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A young woman in serious inner and emotional turmoil struggles in a marble bathroom. Another woman carries for metres a bag of stones which, through a hole, always drops one or more stones as she walks. A lady sitting on the floor of a kitchen smokes from a pipe and remembers a more festive and glorious past. Another young woman, in her (contemporary) house receives a bouquet of flowers and celebrates in a rather disconcerting and disturbing dance. Constructions with elegant lines, that once were palaces or safe havens, remain standing as if in a limbo, amid vegetation which could be considered even oppressive, that stubbornly resists, imbricated in the complex urban web of metropolitan central areas, in a mix of vitality and degradation.

Those are powerful scenes created by São Paulo artist Kika Nicolela in her project Domitilas, a video installation first shown in the exhibition spaces of the Solar da Marquesa, an architectural complex historically and artistically relevant to the extremely fragile heritage of the city of São Paulo, so involved in autophagic rhythms.

However, perhaps the most disturbing character in Domitilas is a young woman in a costume which might be suitable for a not very cheerful after-party, walking for a very long time, aimlessly, on stairways, streets, squares, and grey promenades next to sprayed monuments with faded colours. The supporting actors and actresses are street vendors, street artists, and a multifaceted crowd. There are all sorts of people, from those going around on skates on the flat paving of the old noble centre, to those who, for example, carry bags full of trinkets bought on 25 de Março street and its surroundings, a little below the place where is located the even more elegant Solar da Marquesa, formerly called Palacete do Carmo.

The wanderings of the character are phantasmagoric and disconcerting to those who watch the video. These disconnected wanderings, which seem to extenuate her, are very likely going to annoy the average citizen of today's large cities, always in a hurry, with defined destinations, commitments, and activities. To walk about is to be on the margin, to disturb. However, this procedure has been a powerful poetic force to many contemporary artists. “‘Do you know what the [maritime term] erre means?’ asks Lacan. ‘It is something like an impulse. The residual movement of something after the end of the impulse which propelled it.’ At the end of the 1970s, when the modernist engine stopped, there were many who proclaimed the end of the movement itself. (...) The artists under discussion here intend to remain the car, in the same direction as modernity, but while operating their vehicle according to the reliefs they encounter and with the aid of a different fuel. The erre would then be what remains of the forward motion initiated by modernism, the field that is open to our own modernity, our altermodernity" declares Bourriaud, one of the key theorists of our relational and liquid times.

Cut Out Biography

If the flanêur artist seems to shuffle different times, places, and memories, whose indeterminacies catalyse feelings of conflict in this average man, she embodies some interesting elements of the persona of Domitila de Castro Canto e Melo (1797-1867), better known as Marquesa de Santos. But, just like her wandering causes discomfort, other moments of the character's biography — in an inaccurate combination of historical facts and narratives transmitted in favour of the legend — are reflected by other actresses over the course of the production.

Nicolela acknowledges that the investigation of the visual process itself is essential in her work process. Thus, she turns the historic inventory — of varied nature, for it is a figure with many versions — into an initial portion in the composition of the characters, almost a shred of history, which gains the subjectivity of each actress in an open composition. There are some very attractive biographical events that are, though, minimised by subsequent constructions, developed by the protagonists, who shuffle certainties. Thus, facts and situations like the stoning of the noble house as soon as people learned of the death of Pedro I's wife, Empress Leopoldina; the extremely well guarded environment where she lived for many years; the Court's rejection of her on account of her being the ‘official lover’; and the somewhat decadent old age, reminiscent of the intense social life she led, for example, are in favour of a narrative that does not intend to be accurate and is regulated by permeability. Where is the truth? Perhaps not in any of those takes, but the interesting thing is that by working on her expanded cinema, Nicolela discusses reality and fiction, self-representation and staging, identity and otherness. And, very importantly: in a formally refined audiovisual product which is truly guided by a non-conformation — hence the difficulty to define anything in Domitilas with precision.

To unfold issues already present in works like Tidelands (2014), The Film That Is Not There (2012), and Actus (2010), without neglecting the essential elements of titles which attest to her cinematographic skills — Nicolela films very well and, particularly this production and Tidelands corroborate this analysis —, the São Paulo artist also contributes with some of the good pictorial moments of São Paulo. Besides the aforementioned wandering of a ghostly character, the also unstable walk of another character, carrying stones, to historical Independence landmarks in the neighbourhood of Ipiranga, with successive thuds, and the takes at the Casa de Pedra, in Serra do Mar, are undoubtedly inspired by the corpus of her work. Moreover, it is worth emphasising the remarkable work of the actresses, including another video in the show, which emulates the portrait of Marquesa de Santos signed by Francisco Pedro do Amaral (1790-1831). “Owed to the most lavish nature wonderful physical gifts,” as wrote the famous Joaquim Manuel de Macedo (1820-1882) about the marquess, whose attributes this screen-video of today helps perpetuate and, at the same time, exasperate.

essay published at the catalogue of solo exhibition Domitilas, Museum of São Paulo City - Solar da Marquesa, 2014

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