VULNERAVELMENTE HUMANO / VULNERABLY HUMAN
March 25 - April 29, 2023
Galeria Luisa Strina - São Paulo, Brazil
Vulnerably Human, a solo exhibition by Clarissa Tossin, proposes a dialogue between contemporary civilizational conflicts and the frontiers of extinction.The works signal the vulnerability of all living organisms as humanity continues to extract resources from the planet without adequate time for replacement. For writer and anthropologist Pedro Cesarino, who wrote the introduction to the exhibition, "for an artistic project to be able to react to contemporary dilemmas, it is becoming increasingly indispensable to establish forms of dialogue that create alternatives to westernized aesthetic matrices. After all, it is this dialogue that will allow us to offer points of view on the civilizational impasses in which we are all involved."
Clarissa Tossin and the Frontiers of Extinction
by Pedro Cesarino
By interrupting the affective links that constitute our relationship with a territory, the state and the market introduce strategies for the quantification of space, making it striated and, therefore, controllable. Kinship and community bonds are replaced by geometric semiosis or forms of measuring that are inherent to the imperial spatium, whose dream is to indefinitely expand its frontiers and dominions. These reflections, made by Deleuze and Guattari more than 40 years ago, could not be more current, and can be used as strategies to understand the work of Clarissa Tossin. Deeply aware of the ongoing shift in civilization, as well as its probable collapse, Clarissa examines the impacts of the process of imperial dominance, even where it seems most impossible: in the full sidereal exterior, in the most foreign counterpoint to humanity and its forms of control, that is, the celestial bodies.
The Western obsession with energy control – the matrix behind the civilizing invention and its narratives – has been extended to the universe. This is the case in a 2015 US Law that discards a treaty signed by the UN in 1979, according to which the Moon should be preserved as human heritage. Clarissa Tossin’s series Valuable Element and The 8th Continent investigate lunar space as a possible source of resources that could sustain the capitalist exploitative enterprise beyond its original dominance on Earth. After altering the planet’s social, political, and economic composition through colonial expansion since the 1500s, the worldwide powers began their search for new frontiers, extending their influence beyond the restrictive domain of Earth.
The works in the series Future Geography draw on the crucial role played by the market in the Anthropocene, which is an era characterized by a profound planetary shift due to human action and its multiple consequences, such as climate crisis, pandemics, and social chaos. Making use of the ancient Indigenous tradition of basketry, Clarissa astutely inverts its meaning. Amazon.com boxes and packaging are used as fiber to form a mesh featuring disparate arrows and chaotic circuits. The works suggest a dystopian present made from diverging connections, evanescent bodies, subjectivities hijacked by compulsive consumption, domestic isolation, and the digital solipsism of social media. After all, these are key aspects of contemporary relations, and the clear opposite to the concept behind the international corporation’s logo – an arrow that efficiently reaches a satisfied consumer in their home – and its perverse marketing, which appropriates the name of the largest forest on the planet.
This is how Future Geography inverts – with a sad form of irony – the net of relations that still characterizes the Amazon region and its people, which is linked by baskets and their graphic patterns, many of them based on the skin of animals such as boas, red-footed tortoises, and spotted jaguars. These are meshes made by straw that can carry food and belongings, that produce humans defined by kinship and affection. The Amazonian art of basketry points to a conception of space radically diverse from imperial forms of quantification. Averse to the accumulation of goods, to the production of durable monuments and industrial planning, Amazonian Indigenous peoples reject the concentration of power and the resulting construction of controllable individuals. Indigenous peoples – who, furthermore, share with animal and vegetal subjectivities a common human condition – are, above all, multiplicities, that is, networks of relationships characterized by a remarkable aesthetic exchange through the production of artifacts, such as baskets and body paintings.
By interspersing fragments of images of the Moon and Mars and strips of Amazon.com packaging, Future Geography shows how celestial bodies are seen by the same male-oriented voracity that converts extensive forest areas into grazing and soya fields. Celestial or earthly, body and space must be dominated, restricted, and enumerated in order to be efficient and productive. As such, the works in this series show a graphic balance of patterns that magnify those forest bodies that remain in the line of flight of the chaotic proliferation of market networks, as well as on the frontiers of extinction that characterize Anthropogenic landscapes. It is these frontiers that the work Rising Temperature Casualty points to: the vestiges of a once thriving vegetal presence. The shape of an avocado tree swept away by forest fires in Los Angeles becomes a sort of anti-sculpture, free from any aura-like power. It shows a fleshless, phantasmagoric presence, which acts as a warning to the unavoidable climate consequences of global capitalism’s exploitative excesses. The garden of shadows suggested by the work’s lonely presence also reveals the fossilized fate reserved for a senseless humanity.
The series Becoming Mineral undoes, through fossils, the old premises of spirituality conveyed by figurative sculpture. The
monumental permanence of the mask, the possibility of an individual who yearns to be protected or celebrated after death achieving mnemonic eternity is once again corroded by the impasses of time. It is not only the subject that is undone by the isolation of the pandemic (Clarissa made the molds during her period of confinement) but also the civilizing efforts towards eternity by means of effigies. The anti-masks in this series are the opposite of the public exhibition of faces, as well as the opposite of the funerary safekeeping of images as a way of influencing the posthumous trajectory of a person. An anti-mask is also an anti-persona: on the frontiers of extinction there is no longer space for the glory of human achievement but only a mineral fate common to us all, the only radical exteriority that can annul all domination efforts, reduced to the slow work of post-collapse sedimentation.
In some ways, Vulnerably Human nº 2 condenses the latent possibilities of the works mentioned thus far. By inverting the inviolability of spacesuits and their colonial desires, the carcass molded in silicon can be seen as another fragile vestige-scrap of human aspirations frustrated by our extinction or the possibility of a body being affected, perforated, and altered by the elements that prevail over such aspirations. Covered in cosmic dust, the ex-body is now taken not by the flows of capital but by everything else that exceeds and surrounds it, that is, by the same celestial and mineral forces that industrial exploitation imagined to be capable of
controlling and depleting.
It is not by chance that Clarissa Tossin engages in a collaborative project with the Maya K’iche from Guatemala. In the film Mojo’q che b’ixan ri ixkanulab’ / Antes de que los volcanes canten / Before the Volcanos Sing, the reflection put forward by the poet Rosa
Chavez and the artist Tohil Fidel Brito Bernal, conveyed by an impactful sensorial experience, deals with forms of knowledge that have not been effectively examined by modernist approximations (and appropriations). In this way, the work from a Guatemalan community is contrasted with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, who made use of monuments found in pre-Columbian civilizations to design his architectural icons. Marked, above all, by formal borrowing, the modern artist’s relationships with Amerindian aesthetics did not produce an effective collaboration between forms of knowledge and modes of existence, which, nowadays, become increasingly unavoidable.
Heirs to collapsed worlds (either in the mysterious past of ancient Meso-American civilizations or in the context of European invasion), Mayan intellectuals have a lot to contribute to the understanding of the impasses of our contemporaneity in crisis. In turn, Clarissa Tossin creates a form of exchange that markedly surpasses the mere aesthetic exercise inspired by the arts of original peoples. Antes de que los volcanes canten is an inversion of Future Geography: here, it is as if the baskets made from global e-commerce scraps are undone by a different bond, a bond based on listening the words, sounds and images produced by people who are not reduced to industrial humanity and its extermination rationale. These are the words produced by people who ask the permission of paths, birds, stones, plants, and animals.
The works brought together in Vulnerably Human argue that the relationship between contemporary art and modes of existence such as the Amerindian way, is neither episodic nor resultant from a fleeting anthropological trend. Clarissa Tossin shows us that the link between Indigenous knowledge and the planetary catastrophe on course is inexorable. If an art project aims to react to contemporary dilemmas, it is increasingly indispensable to establish forms of exchange that propose alternatives to Westernized aesthetic matrixes. After all, it is such a dialogue that can offer the necessary response to the impasses in civilization we all face. Our
times are asking for transversal reflections, which can take these impasses into the core as a way of offering alternatives to the imprisonment of an industrial and mercantile culture that has led us into the ongoing collapse. Taking a position from where to speak requires the strengthening of dialogue, rather than its interruption. This seems to be the plea of Clarissa Tossin, an artist who
manages to insightfully overlay the tensions caused by the encounter between different ways of conceiving space and body.
1. Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix. Mille plateaux. Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1980.