Public promenade — I

Photo by Carmela Gross


Commentary on the exhibition “Almost Circus”, with works by Carmela Gross, on display at Sesc-Pompeia

Three invitations and developments

Sample Almost Circus, at Sesc-Pompeia (26.03 – 25.08.2024, works Carmela Gross, curated by Paulo Miyada), launches, from each work, installation or piece, basically three types of simultaneous invitations: to the visual experience, captured in particular by luminous constructions and by the chromatic intensity of huge cloths unfurled like banners and curtains (circus, stage or screen); to the socialized experience of walking and talking; and a process of critical totalization, combined with the first two activities.

In these terms and as the title itself suggests, Almost Circus it acts synesthetically, multiplying the forms of appeal to perception, but without restricting itself to the sensory domain, that is, also presenting reflective intensity and historiographical density. The result lights up the eyes and leads one to admire, in addition to the exhibition, the qualities of Lina Bo Bardi's (1914-1992) project for the architectural restructuring of the old factory complex, converted into a cultural and social center for workers, but also open to the public. general public.

Elements and deployment

The basic or ground-level proposal goes back both to the immediate interaction, typical of parading circus attractions, and to the reciprocity between steps and thinking, that is, to the so-called peripatetic practices of the dawn of philosophy in ancient times. polis Greek: that of walking in company and in dialogue. With no walls between the works, the visitor invents their own path in the large covered square that constitutes the common area; It can come and go with the flow of ideas.

In its arrangement without divisions, the exhibition evokes both the implantation in the urban environment – ​​understood as a situation of interaction and the perspective of civic or constant coexistence with others – as well as the dialogical and reflective arrangement, that is, the practices congenital to listening, inherent to philosophical dialogue nascent in the context of polis. In addition to this order of openness and transparency, Almost Circus it is directly linked both through its production practices and its ties of origin (detailed below) to popular resistance and inventiveness.[I]

Similarly, in Almost Circus all the objects on display, in fact, assemble or rework cheap, ready-made and commercially available materials – just as architecture and the industrial or technical reproducibility arts usually do. Informality and the atmosphere of a workshop prevail, open to anyone who shows up. Thus, Almost Circus avoids singular practices of mastery and excellence (and also exception), to entrust his inventions to assembly actions.

To carry it out, it relies on basic consumable materials (tubular lamps and related electrical wiring, fabrics and cloths from popular stores, newspaper photos, siding wood, information panel in ice – commonly used in commerce, for occasional sales –, in addition to objects collected in junkyards and second-hand stores…) – without, on the other hand, moderating or saving on the scale, which is neither intimate nor domestic, but collective and properly urban.

Intrinsic to ethos of the exhibition and naturally incorporated into the architectural and collective size of the works Almost Circus, three authors remembered in specific pieces – and with whom the exhibition vividly dialogues throughout the various spaces of Sesc [Fábrica da] Pompeia (original name, now abbreviated) –, the aforementioned architect Lina Bo Bardi, the playwright Zé Celso Martinez Correa (1937-2023) and Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980), embodied in their careers the alliance between the experimentalism of the artistic avant-garde and the fraternal and metabolic incorporation of the inventiveness and resistance of popular languages.

Figure 1 — Carmela Gross, BANDEIRA-PIVÔ (fabrics and metal structure, 370 × 250 cm and 370 × 200 cm, 2024); in the background, in the center, ROUGE, and further back, partial view of RED STAIRS, on the right A HOUSE, shows Almost Circus, São Paulo, SESC Pompeia, 2024. Photo Everton Ballardin.

Historicity, systemic unity and theatricality

Hence the two (if not three, who knows) moments that recall Hélio Oiticica are not accidental but rather structural: one, in the play Pivot Flag (2024) which evokes parangolés and fabrics Tropicalia (1967) and which has the assigned function of an initiatory passage, sensorially impregnating, or a “portal”, as stated in the project memorial published to the public in a folder. And another, in the general title of the exhibition, which alludes to the series Almost Cinema (1971-75).[ii]

The case of The photographer [2001], in turn, is special. The disposition of the body mentioned, the state of life hanging by a thread, the lyrical and poignant drama emanating from the slender red lamps and the thin and fragile metallic structures, as well as from the exposed – and so defenseless – wires and connections, allow us to think of a mnemic irruption , in a coalescence or duet with the tragic figure, with a vanished and fallen body, created by Oiticica in Be Marginal, Be a Hero (1968) – decisive work and unforgettable moment in Brazilian art.

Figure 2 — Carmela Gross, THE PHOTOGRAPHER (tubular lamps and metal easels, 700 x 550 x 130 cm, 2001); in the background, RED STANDARD, shows Almost Circus, São Paulo, SESC Pompeia, 2024. Photo Pedro Perez Machado.
Figure 3 — Carmela Gross, THE PHOTOGRAPHER (tubular lamps and metal easels, 700 x 550 x 130 cm, 2001); in the background, on the left LUZ DEL FUEGO, on the right, A HOUSE, shows Almost Circus, São Paulo, SESC Pompeia, 2024. Photo Pedro Perez Machado.

The tribute in red to Zé Celso Martinez Correa is also magnetic – already on display at Sesc in 1999. In the same place, but now in another constellation, today it appears located at the end of an imaginary diagonal, from the Pivot Flag, that connects an entire section of the exhibition and leads, at the other end, to the Banner Red (1999): an immense parangolé cloak dedicated to the playwright (who exclaimed, at the time: “I wantparangolize' the cloak […]”).[iii]

Figure 4 — Carmela Gross, RED STANDARD (iron and fabric, 400 x 400 cm, 1999); show Almost Circus, São Paulo, SESC Pompeia, 2024. Photo Carolina Caliento.

Nor is the complicit, but also critical (we will return to the issue) appeal to the first of the ready-mades: Bottle holder (Bottle holder, 1914) by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). Similarly, the allusions and decisive journeys through passages and key notions of thinkers reveal not only structural value, but also function didactically. They operate as signposts that highlight reading directions and propose interconnections between different temporalities and historical contexts, but always aiming at the current context.

In this way, in addition to the aspects of rapture that emerge strongly in the luminous works and in the unfurled cloths, and which match the title, Almost Circus brings systemic critical and reflective unity, inherent to a sober and discreet essayistic dimension, which is revealed throughout the tour – which is inseparable, in turn, from the simultaneous dialogue with architecture.

From the systemic perspective of the general design, the parts and installations of Almost Circus appear structurally combined through materials or signs and allusions to a corpus accurate historical references. As in the case of the aforementioned interlocutors, the corpus brings together everything from historical landmarks of the arts to links or signs of historical-social issues that transcend or invade, from outside, the pure domain of the arts; questions and interactive or reciprocal relationships (with historical concreteness), from which works can be more clearly distinguished and objectively situated; and, before which the works on display invite the visitor to make totalizations and syntheses.

For example, a company offering fire light (2018/ 2024) highlights this objective connection with reality or with the “totality that exists outside the painting and that invades it from there”, in the words of the painter Antonio Dias (1944-2018).[iv] But this nexus permeates the entire exhibition. Almost Circus, in this sense, does not escape the theatrical lessons of Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) about the relations of art with greater historical dynamics and, similarly, his interest in circus attractions, such as revues, nightclubs and fair scenes .

Figure 5 — Carmela Gross, LUZ DEL FUEGO (video, 16'52”, 2018/ 2024), shows Almost Circus, São Paulo, SESC Pompeia, 2024. Photo Pedro Perez Machado.

Urban epic and totalization

In short, Almost Circus assembles pieces and installations illuminated with a scenic sense and in a successive manner, therefore, in a theatrical and circus rhythm, and according to the radically democratic qualities of the spaces proposed by Lina Bo Bardi's architecture. This creates the porosity of an open public square, but protected as a hospitable and playful environment with a welcoming floor.

All together, these elements favor a fluid and pleasant walk, supporting the course of conversations nourished by the fecundity of commonplace and optimized coexistence in the city. Therefore – counting on the mediation of a collective urban experience reconstructed in the best terms, but with objective and material aspects that are concretely achievable –, it is certain that the visitor finds himself urged to actions of synthesis and totalization. It remains to establish the precise terms of the invitation.

The starting situation, markedly collective and permeated by urban space, and the prominent plurality of incorporated materials, go back, in terms of historical tradition, to the joyful and provocative adventure of the collective epic present in the multiple works of post-neoconcrete Oiticica, namely, in the proposition of parangolés, from anti art, and developments (“environmental art”, “supersensory” and so on),[v] as well as at the heart of the experiences of Zé Celso and Teatro Oficina.

From this angle, without the simultaneous perception of the social and historical surroundings, little or nothing can be gleaned from the reinvention of the architectural space, from factory to community center, as well as from the walk through Almost Circus. In effect, to the pure eye, without the mediation of the energetic feeling of the epic, the exhibition and the architecture that hosts it, both, disappear due to the lack of meaning and energy inherent to the mediation by the whole – and materials and impulses for both come simultaneously and necessarily through the visitor's gaze.

Figure 6 — Carmela Gross, FERRIS WHEEL (objects and ropes, approx. 430 m2, 2019/2024); in the background, FIGURANTS, shows Almost Circus, São Paulo, SESC Pompeia, 2024. Photo Pedro Perez Machado.

Collective scale, reproducibility and syntheses

Disused and worthless objects wait, in Ferris wheel, the visitor just arrived from the street at the first large door leading to the exhibition. To lessen the surprise, let's start by remembering that the insertion of objects ready-made (ready-mades) and with manufactured or industrial roots – that is, without traces of handling by the artist – belongs to the history of modern art. In 1914, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) presented a bottle holder (Bottle holder, 1914), an object of current utility and available in commerce, singularizing it in poetic terms solely through the act of authorial choice (in the wake, other ready-mades appeared throughout Duchamp's work, but that is not the point here).[vi] A similar object to this inaugural object can be found among the set of objects presented in Ferris wheel.

Figure 7 — Carmela Gross, FERRIS WHEEL (objects and ropes, approx. 430 m2, 2019/2024); show Almost Circus, São Paulo, SESC Pompeia, 2024. Photo Pedro Perez Machado.

Nothing, however, equals or equates the artistic and museographic environment envisaged by Duchamp to the situation of this object in the installation. Ferris wheel. Much more than a quote, here there is a denial and a dialectical overcoming. It's worth comparing. The isolated ready made taken by Duchamp to the august position of uselessness, then seen as a necessary condition for art, he rebelled against his new peers (at that time more illustrious), legitimate children who were artistic mastery. With the somewhat paradoxical legitimization of a “bastard object”, Duchamp certainly managed to broaden the notion of a work of art, not to mention many other developments – among which, to go quickly, the poetic-critical-curatorial current labeled today of Institutional Criticism (sic).

On the other hand, in addition to issues specific to the institutionality of art, in Ferris wheel, the particularity and uniqueness of the bottle holder dissolve into the comedy of a ciranda or circle game. In it, the object duchampian, instead of being distinguished and treated as a sign or illustrious presence, it is seen bundled together in a group of around 250 objects, collected from junkyards and second-hand stores. Totalization is necessary. As an act of criticism and reflection, totalization is always a work that goes beyond the sum or accumulation found. It involves problems: denials and overcomings, leaps and challenges – the synthesis is, in addition to denial, construction.

Here, the visitor finds himself invited to a critical leap; operation that, certainly, can include the historical memory of Duchamp's achievement, for comparison, without, however, being an indispensable requirement for understanding the whole. The jump requires recoil and momentum. Reflective synthesis or critical totalization must encompass both the set of objects and consider what surrounds them; therefore, a larger situation, with more elements and connections, which encompasses and proposes other issues to be addressed.

Beyond the rebellion

One of these issues – highlighted in the pieces and installations on display, based on common construction materials – concerns the crucial aspect of technical reproducibility, which, as a general condition, encompasses all manufactured objects. It is known that the problem was posed and investigated by Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) in the essay “The work of art in the era of its technical reproducibility”,[vii] approximately twenty years after the assumption of the ready made to the condition of an art object.

Among other concrete problems, implicated in the wake of that proposed by Benjamin, there is also that of art criticism and historiography in the face of such objects – a problem that the observer of Ferris wheel He also tends to live in the first person: in fact, in front of banal and disparate objects, if not even old and out of circulation: what to admire, how to judge?

One possibility is to proceed interrogatively, unfolding and deepening the investigative focus. Thus, once upon a time, faced with the omnipresence of the commodity as an elementary form of the capitalist economic process, Marx (1818-1883) asked himself about the mode of production and its premises, which preside over the emergence and physiology or mode of circulation of the commodity. Proceeding analogously, in this case, implies asking, in view of the installation in question, with what purposes and criteria were the series of disparate objects brought together, what dictated their arrangement and organization?

Collective scale, objective form

Quite different from the situation of the bottle holder, elevated to the position of an art object, is that of disused objects, collected to appear in Ferris wheel. Coming (to continue with the example of Marx’s work) from the “monstrous collection of commodities” evoked in the famous first paragraph of The capital,[viii] The objects arranged on the floor, in large quantities – many already worn out and worthless – attest in their current depreciation to the ephemeral, dated and perishable content of all usefulness or means of work and production.

In a state now shared with other objects piled up in degraded areas of the city, those collected and gathered at the scene of Ferris wheel (wheels, bricks, bags, old books and newspapers, loose remains of gears, etc.) recall, as tools and means of work out of use and circulation, the wave of unemployed migrants and refugees who face the impossible, with the tenacity of despair , in search of fixed conditions of occupation and survival.

Figure 8 — Carmela Gross, FERRIS WHEEL (objects and ropes, approx. 430 m2, 2019/2024); in the background, FIGURANTS, shows Almost Circus, São Paulo, SESC Pompeia, 2024. Photo Pedro Perez Machado.

In the scene of Ferris wheel, without hiding the precarious traces of the recent situation, but here reused and incorporated into elevated structures (rigging, scissors and beams),[ix] under new light and synthetic relationships (aesthetic, critical and didactic), proposed by Ferris wheel, such objects acquire the objective way[X]of the truncated and intermittent circulation, current in economies fractured by the inequalities inherent in the Third World, where manual labor has almost no value.

This, then, in short, will be the leap from the Ferris wheel? While in its isolated and unique form, the ready-made one hundred years ago (1914) implied, in a critical and comparative way, other objects determined by the singularity and exceptionality inherent to the exclusive sphere of art,[xi] now, in Ferris wheel as a whole or installation, the meaning changed decisively, concerning not particular objects and their peculiarities, but rather the set of means of work and production.

The whole then comes to highlight a structural historical aspect of the processes of late and accelerated modernization. In these, economic practices and productive links quickly perish, multiplying scenes of disuse and varied disparities, like what we see and feel before Ferris wheel – in the end, synthetic image of general circulation, invitation and appeal to the experience of vision as totalization.[xii]

Figure 9 — Carmela Gross, FERRIS WHEEL (objects and ropes, approx. 430 m2, 2019/ 2024), shows Almost Circus, São Paulo, SESC Pompeia, 2024. Photo Pedro Perez Machado.

*Luiz Renato Martins is professor-advisor of PPG in Visual Arts (ECA-USP). Author, among other books, of The Conspiracy of Modern Art (Haymarket/ HMBS). []

This article is the first part. The second will be published soon.


Almost Circus, by Carmela Gross.
São Paulo, SESC Pompeia, March 27th – August 25th, 2024.


[I] An example (which is relevant, as we will see) of preservation and rigor, in this matter, was the rescue process led by Lina Bo Bardi, in the face of the otherness of the popular art object, distinguished simultaneously as an act of resistance and creativity. In this regard, see the excellent film by Aurelio Michiles and Isa Grispum Ferraz, Lina Bo Bardi, São Paulo, Instituto Lina Bo and PM Bardi, 1993, 50 min; available at: .

[ii] For detailed compilation, see Carlos BASUALDO, Hélio Oiticica: Almost-Cinemas, exhibition catalog of the same title (2001-02), Columbus (Ohio), Wexner Center for the Arts/ Köln, Kölnischer Kunstverein/ New York, New Museum of Contemporary Art/ Berlin, Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2001.

[iii] “I loved it, it’s a wonderful shamanic cloak (…) Red is my favorite color, I think the Brazilian flag lacks red, the color of passion, of fire, the color of Cacilda”, said Zé Celso, on the occasion of the first exhibition of this work in his honor, associated with the awarding of the Estadão Multicultural Award (1999), at SESC Pompeia, adding that he would dress him to dance at the award ceremony: “I want 'parangolize' the mantle (…)” (italics mine). apud Beth NÉSPOLI, “Zé Celso, the indefatigable trailblazer of art”, in newspaper The State of S. Paul, 01.05.1999, p. D6.

[iv] In an interview carried out in Cologne (Köln), Germany, in June 1994, when asked by the interviewer – why he used geometric shapes combined with words –, Dias replied: “(…) to show this totality that exists outside the frame, and from there it invades.” Cf. Antonio Dias, “In Conversation: Nadja von Tilinsky + Antonio Dias”, in Vv. Ah, Antonio Dias: Works / Arbeiten / Works 1967-1994, Darmstadt/São Paulo, Cantz Verlag/Paço das Artes, 1994, pp. 54-55.

[v]  For Oiticica’s brilliant trajectory after the neoconcrete movement, see Mário Pedrosa, “Environmental Art, Post-Modern Art, Hélio Oiticica”, Correio da Manhã, Rio de Janeiro, 26 June. 1966, republished in Aracy Amaral (org.), From Portinari's Murals to Brasília's Spaces, São Paulo, Perspectiva, 1981, p. 205; and in Otília Arantes (org.), Academics and Moderns: Selected Texts, vol. III, São Paulo, Edusp, 1995, p. 355.

[vi] Duchamp had already installed a year earlier, in 1913, in his studio a kind of prototype of the ready made, a bicycle wheel fixed upside down on a wooden bench. However, he never exhibited this piece, which remained as an annotation or prototype.

[vii] Initially written between October and December 1935, this text gained several versions in the following years. For the second version, considerably expanded, published in May 1936 in Zeitschrift for Social Forschung (magazine of the Institute of Social Research, in exile) see Walter BENJAMIN, The Work of Art in the Time of its Technical Reproducibility, presentation, translation and notes Francisco De Ambrosis Pinheiro Machado, Porto Alegre, publisher Zouk, 2012. For a translation of the last version (1939), see idem, “The work of art in the era of its technical reproducibility” in Walter BENJAMIN, Detlev SCHÖTTKER, Susan BUCK-MORSS and Miriam HANSEN, Benjamin and the Work of Art/ Technique, Image, Perception, org. Tadeu Capistrano, trans. Marijane Lisboa (from German), Vera Ribeiro (from English), Rio de Janeiro, Contraponto, 2012. The volume includes letters between Benjamin, Adorno and Horkheimer, around the essay in question.

[viii] “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production predominates appears as a 'monstrous collection of commodities', and the singular commodity, as its elementary form”. See Karl MARX, Das Kapital, Berlin, Dietz Verlag, 1984, pp. 49-98; trans. br.: the merchandise, trans. and comments by Jorge Grespan, São Paulo, Ática, 2007.

[ix] For a detailed analysis of the structure of Ferris wheel (2019/2024) and how this happened, in a situation in which the rigging appeared irreverently tied not to beams, scissors and austere beams as occurs at SESC Pompeia, but to the capitals of neoclassical columns in architecture thanks to of the building that serves as headquarters for the cultural center called Santander lighthouse, see LR MARTINS, “Ferris Wheel: Essay on collapse” in Carmela Gross and LR Martins, Ferris Wheel/ Rueda Gigante/ Big Wheel. Installation Carmela Gross, presentation Paulo Miyada, essay Luiz Renato Martins [Spanish version Gabriela Pinilla; English version Renato Rezende], São Paulo, Editora WMF Martins Fontes/ Editora Circuito, 2021, pp. 51-62.

[X]  For the notion of objective way, as a “practical-historical substance” that condenses the general rhythms of society, and operates as the “social nerve” and dialectic of aesthetic form, see Roberto Schwarz, “National adequacy and critical originality”, in idem, Brazilian Sequences: Essays, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1999, pp. 30-31; see also, pp. 28-41. For the origin of the idea of ​​“objective form” and the process of aesthetic translation of the “general rhythm of society” in the Brazilian novel, see Antonio CANDIDO, “Dialética da Malandragem”, in The Discourse and the City, Rio de Janeiro, Gold over Blue, 2004, pp. 28, 38. See also LR MARTINS, on. cit., pp. 55, 62.

[xi] In a way partially analogous to Duchamp, Oiticica, when launching his research into the urban environment, articulating it with the proposition of anti art, made use of depreciated objects found on the street. Thus, he selected them in isolation and because of their apparent formal characteristics, to ironically set them against the institutional forms of the art object. See, for example, cooking oil cans (Street Photography, Rio de Janeiro, 1965), bricks (Ready Constructible, Rio de Janeiro, 1978-79), plastic bottles (Topological Ready-Made Landscape/ Hommage to Boccioni, Rio de Janeiro, 1978), piece of asphalt, found at night on Av. Presidente Vargas (Delirium Ambulatorium, 1978) etc.

[xii] I am grateful for Gustavo Motta's comments and sharp review, Maria Lúcia Cacciola's observations, Jorge Grespan's recommendation, Sérgio Trefaut's surgical critique and Carolina Caliento's collaboration in editing the images.

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