BARCELONA — A Conjunction of Factors, Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle’s retrospective at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, greets us with a choice. Turn right, and we reach a black-carpeted room bisected by a barrier of neatly organized utilitarian materials (e.g., paper, bricks, beams, and chalk). Turn left, and we enter a dizzying installation of these materials, mounted by a team of museum workers who Marcelle enlisted to create a composition. These two rooms of “A família em desordem” (The Family in Disorder, 2018–present) capture visitors between concepts of order and chaos, a dichotomy that the artist explores in her practice through collaboration.
Marcelle’s uniformed friends and acquaintances participate in the exhibition’s titular photo series (2011–19), performing actions removed from their real-life jobs. A cleaner dunks her leg in a bucket, a businessman transports a briefcase of sand; their work, and its connotations of social position, is defamiliarized through play. Similarly, videos present collaborations with different workers, ranging from whimsical to urgent. Observed by a static, distant camera, marching band musicians in “Cruïlla” (Crossing, 2010) improvise a dissonant score on a crossroad in the red earth of Mina Gerais, Brazil; firemen of “Fonte 193″ (Fountain 193, 2007) hose water in a continuous circle; the men of “Nau” (Ship, 2017) remove shingles from beneath a roof and climb out through the gaps, lighting fires and tearing mattresses on the surface. They evoke protesting prison inmates, but the video’s title, undulating soundtrack, and display crate suggest migration by sea. Other films portray fire jugglers interrupting traffic or delivery vans circulating a rotunda. These staged yet familiar scenes awaken a vast sensation of everyday actions repeating across disparate locations.
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Collaboration in Marcelle’s work pursues ambiguity and disorder in order to destabilize hierarchies of race and class, rather than directly critiquing their underlying social systems. For “No Ar” (On Air, 2019–present) exhibition visitors act as DJs for two that were plays formative to Black and anticolonial liberation movements: Abidas No Nascimento’s Sortilégio (1951) and Aimé Cesaire’s Une Tempête (1969). In a turquoise-carpeted gallery turned both radio station and dance floor, or from an online platform, anyone can choose a song to serve as a character’s dialogue, interrupting previous tracks. The perpetual, haphazard concert reflects how online connectivity can fuel or co-opt social movements, but also how listening entangles us. Our choices collide as music, collapsing genre and geography, characters and bodies, dusk and dawn. Such unpredictable interactions and participatory structures in Marcelle’s work may momentarily unsettle power differences. More significantly, they tune us into the collective presences around us, through which we construct our senses of self.
Cinthia Marcelle: A Conjunction of Factors continues at Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (Plaça dels Àngels 1, Barcelona, Spain) through January 8. The exhibition was curated by Isobel Whitelegg.