The Right Things
Exhibition text - Gabinete de Arte Raquel Arnaud, São Paulo - 2000
In the beginning there were stones. And in the end, too. Stones are the objects with which Elizabeth Jobim started. With their sharp edges, a certain solidness and the frangible quality of rigid things, her drawings are also stone-like. Yet they are as flat as sheets of paper. And it is precisely this transition from one to the other which is of interest. Rather: how to go from solid, three-dimensional objects to drawings which, like few others, take greatest advantage of their physical limitations? At this junction, it may no longer be of any use to speak of anti-illusionism for, in order to discover her options, the artist has had to move beyond it. Starting from the strict bi-dimensionality of her drawings, she needed to create another dimension, as distant from both the impression of depth afforded by perspective as from a purely modern flatness.
And herein, I think, lies the originality of Elizabeth Jobim’s drawings. Her works are constructed with lines. There can be no doubt of this. For drawings, however, these lines are uncommonly wide. And, paradoxically, their greater definition does not lead to a solidification of the things they outline. On the contrary, the strips of color are too excessive for circumscribing solids. And because they are excessive, they take them apart rather than regularize them. They render too present all the edges which make them up. And thus demean their solidity. For nothing is solid that does not set aside its edges, revealing itself above all as dense matter, of a density unaccustomed to boundaries. The disproportionate width of these lines exposes the flaccidity of things which, by virtue of their diminished resistance, must gain overly austere boundaries.
The proof of this is likewise revealed in these lines. Wide as they are, they become gradually less regular, then soften and… run. And so arises another figuration of bodies. Its consistency is born from this new plasticity: the illusion of depth is replaced by the construction of a thickness so obvious that it loses its rigidity to become soft and sponge-like. As may be seen, we stand before (before?) a new cubism. Only now it no longer affirms itself through the capacity to furnish simultaneous views of all the facets of a solid. Rather, these drawings bring to surface the consistency of things, paradoxically, by softening them while creating a sort of internal three-dimensionality. The instability of these forms refers us to beings whose definition is not to be found in their external planes but rather in the porousness of their constitution.
Still lifes have always provided an index of our ability to arrange the world (1). In them, reality allows itself to conform to arrangements in which the accidental quality of nature is purified by more regular relationships where apples, pitchers and oranges bear a promise of harmonious coexistence, sharing the possibility of a universal affinity among beings. Elizabeth Jobim returns to this theme. Only now the world reveals itself to be excessively disposed towards this conjugation of differences. And here I find Philip Guston and Claes Oldenburg to be her great predecessors. How, finally, to deal with stone as spongy mass?
Oldenburg’s soft works speak of a time when intervention upon the world attained such potency that things no longer stand up. The advance of technology has caused things to lose their consistency. In their turn, Guston’s drawings and canvases (especially the ones from the late sixties and the seventies) pointed to an excess in painting which dirtied its themes instead of magnifying them. The matter from which beings were made also precluded their definition. At that point, it was abstract expressionism’s possible response to the supremacy of Pop.
Elizabeth Jobim does not wish to re-erect the world, to stand it upright. However, she moves one step beyond Oldenburg and Guston. Her works suggest the existence of intimacy within beings. The malleability which dominates them invites us to unravel their interior and renders apparently organic things which could be summed up as wholly external – stones. All this shows us, in the end, is that such interiority possesses all the richness of mattress stuffing.
Were we to stop here, we might have overlooked one crucial aspect of the artist’s work. For it possesses something beyond irony. Just as her drawings go beyond melancholy commentary on the impossibility of drawing, their meaning surpasses a simple verification of contemporary intranscendence. The availability of the world created by Elizabeth Jobim seeks to find some complexity where one might initially see only poverty. Somewhat in the manner of Beckett, her work identifies a certain grandeur in the cunning and blemishes of everyday life. It is the game between the banality of the world’s surface and the mystery of its meaning (to my mind one of the themes which runs through “Waiting for Godot”) which animates these still lifes. After all, mere renunciation would not qualify them to be among the best productions of contemporary Brazilian art. As in still lifes, things are one step away from finding the right place, the positions in which we all make sense. Were it not for the suspicion that the very notion of meaning would then become worthless:
-What do we do now?
-Yes, but while waiting.
-What about hanging ourselves? (2)
A bit like us all, these drawings beg for comprehension while disbelieving in it. The instruments of reason have brought us too far. They are ready to adapt to a better form but know, perhaps, that better days have passed. They are tame and humble at heart, ven if heart is now little more than a muscle made of rags.
(1) A particularly illuminating discussion of the subject may be found in “Collapsing Drawings” by Paulo Venâncio Filho. Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro, 1998.
(2) Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot. Grove Press, New York, 1954.