ENCONTRO DAS ÁGUAS / MEETING OF WATERS
Curated by Beverly Adams
January 13 - July 1, 2018
Blanton Museum of Art - Austin, TX
The Negro and Upper Amazon Rivers come together and travel through the Amazon region to empty their waters in the Atlantic Ocean. Encontro das águas [Meeting of Waters] takes its name from the confluence of these rivers at the port of the Brazilian city of Manaus. For nearly four miles after they meet the black and beige waters run parallel to each other but do not intermix. The Port of Manaus serves as another type of confluence point: that of foreign capital and local traditions. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, British investment transformed Manaus into the center of the rubber boom and the most industrialized city in Brazil. After 1912, when the British turned to alternative rubber sources within their colonies, the city became impoverished. Today, the port again facilitates the movement of capital. Following a decade of deregulation that began in 1957, the city became a Free Trade Zone and now hosts the manufacturing plants of such companies as Apple, Sony, LG, Coca-Cola, Dell, Harley Davidson, and Honda Motorcycles. The commodities made at these factories enter the global market on cargo ships that exit the Port of Manaus. Tossin explores this complicated history through a range of objects that speak to the impact of industrialization and the material culture of the indigenous groups in the area, who were exploited by a feudal labor system throughout the rubber boom. Tossin crafts replicas of iPhones, Coca-Cola bottles, and Epson ink cartridges out of terra cotta, a material used to create utilitarian objects such as pots and food storage containers by a variety of indigenous communities. Handmade over many hours, the terracotta electronics lack the functionality of the real versions made on assembly lines and by machines. The artist uses the refuse of commodity culture, strips of Amazon.com boxes, to make baskets that refer to the Amazonian weaving tradition. The woven net speaks to the longstanding importance of fishing in the area, while the woven tapestry mimics the convergence of the rivers and the goods that traverse them. By conflating the materials and uses of traditional and modern objects, Tossin asks us to consider the impact of globalization. Foreign industry has revitalized the region, but only after bankrupting it in the past; industry brings money, but it also pollutes the landscape and disregards local culture, turning Manaus into one of thousands of production hubs worldwide that feed our growing appetite for more.