Senha, carta, arte, nulo, pátria and obra (‘password’, ‘letter’, ‘art’, ‘null’, ‘fatherland’ and ‘work’) were some of the 30 words Carla Zaccagnini fashioned from old folded-up beer labels for her exhibition ‘Bifurcações e Encruzilhadas’ (Junctions and Intersections). Like components in some larger game, the folded-up pieces belonging to the series ‘Correspondência’ (Letters, 2007–8) reflect a recurring strategy adopted by this Brazil-based Argentinian artist, in which she creates a kind of lens through which situations and objects can be seen in terms of both their similarities and their differences.
This is the case in Sobre la igualdad y las diferencias II: a casa ao lado (On Sameness and Differences II: The House Next Door, 2005), carried out in partnership with the archaeologists Liesbet Sablon and Sofie Geelen. Originally created for the ‘Cité-Action’ exhibition in Assenede, Belgium, in 2006, the installation brought together artefacts discovered in two abandoned houses located on the same street and classified according to archaeological criteria. The objects found in the houses – pens, teacups, towels, dresses – had their typological kinships reinforced by the support of a specially designed piece of furniture by Leonardo Padilha. However, although the objects are practically the same, their styles and details of use and wear differ, revealing that while the habits and accoutrements of domesticity are similar from one house to another, they are never identical. This somewhat obvious point would be a lacklustre conclusion were it not for Zaccagnini’s ability to turn the exhibition into a challenge to the viewer, enabling one to leave the show with the desire to use her lens out in the real world, folding up beer labels to find messages hidden in the banal or searching for congruencies between disparate things around us. This may explain why some of the works on show were less fully developed formally, since their essential feature is the idea behind their creation rather than the object or image. Such is the case in the series ‘Sobre la igualdad y las diferencias: casas gemelas’ (On Sameness and Differences: Twin Houses, 2005). Here Zaccagnini, who will take part in the 28th São Paulo Biennial in October, presents photographs of houses in Havana, Cuba, constructed with identical structural designs, in sets of two to six buildings, which over time and through the gradual alterations and actions of residents have evolved in entirely different directions. Yet the pictures are often taken from different angles, sometimes with residents appearing or cars passing by or parked outside, resisting the strictly documentary approach found in the classic images of Bernd and Hilla Becher and their counterparts.
In Zaccagnini’s work the registration comes from a quick snapshot, aiming not at photography per se but rather at generating discussion. The same is also true of ‘Todas las descripciones son comparativas: grandes felinos’ (All Descriptions Are Comparative: Large Cats, 2007–8), a series of drawings copied from the pages of an encyclopaedia of animals. Since each copy is handmade, the pages of the encyclopaedia are transformed into something obviously subjective, irregular and non-authoritative, again reinforcing the idea that concept and process trump formal results. This clumsy-looking activity is echoed in Kleuren, knippen en opplakken a/b (Colouring, Cutting and Gluing a/b), (2006–8), composed of two pairs of popular Belgian colouring books with the same printed pictures but filled in by different people with the same pens. Here the artist stimulates the development of distinction, as she does with the Cuban houses, appealing to a process that can only lead to highly divergent outcomes.
Even within such a Conceptual body of work, it is surprising how Zaccagnini occupied the entire gallery (including the exterior walls) with a work that was the only one that did not produce an object: Uma e três casas (projeção) (One and Three Houses (Projection]) and its counterpart Uma e três casas (prospecção) (One and Three Houses [Prospecting], 2008). In the former, the artist redesigned the windows and doors of the three adjacent houses that the architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha co-joined to create the new expanded space of Galeria Vermelho. In the latter, with the help of restorers, the artist removed multiple layers of paint on the rear wall by means of archaeological ‘prospecting’, revealing its physical history. In this work, as in the dry game-playing evident in other pieces in the show, the artist achieved a visual synthesis, providing a conceptual lens for perceiving a world that is sometimes beyond our sight.