In-Out Antropofagia

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In-Out Anthropophagy

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Donated by Anna Maria Maiolino 2004

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In-Out Antropofagia is a playful and unsettling super-eight film by Brazilian artist Anna Maria Maiolino, in which a sequence of close-up shots of the human mouth and lower nose explore various combinations of expression and manipulation. The female and male mouths open and close, smile and grimace, bare their teeth and tongues or attempt to speak. In some shots the lips are adorned with lipstick, in others the mouth is covered with tape, blocked with an egg, or fed with coloured string, which is later ejected in a masticated tangle; elsewhere the nostrils flare and contract exaggeratedly, contrasting with another shot in which the mouth remains eerily placid while smoke issues ominously from it like a sulphurous emission from a tectonic fissure. The film, as a whole, appears as a collection of incomprehensible experiments or unexplained ritualistic gestures that are at once humorous, grotesque and uncanny, while the close framing prevents the establishment of any clarificatory context or identity for the performers. An arrhythmic soundtrack of ambient electronic noise and a distorted voice compounds this ambiguity. It evokes a dream or hallucination, in which the accustomed structures of everyday language have dissipated or remain in formation.

Maiolino’s focus upon orificial functionality, echoed in the work’s title, highlights the body as a site where biological and cultural consumption and reproduction are in continuous elision and enactment —through bodily sustenance, sexual reproduction, language production and labour, including artistic creation. The reference to “anthropophagy”, derived from Greek and literally meaning “man-eating”, adds a further layer of significance. Cannibalism was a meaningful ritual practice among various indigenous peoples across the Americas, within warfare and funeral observance. The word itself derives from European reports of such practices during the invasion of the Americas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; within Brazil specifically, writers such as Hans Staden gave detailed accounts of ritual anthropophagy among Tupi-speaking peoples during the period(1). Anthropophagy also resonates within historic debates concerning the formation of Brazilian national culture, particularly through its thematisation by Brazilian Modernist poet, Oswald de Andrade, in his 1928 Anthropophagist Manifesto(2). Here, cannibalism is invoked poetically as a process by which American artists should actively consume and reconstitute external experience and influence through creative practice; what Andrade termed the absorption and transformation of the “sacred enemy”. A reference to the Tupi’s ritualised treatment of consumed victims is elegantly encapsulated in his appropriation of William Shakespeare in the manifesto’s opening lines: “Tupi, or not tupi that is the question”(3). Similar acts of transformative absorption constitute In-Out Antropofagia. The ingestion and regurgitation of string was a central action of Anthropophagist Slobber, a performance work from the same year by Maiolino’s mentor, the artist Lygia Clark. Likewise the taped cross covering the mouth in the opening shot, with its distinctive upward-curving horizontal, recalls architect Lúcio Costa’s ground plan for Brazil’s then new modernist capital, Brasília, inaugurated in 1960 by President Juscelino Kubitschek. The symbol’s deployment by Maiolino refers to the censorship and violence suffered under Brazil’s military dictatorship, which had seized power in 1964, poignantly contrasting the grim backdrop of In-Out Antropofagia’s production with the optimism associated with Kubitschek’s previous rule.

1. Staden, Hans. Hans Staden’s true history: an account of cannibal captivity in Brazil (originally published circa 1525). Durham: Duke University Press, 2008
2. Andrade, Oswald de. “Anthropophagite Manifesto”. In: Dawn Ades Art in Latin America: The Modern Era, 1820-1980. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989
3. Ibid.
This line makes explicit reference to Shakespeare’s famous line in Hamlet: “To be or not to be, that is the question”.

(Text commissioned by ESCALA for the exhibition Connecting through Collecting: 20 Years of Art from Latin America at the University of Essex, 2014)

Ian Dudley, 2014

ESCALA holds two works by Anna Maria Maiolino; both are key examples of the artist's production during the 1970s and both hold a strong relation to Brazilian cultural history. In-Out (Antropofagia) refers directly to Oswald de Andrade's notion of cultural cannibalism (1928) a provocative response to the fact that early modernism in Brazil could only exist by appropriating ('devouring') European culture. The notion of cultural cannibalism regained pertinence during the 1960s, amidst controversy surrounding American cultural imperialism.

In the film (originally produced on super-8) two mouths - a male and a female - undertake a wordless conversation. The frame is limited to these mouths only, alternating from one to the other. The female mouth is initially gagged with tape. It then progresses through a number of situations in which objects or substances are placed upon, taken in, or expelled. With the male mouth some changes are also noticeable such as differing degrees of stubble and on occasion the use of lipstick. On one instance the female mouth expels, vomits, a number of coloured threads leading one to associate In-Out with Lygia Clark's group performance-therapy, Baba Antropofagica (1973). Maiolino openly acknowledges Clark as her mentor during the 1960s. The Oswaldian reference, more than a sign of the times is therefore testament to the narrow conceptual path both artists held.

Although less evident than in other works by the artist, the film could also refer to personal as well as more general events. The initial gagged female mouth that attempts to speak out, could be interpreted both as a comment on the censorship imposed by the military dictatorship in Brazil since 1964 while it could also be suggestive of the frustrations of an artist whose creative output has been 'gagged' by her role in the traditional family structure. The fact that the film is formed of an inarticulate conversation between a man and a woman could also be pertinent to the artist's life at that moment.
Michael Asbury

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