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WANDERS OF THE PAST - Notes on Traces, an exhibition by Kika Nicolela


At first sight, Media Memory Collection and Biographies, the series integrating Traces, exhibition by Kika Nicolela, seam to have origin in different spheres. The first was created out of a collection of amateur films from the 1970's and 1980's and gathers film records of private and homy nature. Biographies, on the other hand, looks at the Marquesa de Santos (Marchioness of Santos), an important historical figure from Imperial Brazillian Period. So it's possible to say that the reflexions brought up by these two series revolve around fiction and reality at play in the making of both personal and collective memory. How does reality contribute for the renovation and reinvention of our fictions? Would it be possible to conceive a reality without fictions? These are some of the questions asked by the brazillian artist's projects.


Media Memory Collection is born from the artist's memory gap, which spreads into a lack of images from her first childhood, spent in Campinas, a city in the countryside of São Paulo, in the 1970s. Instead of searching for and reliving her extint memories, Kika Nicolela recovers old films from this period. Thru ads run in the local radio and newspapers, the artist asks her hometown population for their amateur films, mainly in 8mm support, and for allowing her to use pieces and fragments of this films in exchange for a digital copy of the original material. Then she edits this content, electing excerpts and isolating frames.


Kika nurtures a particular taste for the texture and traces left by the decaying process of the films. Resemblances of landscapes dissolve into abstract veils crossed now and then by wraiths whose faces do now reveal themselves. In these works, specially thru the backlit frames, the artist sublimates traces of time, which goes uncomplyingly and irreversibly by. Her taste for nostalgia is noticeable in the video works based on private events and everyday life family records. Filled with affective and emotional meaning, the experiences from these families make are made into relic-images of joyful, remarkable moments, worthy of remembrance.


A series of social conventions is related to the selection of these remarkable moments. In general, they constitute marks in the individual's process of becoming a part of society; such as the first day of school; a birthday or some other kind of party; a marriage ceremony. Recording these events becomes a way of reliving them; of keeping them alive. Even though these recordings overbrim with authenticity and documentary character, spontaneous actions are interrupted by the camera presence per se. The portrayed people are constantly staring directly into the camera and correction their gestures and postures because they're being filmed. For one moment, life's flux is suspended. These individuals become main characters; and their personal fictions, intimately idealized, is constructed and staged. 


When appropriated and modified by the artist and then, when transported from their domestic context into the public exhibition space, these records are bled out of part of their original sentimental value. In fact, the surplus of affection and meaning that makes each of this images unique is bound to the relationship between the people making or taking the pictures, the people portrayed in the picture and each of these images. However, if these images portray commonplace spaces and situations, it is precisely in their generic character that sits the possibility of connection and emotional transfer on the part of the viewer once the exhibition context is set. The life of another becomes a mirror for the spectator, where their memories can be projected and where their own history is revealed.


The convergence and complementarity characters of individual and collective memory is also at play in Biographies. The work creates an ambiguous portrait of Domitila de Castro do Canto e Melo (1792-1857), the Marquise of Santos, a famous lover of the first emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro I. In this work, Kika Nicolela invites five actresses to present their particular interpretation of this remarkable feminine figure of imperial Brazil, mixing historical facts with episodes of the actresses private lives.


Widely represented in popular culture, the marquise was the main character of numerous plays, novels, films and even operas. These narratives, however, were mostly based in misconceptions and unfounded myths about the person of Domitila de Castro do Canto e Melo. Excluding some emblematic places of the city of São Paulo linked to the story of the marquise, the video sets it’s sceneries in the four residences attributed to the Marquise nowadays, even though the legitimacy of each of them has not been verified. For one of these places, for example, the reference to the marquise is entirely fictional: it was built 40 years after her death, and yet, it is known as the secret meeting place between the Marquise and the emperor.


Once again, Kika Nicolela is highlighting the fictional components of history by writing speeches about the past. If oral tradition and the popular imagination take hold of certain facts and transform, complement and edit them, it is only to make them more tangible, to actualize them into the present, and thus grant them a posthumous life. It is the desires, aspirations and ghosts that surround each culture that seem to dictate the wanders of their history.

Both Media Memory Collection and Biographies present the mechanisms of building and restoring a personal and collective memory to the public. In these two projects Kika Nicolela underlines the ambiguity and complexity of these processes that transform and constantly update facts through displacements of meaning and context. Yet, despite subjective distortions and fanciful interpretations, the vestiges of these events persist. The wandering through imagination and fiction allow us to question representations of the past and broaden the field of what we call Reality, as well as to look upon its smoldering forms and possibilities of expression.

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