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Brasília, Cars, Pools and Modernities


San Antonio

11–September 15, 2013


Over the past few years, Los artist Clarissa Tossin has creating portraits of her native Through a series of works include video, sculpture, and site-specific actions that to the architectural creations of fellow Oscar Niemeyer, Tossin has the contradictions inherent in the famed practice. A self-proclaimed communist, 1 aimed to produce an architecture was “for the people,” yet the conditions and that produced his work in underlining (and perhaps entrenching) the social and class that existed (and to exist) within Brazil.

White Marble Everyday exemplifies this incongruity. The video depicts three using rudimentary methods to the Niemeyer-designed white marble in Brazil’s capital, Brasília. a watering can to dispense cleaning industrial squeegees, and copious of water, the workers reveal maintaining the building’s opulence on the labor of the working class. In work, the performative action/video to Sacolândia (2010), the artist the former housing site of the who built Palácio da Alvorada, the palace in Brasília. Called (Bagland), the workers’ residence was from leftover cement that were used to Palácio da Alvorada. When on the building was completed, Sacolândia was to build the artificial lake on the palace grounds, and the workers relocated to an area outside of the Tossin responds to this by constructing a model of the presidential from cement bags, is then floated on Paranoá and on video. Tossin thus the failure in the architect’s schema—as as the overall failure of Modern conceit—to level the social of the city of Brasília and, by Brazil.

Clarissa Tossin, Marble Everyday . 2009. HD video, 5’42” (loop). the artist.

Tossin’s practice also the ways the architecture and mapping of the predicate how specific bodies the cityscape. In her print-based series by Foot (2009–13), she begins an appropriated Google satellite of the city that exposes the made by pedestrians through the sections of the city, which are within roadways. Using image as a guide, Tossin the footpaths and then documents her in a series of prints, each one after the number of steps to complete the walk. She uses the from the ground as a base for the ink to make the prints. As presented in projects, most workers, who lack the wherewithal to own vehicles, conversant with the interiors and of architectural spaces either their labor, like the cleaners, or through intimate of mobility, such as walking or These interactions are often by economics or class and do not afford the experiences of either architecture or the that one experiences in a vehicle. a structurally and hegemonically enforced and exterior emerges in Tossin’s where the interior is privileged.

In Cars, Pools and Other (2013), Tossin continues the paradoxes inherent in Niemeyer’s but her focus shifts slightly. In show, which is the result of her residency at Artpace, Tossin together a series of objects reveal similarities between the of Los Angeles and Brasília. Specifically, the draws our attention to the entrenched car and pool cultures that two “tropical” cities share. The in Brasília, Cars, Pools and Modernities   revolves around the of Brasília. The inauguration of the city as the new capital in 1960 was intrinsically to the re-mapping of that terrain urban planning, in tandem the predominantly Niemeyer-designed architecture gave the city its character. timed with a surge in the automotive industry, the city was around the infrastructure of the highway and the notion of progress.

Clarissa Tossin, Brasília, Pools and Other Modernities . Volkswagen Brasilia, cleaning equipment, single-channel video, book, aluminum plaque, photo transfers and drawing. commissioned and produced by Artpace San Photo: Todd Johnson.

In sparse installation at Artpace, the on display are a combination of readymade or objects and handmade things by the that work together to this history of class and labor, particularly the associated of manufacturing and industry that Brazil in transitioning to the next in its development. Placed at eye level one wall in the gallery space is a aerial view of Brasília. In the photograph, intersecting roadways swaths cut in a field. This is paired with a framed for the Volkswagen Brasilia—a now-defunct that was developed and produced in from the seventies to early for the domestic market and later to other South American Mexico, and the Philippines. In Portuguese, the ad for the VW “Brasilia. Proven success in the most difficult paths.” 2 two found images speak to the on both vehicles and driving that exists in Brasília, but to the sense of forging new paths so to the era. Across from pairing is a framed photo presents a panoramic view of the at the Niemeyer-designed Strick House in Santa Monica, California. residence was Niemeyer’s only architectural project realized in America (although he co-designed the Nations Headquarters, in 1953, in New City with Le Corbusier). A of another Niemeyer-designed building, The Congress, a government edifice in Brasília, rests atop of the Alongside the print of the Strick are two smaller framed photographs of a VW One depicts the car parked in Brasília; the shows the same car parked in of the Strick House in California. The and juxtapositions in this composition the functionality—private and public—of the two types of structures. At the same time, the of the same VW Brasilia in both collapses the distance between and California.

Volkswagen Brasilia

Clustered on the opposite end of an adjacent is another collection of materials: a sketch of the Strick House on by Tossin, which is hung a framed view of the façade of the House, and a wood podium holds a sealed copy of the Modernist Paradise and a typed addressed to Niemeyer. In close is a plaque that proclaims the House as a Santa Monica (a replica, one assumes). The floor of the is prominently occupied by an actual Brasilia, replete with cleaning supplies. The presence of the simultaneously calls forth the for a new era of modernity in Brazil, the failures of urban planning, and the seduction of car These points are driven by a folded newspaper (from placed on the seat, which the headline: “Brazil’s love with the car leaves public trailing.”

Clarissa Tossin, Cars, Pools and Other . 2009–2013. Single-channel HD video, Part of the installation of same Video still. Originally and produced by Artpace San Antonio. of the artist.

Certain objects in Tossin’s installation highlight between work and leisure, and lower classes, and utilitarian and concerns. Due to its low cost and the ease which it transports tools, the VW was commonly used in Brazil by cleaners and other workers maintenance for the wealthy. Likewise, the Congress building was the site of protests centering on the rising of public transportation, demands for and accessible public transit, and the costs related to the World Cup event that will be in Brazil in 2014. Tossin’s of the Strick House in black ink on contains three sketches: one an aerial view of the house and complete with pool, the other two are cross sections of the interior. The sketch replaces the one would expect to represent the plan and attests to Tossin’s own in producing it. Viewers who regard the images of the Strick House are to reflect on those whose produced the structure. The average art will associate it with Western architectural modernism, as as with a middle-class or affluent of living. Yet Tossin disrupts type of reflective myopia. separate element of the exhibition is chosen because of how it represents a historical moment of Modernism in and is positioned to draw us closer to an resolution, which is a final with the Strick House.

Joseph Strick, a filmmaker, Niemeyer’s work during a to Brazil for a film festival. Strick and his wife Anne, who purportedly enamored of Niemeyer’s commissioned the architect to design Santa Monica home. a visa to the United States, due to a socialist, Niemeyer was unable to the building site in person. He the house based on aerial and topographical surveys and oversaw through letter correspondence. responds to this predicament two specific actions. In the first, a letter, the artist writes to the architect and recounts her dismay learning that the current of the Strick House, who positions as an admirer of Niemeyer’s aesthetic, to have no interest in either the political leanings or the utopian that informed his work. In the response, the artist makes the that the architect himself was to make during construction. The is documented in a sculptural video on one end of the gallery. From one side, a screen constructed with resembles a highway road On the other side of this a projected video features the supposedly driving the VW Brasilia Brasília to Santa Monica in to perform a pool cleaning at the Strick House. The video with a shot of a skimmer dragged through azure water, then cuts to entering the car in Brasília. Alternating vibrating interior footage a loud humming emanating the car’s motor and steady shots of the car traversing a vast of highway overpasses, the narrative up to the artist emerging from the car it is parked in front of the Strick In the final scene, she retrieves cleaning supplies from the and knocks on the gate to the backyard.

It is here that the shift in work is most visible. several of her prior works, in the artist documents the actions of or provides an overt interrogation of the of Niemeyer, Tossin implicates in this project. Because do not see the knock at the door being the work hangs in a state of suspension. This sense is by the fact that the artist’s is addressed to a recipient who is no longer to respond. These gestures Tossin in a liminal state in a sense, convey the dislocation of the herself. As an expatriate who returns to the of her birth and childhood as the source for her artistic practice, she hovers in an space. As clichéd as it may seem to it in this manner, the knock at the can be read as the artist confronting her own to Brasília, Niemeyer, and the complicated legacy of Modernism. It can be argued Tossin’s earlier pieces a sense of remove that can be attributed to the artist’s own class and position in relation to Niemeyer’s Tossin’s own practice occupies a that is located in between the work that is performed by who are charged with the production and of Niemeyer’s creations and Niemeyer’s practice. The (art)work that produces is reliant on her own physical yet the fact that she toils the realm of art making places her in proximity to the architect. The fact is her is contingent on both. The letter the artist drafts to the deceased reveals that although she may be of Niemeyer’s attempts and failure to utopian ideals through his she is equally insistent that ethos is an integral element of his that should not be overlooked. Her act in the of dragging the skimmer across the conflates her work with and the numerous invisible workers who produced it, implicating the labor of in the others’ output. It also these entanglements to the architecture which manifests the politics, and history that brought it being.

Sally Frater is a curator and based in Houston, Texas and Ontario, Canada.    

Footnotes Ouroussoff, “Oscar Niemeyer, Who Gave Brasília Its Flair, at 104,” The New York Times . 6, 2012, 4–5.↵ Translated by Tossin, October 23, 2013.↵


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