The exhibition "Até que a Rua Nos Separe" (Until the Street Do Us Part), installed in exemplary fashion at the Centro de Arte Hélio Oiticica in a commercial district of central Rio de Janeiro, brought together nine video installations and four series of photographs made in the city between 1992 and 2012 by Maurício Dias and Walter Riedweg. Their work demonstrates the relationship between art, politics, and society in the complex urban context that is Rio, from the social cataclysm of the 1990s to the present-day efforts toward “liberation” of the favelas, passing through the empire of drug traffickers.
The video installation Devotionalia, 1994-2003, is a moving example of a sociological and collective approach to a desperate situation. In 1995, the artists took 1,200 molds of hands and feet, which functioned as ex-votos, from children living in the streets, asking them at the same time to express a wish; they recorded close to eighty hours of speech. A decade later, they sought out those same children to hear what had become of those wishes in the intervening years. Half oh them, we read, were no longer alive. With Devotionalia, however, we are not confronting a type of sociological reductionism or sentimental exhibitionism but testimony to an act of almost religious solidarity, evoking the humble rite of washing the feet of paupers as one of the noblest symbols of humility in Catholicism.
In the video installation Funk Staden, 2007, a funk dance (choreographed as a pagan ritual) is juxtaposed with a reading of Hans Staden’s 1557 account of his captivity among the Tupinambá people of Brazil, a pioneering work of ethnology that accentuates the issue of anthropophagy, a concept that has occupied a special place in Brazilian modernism ever since Oswald de Andrade issued his “Cannibal Manifesto” in 1928. The conflict between spoken words and the language bodies is one of the structural components of Dias & Riedweg’s oeuvre and demonstrates that the capacity for sexual expression by people in movement, like those of the youths seen in Funk Staden, takes us further than any stereotypical discourse about a body or a community.
But it is in the most recent works – the videos A cidade fora dela (The City Outside Itself), 2011; Sábado à noite no parquinho (Saturday Night at the Fairground), 2011; O espelho e a tarde (The Mirror and the Afternoon), 2011; and Peladas noturnas (Nocturnal Kickabouts), 2012 – that the artists reach a new level of maturity. They no longer seem to feel the necessity of appealing to a brutal social fact, or of providing external political and anthropological references for viewers. Diverse points of view of a single locale, shown simultaneously, generate a flow of images that superimpose and succeed one another. In The Mirror and The Afternoon, for instance, a young man strolls through one of Rio’s most infamous favelas, the Complexo do Alemão, with a mirror under his arm, opening up different perspectives inside a single plane.
With these works, Dias & Riedweg succeed in showing, with sublime calm, what they have seen in the people and places they have known for over twenty years. As the artists explain, they “laud doubt and modesty as supreme virtues of subjectivity.” These works open up to lives and gazes that are not our own (and that we can share only until “the street separates us”), demonstrating that the world is an endless flow of images that superimpose and succeed one another but that can suddenly, almost miraculously, become ours for a moment, before they once again escape our grasp.
Texto traduzido para inglês por Clifford E. Landers e publicado na revista mensal Artforum, na edição de Janeiro 2013, por ocasião da exposição "Até que a Rua Nos Separe", de Maurício Dias e Walter Riedweg, no Centro de Arte Hélio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro, Agosto 2012.