AN INTERVIEW WITH ARTIST RUBIANE MAIA
Photograph by Hick Duarte, Victor Nomoto and Victor Takayama
Saturday, May 9 - 2015
There's a brutal truth in the subtle fact that our eyes cannot comprehend each and every action around us. Even if we do not see it, we still have to look at it. This harsh inability to grasp what is in front of us every time we encounter the development of the photosynthesis process that makes bean seeds grow green and tall in Rubiane Maia’s performance. The naked eye surely cannot see it at the first glance. Our naked eyes put us on common ground at Terra Comunal -MAI with an action that lasts eight hours a day for two entire months. An “indoor garden” isn’t just an indoor area when it's inside an exhibition space, it’s a laboratory.
There is a deep appreciation of process when Maia speaks. Returning, planting seeds, watering them, preparing the earth. Sleeping, resting, breathing. The seeds' growth is as imperceptible as some of our body's vital functions, especially in her own body, which appears exposed in the space. Maia presents The Garden [O Jardim] as part of MAI Presents, a program in which eight Brazilian performance artists show works curated by Marina Abramovic, Paula Garcia, and Lynsey Peisinger. Here, Maia explores her performance The Garden with writer and curator Ulisses Carrilho:
In your work, there's an appreciation for the process, rather than control of the outcome. How important is the formal result in your work?
Yes, my greatest appreciation is always for the process. In this work specifically, the formal outcome occurs in the encounter between two distinct areas: first the conceptual proposal and aesthetics, which combine the idea of creating, in a single place, a laboratory for 'indoor' cultivation and a bean garden planted in soil. And there’s the second area, which comes from the daily process, in which I come across errors, attempts, and experiences that happen between me and this place, between me and the plants, between me and my surroundings. These two axes establish a dialogue at all times, sometimes getting along well, other times generating friction. The initial design of the garden was constructed remotely as soon as I started research on how to plant indoors. As I have no experience with planting, I had to find out what the beans' would need inside an enclosed space, which wasn’t exactly suitable for their development. Then these clues gained momentum with the choice of space where the work would be performed, in the “Living Area” of he SESC, on concrete slabs. And today after almost two months, I have no doubt that this was the best choice for a location. I believe the formal result is as important as a result of all of these aspects combined, and because of the prevailing factors at the site. There's a flow of visitors who come to this area everyday, not to see the exhibition, they are there to read, play chess, study etc. In a way, as much as my performance may cause an initial defamiliarization with its strong intervention in the architectural space, my routine has been close to these people during the whole time. And with that, we began to share a moment living in silence. Of course, if the beans hadn't developed well under all these conditions, the performance would continue, but the result would've been quite different.
Surrendering to natural conditions isn't a common practice for artists. What is the place of control and what is the place where you lack control in your production?
I'll answer that question, but I’d rather change the term "lack of control" by non-control. I think of my practice, not just in this work, and control is the starting point: when I have to get a suitcase and pack all I'll need, what I consider really important for what I intend to do. Hence, I have to establish, at least minimally, what the performance will be like, and then create the rules, in addition to consciously getting rid of anything that isn’t vital to the work. I always end up creating a mental picture of the process, it has a beginning but it doesn't usually have a premeditated end. I study a lot, but I rarely test anything. During the performance, this suitcase is already prepared. I then surrender to this scheme of conditions, in which I use the instruments I carry, but am susceptible to all the things that I don't know. There's that initial control, which does appear often, but it's actually quite small in the midst of a multitude of affections or effects, that is, everything that overflows, that isn't the case, and that doesn't necessarily depend on me. I like the idea of allowing myself to be taken by the force of an action, for a state that is beyond concentration, altering consciousness, creating a kind of trance. The name isn’t so important, but to me, that's the scope of non-control, which escapes any pre-existing calculation. When it comes to this key point, the findings appear, because that's where we start to operate in a way that is beyond usual standards, fears, and expectations.
When planting seeds, you expect them to grow. Did you cherish expectations about the response to your work from the public?
I try pretty hard not to create any expectations, especially when dealing with an action performed in a place as popular as SESC Pompeia. In a way, this work gets the public to constantly be active, even if it's without a demand created by me. I don't ask anything of them, but I create a limitation in an open place meant for the constant flow of footsteps. People are interrupted by a garden in the middle of concrete. Some only observe it. Others inevitably ask about it - they want to know what's going on. Many people, especially regular everyday visitors, think I'm not associated with any artistic action, performance, even with Marina's exhibition, which is all around. I think that's wonderful. Now one thing I didn't expect, but which happened frequently, and which touched me very much, was the memory relations that the work elicited. As they approached the garden, many people began to tell stories related to planting, when they lived elsewhere, outside São Paulo, and farmed the land. Or, they depended on their parents and grandparents, who worked in the fields. They explained step by step how this work had to be done, from land preparation to harvest.
Besides the growth of the seeds, there's an organic movement of the human body in your work, even when stationary. It engages in the land, it rests in this laboratory setting. Whats this integration like? Does it come from mimesis?
This organic movement, this integration was not a fact, however. It was gradually conquered and incorporated. The plants grew and the body has grown along with them, not in action, but rather in presence. In the initial stage, preparing the ground to receive the seeds and seedlings required a lot of physical strength. 11 tons of earth are to be hoed, mixed and plowed by a 132-pound body? I was left absolutely exhausted. After planting was accomplished, after full germination, the process of photosynthesis using artificial lights had to be watched over. Only then I knew for a fact that the beans would develop - until then, it was a mystery. All this took almost a month, and that's when my body started to quiet down and there were moments of rest. Over the weeks, the plants have grown healthy, the need for efforts and my role in the garden became less and less important and, in addition to resting, the body had to shrink. I began experiencing the search to dilute my land, between the foliage, in the corners, in the hallways, entrances. Today, the routine in the garden alternates between maintenance- daily watering and general care etc.; motionlessness- body lying on the ground; and contemplation- observation, photography and drawing. There's a silence that is not merely the absence of words or noise. I don't think this integration, this silence, has an effect in terms of mimesis because what interests me doesn't come from a desire, or from seeking representation. What moves me is this living dynamic force that operates between the visible and the invisible, the affections and the creation of a territory that is beyond the physical, that which is existential. I think that's what allows for another way of perceiving things, to live in the small details; but it touches us directly in the moment, it's about a kind of magic. I once read a quote from [Walter] Benjamin and I found it amazing: the first experience that the child has of the world is not that "adults are stronger, but their magic inability.” It's a great loss, not being able to believe in magic.
I'm interested in thinking that we don't see the growth of the seed with the naked eye. We have to go back, stick to the records to understand the growth, even if it's constantly happening. What's the place of the imperceptible in your work?
I like this question because I identify so much with that statement. Ultimately, it interests me a lot, the fact that we're unable to see all the growth with the naked eye. It's a good thing that the eye doesn't realize everything. This reveals a very subtle dimension of my work. In the garden, the imperceptible occupies that key place. That's what makes people want to come back. I look at the plants a lot. I can watch them for hours and photograph them, draw them; but everyday I only find myself when I enter the space, because the plants are different from how I left them the night before. Some grew more, others wilted or yellowed; sprouting and rotting seeds, stems rising. There's no stagnation, everything is changing all the time. I think our perception expands in this insistence to achieve something you have no control over, there's some sort of synergy. I'll quote another phrase, this time a verse by poet Alejandra Pizarnik, who I'm deeply fond of, and it returns to me from time to time: “La rebelión consiste en mirar una rosa hasta pulverizarse los ojos.” It's a strong statement, an extreme one, which poses a question about how we face our limitations, our desire to go further. The other day, someone who saw the garden asked me if I was patient. I said no, I'm obsessive. But that's behind countless layers, in this case, the imperceptible - the passage of time in its minimum movement, which will be disclosed through plant growth, even through withering and death. It's amazing to realize how something extremely delicate, beautiful, can also be nerve wracking, agonizing, and fatal. I like the layers of these contradictions, such contrasts, where what is apparently simple reveals itself to be extremely complex, full of nuances. Or vice versa.
Terra Comunal - MAI is free and open to the public until May 10, 2015 @SESC Pompeia, São Paulo - Brazil.