Monica Piloni's Impossible Bodies



Considerations about the works and trajectory of the plastic artist.

Monica Piloni, Hexa (2022) – Photo by M. Fabris

When commenting on one of his works – the Dancer held in 2007, which is part of the Instituto Figueiredo Ferraz collection –, Monica Piloni places it under the sign of exception. She defines it, in fact, as “a kind of Frankenstein's 'monster'”, as it is the result of the combination of her own body and those of two live models.

The evocation of the imaginary monster conceived by Mary Shelley at the beginning of the XNUMXth century as “a patchwork of pieces of other bodies, without memory and without name”, devoid of “any principle of recognition” and, therefore, of any identity (Tucherman ), demonstrates that the artist is placing at the center of her creative process the problem of an artificial being, the result of a technical intervention, which allows her to question the distinction between subject and object.[1]

Bearing in mind the Greek ideal of beauty, it could be objected that Monica Piloni is configuring the ballerina's body from the selection of the most beautiful aspects of each model, but an analysis of the work puts this doubt in check. The algid blonde dancer, who represents the first experience of life-casting, not only is it not perfect, but it is the result of a montage of heterogeneous elements, which does nothing more than point to a tense dialogue with the idea of ​​the dehumanization of art, so much discussed by the historical vanguards.

As Eliane Robert Moraes reminds us, modern artists place at the center of their attention a questioning of the body congenial to the perception of a world aimed at the “destruction of integrity”. The body conceived as “a whole through which the subject composes and recognizes himself as an individuality” becomes a preferred target of modern art, which is dedicated to the task of destroying it, of disarticulating its matter, of presenting it fragmented. , decomposed, scattered.

The issue of disarticulation becomes even more pronounced in the seven color photographs of the series “In my room” (2014), in which Monica Piloni presents her own body fragmented and reconfigured in absolutely unnatural compositions in a hyper-realistic way. Without taking into account the anatomical reality, the artist arranges molds of parts of her own body – legs, arms and the head marked by a melancholy countenance – on the bed, on the sofa, on the floor and with them configures unique still lifes, in which the disorder and disorder seem to be the dominant guidelines. Pablo Di Giulio, director of the Fass gallery (now Utopia), which presented the series in 2014,[2] highlights those that, in his view, are the central issues of the set: search for integrity, sexuality, representation and appearance seen through the prism of the deconstruction of the body in space.

Two compositions – And why would you want my soul in your bed? e Would you want my soul? – stand out for the impossibility of corresponding to a stable and consistent human form. In others, entitled In your bed or in my soul, What if there is no more soul? e Because in my bed there is no soul, a rather explicit erotic tension and an atmosphere of expectation predominate. The strange position of the head, visibly dissociated from the other limbs, leads one to think of the loss of self experienced by the eroticized body. The latter, however, regains control of himself in the sixth image of the sequence, when the model starts to bluntly question physical emotion through a critical distance, emblematic in the title And I ask: why?

As the artist herself clarifies, the title of one of the most disturbing compositions, And why would you want my soul in your bed?, comes from one of the poems in the book of desire (1992), by Hilda Hilst. The others were a consequence of the first, obtained from the deconstruction and reconstruction of the same sentence and a slight alteration of its meaning “as in an outbreak of questions and answers that we ask ourselves in silence”.[3]

Reading Hilst's ninth poem helps to clarify the objectives pursued by Monica Piloni in the 2014 series. The woman urges the lover to accept what she can offer him: a sensorial, carnal enjoyment, made of fragments, “liquid words, delightful, rough // Obscene”. The corporeal relationship with the lover does not free her, however, from the awareness that the soul is committed to “the default of its inevitable encounter with Nothing”, demanding a kind of cruelty, in the words of Márcia dos Santos Fontes. He must content himself with the “memory of coitus and agreements”, since she did not omit that “the soul is beyond, seeking // That Other”.

The fragmented and reconfigured body in combinations that defy the body norm can also be inscribed under the sign of the monstrous, as it presents a characteristic trait that has always been associated with the anomaly: the absence of a limb or an organ, which transforms it into a figure of alterity. . The artist from Curitiba does not limit herself to creating a singular body, characterized by “defect monstrosity” (Courtine). She goes further, imagining figures marked by excess – the multiplication of limbs – that question the natural body in a different way, placing human anatomy in the domain of a surreal imagery.

These different aspects of the misshapen, which constitute an evident guideline of Monica Piloni's poetics, were presented, in a very exhaustive way, in two recent exhibitions: dissident symmetries (Museum of Contemporary Art of Sorocaba) and Human, too human (Zipper Gallery, São Paulo).

Presented between August 20th and October 9th, the Sorocaba exhibition is based on a set of works that explore the estrangement provoked in the observer by the deformations perceived in bodies characterized by movements of mirroring, repetition and subtraction, which produce a “ dissident symmetry”. To capture the “dissident symmetries” that curator Allan Yzumizawa talks about, the spectator must assume a participatory attitude. Abandoning the frontal view, it must rotate around the pieces, which reveal a complex composition, made from different points of view.

Mario Ramiro mobilizes the idea of ​​the kaleidoscope when he writes that the artist's work “blurs the line between the imagined and the observed”. Their bodies "lead from one vision to another, from the semblance of reality to that of a certain anomaly." Although he does not use the term “monstrosity”, the author alludes to it between the lines, as he speaks of “a time when men and women lived together with deities and other forms of life that were not just human”, insinuating the idea of ​​hybridization.

Part of the works presented in Sorocaba are part of the idea of ​​the “kaleidoscope tour”: siamese b (2016) odd half (2017) the reader (2019) Lee (2019) oops (2019). A work like diver (2019), in turn, establishes an even more complex relationship with the spectator, as he has the impression of being observed by the figure he is looking at.

The principle of mirroring is radicalized in I break down (2019), in which the reflection of a deformed torso in the mirror produces not only a perceptual estrangement, but leads the observer to participate directly in the image and to assume the role of voyeur of an intimacy that is pleased with the grotesque and the unusual. The various reading possibilities embedded in the work allow us to evoke both the poetics of the unfinished Rondanini Pieta (1552-1564), by Michelangelo (my sister had this impression when facing its back), as a dialogue with photography Nude leaning forward (nude bent forward, 1930), in which Lee Miller creates a profoundly ambiguous image of the female body, dissolving the lower part in shadow and transforming the neck region into the buttocks.

Mario Ramiro, in turn, in the exhibition presentation text Cycle (2019), refers to the presence of a movement of attraction and repulsion, caused by the transformation of beauty into monstrosity. The smooth and delicate outline of a torso is duplicated and swells in the space located in front of a mirror, “replicating a reality already unfolded and folded back on itself”. In this movement, the classic torso becomes “a mass of flesh that seems only focused on the desire for the most eroticized parts of that same body”.

In two sculptures from 2013, shadow doll b e ghost doll and, Monica Piloni makes use of the tripod, whose first use dates back to Doll de 2004. In his own words, the tripod is “the most effective form of support”, as it adapts to “any irregular surface”, in addition to allowing the search for “originality”. This is presented as a “surprise effect, achieved through an illusion”, since the figure seems to be “always with its back to the observer”. The “search for the non-existent face” is the most common reaction of the public, who observe the work from all sides, unable to unravel its mystery.

The “non-existent face” is also a characteristic of odd half, in which the multiplication of hair, navel and breasts creates a strong feeling of estrangement,[4] which does not fail to evoke the idea of ​​the “physical unconscious”, defended by Hans Bellmer in the 1930s. two pairs of legs, putting in check the “geometrized body, limited to limits and measures”.

The author of this analysis, Eliane Robert Moraes, emphasizes that “Bellmer's anatomical daydreams sought to make the real image and the virtual image of a body coincide, bringing together in a single figure the result of the immediate perception of the look and the reinventions of the imagination. With that, he freed human anatomy from established proportions and normalized canons to invent 'anagrams of the body'. However, much more than simple combinatorial games, the anagrams that are at the base of Bellmer's morphology represented a method of exploring the physical possibilities of the human being, attentive to the simultaneous sensations of the body, in order to offer him a 'more credible image'”.

A parallel between Monica Piloni and the German artist had already been proposed by Jurandy Valença, for whom the sculptor from Curitiba presents the observer with “'a provocative object', something immobile, inanimate, in a situation that is sometimes 'passive', but which, even formless, carries with it a materiality that disorganizes and disturbs in its appearance and depth”.

A statement by the artist reported in Valença's article reinforces this perception, as she proposes to associate the aesthetic and conceptual objective of her work with the concept of “unheimlich”, developed by Sigmund Freud in the essay “The Stranger” (1919). The objective of his strange creatures is to provoke “the disquieting, the strange, the frightening that repels and attracts at the same time”. Although her sculptures seem hyper-realistic, what she seeks is artificiality: “The skin has a plastic texture with an industrial paint finish with a satin sheen and synthetic hair”.

The feeling of artificiality that Monica Piloni alludes to can be condensed in the looping animation Succubus (2021), in which a squatting triple mannequin is bathed in black paint, giving it greater sculptural density. The curators of the Zipper Galeria show (September 27-October 29), Mario Ramiro and Érica Burini, have selected two pieces associated with animation: succubus, the beginning e succubus, the end, both dated 2022.

With a rosy complexion, head covered by a kind of black hood and an erotic pose enhanced by stiletto shoes, the first sculpture mobilizes the idea of ​​pornographic image, as it offers the maximum amount of visual information at once, in addition to valuing the flesh in its rawness thanks to the use of a denotative color. Entirely covered in black automotive paint, the second sculpture uses the artifice of an illusory camouflage to suggest more than to show, provoking the viewer with an incomplete concealment and thus participating in the erotic dimension.

The title chosen for the animation and the two sculptures leaves no doubt as to Monica Piloni's intention to discuss the issue of sexuality from a female point of view. Evocations of the figure of the dominatrix, her succubi put the question of seduction in the foreground. It is known that, in remote times, the succubus was considered a supernatural entity that copulated with men during their sleep, as it needed semen to survive. Even having the appearance of a beautiful young woman, the succubus could present deformations that brought it closer to the monstrous sphere or take the form of a mermaid.

The monstrosity of the tripartite succubi echoes that of the Mermaid (2022), also present at the São Paulo gallery show. In her conception, the artist leaves aside the ancestral representations of this sea monster, which resembled a bird or a fish in the lower part of the body. Its two-faced mermaid has none of the beauty that seduced sailors, dragged out to sea to be devoured. It is, on the contrary, a strange figure that, seen from a certain point of view, gives the impression of copulating with itself.

A similar sensation is aroused by Hexa (2022), which integrates the selection of Ramiro and Burini. In it, the interweaving of identical bodies may suggest an act of self-gratification or the search for sexual fulfillment outside of heteronormativity. Another work presented at Zipper, trivert (2022), has an explicit meaning: a masturbation gesture associated with flexibility provided by the practice of physical exercises. A set of small bronze statues, called IdEgoSuperego (2019), seems to be governed by the same principle as a “circus body”.

This idea was applied by Diógenes Moura to the first work that bore this title (2011), in which three contorted forms were seen, evoking “Olympic bodies that intertwine” and become “unique, exposed between sex and affection, and sex more once". The issue of sexuality is explained in a comment by Monica Piloni, who refers to “three individual forms [that fit] perfectly into each other with the face of one facing the vagina of the other, symmetrical and continuous”. In the Sorocaba show, it was up to the spectator to determine the interweavings and fittings, but the results were no less disturbing, as they pointed to an uninhibited and tense sexuality at the same time.

Odd (2013), presented in Sorocaba, is probably the most radical work in sexual terms. Having as constituent elements the principle of mirroring transposed to the two-dimensional plane, the use of symmetries, the unfolding of forms and the fusion of artificial and natural data, the video shows, in just over three minutes, two female bodies transformed into formless masses , in which orifices are penetrated and given over to jouissance. The set is not always well defined in visual terms, but the moments of penetration are distinguished by the use of closed shots.

Assuming the existence of a morbid aspect in her poetics, Monica Piloni states that it “evokes a certain mystery”, giving “a cloudiness to naked female bodies in imposing poses, with tense muscles, flexible bodies and hairless vaginas”. The fact that the skin has to be lubricated to make the molds “opens a parallel with sexuality, right from the production process. I think that sexuality can also be in the observer who places himself as voyeur of these bodies. Maybe they can also bring some discomfort.”

At the Sorocaba exhibition, one of the greatest discomforts was caused by the presentation of portrait to e portrait g, from the series “Retratos” (2013-2016), and siamese b, which confront the viewer with the issue of emptiness and the impossibility of giving any meaning to human existence. portrait to e portrait g are part of an installation made up of 26 sculptures referring to the letters of the Latin alphabet. Each sculpture is in the form of a faceless head that, through a “precise and symmetrical” cut, reveals an empty interior, lined with red velvet.

“Negatives” of death masks, the portraits in the series, all the same, unequivocally refer to female representations, due to the long straight hair. The option for red velvet is attributed by the artist to the evocation of blood and a paradoxical box to store a precious object, which cannot fulfill its function because it is made at an angle. Placed on the wall, the heads bring to mind the image of hunting trophies, while siamese b explicitly invites a journey into the void, as it can be seen from both sides as it is suspended in space.

Other works presented in Sorocaba dealt with the issue of the vehicle of life. Blood appears indirectly in three black and white photographs from the series “In my bedroom”,[5] who stage a crime in a typical cinema atmosphere Black. Wrapped in a rug, the body of a blonde woman lying face down on the floor in a disorganized environment, giving the impression that the dismemberment seen in the color images was the first stage of a tragic outcome. In looping animation Source (2021), an algid blonde ballerina, who looks more like a hybrid organism, whose physiological functions are carried out with the aid of technology, is suspended in space in an inverted position; from her pubis spurts a stream of blood that dyes her garment red.

Mario Ramiro detects in the work a mixture of “drama and beauty, torture and dance”, but the title may suggest an ironic dialogue with one of the most instigating works of the XNUMXth century, Source (Fountain, 1917), by Marcel Duchamp. By subjecting a piece of sanitary ware (a urinal) to a 90º rotation, it accentuates its female receptacle aspect and opens the way to the suggestion of sexual activity. The blood flowing from the dancer's genitalia may lead one to think that fertilization has not occurred and that the body is expelling a liquid residue.

If the ironic reading of Duchamp's play is a hypothesis, Lee, exhibited in Sorocaba, leaves no doubt about the artist with whom Monica Piloni is dialoguing: Man Ray. Lee Miller, his photographer and model, posed for the prayer (Prayer, 1930), an elegant and blasphemous photograph at the same time, in which the juxtaposition of hands, feet, buttocks and the insinuation of the anus generate a composition halfway between a realistic view and an ambiguous object. By recreating the photograph three-dimensionally, Monica Piloni gives the figure greater bodily density, accentuated by the rosy tone of the skin and the elongation of the nails. In addition, it extends the figure and folds it back on itself, offering the vision of a formless body, when seen from a certain angle.

The Brazilian artist uses, in an often paradoxical way, two instruments associated with female seduction. Hair, as she herself declares, is used as “a resource to hide, replace and disorient the logic of the human figure, like a mask that superimposes identity”. odd half is quite significant in this sense, as the observer cannot determine the exact position of the body due to the absence of a face and the multiplication of anatomical details.

Almost all the figures presented at the exhibitions in Sorocaba and São Paulo wear a type of shoe closely associated with seduction: the stiletto. As Mario Ramiro points out, this generates a kind of paradox: the use of a fetish symbol makes female bodies “vulnerable and unstable”, as a jump from that height makes it impossible to run or flee, if necessary. Supported by a “precarious balance”, the act of walking becomes “hostage to an image, and the artist herself admits a certain tension under the cover of glamor that radiates from her work”.

After all, what image of the feminine can be inferred from Monica Piloni's works? To a society that has the cult of appearance as one of its fundamental values ​​and in which large sectors of the female population undergo surgeries to correct the natural body, with sometimes tragic results, the artist proposes paradoxical figures. Its perfect finish, reminiscent of an industrial product, is associated with physical eccentricities, capable of disturbing the senses, especially vision, and raising questions about the meaning of what is human and what is “normal”. A plastic surgeon in reverse, Monica Piloni mutilates, grafts additional limbs, dismembers, creates improbable figures, calling into question the idea of ​​the body as “idealization of the flesh” (Tucherman).

The enigmatic title of Zipper's show seems to provide an access key to the artist's intentions. Immediately brings to mind Human, all too human (1878-1880), by Friedrich Nietzsche, in which the woman is presented as a fickle, superficial being and, therefore, incapable of dedicating herself to any political, intellectual, artistic or philosophical activity. More interested in people than in things, women have custom, modesty, dilettantism and appearance as their horizon. Believing that the question of appearance is ingrained in women, the philosopher does not hesitate to define them as “simple masks” devoid of interiority, “almost spectral creatures”, capable of arousing desire in men, “who seek their soul and continue to look for her”.

Clinging to a biological vision, Nietzsche states that women are happy to serve and be mothers,[6] constituting an obstacle to the affirmation of the “free spirit”, which does not want to be served. An individual whose objective is the conquest of knowledge, the free spirit rises above humanity, customs, laws and traditions; because he wants to fly alone, he prefers celibacy, as women's propensity for “calm and uniform” relationships clashes with his “heroic impulse”.

The unique figures of the Brazilian artist do not fit the vision of women as “a mere projection surface of the male imagination”, as they do not construct their appearance in accordance with current norms. The questioning glances that many of them throw at the observer prove that the “shortsightedness” attributed by the philosopher to bourgeois women is not part of their fundamental characteristics. Their eccentricity puts them against the grain of the idea that women voluntarily seek to erase “the spirit of their features or the witty details of their faces” in favor of an emphasis on sensuality and materiality that are “alive and anxious”.

One of the works presented at Zipper, selfie (2022), seems to condense Piloni's view of the possibilities open to women in a complex society, which imposes subtle limits on individual freedom. Kneeling, a woman with metallic eyes gazes at two cell phones with her two faces. For Érica Burini, it is the way found by the artist to observe “the spontaneous creation of a new codification of poses within the virtual space”, to demonstrate the extent to which women manage to have “control of sexuality and self-image”.

Another possibility of interpreting the title of the exhibition in São Paulo refers to the concept of monster developed by Ieda Tucherman. The monster is not outside, but at the “limit of the human”. It is an “internal” limit, producing strange figures, which raise questions about their nature, as they evoke the idea of ​​“the 'disfiguration' of the Same in the Other”. If we are not confused with these figures, we are not completely different from them either, and this results in an unstable definition and a mobile alterity. The author hypothesizes that monsters perhaps exist to show us “what we could be, not what we are, but also not what we would never be, and thus articulate the question: To what degree of deformation (or strangeness) do we remain human? ”.

The “human, all too human” figures by Monica Piloni seem to respond to other questions by Ieda Tucherman, provoked by current technologies of genetic manipulation. How far can artifices and interventions be taken without harming the “natural” human image? What is humanoid? What body can we have today that is still recognizable as human? the figure of selfie is the one that comes closest to these questions, as it seems to pave the way for the emergence of new beings shaped not only by genetic manipulation, but also by the growing predominance of technology in society's daily life.

The prefiguration of the human being of the 3000s, made by Toll Free Forwarding, is not far removed from some of the sculptor's bizarre figures. Mindy has a hunchbacked posture and a wide neck, due to the muscular effort to keep the head up looking down when interacting with computers and smartphones. The hands locked in the shape of a claw and the elbow at 90º are a consequence of the excessive presence of the phone in the hand. Long exposure to artificial light is the basis for predicting the development of a larger inner eyelid, a thicker skull and a smaller brain.[8]

It is significant that a marriage between one of Monica Piloni's creations, the Ballerina IV (2019), and the technological universe was proposed in the “Ilustrada Ilustríssima” section of the newspaper Folha de S. Paul on October 23 of this year. A detail of the disturbing disjointed ballerina[7] it was published on the first page of the section, with the black corset crossed by the words “Everything is a lie. When manipulating videos, deepfakes establish themselves as actors in the chaos of disinformation during the elections and deepen the chasm between social networks, technology, law and art”.

On pages C4 and C5, the work in its entirety serves as an illustration to the article “Crimes of the future”, by Gustavo Zeitel, in which the various aspects of the manipulation of information thanks to the deepfakes and realistic videos made with artificial intelligence, including their possible creative uses in the artistic universe. In the field occupied by the reproduction of Monica Piloni's work, a statement by Camilo Aggio stands out: “The deepfake causes bewilderment, increasing the cacophony in the networks. But a video won't change the vote, people tend to repost the fake news that activate their convictions”.

The dancer's presence creates a disruptive effect in the newspaper. Although it is not the result of artificial intelligence, it proposes a new version of reality, which is not to be confused with the phenomenon of deepfakes. The artist calls into question one of the fundamental aspects of this falsification strategy – the belief in the “similarity of the images” –, as the hyper-realism that characterizes her figures opposes the phenomenal reality in such a radical way that there are no doubts about their unreality and artificiality.

By focusing on the crisis of the body and, particularly, the issue of its limits, Monica Piloni imbues her works with a malaise, whose climax can be located in the color photographs of the series “In my bedroom”. In them, the technical image ceases to represent an “object of certainty” to acquire the aspect of a “fictional text” endowed with multiple meanings, to constitute the starting point of personal narratives. This view of photography explained by Chris Townsend, associated with a crisis of the eye, which finds itself unable to recognize the image of the object and, therefore, its meaning, can be extended to the artist's entire production, which questions the limits of the body and invites the viewer to surprise the manifestation of beauty in eccentric anatomies and to rethink their concept of normality. His “too human” figures are a living demonstration of the instability and artificiality of every concept: having as guidelines deformations, mutations, shatterings, they problematize the idea of ​​form and make the body the point of convergence between reality and fantasy, beauty and monstrosity, possible and impossible.

*Annateresa Fabris is a retired professor at the Department of Visual Arts at ECA-USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reality and fiction in Latin American photography (UFRGS Publisher).


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[1] Thanks for the collaboration of Mariarosaria Fabris; and Pablo Di Giulio and Paula Viecelli from Utopia Gallery (São Paulo).

[2] The seventh image of the set, My soul under the bed, was not included in the exhibition.

[3] This idea is taken up in the commentary by Would you want my soul?, in which Piloni talks about the use of the technique of cut up "to create a kind of internal monologue".

[4] The bust presented in Sorocaba is less disturbing than the sculpture Odd, made in 2009. Equipped with three breasts, three navels, three vaginas and three legs, the figure has her face hidden by a wig and is seated on a metallic tripod that evokes crutches.

[5] In the Fass gallery show, there was a fourth black and white image. Allan Yzumizawa selected three color images from the series for the Sorocaba exhibition: And why would you want my soul in your bed?, Would you want my soul? e Because in my bed there is no soul.

[6] For Nietzsche there are two types of motherhood: the biological and the spiritual, typical of the artist and the philosopher. In Ecce Homo (1908), attributes the search for emancipation to the “failed” woman, that is, incapable of having children, as she does not believe in the possibility of freely choosing not to procreate.

[7] Choreographer Adriana Nunes has been carrying out research on the fragmented body for some years. in the show All, one sees “legs swinging and twisting, […] separated from the torso, arms and head […], hidden and almost immobilized by black fabrics”. At the end, the interpreter removes the black cloth that covers her head and addresses the audience, “gathering her body parts and desires”. The 2018 and 2022 elections and the Covid-19 pandemic gave a political meaning to the shattering: that of “a shattered social body that cannot connect”, in the words of the ballerina.

[8] Some experts consulted by The State of S. Paul make reservations about the model envisaged by the telecommunication company. For the ophthalmologist Ricardo Paleta, it is almost impossible to think of the emergence of a second eyelid in less than 800 years of human evolution. Orthopedist Ivan Rocha, in turn, believes that the projection may have a basis in truth, but nothing guarantees that posture problems will be inherited by our descendants as “more adaptable characteristics”. But, anyway, stay alert.


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