Cinthia Marcelle: Paper Barriers

The artworks that comprise Herramientas desobedientes feature elements typical of Marcelle’s work, such as the use of simple materials or the invitation to make changes to the artworks. Yet each piece exudes depth and a certain meaning that leads us to question how the world would be if we were to abandon social rules.

The other room contains… What does it contain, exactly? Hard to say. Some kind of guided explosion, a (well thought-out) choreography of disorder: black strips of cloth hang from the lofty ceiling; the white walls are covered with plastic discs; on the floor there are pieces of paper arranged in the shape of a pyramid, a heart or some have been turned into alien-like figures; in one corner we see white bags harbouring sinister, unknown contents; and there are bits of rope, stones and red dust strewn everywhere. Here we also find a black mat covering the floor, criss-crossed with white markings. Little by little we start to recognise the objects we saw before. Now, free from their packaging, their positions changed, broken, frayed, they have formed novel relationships. The neurotic order found in the first exhibition space is now chaos, or better yet: a new order. The divided space and impenetrable wall give way to a scene that stimulates movement in unexpected ways.

The rooms comprise the phenomenal work A família em desordem by Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle. At the same time, the installation is at the heart of Ungehorsame Werkzeuge (Herramientas desobedientes / Disobedient Tools), the exhibition that the Marta Herford Museum in Germany, curated by Anna Roberta Goetz, dedicated to Marcelle until the end of May 2023.

Cinthia Marcelle was born in 1974 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. She now lives and works in San Pablo. Her work has been displayed in a variety of places, including Modern Art Oxford, MoMA in New York, PinchukArtCentre in Kyiv and Museo de Artes Visuales in Santiago, Chile, as well as in several biennials. Recently, her work has featured in major panoramic exhibitions: at MACBA in Barcelona, Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) and now at Marta Herford.

A família em desordem could well be thought of as a kind of “encyclopaedia”, encompassing the motifs and issues dealt with in the rest of Marcelle’s oeuvre.

At the start of the exhibition in the museum, we find a roll of Velcro tape hanging from a wall (Obra dinâmica: à procura de sentido). A metal padlock hangs from one end of the tape. In other areas of the museum there are two other pieces of tape displayed in different way. Visitors are allowed to remove them, alter their arrangement and put them somewhere else. As with all of Marcelle’s video projects, the video installation Confronto is based on the concept of simple routines performed by people who work in the same profession. In this piece, we see the lines of a zebra crossing. Whenever the traffic light turns red, street performers take to the crossing and juggle in front of the cars waiting at the light. The group grows bigger every time the performers step out. When the light goes green, the artists retreat. However, when the group gets to eight people, the routine breaks: the artists continue to juggle even though the light has changed to green. How will the drivers react to this sudden derogation from the rule?

Her other works break with other traditional hierarchies. In Em-entre-para-perante #2, metal tools usually used for breaking, cutting, dismantling and digging, have been wrapped in shoelaces. They’ve been, let’s say, decommissioned. Por via das dúvidas #3 consists of a wall standing on a sheet of paper using pieces of masking tape. It’s as if Marcelle is mocking the very idea of “barrier”. And in Cerca Miragem (300 mourãos), three hundred fence posts have been pulled out of the ground and placed upside down against a wall. Now they form a new fence, yet one which is useless, as it fails to delimit anything at all and could be broken down with a single push.

These artworks feature elements typical of Marcelle’s work: the use of simple materials, collaboration with working class people, or the invitation to make changes to the artwork. But there’s something else that gives the artist’s works depth and fascinating meaning, especially when considered together. Each piece invites us to reflect on social and institutional rules: To what extent do these rules interfere with our everyday behaviour? And what happens when these rules are abandoned?

Similarly, through her installations, videos and objects (whose elements flow and do not behave as they “should”), Marcelle questions the way we perceive standard objects, mechanisms and hierarchies, as well as concepts such as “order”, “chaos” or artistic “authorship”.

To visit the exhibition is to witness the elegant yet emphatic deconstruction of notions that we’ve come to take as fixed. We witness what is happening in Marcelle’s artwork, we take a step back and suddenly we feel as though we can see (or could—should?—see) the world, the relationships between people, everyday things and the institutions that determine those relationships in a totally new way.

Moreover, the interplay between the two rooms that make up A família em desordem is revelatory: each room evokes contradictory feelings; the way things are displayed are radically different, so much so that it would seem that the objects themselves are different. But strictly speaking, both rooms mirror each other to the extent that they could be one.

Cinthia Marcelle: Ungehorsame Werkzeuge (Herramientas desobedientes / Disobedient Tools)
Marta Herford Museum, 04.02.2023 – 29.05.2023

Hernán D. Caro, author and editor, was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and has been living in Germany since 2001. Doctor of Philosophy from Humboldt University of Berlin. He has collaborated with media outlets in Latin America and Germany, including the magazines Arcadia and Deutsche Welle. He is a freelance writer for the Sunday issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. He was co-editor of C&AL from 2018 to 2021 and is currently co-editor of Goethe-Institut’s online magazine Humboldt.