Debora Hirsch: Somewhere under a vast solid dome
Galerie Dix9, Paris
Curated by Lara Pan
May 18 - June 15, 2019.
By MARK BLOCH, June 2019
Debora Hirsch likes to hover around the edges of representation and language, exploring their limits and mirroring them back to the Internet. She intertwines different realities, realms, approaches and concerns. Each work can be viewed individually with pure aesthetics in mind but they also lend themselves to being deconstructed or decoded intellectually. The works then connect with each other, establishing similarities and contrasts. She builds a larger picture out of detailed elements ripped from their disparate contexts: landscapes, architecture, decorative motifs, and particularly elements borrowed from American colonial imagery which has to do with her heritage. She then reconstructs or rebroadcasts them via computer networks, thinking of analog scientific representations that penetrate to a microscopic scale where they intersect with digital language and algorithms.
Hirsch is a Brazilian artist born in Sao Paulo and living in Milan. Her current show in Paris was smartly curated by Lara Pan who has worked with many Brazilian artists before including Otavio Schipper, Sergio Krakowski, Roberta Lima , Paolo Nimer Pjota and Luiz Roque. Hirsch's mixed-media show incorporates acrylic, oil and ink works on canvas, as well as a five screen video installation and her mirrored digital video piece, The Iconography of Silence.
I asked Debora Hirsch some questions about her Paris show, currently being presented at Galerie Dix9.
Mark Bloch: One description of your art refers to “the colonial period in America, particularly in Brazil and the digital colonialism that reigns in the contemporary world.” What is meant by the term “digital colonization”?
Debora Hirsch: Our data is being collected, analyzed. We are being profiled, controlled by mechanisms that become sophisticated over time. Big companies are selling our data to other companies and politicians, and this data is being used in several ways to influence our behavior and thoughts.
MB: And so you see parallels between that and other areas of colonization? In the “New World” or say, in Indonesia or Africa?
DH: I am focusing on the colonization of the Americas, especially Brazil, where the legacy of the Colonial period is extremely determinant of the way our society is structured today. And then I draw parallels between it and the digital colonization. For my work Firmamento, I built an archive of more than 4.000 images and indeed part of this archive relates to the colonization of the Americas imagery, part relates to graphic visualizations of algorithms that elaborates on our data.
MB: How do you bring those together?
DH: The imagery is very clean. The edges are crisp. I often use the line and that is a paradox because a line usually establishes confinements, it may separate one area from another area, or one historic period from another. Instead, in my work, I look for a harmonic coexistence of elements where space and time coexist. With my paintings and video I try to give a moment of suspension from a fragmented and “noisy” world, a moment of introspection.
MB: So when you say linear you don’t mean that metaphorically?
DH: Yes, I am talking about the lines I draw in the paintings.
The aim of this artistic research was to find a common meeting platform for a variety of seemingly disconnected elements such as decontextualized architectural details, forms of digital language, symbolic decorative elements, and above all, historic colonialist imagery, which I relate to the digital colonialism that we experience today.
MB: Are you working on a few levels at once?
DH: My art, is a reflection about the influence on culture and society of contemporary means of communication platforms and technology. Some artworks are aimed to engage and catalyze conversation.
MB: Does it work?
DH: One of my drawings from my 2016 series donoclickthru asks “If everything is out there, what is left within you?” The imperative sentence donotclickthru is also the url: donotclickthru.com. It presents a succession of drawings and texts, which simulate a typical web communication format, the Internet ephemera.
MB: Internet Ephemera. That is an interesting term. What on the Internet is not ephemera?
DH: It is not ephemeral in the situations where the Internet generates ideas, projects, education, money, business.
MB: OK go on. You were saying you use a typical web communication format...
DH: Our curiosity gets triggered; we must fill that knowledge gap. Clicking is the perfect type of pleasure, it is exquisite and it leaves one unsatisfied. The more you find the content disappointing, the more you will come across it again. “What goes around, comes around.” My website tries to play with it and reveal this type of mechanism.
MB: How does this lead to colonialism?
DH: In my work Firmamento, for example, I try to draw attention towards the common interconnected network which we are all dependent on. I look for similarities between the historic colonization period of the Americas and the digital one. I then represent elements that are denaturalized and coexist in a circumscribed environment. They influence and interact with each other. But at the same time they are paradoxically monadic.
MB: So how does the drawing figure into it? Each drawing is meant to stand alone?
DH: I developed different representation techniques that contribute, on one hand, to the obliteration of the original meanings of elements, and on the other hand, to a detached coexistence between platforms.
For example, I drew inspiration from traditional Portuguese tiled panels. I decided to substantially modify the formal aspects. These panels were created by the Portuguese to convey values to the locals when Brazil was still a colony of Portugal. I used different colors from the originals, which were typically blue and white. I also used subtle, very fine lines, to create delicate shapes which hardly touch the canvas, rather than the strong and thick brushstrokes used on the original panels. My almost imperceptible lines and the creation of interspaces combine to decontextualize and deprive the patterns of their origin, keeping only the general layout.
In my paintings, forms from the digital world often look deteriorated, sometimes blurred, as a result of a technique of re-painting under and over the lines. The purpose of this is to allude to the deterioration of digital in a post-technological age.
MB: Tell me about your process.
DH: When I start work on a project, I begin by creating it on my computer, then I start to paint, adding layers and combining elements, many of which were not foreseen during the initial conception of the work. Therefore, within each piece, there is the constant possibility of variation and mutation, based on intuition and experience.
MB: So you are perfectly happy working in the analog world?
DH: I have been working both with paintings and video. Video can be considered to be fully integrated within the digital world, whereas painting is a traditional and ancient form of media. It is interesting for me to develop my ideas on both levels.In the Firmamento video, as well as in the paintings, when I use graphic visualization from algorithms, it does not matter to me the population and parameters that are being analyzed. Mine is more an aesthetic decision to convey the idea of ubiquitous and surveilling presence (for example the floating squares in the video).
With this project, I have also inserted organic shapes into my works for the first time; they are drawings which I have being doing in an almost unconscious manner since I was a teenager. I do not know what they are. Some people can see bacterial life, amoebas, internal organs, parts of the brain or the uterus, or simply decorations. I simply think that they just fit there. This kind of primitive component is neither conceptual nor metaphysical, but rather it simply exists to interact with and influence the perception of the other elements in the paintings.
MB: Tell me about the two video pieces The Iconography of Silence. One is words, the other images.
DH: The Iconography of Silence strongly influences Firmamento and vice versa. I have been developing both at the same time.
For the last three years I did volunteering work in an institution that helps women victims of abuse. They rescue women in danger situations. My involvement was circumscribed to my research, I received training and helped in the screening phases of the process where it is fundamental to suspend any judgement, get the information and visualize possible paths.
During this volunteering work in Milan, I was also researching about the different types of legislation, I was listening to seminars and talks from the academic world, from the institutions that support women and from the victims themselves. I was totally involved with the issue and wanted to learn more about its dynamics.
The Iconography Of Silence was pretty intuitive. I was not necessarily thinking about it from an art point of view. \In the past, I did a work that dealt with twelve humanitarian problems and activists, with one of those twelve issues being domestic violence. The activist was Frances Power Cobbe, an Irish woman from a prominent family, born in 1822. she was a pioneer in dealing with domestic violence and wrote in 1878 Wife Torture in England, a text that ensured passage of a parliamentary bill that allowed for women’s legal separation from abusive husbands with right to maintenance and custody of children under ten.
MB: Those images are choppy and clunky. I assume that was intentional.
DH: The way I avoid showing the action itself, favoring the tension, was by selecting just two frames of the video and repeating them during nine seconds. Most of the scenes of physical abuse were caught on hidden cameras. I have selected hundreds of scenes from internet, but the majority is not aesthetically suitable for the work.
MB: You present your work on mirrored surfaces.
DH: The Iconography Of Silence lies on that difficult moment in which we stare at ourselves. For me, the strongest part of the piece with the fragmentary scenes, is that pause during which you look at yourself between the scenes, those ten seconds, not the scenes themselves.
I realize that at first when people look at themselves in my mirrors, they immediately fix something in themselves, hair, make up, but when they really look at themselves, a tension develops and disturbing scenes of abuse invade the reflection.
I avoid the action itself and leave just the nervousness, the anxiety. What happens is that the perfect depiction of our inverted portrait is invaded by an unexpected reflection. From image to thought, we see ourselves as prey and/or tormentor, summarizing past and present. Unshaken features on the mirror are now visited by domestic behavior.
MB: How did you get the text, those phrases, in the word piece?
DH: Mostly by reading and talking to people. In the piece with the sentences that a victim would hear from the abuser, family or friends. For me, this work shows the power of language but at the same time reveals its limitations.
A situation of abuse is always very specific and unique, but there are certain patterns that you can identify and register. I wanted to create a landscape of abuse where you can identify yourself as an abuser, a victim or in certain situations as both.The recognition of a situation is often the first step towards a way out, an exit. Sometimes I think that this work is also relevant and powerful for this, it may also allow people to acknowledge where they are and to know that they are not alone. When I showed this work to people, I thought they would relate it to cases of abuse, to my surprise, they usually relate it to themselves. When that happens, I see that the limitation of language compared to life, feelings, pain and scars is significant. The intensity of having been there goes far beyond anything, any classification and any language.
MB: Some of the phrases could apply to lots of things, other situations, other contexts.
DH: I considered any type of abuse, like in working relationships, abusive parents or abusive friends, but I concentrated on a domestic environment. This happens also because the numbers are extraordinary. Abuse is cross generational, cross gender, cross social economic and educational status, but it is mainly men towards women. That’s a fact, if you look at the numbers and look at the history of what’s going on, it’s a predominately one-way issue.
MB: But it can happen to anyone.
DH: In the volunteering work, to suspend judgement is part of the rules, basically to facilitate operations.
MB: Do you similarly suspend jugement when making art?
DH: I have strong convictions related to the search of truth and freedom and respect for me and others. We sometimes take for granted things that were achieved in a long time and with a lot of effort from so many people, and we sometimes unfortunately do not realize how fast we can lose those achievements. We have to be always alert and lucid and actively resist these bad times... in the US, in Brazil, in Italy... no matter how tough it is. WM
Mark Bloch is a writer, performer, videographer and multi-media artist living in Manhattan. In 1978, this native Ohioan founded the Post(al) Art Network a.k.a. PAN. NYU's Downtown Collection now houses an archive of many of Bloch's papers including a vast collection of mail art and related ephemera. For three decades Bloch has done performance art in the USA and internationally. In addition to his work as a writer and fine artist, he has also worked as a graphic designer for ABCNews.com, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and PO Box 1500 NYC 10009.
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