Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

…and along came a ghost.

Posted in Reviews by luizateixeiradefreitas on October 22, 2009

When arriving in Travessa Dona Catarina one forgets it’s location within the humming chaos of Botafogo – one of Rio de Janeiro’s busiest neighbourhoods. The quiet hill-like street feels like being in a small village, with charming little houses and small three-story buildings. It’s like being back in the 60’s. Ringing on the number 18 and waiting for someone to come and open the big blue door fills me with a mixture of apprehension and nervousness. I’m at Cildo Meireles’ Studio and he has just opened the door with the warm smile of a typical “carioca”. (That’s what you call people from Rio).

My visit had a reason. I was there to discuss with Meireles a project that will take place in Porto in June 2010 and invite him to take part in it. This exhibition is entitled Like Tears in Rain and deals with notions of death, memory and visibility/invisibility of traces. Its scope is to commission artworks that use the artists’ views on these subjects, working upon them together with the notion of the ephemeral nature of existence.

The method I chose to approach him, that of being on a professional studio visit, fails me (as it would fail anyone else). Meireles disarms any type of strict code of conduct one might try to have around him and from the beginning makes you feel comfortable and at ease, just like an old friend.

We come in to an amazing open space, with a 10 metre high ceiling. It’s like a workshop, in the middle there are tables, tools of all kinds, sketches and artworks. To the left side a huge wooden table that can sit more than 12 people is surrounded by summer stray chairs with flower patterned cushions. The table is filled with papers, books, cups, telephones and a whole other array of objects and ‘bric-a-bracs.’

We started by having a look around. He introduces me to his assistant Rubens who is working on the new version of “Cantos” (Corners). Meireles began this series of works in 1967, based on Euclidean principles of space, using three planes to define a figure in space. They are reconstructions of corners from classic domestic rooms.

After that we go up the stairs and into a breathtaking archive. It’s almost a surrealistic experience. A world of catalogues; books; random papers; documents; press cuttings; etc. All of them organized in a kind of disorganized way. He shows me some things that are lying around and starts telling wonderful stories – Cildo Meireles is indeed a story teller and I, as a quite enthusiastic and curious listener seem to incite him to tell some more.

Going to the back room of the studio, there are two rooms, that serve as media (tv and radio) stations, they are in a complete state of disorder, and Cildo (at this point there are no more formalities) explains that since his solo exhibition started at Tate Modern in London (and is now touring to Barcelona; Mexico and Canada) things have been quite chaotic in the studio.

We finally sit down at the ‘meeting’ table with “cafézinhos” (the typical brazilian expressos) in front of us. I start by telling him about the project, its concept, space and artists. At first he seems quite hesitant and that brings back the nervousness that I first had at the door. He says that the project is quite interesting and that it would in fact be nice and interesting to work with a young curator, but (this is the ‘but’ that took me down) that he is in a very busy moment with a hectic coming year in front of him and that it would be hard for him. I do not give up and keep harassing him with my ideas and aspirations. Silence is bestowed upon us as I run out of things to say.

Then suddenly as if a lightening has struck, Cildo stands up to get a sketch book that is in the other side of the table. He says that he’s just thought of something that could maybe work. It’s an idea he had back in 1993, maybe 1994? He looks and looks for it in the sketch book and finally just grabs my project’s portfolio asking if he can draw what he is thinking of there. (Of course he can!).

He enthusiastically starts describing his idea of placing a “dummy” covered by a white sheet that will play as a ghost, on the roof top of the building. This sculpture/statue will move according to the wind and will represent all the lives that have passed through the historical Palácio de Sao Domingos (the location of the exhibition) leaving the passer by to question and wonder about this spooky apparition on top of the old edifice.

Just then, his son Pedro Meireles arrives, Cildo is back on the phone and I am still in disbelief that he has actually agreed to participate and has already proposed an actual artwork. Our conversations on art have finished, I am back to reality discussing music and bars with Pedro, who is a musician and is my age.

I finally decide to let father and son to their business and say my goodbyes; I leave the studio with a feeling of relief and happiness, with a ‘pinching myself sensation’ of “did this really happen?” …

– Well, I’m actually sure it did, the proof is under my arm – a sketch for a project by Cildo Meireles.

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