Fresh from a residency in France this summer, resulting in the exhibition Hands, Spells and Papers at La Galerie, centre d’art contemporain, as well as inclusion in the 32nd Sao Paulo Biennial, Brazilian artist Ana Mazzei’s work brings together sculptural and performative elements to create immersive installations which touch upon ideas of architectural studies and masterplans, and the relationship between the work and the gallery space, as well as the viewer.
As the curator Camila Bechelany describes so succinctly, Mazzei’s work encompasses “the eternal and diverse relations between man and history: landscapes, architectures, fictions, theories and archives… pieces and fragments of myths, lives and fictions that are represented in drawings, videos, sculptures and installations.” In Mazzei’s upcoming exhibition this November at Green Art Gallery in Dubai, she will build further upon recent artistic investigations, in what she refers to as questions of “placement, identity and spirituality.”
Anna Wallace-Thompson: Where do you get your ideas from?
Ana Mazzei: Often the result of a project arises from the very need of that project, other times from a desire to accomplish something visually or materially interesting to me. I work with space, yet my work is physical: it exists as a real object. As such, I do things with material – with objects – that occupy a space. A project arises because I will have a need to put my thoughts into practice. So, if I do not have somewhere to put them (that is, show them) I often stop working on them and they remain, or exist, only on paper – in my notebooks.
AWT: Viewer interaction is an important element for you – has viewer feedback ever served to further develop a specific body of work?
AM: I think that the analysis and understanding of my work has more to do with who reads and talks about it than any desires or intentions on my part as the artist. There is an element here of ‘learning from the past’ and I have realised that the observer is a key figure in the construction of my works, as they are navigating the exhibition space around it.
AWT: And your interest in architectural structures and master plans; where does this stem from?
AM: I like to look at things from other points of view, changing my perspective as needed and bringing this through to the viewer. I examine various issues related to space: dimension, proportion, symmetry and texture. Many different disciplines dialogue with these concepts, and one of them is architecture. I am interested in how architecture thinks about space and what is around us.
AWT: You take shapes and reduce them to their most basic essence – linear forms and geometric forms that resemble structures, buildings or machines. What is the process here?
AM: I think it is a search for what exists in the simplest and most original form, a looking for a sense of origin.
AWT: There is also an extremely tactile element to your oeuvre – the material shines at the fore. How do these various materials speak to each other?
AM: I think the materials speak for themselves and I look for diversity: with wood, I can attain a plastic result that satisfies me, as I can paint it, sculpt it or leave it in its natural state. Felt, meanwhile, provides texture: it is soft, though as a material it does not often respond to what I want, so then I need to change and look for something else. This prevents me from getting attached to any one material.
AWT: The impression I get is that the work you had at the recent Sao Paulo Biennial and now in Hands, Spells, Papers, marks a new level of refinement, as it were. There seems to be a more holistic integration of lines and shapes to create works that exist as a complete tableau in which the viewer can immerse themselves rather than an installation of complementary but separate elements…
AM: Maybe, though I do not know for sure. I feel like I'm experimenting with ways of doing things. I want to achieve something, but I do not know yet if it's refinement or simply more control over what I do. The presence of the viewer and the ability to create an immersive connection between them and the work – that remains the core desire.
AWT: This touches upon my earlier question, but tell me more about this immersive connection. Just as a curator thinks about how a viewer or a body navigates the exhibition space, what are things you take into account?
AM: Well, I think here we need to define better what immersion is: the act of dipping something in a substance, of completely covering it. It might be something physical, such as plunging a body into water, or metaphorical, such as becoming totally immersed in a project. Now, I think an exhibition results from a series of choices and risks: I want to construct an immersive environment in which my works become central players in a scenario that explores the boundaries of fantastic and geometric escapism. My drawings and sculptures reflect the delineated experience of living in São Paulo and breathing violence and pollution in a setting in which luxury and extreme poverty coexist.
AWT: And the experience of doing your residency in France…?
AM: The exhibition title, Hands, Spells and Paper, reflected what was in my head at that moment. There are, as you can see, three elements: Hands, which have to do with doing; a Spell or magical transformation from one thing to another, and Paper as a neutral material capable of grouping ideas. The result was slightly different from what I had originally planned, but overall I was happy, and can have some food for thought from that experience.
AWT: The drawings on the wall in Hands, Spells and Papers provided a documentary element, laid out on tables, on the wall…
AM: The drawings were made in Paper and with my Hands, they are the beginning of a kind of narrative without beginning, middle or end. In them, I put down ideas, drafts, errors, superstitions, recipes and, of course, ideas for projects – in the sense of a supposed ‘planning’ of what was to come. The drawings do not follow a linear assembly, but create a labyrinth; there is an empty space between them, a gap of thought. The main thing here was not to do something rational and objective, but rather, to leave the ideas free to circulate around the space.
About Ana Mazzei
Born in 1980 in São Paulo, where she is still based, Brazilian artist Ana Mazzei is interested by men and narratives and their inseparable relationships. It is from this perspective that her work develops and grows. For the artist, art, architecture and landscapes construct, in themselves, a fiction that connects them, resulting in installations, settings and objects. Some of the works operate on a smaller scale, such as the series of installations arranged on the floor formed by groups of small shapes made of felt, concrete or wood similar to the architectural models of old cities, amphitheaters or monuments. Beyond the formalist exercises, these floor objects invoke unidentified stories that suggest hidden and impenetrable archetypal structures. This dual movement, suggesting and retaining the symbolic value of the objects, is recurrent in her practice. Mazzei’s artworks are like pieces and fragments of myths, lives and fictions that are represented in drawings, videos, sculptures and installations. At other times, her works function as observation devices framing this vast repertoire from a specific point of view. Focusing on a widely experimental practice, the artist appropriates different sensorial materials, such as felt and concrete, connecting to the environments in which she works.