and allow the re-discussion of the work and its process in new and expanded terms.

Indeed – judging by the journalistic material from 1978 (reports, interviews and reviews) that constitute part of the artist’s archive presented here – the comments of observers at the time were then focused exclusively on the incidence and impact of the work in the field of art, as the critical priorities established at the time, either by the conceptual art movement or by its variant that would later be disseminated as a current of Institutional Criticism. According to the main line of both trends, works of art and artists were concerned only with art and nothing beyond, or at most only with the symbolic links and scenic links implied in the action.

Fig 3 Carmela Gross: Stamps (partial view, documents), Institute of Contemporary Art – IAC, São Paulo, 2023. Photo Carolina Caliento.

From this perspective, in the 1978 exhibition, the paper plates resulting from the series stamps basically comprised the analytical decomposition, reduction and automation of the quantum expressive of segments of works by relevant authors in the history of art, in this case, obtained from popular books (in the circumstances, by Picasso, Matisse, Pollock and Dubuffet) then available. Series of stamps – through the repetition of the manual act ordered on the board, in the manner of diagramming, in lines and columns – reproduced the “cells” obtained by the processes mentioned above, accentuating and thus completing the emptying of meaning and meaning already triggered, as in a laboratory crucible, by the analytical and reductive operations mentioned above.

Fig 4 Carmela Gross: Stamps (partial view, STAMPS, 1978), Institute of Contemporary Art – IAC, São Paulo, 2023. Photo Luiz Renato Martins.

However, the critical process counterauratic, inherent to the operations that engendered the works of the 1978 exhibition, now gained other ingredients, a new tone and, soon, unless I am mistaken, greater symbolic and historical amplitude. How and on what terms? In fact, to integrate the current exhibition, the author presented on an equal footing, alongside the results exhibited in 1978 (the plates and stamped sheets), also other material elements and archived documents of the work process. The new set includes scraps of paper and other leftovers, assorted doodles, photos and fragments from different experiences, in addition to items strictly related to the making of the stamps (rubberized surfaces, metal clichés and wooden supports). These were built after the operations described above and used for manual printing of the series of stains, lines, scribbles and brushstrokes exhibited in 1978.

Fig 5 Carmela Gross: Stamps (partial view, documents), Institute of Contemporary Art – IAC, São Paulo, 2023. Photo Carolina Caliento.

In summary, the current combination accentuated the genetic component of criticism of the virtuosic and unique authorial gesture, already present in 1978, and it did so by intensifying exposure and attention to the work process, objectifying it in various ways and forms. If attention to the specific quality and specific nature of the results obtained (with stamps) is thus restricted, suspended or put on pause, in favor of work processes and experiences – which are arranged in equivalence –, what more, in this movement, comes to the fore? What is it that weaves one fragment to another, emerges and appears as a connecting element between one and the other, which provides, in short, the assembly and architecture of the new whole now in focus?

Fig 6 Carmela Gross: Stamps (partial view, documents), Institute of Contemporary Art – IAC, São Paulo, 2023. Photo Carolina Caliento.

Historical reflection: act 1

Moving beyond the exclusive domain of art, historical reflection, in its way of clipping, encompassing and linking, is itself a technique and an art – just like architecture and montage in cinema; art and technique, in short, of drawing and building nexuses and spaces, even interconnecting presences and absences. Thus, in the specific domain of aesthetics, spatially correlate operations and surfaces, signs and surroundings, as well as different historical temporalities. In this sense, the thinker and literary critic Roberto Schwarz coined the notion objectively.[I] What does this kind of critical architecture and totalization mode achieve and suggest?

Concrete art: economy and values

From the outset, a comparison or confrontation with the horizon of sensitivity and criteria of concrete art, whose paradigm exerted a lot of influence since the formation of the Ruptura group (1952) and throughout the entire duration of concrete art, in the course of the 1950s and after. Despite the advent of new currents such as Nova Figuração (1965), the Rex group (1966, active in São Paulo), the Nova Objetividade Brasileira (1967) and etc., its ethical and aesthetic legacy was still very present in the period of achievement of stamps. These deny and overcome (dialectically) method and discipline, criteria and values, in short, the field and horizon of concrete art. The confrontation between the two productive modes favors the reciprocal clarification of each one.

What did the productive experience of concrete art consist of? Basically, in a rigorously planned conception and to be unfolded based on accuracy; that is, in a proposal aiming at the programmed execution and prepared against the occurrence of errors. Thus, for the sake of the ideals of planning and execution – embodied in the concretists' cult of “good form” –, the precept of the summary discard of failures prevailed in concrete art.

Work as negative of form

Now, it is precisely at that time of the stamps that another plot – disconnected from the premise of “good form” – emerges and invites the visitor to the current exhibition to measure the steps he took in moving, without making the distinction between the success and failure of the form, between the elements collected from the work process.

If one stamp cannot be said to be more successful than another, what emerges between one stamp and another? Here again, historical reflection prevents perplexity and aphasia by observing other plots, both related to the author's successive works and other elements of the context.

In this sense, it is possible to notice that themes and signs linked to concrete traits of workers that are frequently mentioned or evoked in other works by Carmela Gross (including allusions to the manual, oral or corporal activity of the anonymous worker, whether African, indigenous or immigrant, for example).[ii] However, signs of the act of living work or the living process of work are distinguished here, linked to actions – in addition to stamping, writing, scribbling, cutting and photographing – on the part of the artist herself committed to her own temporality. of what you do, on several fronts.

They are, in fact, the materials, indications and signs of the artist's living work, which come to be - yes and no (dialectically) - exposed, for the visitor to access the backstage world of the stamps; that is to say, what remained invisible or out of the scene: the repeated exhalation, the delay, the lapse, the gap, the slip, the lack, in short, the more and the less, the times that occur between one stamp and another – elements that after all (for so many in a hurry) they remain unnoticed, like the spaces that surround the letters on the paper.

Fig. 7 Exhibition assembly process Carmela Gross: Stamps, Institute of Contemporary Art – IAC, São Paulo, 2023. Photo Carmela Gross.

Live-work: own time, the psychometabolic sensation, the thrill of each worker(x) – no less real, even though work is subject, wherever it may be, to the disciplinary regime of wages and alienation. In short, work is perceived in many different ways. Thus, in contrast to work received in an abstract and social form, as a commodity, work appears inversely as ceded time and living moment, from the worker's point of view.

Anyway, returning to fix the question regarding the stamps, despite the title of the series calling attention to the instrument and the result of the stamps, the unexpected and uncontrolled emergence of occurrences of a unique and singular content (or eventually with an epiphany content) does not exactly occur in the uniform consequence or in the result itself decade stamped repeated, but occurs, in fact, in the temporality proper to the passage from one to another; that is, in the body of the gesture that prepares itself and attacks the target (in this case, on the paper) – in an apparently mechanical and repetitive way, but, in fact, always specific and unique, according to the subjective temporality of the worker.

Historical reflection: act 2

1977 and 1978, years of conception and realization of the series stamps, were simultaneously the moment of awakening of the first strikes in the country, after the repressive wave that followed the enactment of AI-5 (13.12.1968) by the dictatorship.[iii] The artist-officiant – adept at conceiving work as an act of critical friction or, with regard to her sphere of action, of dialectical and negative reinvention of the unequal order of the city – found herself far from the strikes and without time to attend any of the many meetings and assemblies that then took place in the courtyards and squares of the ABC. Is it possible that, even so, she noticed by default, and even from afar, something of herself and for herself, in the labor movement, then reborn in Brazil?

Indeed, in the light of such contemporaneity, it becomes possible to consider and question whether the negativity inherent to the series stamps can it be conceived as a mass strike (of course, in each of the artist's productive gestures) against fetishism in art and related authorial whims? Specific negativity, it should be noted, translated into the massive multiplicity of productive gestures that are equivalent and add up, and consequently come to provoke the suspension or denial of value judgments about the form or result (successful or unsuccessful, according to other criteria). , which do not fit the case or become expendable).

contract-themic maneuver

It is a fact and concrete fact that the signature, as well as the authorial procedures of the big names, proclaimed by the international art system (museums, publishing houses, etc.), give rise, in their circuits, to the fetishism of form and authorship.[iv] These totems, so to speak, have a siderating effect mainly on peripheral and dependent cultures. Contribute to the petrification of the status quo and equally to consolidate the directive, in the field of the arts, of neglecting one's own context and reality, in favor of consecrated examples in the hegemonic centers.

How to understand, from a strategic or larger point of view, what is at stake in the course of this countersystemic maneuver? There aren't any elements to assume that the operations of the series stamps imply a programmatic rejection (for example, supposedly in the name of nationalism or authenticity) of “advanced artistic forms” arising from issues specific to “hegemonic cultures”. But one can assume, in contrast, a punctual, limited and prior measure, according to a scale of urgencies and priorities. What and with what meaning or purpose?

If we reassemble the series stamps to the specificity of its negativity, already outlined or identified as above, with a form analogous to that of a mass strike, it can be deduced – from the targeted and exposed materials – that such negation stands critically against the production of singular and authorial forms illustrious, therefore, with value beforehand exchange. In what sense? In order that – think about it – in another historical-productive stage, an artistic production rises, in fact and in law, from the contradictions of the original situation. It will come thus formed for critical use in its own context, which is intended to be renewed.

Possibly hence – from this critical-constructive movement, in the process of formation –, the effective convergence that can be visualized with the spontaneous and mass strikes that erupted in 1977-1978. From the critical party of stamps then, as happened with the workers' strike movement, a new organization can be formed, alive and built in the struggle.

strike as clarification

In the end, the speculative parallel between art and strikes should come as no surprise. Rosa Luxemburgo (1871-1919), who understood the last line as well as the historical dialectic, stated that the mass strike is not an addendum or instrument, an additional means to reinforce the effect of the proletarian struggle, but, rather, an act formative and organizational, the apex of a clarification process: “it is the way of mass movement (...), the form of expression of the proletarian struggle” (meaning here – the proposed parallel between art and strike – the form of expression of each productive gesture, and of critical struggle, revived with each stamp, in this case).[v]

The fact is that the series of stamps 45 years ago, and yet again, the reconstructed montage (now on display), both carry out, as in a throw of the dice, the reconstruction, exposure and revelation, the aesthetic objectification, in short – of the practical sphere and of the existential-mental order – , the taking of breath and the passage between one gesture and another, in the work live, although segmented and repetitive, from the manufacturing world, then in force in 1978 in the ABC region of São Paulo.

Mimesis and totalization

If so, this is about much more than an anti-auratic critique (of art production and circulation circuits) – as it was understood at the time in the conceptualist and anti-institutional reading of the 1978 show. support in the new elements contributed – and consequently in the renewed attention to the ways of working –, an effective process of apprehension of meaning or of mimesis. And this, of course, in the highest and fullest sense that the notion of mimesis behaved in the world of polis Greek, as a way of capturing, exposing and revealing the internal and constitutive laws of the nature of the exposed being (here, in this case, the strictly unpredictable and dangerous content of living-work, something, moreover, that capital seeks to eliminate through the planned recourse to the form of constancy and predictability of machines).

One last observation: the new plot distinguished in the case of the series stamps, when perceived as a way of totalizing the historical process, can be extended to the process of formation, organizational construction and critical clarification of the labor movement at the time, understood as a parallel and additional element, of synergy or collective consolidation of creative energy, so at play in context, as we have seen. At the same time, the new plot, received as a way of totalization, can also be extended to the temporal course of the history of Carmela Gross's work. So the series stamps, it can be noted, anticipates – in the manner of a filmic negative –, in many aspects (operations and nexuses) the series Boca do Inferno (2020)[vi] presented at the São Paulo Biennial (2021).

Fig. 8 Carmela Gross, BOCA DO INFERNO, 2021, installation view at 34a São Paulo Biennale. Carolina Caliento's photo.

In this way, the gaps, between one stamped and the other, echo and multiply, in an expanded and negative way, in the lagoons or black-gaps of the Boca do Inferno, these, in an epic-critical counterpoint with the ongoing state genocide; counterpoint also assumed, through other procedures, by the contemporary series Heads (2021), exhibited at the Vermelho gallery as a moving testimony and tragic diagnosis of the large-scale programmed devastation, which is current in the country subjected to the ultra-right.[vii]

Fig. 9 Carmela Gross, CABEÇAS, 2021 (detail). Carolina Caliento's photo.

* Luiz Renato Martins he is professor-advisor of PPG in Economic History (FFLCH-USP) and Visual Arts (ECA-USP). He is the author, among other books, of The Conspiracy of Modern Art (Haymarket/ HMBS).

Show catalog text stamps, by Carmela Gross.


stamps, by Carmela Gross.

Exhibition on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art of São Paulo, from February 04th to May 06th, 2023.

The IAC is located on Av. Dr. Arnold, 120\126.

Visiting hours: Tuesday to Friday, from 11 am to 17 pm; Saturday, from 11 am to 16 pm.


[I] Schwarz named in 1979 the objective way the operative aesthetic form as a link between the historical social and the aesthetic domain. Later, in 1991, he defined it as a form endowed with “practical-historical substance”; and, in 1997, he described it as the “social nerve of artistic form”. See respectively R. Schwarz, “Assumptions, if not mistaken, of 'Dialectic of Malandragem'” [1979], in What time is it?, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1989, pp. 129-55. For the 1991 citation, see “National Appropriateness and Critical Originality” [1991] in Brazilian Sequences / Essays, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1999, p. 31, see also p. 247. For the 1997 citation, see two girls, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1997, p. 62.

[ii] See, among others, the untitled installation in the group show fiber people (São Paulo, SESC Pompeia, 1990), or even: holes (1994) Knives (1994) the black (1997) Carne (2006) Sul (2006)For Sale (2008) Real People/ Are Dangerous (2008) Stairs (2012) Migrants (2014) Tupi (2014) Exile (2017) Ferris wheel (2019) etc

[iii] After student strikes and demonstrations in the city of S. Paulo in the course of 1977, in early 1978, the first open strikes by metalworkers in the industrial center of the ABC (then the main concentration of workers in the state) broke out. The various eruptions, at first spontaneous in 1978, would gain scale in the ABC, on March 14 of the following year – the eve of General Figueiredo's inauguration –, when a mass strike broke out, with strong support (about 200 metallurgists), including workers from major automakers in the automotive sector (Volks, Ford, Mercedes, Scania, etc.) and from auto parts factories.

[iv] It is beside the point whether the renowned authors (Picasso etc.), involved in the analytical procedures of the series stamps, are or are not, in themselves, responsible for the process of fetishization of the forms in question. Here, in such cases, the merit is not under discussion, but the form of reception.

[v] Rosa Luxemburgo, “Mass strike, party and unions”, in Rosa Luxemburgo: selected texts vol. I (1899-1914), organization and technical review by Isabel Loureiro, translation from German by Stefan Fornos Klein, São Paulo, Ed. from UNESP, p. 299. I would like to thank Isabel Loureiro for recommending the reading.

[vi]  Elaborated in 2019-2020, in Porto Alegre, on the presses of the Iberê Camargo Foundation and with the assistance of the engraver Eduardo Haesbaert.

[vii] Thanks for the questions and the sharp revision by Gustavo Motta and the editing of the images by Carolina Caliento.

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