Concrete Jungle at the Annka Kultys Gallery is a video exhibition set on the first floor. Two works are projected on a wall, with another one broadcasted to a screen with separate headphones. “Is that all there is?” one might wonder. The content of the videos is nevertheless charged in emotions and subjects that invite reflection. At the end of this roller coaster is a dazed outlook on the relationship between human nature and reality.
The three videos have the Brazilian modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer as a common ground. The exhibition further explores human presence deemed fit to shine in society, while also digging its own traumas in another sphere called denial. Two of the videos are shot on the edges of The Copan building, a social housing project located in Sao Paulo meant to surpass class barriers. The third one is shot in Casa das Canoas, Niemeyer’s home built in 1951 nearby Rio de Janeiro. The difference in architecture between the two buildings already sets the tone. It is one illustrating social gaps, and acting as a reminder of Gilberto Freye’s racial mixing theory, which was elaborated to understand Brazil’s rich culture and advancement in history.
In “Canoas”, Tamar Guimares highlights the striking denial in which the intellectual minds of the wealthier class are oblivious to the condition of the less fortunate population of Brazil. Guimares recreates a simple, yet effective case in Niemeyer’s rounded signature home, with people drinking and dancing, while being waited on by servants, the subject of their political and supposedly intellectual discussions.
In the two other videos, “Scaling Copan”, and “Sensitising”, by artists Michelle Williams Gamaker and Julia Kouneski, the setting takes place on the rim of the 38-storey Copan building. Shot outside, the sound of the city, the cars, sirens, and the crowd overlays the breathing of the women, leaving us listening to our own breath and experiencing acrophobia. “How does it feel to fall?” one might wonder. This sense of falling emanates from the very first seconds of each video, and remains throughout the entire film. The two artists never stop their performance and we wonder how they are able to survive the anxiety. In one video, they crawl on the thin edge of the outside of the building, in the second, still on the thin edge, they breath in plastic bags, healing each other.
Air, breath, and anxiety was approached by Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, and is used in this second film to isolate breathing as a valid component to any human being in the midst of chaos. In a way, we are being brought back to the fundamentals of life. Society might be having us dangling on the edge of a tall building, but as long as we breathe and help each other out, we might be able to go on with our lives.
Perceived from a microscopic, or a wider spectrum, Concrete Jungle is a social affair. It holds on to Brazil’s history to open the debate on social inequalities, racial mixes, and culture shocks. All these concerns, symbolized here by the austerity and the harshness of the concrete have to deal with an untameable and wild jungle, materialized by our contemporary society- two radically opposed materials which relentlessly make the effort to coexist.
Concrete Jungle at Annka Kultys (22 February – 18 March 2017)