Mira e Brasil– posted in Colorado, September 2, 2018

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Mira Schendel, untitled, 1966, watercolor and oil stick on paper.

The Portuguese words “que beleza” in the image above by Mira Schendel can be translated in several ways into English. They could mean “what a beauty,” or “what beauty,” or “how beautiful.” I love this ambiguity and multiplicity of meaning. Even though I know very little Portuguese I understand it to be a subtle and beautiful language.

I posted about Brazilian artist Mira Schendel (1919 – 1988) in September of 2017 before my last trip to Portugal. Mira (as she was known) has been on my mind for several years now. I am going to Brasil September 25th to study her work in the museums of São Paulo and then travel to a small coastal village near São Sebastião and stay at the Kaaysa Artist Residency for four weeks: https://www.kaaysa.com.br/

I am beginning my research and intersubjective process now with this remarkable woman artist of the 20th century. I have been reticent to take on a new artist with my specific form of “embodied research” that I have enacted with Portuguese conceptualist Helena Almeida (b.1934), Russian/ American avant- garde filmmaker Maya Deren (1917-1961) and Indian minimalist Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990). My process, research and travel with these three artists has been remarkably productive and has pushed the boundaries of my work in drawing, performance and photography. I have surrendered in some way with each artist, a form of falling in love and mirroring my own work in theirs. The results have been potent, particularly the performative works I accomplished in Portugal with Helena Almeida as my initial inspiration. So now the process begins again with Mira…

I am compelled by Schendel’s work for many reasons. I am interested in the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings of her work, her use of language and symbols, the looseness as well as the specific meaning of her paintings and drawings. We share common interests in phenomenology, though she was much more studied in philosophy than I will ever be. We also have shared cosmological and spiritual interests in Eastern philosophy and very specifically in the I-Ching.

I am also interested in her as a transnational and refugee artist moving from Europe to South America after WWII. Mira spoke 4 or 5 languages- German, Italian, Portuguese, French and English and used language in her work in a wonderful way. In São Paulo she was involved with philosophers and concrete poets as well as other artists involved in the South American modernist movement. I will be going to São Paulo to look for her work in the museums there and I hope to meet curators who have studied her work and written about her. I will also learn more about contemporary Brazilian art – São Paulo has a sophisticated cultural scene and by coincidence the Bienal de São Paulo will be going on while I am there.

Mira Schendel is considered one of the most original and important artists of her time in Brasil but she is little known here in the U.S. Mira was a prolific artist with works on paper and on acrylic, paintings as well as sculpture and installation. There was a large exhibit of her work at the Tate Modern and at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo in 2014, that exhibition traveled to the Serralves in Porto. I also missed the recent exhibition Mira Schendel:  Sinais/Signals  at the Museo de Arte Moderna de São Paulo. So I  do have the beautiful catalogues and I will perservere to see how I can see her works in person while in São Paulo.

 

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Mira Schendel, The Return of Achilles, 1964, oil on canvas.

This is a short biography from the exhibition at the Serralves website:

“Mira Schendel was born Myrrha Dagmar Dub in Zurich in 1919, to parents of Jewish heritage. She was brought up in Italy as a Catholic, studying philosophy at the Catholic University in Milan. During World War II, because of her Jewish roots, she was forced to leave university and stripped of her Italian nationality. Becoming a refugee, she travelled through Switzerland and Austria to what was then Yugoslavia. In 1949, she emigrated to Brazil, where she began her trajectory as an artist. She recalled: ‘I started painting in Brazil. Life was very hard, I had no money to pay for paint, but I bought cheap paint and painted passionately. It was a matter of life and death.’ In Brazil in these early years, largely self-taught, she adopted new approaches to painting, learning from the example of artists such as Giorgio Morandi, Giorgio de Chirico and Paul Klee. From around 1953, when she moved to São Paulo, Mira Schendel began signing her works simply Mira.”

 

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Mira Schendel, untitled (Todos), 1964. oil on canvas.

 

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Mira Schendel, untitled, 1965, oil transfer drawing on rice paper.

 

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Mira Schendel, untitled, 1965, oil transfer drawing on rice paper.

 

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Mira Schendel, Objecto Graphico / Graphic Object , 1967, graphite, transfer lettering and oil on rice paper with acrylic.

 

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 Mira Schendel, Still waves of probability / Ondas paradas de probabilidade, 1969, first installed at the Bienal de São Paulo, (shown here installed at the Tate Modern, 2014).

 

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Mira Schendel, I Ching, 1970, watercolor on paper.

 

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Mira Schendel, I Ching, 1970, watercolor on paper.

 

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Mira Schendel, Untitled, c. 1985, tempera and gold leaf on wood.

 

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Mira Schendel – I am not sure when she did this one but she did a whole series of Mandala paintings and I particularly like this one.

 

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Mira in front of her painting Todos (which was painted in 1964).

I am excited about Mira and Brasil for many reasons. Of course I am excited about São Paulo and the the Bienal de São Paulo. Alternately the Kaaysa Residency is on the Atlantic coast in a small fishing village on the Praia de Boiçucanga. It looks beautiful and a whole new territory for me – there are rain forests and waterfalls and a new group of artists whom I hope to get to know (even with my limited Portuguese). I hope to work on my own drawings, photographs and possibly some new performative works in the landscapes/waterscapes of Brasil. Vamos ver…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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