“To put it another way, my work is an attempt...to give meaning to the ephemeral. To do this, obviously, I have to freeze the instant itself....”
In the early 1960s, the artist Mira Schendel received a large gift of thin Japanese paper. It transformed her practice, giving rise to thousands of Monotipias and culminating in her Objetos gráficos of the 1970s, made while she dedicated a decade to the investigation of the medium of drawing and its potential. The obsessive yet delicate qualities of these works ranged from a single thin line pressed into a page to dense, teeming layers of marks and symbols trapped between acrylic sheets.
Schendel was keenly aware of the barriers that language and culture could create between people. Because of her Jewish heritage, in 1939 the Italian government revoked her student visa and forced her to find another country. By the time she immigrated to Brazil in 1949, she had lived in three countries and spoke six languages. As a European immigrant to Brazil, a student of philosophy, and a bibliophile, Schendel found her affinities to be more often in line with poets, theologians, and scientists than with the artists in the Concrete-art movements that dominated the art world in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s. In the early 1960s, she continued to delve into the larger philosophical questions of life in her work, while simultaneously pushing at the edges of drawing, printing, and sculpture.
Objetos gráficos powerfully demonstrate her singular approach. The works comprise sheets of Japanese rice paper that were marked with printed, typewritten, and/or dry-transferred letters and numbers, symbols, and signs. The sheets were then arranged in overlapping grids pressed between two pieces of clear acrylic and hung from the ceiling, transforming the artist’s marking and ordering gestures into free-floating objects.
The artist remarked that the acrylic enabled her to “concretize an idea, the idea of doing away with back and front, before and after.” The fusion of drawing and sculpture changes the relationship between the viewer and the work: “It allows for a circular reading with the texts as the unmovable center and the reader in motion,” Schendel explained.
For those who encounter these works, language is neither readable nor completely unreadable, but presented as an intuitive, poetic, and physical experience. Schendel said the works were “an attempt to bring about drawing through transparency.” Her experiments give density and form to both the metaphysical questions of life and the difficult search for answers.
Note: The opening quote is from Mira Schendel's typed manuscript, unsigned and undated from the Arquivo Mira Schendel, reprinted in Luis Pérez-Oramas, ed., Tangled Alphabets: León Ferrari and Mira Schendel exh.cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2009), 60.
Beverly Adams, The Estrellita Brodsky Curator of Latin American Art, Department of Painting and Sculpture, 2022