BY Phoebe Blatton in Reviews | 29 MAY 19
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Issue 204

Luiza Prado de O. Martins’ Technologies of the Body

At Display, Prague, the Brazilian artist questions the insidious mechanisms that govern women’s reproductive health

BY Phoebe Blatton in Reviews | 29 MAY 19

‘Multilogues on the Now’, a series of thematic events and exhibitions curated by Zuzana Jakalová and Hana Janečková, has been exploring the topic of health in late capitalist society for three years running. The main commission for this year’s programme, ‘Technologies of the Body’, is a presentation by Brazilian artist Luiza Prado de O. Martins, whose research into the technologies and practices that govern women’s reproductive health is firmly rooted in decolonial theory. I visit in the week that Donald Trump’s administration vetoed the UN resolution on rape as a weapon of war, and only months after the far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil. Prado’s commission feels painfully prescient, as the personal, particular and often disturbing revelations of her research respond to a very precarious moment for anyone who still believes in so-called ‘Western values’.

Luiza Prado de. O Martins, The imaginary becomes complete on the margins of every new linear projection, 2018, installation view, Display, Prague. Courtesy: the artist and Display, Prague; photograph: Tomáš Souček

A spectrum of reds and pinks colour the artworks, many of which are produced by dyes extracted from plants used in medicines indigenous to Brazil. Prado knows that some people will instinctively find this clashing palette ‘unpleasant’, as she puts it. Indeed, my first blasé thought is that the colours adhere to clichés of feminist art, and there are further spectres: sculptures wrought from fabrics and a performance straight-to-camera that sees the artist dropping contraceptive pills into a surgical glove that she appears to have half-swallowed. But, when considering tropes of feminist art as technologies transferred between women, can we have too many? Prado is highly aware of creating tension through excess: here, excess exposes the prejudices at the intersection of race and gender. In a 2018 article published in Artalk Revue, she writes that the ‘insidious mechanisms’ of colonialism and enduring Western hegemony mean that ‘the bodies of colonized others are judged as incapable, unintelligent, primitive – condemned to a role of eternal subjugation, simultaneously excessive and lacking; too much, too many.’

Faced with an abundance of contraceptive-pill blister packs, I consider the repetitive, brief action of a finger popping pills. This modest ‘technology of the body’ recurs as an agent of powerful mechanisms. In the video essay As Flames Engulfed the River (2018), the artist travels via a hovering finger on Google maps to an urban river where she grew up, along which the striking peacock flower flourishes. The plant, abundant in Brazil, was used as an abortifacient by slaves resisting the subjugation of future generations. Prado’s grandmother, oppressed by poverty and the church, is thought to have once used it. With every click of her finger, I sense Prado’s melancholy; at once ‘back home’ and not, simultaneously brimming with knowledge and conscious of the gaps.

Luiza Prado de. O Martins, Luiza’s Prado’s Archive, 2019, installation view, Display, Prague. Courtesy: the artist and Display, Prague; photograph: Tomáš Souček

An Accumulation of Gestures (2019) comprises sculptures based on shapes that Prado’s finger-swipes made whilst entering information into a period tracker app. Fashioned from rags dyed with the urucum seed, which, amongst other uses, is thought to guard against evil, they are distinctly hand-crafted, the vulva-like forms recalling Hannah Wilke’s sculptures. I think of the phrase ‘on the rag’ and makeshift methods still used to cope with ‘the curse’. That Prado’s Gestures originate in an intimate yet corporate technology such as the app installed on her phone speaks to the idea that, across the globe, women control their reproductive health under ‘curses’ both flagrant and mysterious.

In The imaginary becomes complete on the margins of every new linear projection (2018), peacock-flower tea mixed with the artist’s saliva is pumped around branches resembling Rio de Janeiro’s river system. The liquid drips into teacups, which overspill and feedback. The spot-lit installation alludes to the drama of Catholic sculpture, which reverberates through the story of how Prado conceived of the piece: she imagined the moment in which one such cup would have met the lips of her grandmother. If the piece suggests interdependencies, they are ignited by Prado’s ability as a storyteller, sharing tales that began centuries ago, yet continue to unfold and interweave.

'Multilogues on the Now: Technologies of the Body' runs at Display, Prague, until 9 June 2019.

Main image: Luiza Prado de. O Martins, When Flames Engulf the River, 2018, installation view, Display, Prague. Courtesy: the artist and Display, Prague; photograph: Tomáš Souček

Phoebe Blatton is a writer based in Berlin, Germany, and London, UK. She is the editor of The Coelacanth Press, which reissued Brigid Brophy's 1956 novel, The King of a Rainy Country, in 2012. She also publishes The Coelacanth Journal.