Pia Camil

Dallas Contemporary, Dallas, USA

A highlight of the 2017 spring season in New York was the clutch of exhibitions featuring abstract artworks by women. The Museum of Modern Art presented the art historical corrective ‘Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction’, and more inspiring still was the Met Breuer’s Lygia Pape retrospective and Luhring Augustine’s well-timed companion show of objects by fellow Brazilian neo-concretist Lygia Clark. Pape and Clark were among the leaders of an avant-garde group of artists who experimented with geometric form and colour in 1950s Rio de Janeiro. In the following decade, they applied this language to participatory ‘open’ works that celebrated the city and its diverse inhabitants, from Clark’s ‘Bichos’ series (Critters, begun c.1960) – hinged metal sculptures that anyone could reconfigure – to Pape’s Divisor (Divider, 1968), an enormous white cloth through which people of all ages and shades were invited to poke their faces and march together in the streets.

dc_pc_24.jpg

Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

This history hums in the background of ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, Pia Camil’s current solo exhibition, which occupies nearly 1,200 square metres of the cavernous, converted warehouse of Dallas Contemporary. ‘A Pot for a Latch’, Camil’s 2016 solo project at New York’s New Museum, invited visitors to add to and take from commercial goods she installed on grid-like racks. Similarly, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’ engages with the informal commerce that defines daily life in Mexico City, where Camil was born and is based (bara is short for the Spanish word barato, or cheap). 

The larger of the show’s two galleries holds the installation Divisor Pirata (Pirated Divider, 2017), Camil’s homage to Pape’s famous work. The version here is a patchwork of seven colourful tarps stitched from cotton t-shirts that hang low from the ceiling. The work’s structure references the source of its material: the t-shirts were manufactured in Latin America for consumer use in the US, and then shipped back over the border for resale in informal markets in Mexico, many of which are shaded by tarps. At nearly 800 square metres, Divisor Pirata is impressive, and while its material connection to the inequities of transnational commerce will register for some viewers, its reference to Pape’s piece is much clearer; during the run of the show, it was even deinstalled and paraded through the streets of Dallas.

dc_pc_43.jpg

Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

Camil’s work is more absorbing and lyrical when she synthesizes the history of abstraction and the commercial landscape of Mexico City using visual language distinctive to her own practice. A curtain of five hand-dyed and stitched canvases (Espectacular Telon Toluca I, III, IV, V, VI, 2014) divides an adjacent gallery, which also holds four more canvases, stretched like paintings, and a half-dozen ceramic pieces, called Fragmentos. On one side of this room, a low plywood platform, supported by buckets, serves as a plinth for four of the ceramic vessels. They upend their rigid, geometric shapes (one forms an ‘L’, another an ‘I’) with chromatic shifts in glaze – yellow fades to white then purple, rust turns to black – that emphasize the artist’s hand, just as their hollow centres evoke the human body. Elsewhere in the gallery, several ghostly clay forms resembling masks (Bust Mask Jade and Bust Mask Chalk White, both 2016) animate the commercial shelving units upon which they rest.

dc_pc_23.jpg

Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

The show truly comes alive, however, with the hand-dyed and stitched canvases, all but one of which echo the shapes and colours of the geometric ceramic forms. The stretched canvases are sumptuous, yet the more than 20-foot-long curtain commands attention, with a scale that reveals the source of Camil’s abstract language: the ‘L’s, ‘I’s and hues have been lifted from fragments she encountered on abandoned billboards in and around her home city. The curtain’s shapes, colours and flowing curves evoke the rich history of women experimenting with abstraction, particularly in Latin America, and revitalize the relevance of this language by bringing it into contact with new materials and current lived experience.

 

 

Main image: Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

Issue 189

First published in Issue 189

September 2017

Most Read

From Linder at the Women’s Library to rare paintings by Serge Charchoune, the exhibitions to see outside of the main...
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
Ahead of the 52nd edition of Art Cologne, your guide to the best shows to see in the city
‘I'm interested in the voice as author, as witness, as conduit, as ventriloquist’ – the artist speaks...
In further news: a report shows significant class divide in the arts; and Helen Cammock wins Max Mara art prize
A genre more associated with painting, an interest in the environment grounds a number of recent artists’ films 
A new report suggests that women, people from working-class backgrounds and BAME workers all face significant...
The divisive director out after less than six months by mutual consent
In further news: Gillian Ayres (1930-2018); Met appoints Max Hollein as director; Cannes announces official selection
With miart in town, the best art to see across the city – from ghostly apparitions to the many performances across the...
From Grave of the Fireflies to The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the visionary director grounded fantasy with...
In further news: art dealer and Warhol friend killed in Trump Tower fire; UK arts organizations’s gender pay gap...
Emin threatened ‘to punch her lights out’, she claimed in a recent interview
As the Man Booker Prize debates whether to nix US writers, the ‘homogenized future’ some novelists fear for British...
‘Very often, the answer to why not would be: because you’re a girl’ – for this series, writer Fran Lebowitz speaks...
The artist is also planning a glass fountain of herself spouting her own blood
‘The difficulties are those which remain invisible’: for a new series, writer and curator Andrianna Campbell speaks...
With ‘David Bowie Is’ at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Glenn Adamson on the evolution of the music video – a genre Bowie...
Under a metahistorical guise, the filmmaking duo enact hidden tyrannies of the contemporary age
The area’s development boom isn’t just in luxury property – the art scene is determined to keep its place too
In further news: Laura Owens’s 356 Mission space closes; John Baldessari guest-stars in The Simpsons
With his fourth plinth commission unveiled in London, the artist talks archaeological magic tricks and ...
When dealing with abuse in the art industry, is it possible to separate the noun ‘work’ from the verb?

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018