Upon entering the upper gallery of Modern Art Oxford, there is something slightly reminiscent of an art foundation course exhibition in ‘The Family in Disorder: Truth or Dare’ (2018), an installation of ‘exploded’ materials, as if students had been asked to explore those materials, languages, and meanings, resulting in a rather haphazard assemblage.
But in fact this is the work of Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle who transforms – if indirectly – the architectural properties of Modern Art Oxford. This is a work by proxy: conceived by Marcelle, but created by a group of artists and technicians who were tasked not only with the construction of this installation, but all of the creative decisions regarding its form. This is somewhat ironic considering that this is the artist’s first UK solo exhibition. With a bewildering array of materials, including both natural and industrial, including bricks, soil, chalk, paper, and various other components, the installation is split between two rooms in the gallery; each space containing an identical set and quantity of materials.
The division of components is one of order and chaos. One room’s materials are laid out with the linear minimalist precision of Carl Andre, while in the second room, the material ‘explodes’ with similar results to Cornelia Parker’s ‘Cold Dark Matter’ – but without theatrical lighting – resulting in that ‘foundation course’ bent. This second room has been brought to life by artists and technicians Aline Tima, Aaron Head, Chris Jackson, Kamila Janska, Andy Owen, and Sebastian Thomas. In giving this work to local artists, the piece is imbued with subjective personal responses, giving these artists the opportunity to respond to their own city.
In doing so, Marcelle highlights social inequality whether it be in São Paulo or Oxford, for these materials reflect both favela and some of Oxford’s very own sites of social inequality via components easily found creating makeshift dwellings on our city’s streets. This ‘exploded’ room is the detritus of makeshift dwellings, littered with chalk, and paper, dust and soil.
The work also alludes to the conceptuality of substances, which is a language often underused: the poetry of Beuysian fat, or the iodine of the sadly forgotten artist Hamad Butt, gives way to the smell of chalk and soil, as the micro and macro elements form a dialogue throughout the space.
The second dialogue is the conflux of language: sculpture and installation. The Andre-esque sculptural universe of one room – where the viewer responds to the material as sculpture –remaining external to that universe and conversant with the work; is juxtaposed in the second room through the language of installation, with the viewer internal to that universe and integral to its language. There remains something slightly akin to an art foundation course exhibition in the Parker-esque ‘exploded’ room installation, where it seems the exploratory may well have given way to mobocracy.