Março/ March 2013

Miguel Rio Branco, untitled, 2012, video projection (color, sound, 3 minutes, 52 seconds), vibrating machines, metal plates. Installation view.

Following an artist’s career for more than twenty years, we construct a memory of him as an amalgam of images and experiences that have fascinated us and come to belong to us. I’ll never forget the first works I saw by Miguel Rio Branco: photographs of boxers training, highlighting the sensuality of the athletes’ very imperfections or the gleam of sweat on their skin, and the extraordinary film Nada levarei quando morrer, aqueles que mim deve cobrarei no Inferno (I’ll Take Nothing with Me When I Die, Those Who Owe Me I’ll Collect in Hell), 1979-81, an exercise in gentle voyeurism revealing glimpses of the secret side of Salvador, the capital city of the Brazilian state of Bahia. But to complete the synthesis of memories, what viewers most hope for is an exhibition that offers more than the sum of what they thought they already knew: one that provides a broader vision of the diversity of the artistic process, as well as an immersive experience that evokes the very atmosphere of the artist’s world, his studio, and his places of inspiration. This is what Rio Branco achieved in his recent solo exhibition “La mécanique des femmes 2” (The Mechanics of Women 2), whose title he borrowed from a 1994 novel by Louis Calaferte.

The ground floor of the gallery feature a sampling of works ranging from 1968 to 2012 and passing through Brazil, Germany and Japan: singular images of great power, such as the photo Horses Eye, 1998/2012, which seemed to dominate the room; polyptychs organized with a noteworthy spatial and chromatic rhythm, such as Motel de Babel, 2005/2012, in which the artist spies on an intimate scene inside a motel room, or Cinelândia, 1992/2012, in which he frames the legs of women on the street; and paintings that could be abstract but whose color and organic forms hint at female bodies. Light tables and display cases housed colored lithographs, albums, photographs, and objects, just as they might be found in the artist’s studio.

The untitled 2012 installation on the upper floor of the gallery, by contrast, was a total sensory experience, involving not only sight and sound but also touch (one could feel the texture of the blanket that served as a curtain at the entrance, or stroke the metal plates attached to the walls) and smell (for example, of the rubber covering the floor). A strange mix of studio, pub, brothel, and mechanic’s workshop, the installation incorporated a number of separated works, including a video projection (Peep Show, 2012, another exercise in furtive voyeurism), photographs, photomontages, and assemblages of objects including some very noisy mechanisms that suggest vibrating dildos but are in reality components of machines used in making beer. The accent was on eroticism, not only in the pictures taken from porn sites in Canal+Pornô, 1984/2012, but also in the photographed forms in Coxinhas Francesas (French Thighs), 1984/2012, or Electra, 2012, which appear sexual, almost obscene, but are really images of animals.

Rio Branco’s work is not reducible to voyeurism (despite his ability to discover and show what, as a rule, will not be seen) or to fetishism (despite the unique sensuality with which he photographs surfaces). Look again at skin’s voluptuousness in photos such as Leninha Verde (Green Leninha), 1979/2012, Maria Solo, 2011/2012, or Unhas Vermelhas (Red Nails), 2011/2012: His work is a matter, above all, of finding or creating and offering an atmosphere – something that must be felt with all the senses awakened.

Texto traduzido para inglês por Clifford E. Landers e publicado na revista mensal Artforum, na edição de Março 2013, por ocasião da exposição de Miguel Rio Branco na Galeria Millan, São Paulo.

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