A Conversation with Cecilia de Medeiros
Elizabeth Cherry; Tuscon, Arizona
Hohenthal und Bergen; Cologne, Germany
Cecilia de Medeiros is a Brazilian artist living and working in Cologne, Germany. She recently had an exhibition in Tucson, Arizona at Elizabeth Cherry Contemporary Art. This interview took place by fax between Elizabeth Cherry and Cecilia de Medeiros during the week of April 25th, soon after the artist's opening of "Love (variations on an incident)" at Hohenthal and Bergen in Cologne.
Elizabeth Cherry: In the invitation for your exhibition at ECCA, you quoted Paul Virilio, "To see what you wouldn't see, to hear what you wouldn't hear, to be attentive to the banal, to the ordinary, to the infra-ordinary. To negate the ideal hierarchy from the crucial to the anecdotal . . . ." How does your interest in French theory affect your work?
Cecilia de Medeiros: My interest is focused on literature as a whole, rather than just on French theory in particular. Of course this doesn't mean I'm not interested in French philosophers such as Deleuze, Foucault, or Barthes; it just means I don't see them placed in a different category than that of Georges Perec, Cioran, or even Baudelaire. Take Nietzsche, for example: Can anyone read him as purely philosophical, ignoring the enormous dimensions of comedy, tragedy, and poetry in his books? In any case, I often depart from texts, and become "tri-dimensional." Sometimes I use texts as part of the work--sometimes my own, or excerpts from other writers or sources. I like to think of what I do as a poetic experiment, a subversion of the "for Real-deal." I propose other ways in order to look at what we always do, and see it for the first time--just as in poetry, when a word is used to represent something it otherwise never would. So, it reveals new depths of signification and possibilities, until then veiled by familiarity. Familiarity is anesthetic to the senses . . .
EC: You have been a foreigner for a great part of your life--first as a child, when you lived with your family in England, then later in Italy and France. For the past decade you have lived in Germany. Does the situation of always being a foreigner influence your work?
CdM: Most certainly. A great part of my work is based on this state of Entfremdung. But the feeling of being a perpetual outsider is also one of eternal awe. I like this not-belonging anywhere. The "abroad" starts, for me, where my body ends. What at first seemed traumatic became simply a very specific range of action. To observe things in a detached way, unemotional, almost brutal, like children can be. A foreigner is somehow always a child. He has innocent eyes. No preconceptions. He often experiences very simple situations as great adventures. James Joyce once said that in order to become a writer one has to search the exile. I feel the exile has been fundamental to my developing a particular way of approaching forms and facts.
EC: What is it about the society of consumption that it plays such a large role in your work?
CdM: Well, now, this is a "habitat" from which there is no escape. It's all over the place in an embarrassing mix of the obvious, and the insidious. It influences the way people understand aesthetics, our needs and desires. I can't help but be fascinated and terrified by it.
EC: Do you feel your work has any feminine aspects to it?
CdM: I think it's more for others to judge if the feminine aspect is prominent in what I do. In any case, while I am doing it, I'm not really concerned with that matter. Except for the fact that I am a woman and it through a woman's perspective that I see this "man's world." This world of James Brownses . . .
EC: A lot of your pieces are extremely worked upon; one can see "the hand of the artist" at work (i.e. eggs, where the wax is worked into the grooves, and your recent "love books" where each page is painstakingly built). The other works are on the opposite side of the spectrum: found objects presented in a new setting (the mozart's, pig, and the series "Die Moderne Hausfrau"). How do you see these works in relationship to one another?
CdM: Well, it's very much about creating a suspended situation--one that at first confuses and detaches, and then proposes an alternative way of experience through displacement. In order to provoke this state, I might use different strategies. I must use different strategies. Sometimes dislocation in space alone will do, taking certain data and placing it in another context; other times I might use a surgical approach directly on the body of matter. I am certainly not interested in creating a "line" of products, easily recognizable for marketable reasons. I am rather interested in proposing a spot outside the Newtonian model, you see.
EC: The viewing of art is an interactive experience. Your work is much more forceful, as immediate mental action is required in order to even begin interpretation. You have taken this interaction one step further in the present exhibition at Hohenthal and Bergen in Cologne by 1) placing an ad in the newspaper, searching for your "Traummann" and 2) setting up couples who have also placed ads and inviting them to your opening to meet one another (or perhaps someone else). This is a real adventure. How did it turn out?
CdM: Well, it didn't yet. It is still happening; it's a work in progress. In the moment when all the individuals become involved, the work starts to exist through them as well, almost like in some sort of kardecistic practice. It develops its own rhythm. It attains, at last, a certain autonomy from my palette of thoughts, and goes to haunt other peoples desires. "Go! Belong to someone else." I then say, "Like an 'Alien IX' compulsory adopted, go!" I say. And it does.
EC:. What other artists interest you?
CdM: Balzac, Bunuel, Mondrian, Proust, van Gogh, Borges, Nietzsche, Lewis Carrol, Clarice Lispector, Marcel Duchamp, Fassbinder, Fernando Pessoa, Martin Amis, Villem Flusser, Georges Perc, Elfriede Jelinek, Samuel Beckett, Miles Davis, El Greco, John Zorn, Geto Boys, and many others.