'Tragedy was palpable in the aire', Pilar Quinteros & Patricio Blanche, Ding Musa, Carlos Nunes, Chantal Peñalosa and Elza Lima

Artists: Pilar Quinteros & Patricio Blanche, Ding Musa, Carlos Nunes, Chantal Peñalosa and Elza Lima

Dates: September 09th to October 29th

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Curator: Tiago de Abreu Pinto

Artists: Pilar Quinteros & Patricio Blanche, Ding Musa, Carlos Nunes, Chantal Peñalosa and Elza Lima


— Here, I’ll read it to you — holding a newspaper.

— Go on — inhaling tobacco smoke.

— Let’s start with the headline. It says here… hold on. Here. — starting to read aloud.


On March 11, I visited Bolaño again. There was a phrase that stuck with me: “tragedy was palpable in the air”. Especially because, when I disembarked the plane in Santiago de Chile, I was greeted by people wearing space suits. It seemed that the situation was far more serious that we had all thought. Where had it come from? It was there in the air but where had it come from? They had grounded all flights to Brazil and I remained stranded in Chile, like Robinson Crusoe, until they reopened the air border almost 3 months later. In the meantime, I sent messages to local artists and together we created a project entitled al aire, libre which took place in various cities in Chile. Later, in August and September 2020, I further developed the project in various cities throughout Brazil and Mexico. On behalf of the gallery this time, I renewed my collaboration with five of the nearly three hundred artists who formed part of the al aire, libre project.


— Wait. I’m going to skip forward to the artists. — resuming reading.


I talked to Carlos Nunes about his work on August 17, 2020. This is when he told me about the “Birutas”. That’s what his works are called. In Portuguese, the title means “windsock” or “weather vane”, in other words structures which move with the wind, indicating its origin, direction, or when it changes. At this moment (and now, too), it seemed very pertinent to Carlos to focus on this movement.


— Just so you know, they’re not weather vanes exactly.

— I imagined — exhaling a spout of smoke.

— You know what I’m talking about? Weather vanes always have some sort of pointer that shows the direction of the wind, or a cross showing the four points of the compass, you know? But these works don’t contain anything of the sort… I like this bit — resuming reading.


They’re like quixotic windmills.


—…— glancing over.

— Yes! — they both smile. The reading resumes.

— … — gaze silently lowered for a moment.


They all have an element of being able to navigate freely in the moment, of letting themselves go. They are works created at the height of the pandemic in Brazil. At that time (and perhaps still now), we had no guidance, no direction. To put it another way, they measure the lack of atmospheric orientation.

— That’s what I was saying — with a nod of the head.

— Totally — expelling another spout of smoke.


In Brazil, the state of public administration is disastrous. Ding Musa also refers to this in his political practice (he is part of groups such as Fumaça Antifacista), as right now in Brazil the air seems to envelop us with an ominous density and heaviness.  Carlos’ works make reference to this aspect too. And at the moment of installing and activating them, he wasn’t in São Paulo. So he went about installing them in different places (in the middle of the forest, on the side of the road, in a building somewhere) and recording their presence on film in the deserted landscapes.


— In the exhibition — clarifying the text — the sculptures are displayed next to the video that Carlos made of them — bending to grab another tobacco stick .

— These have nothing to do with those works that he did for the ACAC, the east museum in Aomori, northern Japan, do they? — exhaling tobacco.

— I think they do, because they’re quite similar to them in form. What were the titles? — frowning.

— “Oncotô, Quencosô and Proncovô …”.

— Ah, yes, of course! — mouth lifting in a half-smile.

— Carlos told me that they sounded like Japanese to him. And, of course, they refer to Brazilian colloquialism and regionalism.

— What do they mean again? I don’t remember.

— Where am I? Who am I? Where am I going? — smiling.

— Ah, of course! — returning the smile. The reading resumes.


The city of Belém is where Elza Lima began her career.  In 1985, when she was in the Faculty of History, she entered a photography contest to showcase Belém’s old town. Back then the idea was to take photos of the people who lived there (merchants, teachers, fishermen, beggars, etc.), as well as the city’s architectural aspects. Although, for her, neither one nor the other were as essential to telling the city’s story as animals. Animals had accompanied her throughout her entire life (since she was a small child), as well as that of the city. Thus, the photograph displayed in the exhibition, and which won her the contest, is one of the first 24 analogue photos that she took during her career: it depicts a kettle of vultures.


— By the way, they’re in another work in this exhibition.

— What are? — confused.

— Vultures. They’re in Ding Musa’s work too.

— Oh! Why?

— Why are they in his work? Em, I think it’s to refer to the work they do cleaning up our planet. They talk about it somewhere… Here.


… they eliminate sources of infection that could spread disease.


— Perhaps it’s also a reference to the cosmogony of Brazil’s indigenous peoples.

— To what?

— Davi Kopenawa talks about it in La chute du ciel (“The Falling Sky”). That when ghosts die they turn into flies and vultures.

— And what’s that got to do with anything?

— Well, I don’t know. Air, I suppose. Invisibility, the phantasmagorical aspect … There are flies and vultures in the exhibition, that’s why I’m telling you. I don’t know. It caught my attention when he says… — holding out the newspaper.


If you take a walk through Belém’s local market, there are always vultures close by. They are an intrinsic part of Belém. They’re everywhere and they co-exist fearlessly with the city’s human inhabitants. And no-one messes with them either. In other words, there is a close relationship between people and animals, even if you don’t want them by your side. The vultures are such a constant presence, Elza told me, that people don’t even look at them.


— … — smiling in silence.

— Can you imagine? — smiling while inhaling tobacco smoke.

— There’s a tribute to that Chilean jazz trumpeter … Cuturrufo … — looking down in search of the name. — Cristián Cuturrufo. He died of COVID-19 last year, remember?

— Yes. What does it say there? Pass me another cigarette, will you?

— Here — throwing over the pack. — It says they started with a phrase that he said: “There’s no shine to COVID.” And that it was… — reading.


…the irrepressible energy blowing life into his instrument. He didn’t stop because he couldn’t. The same way none of us can stop doing our own thing.


— Totally — sadly exhaling smoke.

— Yup.


(They remain silent for a moment, smoking and reading respectively.)


— Pilar got stuck in Coyhaique. Looks like they cancelled her flight.

— Really?

— Yes. And that’s how she met Patricio.

— How lovely! — smiling.

— … — also smiling while continuing to read silently.

— Wow! She says that on May 4, 2020, when they cancelled her flight, they had just imposed a complete lockdown. And the absurdity of this whole situation is that today, on June 12, 2021 they have imposed another full lockdown.

— Don’t even talk about it — looking at a small strip of sky through the window.

— I know. Mentally it’s still very difficult, the air still feels thick with it. The general mood is still very low. People are being contaminated by it. More than ever, we need an atmospheric stimulator.

— Totally — surrounded by a haze of tobacco smoke. — And what did they have there?

— A bunch of huge, bizarrely outlandish handmade fabric trumpets that grabbed you and hugged you. And a video tribute to Cuturrufo.

— I don’t even remember what it’s like to be outdoors listening to music. The reverberation of music in the midst of people. How does it resonate? I don’t even remember how music resonates in the midst of people. Or sharing air with people.

— Me neither. It reminds me of what Sara Ahmed said about breathing.

— What?

— That fundamentally it’s about aspiration.

— Oh, yeah.

— “The struggle to have space to breathe”.

— Yeah. What else does she say?

— I was just about to tell you why I find the Chantal Peñalosa thing curious.

— What do you find curious?

— That she was working in a restaurant with no customers. Chantal’s job as a waitress didn’t exist. Her job was to wait.

— But why were there no customers? Because of COVID?

— No. This was in 2014. There were no customers because of where in Mexico the restaurant was located. So while she was waiting, she began to develop her work. This is the video that I told you about where she tries to catch the fly. She says…


… and, in the case of this tiny winged insect, it was a playful movement, a game. In the restaurant the idea was to look for the fly and catch it to prevent it from bothering, for example, a customer (?). But more symbolically, with the camera, what Chantal is doing is trying to catch the fly through the image: putting it in the frame. Framing the ubiquity of a volatile and ephemeral living being (let’s not forget that for the Greeks, flies evoked the omnipresence of the gods).



— How funny. In this dead, silent dining room … how does something so small have such an impact on the space?

— It reminds me of those Dutch still lifes that have a fly painted on them, you know?

— Yes. Yes. Referring to mortality and corruption. Of course.

— Yes.

— And? What else?

— There was a curious photograph of Ding Musa entitled “do discurso político brasileiro” (“on Brazilian political discourse”). It says here…


… the breath of current Brazilian political discourse with all its aggressiveness and violence. The photograph shows a considerable concentration of sky and clouds surrounding a strange oval object located towards the bottom of the frame. It is a baptistery (where baptisms take place) in Brasilia.


— In other words, the crossroads where Brazil’s political and religious discourses meet.

— Yes. The mysterious, cryptic form of the building compared to its functionality made me think a lot about metaphysics, the significance of these discourses and how they are destroying a country. Listen to this…


… in my view, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think of its similarity to a kind of toxic concentration of clouds, to the cloudiness recorded on April 22, 1915 on the Yprés front, as mentioned by Sloterdijk in “Terror from the Air”.


— And, in the end, it links to Ding’s video “Os Buracos” (The Holes), which deals with various related issues, for example, the Anthropocene and the invisible or hidden social disasters that can happen to a society. I’ll read what he says about the video… hold on.


We see a blue sky and (once again) vultures, silently hovering over what is hidden from the viewer: a 75-metre-high pyramid of rubble and waste in the state of Rio de Janeiro. This pyramid was surrounded by a complex ecosystem of human beings who lived behind the scrap metal. The vultures tracing mandalas in the air are the primary cause and natural indicators of what is anchored on the ground. And what is on the ground becomes a subordinate derivation of the aerial dimension. This place no longer exists, no doubt it will have been moved to another location that I am unaware of. But what we can say is that this place, in the words of Nick Shay, “was science fiction and prehistory.”


— There’s also this idea of ​​the aerial view, the view that these vultures have. They witness what we don’t see.

— Exactly! As soon as I saw it, I thought of a comment by Achille Mbembe that “most of the policing is done from the air.” But here, there were only vultures. No doubt they wouldn’t be interested unless a body appeared there and if that didn’t happen, it would be a vulture sky.


(They stare in silence at the patch of sky above their heads).