Considerations on Mira Schendel's artistic path

In a time of crude and vile speech, it is necessary to remember the rare and subtle writing of Mira Schendel (1919-1988), who became better known, from the 1990s onwards, inside and outside Brazil, as it was exhibited at the 22nd Bienal de São Paulo in 1994; at MoMA in New York, in 2009; at the Museum Tate Modern from London, in 2013; and, finally, at the Pinacoteca of the State of São Paulo, in 2014.

Mira Schendel retained from Switzerland, where “kleography” was born in 1919, the delicate pencil drawings of Klee and the pure forms of geometry by Max Bill; she preserved from Italy, where she studied, the enigmatic empty space of Morandi's still lifes, a reaction to the Futurists' Orphic space of machines and crowds; and in Brazil, where she emigrated in 49, she approached São Paulo Concretism and Rio de Janeiro Neoconcretism, in particular certain works by Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, without ever falling back into mere epigonism.

From 1954 to 1964, Mira Schendel painted small geometric pictures based on horizontal and vertical lines. They are paintings that refer to Max Bill and Mondrian, but they are far from these artists, due to the material, line and color used. The material in her paintings is rough, as the artist mixes grains of sand, cement, latex and plaster with oil and tempera, and only then applies them to the support, in jute, canvas or wood.

The lines, contours of geometric shapes, incorporating chance, tremble; and the colors, always dark, evoke the supposedly genuine color of the material: a brown tone, situated between ocher and lead. The result is a brutalist neoplasticism or a concretism "poor”, in which geometric rigor is not realized on a smooth surface, as in these historical constructivisms, but in the roughness of the amalgamated materials.

Between 64 and 66, Mira Schendel produced the series “Monotipias”, divided by critics into “linear drawings” and “architecture”. In “linear drawings”, the artist paints a glass slide, sprinkles talcum powder on it, preventing the ink from being readily absorbed, and then draws with a fingernail or dry point on the back of a sheet of rice paper, pressed against the glass. Then, fine iron or copper lines appear, which do not seem to have been inscribed by the artist, but secreted by the pores of the paper. This technique was also used in the “architectures”, but here, there are not one or two lines, but several strokes indicating figures, such as squares or circles, or even “writings”, letters, words and even sentences.

Mira Schendel created, from 1967 to 1973, “Graphical Objects”, using not only handwritten signs, but also letters and numbers, typed or stickers. They are objects of up to 1,2 m, some in the form of a tondo, supported by nylon threads, in which the signs, graphic or not, pressed between acrylic plates, gravitate in the exhibition space. These spellings in the air, which at first glance resemble the tachism of a Kline or the graffiti of a Haering, are also distinguished by these artists, as the signs, in view, are discreet, diminutive, a “memento mori” of oriental restraint.

There is also a family air between this writing and Mallarmé's typographic inventions, Apollinaire's “calligrams” and the “verbovocovisuality” of concrete poetry. The “miragraphs”, however, are not “poems”, but the figuration of a state prior to the birth of languages, a return to the “in nato” of letters, numbers and their first connections. In a monotype from 65, for example, in the middle of lines, similar to the wall inscriptions, the letters “a”, “k” and “e”, suggesting, in their “becoming-writing”, the articulation of the word “ arkhe” (origin, principle).

And in a “graphic object”, from 1968, what we have is a swarm of letters, pure entropy, representing the murmur of language: the artist – placing herself on this side or beyond poetry – here, makes the language stutter, leave the furrows, delirium, producing an esoteric language within a normative language, in short, attacking mother tongues.

In the 1980s, Mira Schendel returned to tempering on canvas or wood, without the texture of her former paintings. They are, now, smooth, monochromatic surfaces, scratched by lines with an oil stick, as in “i ching“, from 81. In this series of minimal but not minimalist works, devoid of symmetry or monotony, there are some, untitled, in which the artist applied small geometric figures in silver or gold leaf to flat color fields. Associating these works with oriental art, Haroldo de Campos sees in these gold and silver signs similes of the seals of Chinese painting and attributes to the uniform fields of color the meaning that emptiness – “sunyata” or “living vacuum” – has in Buddhist aesthetics.

Mira Schendel's journey, summarized here, aims to motivate other publications, such as an exhaustive inventory of her countless works and an interpretation of this production, based on theoretical references, religion and philosophy, mobilized by the artist, in notes, letters and interviews . Because in these references perhaps lies the key to the uniqueness of this art with constructive roots, which is not exhausted in pure optics, concrete or minimal, as it searches in the origin of languages ​​and in the core of matter – in the roughness of textures, in the translucency of acrylic and in the monochrome surfaces – forms of transcendence.

Mira Schendel, in her “sacro lavoro”, takes the matter as something original, sacrosanct, of an obscurity full of secrets, in a resistance to the instrumentalization of codes – to the mercantile nature of the clichés of the mass media world and the digital network.

*Ricardo Fabbrini He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Art after the vanguards (Unicamp).


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