Brazilian artist Laura Lima’s work has infamously flouted even the most provisional classifications art discourses run on today, let alone the traditional ones. Based in Rio de Janeiro, and initially spurred on by interests in law and philosophy, Lima continues to cultivate a body of work that builds on post-relational art concerns and the aesthetic, if not political, principles espoused by the fallout of the Brazilian Neo-Concrete Movement, in both theory and practice. Lima herself has intervened in the semantics of explaining her work, coming up with her own terms like “images” and the “equation” of “Man=flesh/Woman=flesh (Homem=carne/Mulher=carne),” which is also the name of her notable on-going series of works. Lima’s art consists of worn or used objects, contrived or pre-existing environments and “live” agents – whether human or animal – among other elements. Yet she has always at least disputed the categorisation of performance, emphasising instead the importance of a more dynamic “assemblage” of contingent interactions between artworks, inhabited spaces and the people with whom this encounter happens. In her first solo gallery show in the United States at Tanya Bonakdar titled ‘I hope this finds you well.,’ some of the various different but essential facets of Lima’s practice are highlighted. By showcasing an introduction for a new audience, the exhibition also provides for a space where whatever the artist wants to propose can be put to the test.
Most visitors to ‘I hope this finds you well.’ will most likely encounter the work ‘Alfaiataria (Tailor Shop)’ (2019), first. Itself the third iteration of an on-going series, ‘Tailor Shop’ occupies the entire first floor space of the gallery. Four local outfitters make up the staff of a veritable tailor shop, which is concentrated on one side of the show space, equipment and all, while the other half is reserved for the works they finish, to hang up on the walls. Two tailors cover a morning shift; the other two cover an afternoon shift and visitors are more than welcome to talk with them. The works they are producing using their own materials, their skills and their creativity are all based on sketches provided by Lima. The sketches themselves are displayed on a nearby wall. One side of the space seems quite inactive, with the finished works hung up as if from a traditional art show; the other half is active with physical movement, talking and the sounds of the tailors’ tools at work.
The second floor is occupied by a series called the ‘Nomads,’ a selection of new works from a group of works titled ‘Wrong Drawings’ (2018-2019), and a selection from another named ‘Agrafo.’ The ‘Nomads’ consist of copies of old landscape paintings dating from centuries prior, with figures or other elements cut out or replaced, then folded and shaped into “masks:” the results resembling something made for a folk masquerade. The ‘Wrong Drawings’ are assemblages of cotton, though also containing pieces of charcoal, which the artist expects will gradually dye the other elements. The latter ‘Agrafo’ series, which resemble the ‘Wrong Drawings,’ are named for the word “unwritten” in Greek. The rather large piece is a concoction of differently coloured and patterned fabrics. Intricately, though chaotically tied, and hung up from the ceiling, traces of the work fall to the floor, the shape of which echoes a wrapped up canvas and conjures a mystery of what might be inside. The ‘Agrafo’ is said to only reach its “completion” after a cat has had its way with it.
Lima’s concerns are nothing if not a challenge to the traditional ways of approaching art, at least for a layman. In ‘I hope this finds you well.,’ the viewer is able to witness (almost) the entire process of art making from beginning to end: from creativity and skill in action to the final exhibition space and audience participation. Viewers are invited to consider how conventional works of art are violently wrestled from their natural environments and put on display as if they were pieces of a wardrobe to put on or to puzzle over. Through it all, Lima is able to articulate and weave a dynamic contingency between her works, the gallery space and the visitor, all the while without losing any of the inherent mystery involved.