In Search of Time Lost – An Insight into the World of Alice Quaresma
The waves gently lap a sun-kissed beach, and white triangles litter the landscape. The horizon shimmers in the distance, whilst straight lines and sharp angles scar the scene. Christ the Redeemer looms over the city, framed by an electricity pole and a rectangle of black paint. Shelves and shelves of books extend as far as the eye can see, delineated by white lines. A building on a street corner is nearly obscured by the intensity of the sunlight streaming directly into the lens. Fortunately, it is put into perspective by the open triangles drawn on top of it.
Memories. Some are beautiful, some are painful, others are indistinct. We all have them, and we all lose them. They slowly recede into the far recesses of our minds until many are completely forgotten. The fear of losing their memories has led many an artist on a wild goose chase to record them for posterity. Marcel Proust famously attempted it in his novel A la recherche du temps perdu by painstakingly describing each and every event in his life. Chris Marker reflected on the futility of such an endeavour in his film Sans Soleil, as did Christopher Nolan in his movie Memento. Undeterred, Alice Quaresma considers memory an important concept in her work: “This project [Roots] addresses nostalgia and memory by revisiting places in Rio de Janeiro that remind me of my childhood. I photographed familiar spaces that do not necessarily describe a recognizable location but focus on capturing the essence of memory.”
Pictures are not blessed with the golden haze that memory provides.
Investigating memories through photography often seems a good idea at first. But photos have a tendency to over-record, to register too many details, to provide too much information. As Lee Friedlander once put it: “I only wanted Uncle Vernon standing by his own car (a Hudson) on a clear day, I got him and the car. I also got a bit of Aunt Mary’s laundry and Beau Jack, the dog, peeing on the fence, and a row of potted tuberous begonias on the porch and 78 trees and a million pebbles in the driveway and more. It’s a generous medium, photography.” Pictures are not blessed with the golden haze that memory provides. The result quite often leads the artist to cover up the images, to scar them in one way or another, to comment on the accuracy and reproducibility of photographs by adding imperfect but unique visual elements derived from other media.
It is as if the artist cannot bear to deal with the memories directly, but can only present them obliquely. Julia Borissova, for example, uses plants and flowers in her series Running to the Edge to cover up parts of photographs belonging to the first wave of Russian emigrants in the 1920s. It is a comment on how with the passage of time details are erased from memory and replaced by imaginary ones. To create his series Drowned, Seba Kurtis threw entire sheets of film into the surf of the Canary Islands. Afterwards he retrieved the damaged pictures to represent all the lives and memories of African migrants who tried to cross the ocean but failed to reach the promised land.
Roots was a process of rescuing my identity.
The recent body of work by Quaresma is not so different from the aforementioned artists. She photographed certain places because they have become an index for her memories. At the same time the tangibility of those places simplifies her memories and excludes other possible images of them. Something else is needed, as the photographs of the places themselves are not enough: “Roots was a process of rescuing my identity. In the studio space I worked over the images with geometrical lines and casual acrylic brush marks, creating a duality between documentary and imaginary.” It is an interesting development for the artist, who started out as a fine-art photographer, but has in the last few years expanded her art practice to include other media.
Quaresma became interested in art in general and in painting in particular around the age of twelve. However, when she got to her BFA, her inability to express herself through painting in the way she wanted led her to photography, a medium she had been exploring for some time. A major influence was the Dusseldorf School of Photography. As Quaresma explains: “Bernd and Hilla Becher fascinated me with their comparative grids of mundane industrial buildings which they captured with an objective and clinical eye. Thomas Demand caught my attention with his precise paper setting with a lack of intimacy and personal traces, a grim situation that he represents in such a clean and untouchable way.”
Painting is always unique because it relies on the human hands. A photograph is reproducible.
The influence of these artists can clearly be seen in her early projects American Home (2009) and Two People and One Hundred Places (2011). Both series consist of very clean and stilted photographs of mundane objects against a white backdrop. Quaresma was interested in how people’s identities are shaped by their homes, as well as how the home reflects the identities of the people living there. “In an empty studio I reproduced minimal settings with personal objects that belong to a home. The personal objects and furniture clash with the cold and emptiness of a background that is expected to be cosy and welcoming. A home is composed of its personal characteristics and weirdness, which is not present in these photographs.”
But with her next series, Memories (2012-13), Quaresma took her art practice in a new direction: “I decided I was going to move away from the precision of the lens and the control of the camera in favour of an organic and subjective area (painting) that would allow my errors and vulnerabilities to show.” But there was more to it than simply letting go of control over her work: “At the moment, in my art practice, I am interested in getting away from the flatness of the photo paper and introducing layers of materials that create their unique textures and bring context to the work. A lot of the time the photo and the other media create a duality. I am intrigued by the way painting, drawing and sewing oppose photography in its purpose. Painting is always unique because it relies on the human hands. A photograph is reproducible.”
Industrial colours could not exist in nature, and here they visually mark the extreme differences between these two worlds.
Geometrical shapes and lines are a recurring feature of Quaresma’s latest projects Roots (2013) and Beasts (2013). “The geometrical figures in the Roots series deal with creating space inside the photograph, building a duality between documentary and imaginary. The lines create imaginary spaces.” The geometrical shapes are also indicative of the influence of the neo-concrete art movement on her work.¹ In Beasts, however, they are used in a less controlled and perfect way. Whereas in Roots Quaresma stuck to using white, grey and black paint, in Beasts she used vibrant colours : “The interventions created in each piece directly on the surface of the work emphasize the break between the natural and the mechanical. Industrial colours could not exist in nature, and here they visually mark the extreme differences between these two worlds.” In the project she is currently working on, Nest, Quaresma has started to use yet another type of intervention in the form of coloured stickers. It proves that, as she puts it herself, “Today I consider myself an artist, where my concept dictates my material.”
Alice Quaresma (b. Rio de Janeiro, 1985) is an artist who lives and works between New York and Rio de Janeiro. She received her MFA from the Pratt Institute in New York in 2009 and her BFA from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London in 2007. Her work has been exhibited internationally, at venues including Mercedes Viegas Gallery in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 and PS122 Gallery in New York in 2011.
This interview was first published under the title ‘Recherche’ in Foam Magazine # 39 Talent. To purchase a copy, click here.
¹The neo-concrete movement was a splinter group of the 1950s Brazilian concrete art movement, calling for greater sensuality, colour and poetic feeling in concrete art. With the construction of the country’s new utopian capital, Brasilia, and the formation of the Sao Paulo Biennial, young Brazilian artists were inspired to create art that drew on contemporary theories of cybernetics, gestalt psychology and the optical experiments of international artists like Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely. Source: tate.org.uk