Germana Monte-Mór works in the most varied media. She obtains remarkable results. Her thinking, which initially stemmed from the way drawing organizes space, has expanded, into translucent works, photographic images, sculptures, objects. In the most recent exhibition, we see several made with different techniques. Although individually they investigate specific issues, they all seem to share certain principles.
In general, these new works are all surfaces. Even the benches are conjoined surfaces that form furniture. The artist acts upon them, tracing marks that divide the plane or shape it into distinct areas.
In the best works, these marks begin at a point on the margin and end at another point. In this manner they suggest that the integrity of the plane has unraveled. This is clearer in the paintings and the drawings.
The works on canvas are painted with asphalt. The canvas acquires a polluted color. The appearance is dirty, irregular and thick. In a way, it brings to mind the smoky areas in traditional Chinese ink drawings, even the yellow of old paper. But, since the brushstroke is sinuous, the mark behaves like a river flowing across undetermined terrain. Thus, the brushstrokes attempt to outline forms with a smoky appearance.
In the works on paper, something similar happens. Interestingly, however, the artist superimposes on the tarred sheet a fragile band of paraffin that sometimes acts like a brushstroke. These surfaces are dusty, sandy planes, with a sinuous band of paraffin cutting across what looks like soil in the process of emerging in one side or the other. Here, in these wax drawings, there is something of earth masses, clay, asphalt (why not?), mud, oil, and lava, all compressing each other.
One gains the impression of a terrain slowly constituting itself. Like the moment when Pangaea divided, an island becoming an archipelago. But, curiously, none of this seems violent. Everything happens gently, like a slow and tranquil intervention. Germana Monte-Mór’s work does not seem in search of fractures. The forms are well constituted, even though they occur in a place full of indeterminacy. As if everything was still in need of doing.
Germana’s motifs have something of the geological. The slender irregular lead reliefs, superimposed on the black asphalt surfaces in the polyptychs — that the artist has been making since the end of the last decade — simulate horizon lines and mountain ranges. They suggest that something is in the process of forming, in a world where, before, there was neither tall nor short, neither deep nor shallow. They simulate a relief in some dark and dusty place. Since the paper emerges at different points, the sensation is one of heterogeneity. The horizon becomes the only guide to vision in this blind world.
More than that, there seems to be a degree of geological decomposition. The slow movement of a substance that breaks down and rebuilds the places around where we walk. Somewhat like the sand dunes of the desert. Germana’s representations display a kinship with that which crumbles, crystallizes, becomes fossilized. A substance that loses solidity in order to become something else.
The most solid areas of paint rub shoulders with the painted bands, like continents slowly melting into the sea. Sometimes such dilution looks like the removal of the solidity or the rigidity of things. In her sculpture, this expresses itself in the counterpoint between the curvilinear cuts and the flat formats; at other times, like an attempt to give visible form to unstable dynamics.
It is interesting how this reveals itself in some of Germana’s photographs. In the Amber series, exhibited beginning in 2008, the artist shows rock mounds in unusual ways. She pictures the rocky bottom of shallow streams. Pebbles covered by a peaceful mesh of water, made golden by the sun. Refraction from the ripples makes the mass of the rock appear more curved and fluid. Here, the contours and shadows that defined the solidity of each body of rock languish. The image becomes undulating. The water reflects the stones, making it harder to distinguish what lies on the surface and what is underneath.
This sensation of impalpability seems to me to be one of the central points of interest in Germana Monte-Mór’s photography. Sometime later, she took vertical photographs of waterfalls. The torrent appears centered, from the front, bordered by a high stone wall. The solidity of the stone is dismantled by the waterfall’s curtain of liquid and smoke, which flows into a lake. The image is one of dissolution; of a flow that transformed what is solid into liquid and vapor.
In other images, the contours appear equally fragile. In 2010, the artist recorded tall open salt ridges. The grains climb the tall mounds as if sprawling over an unformed, grimy, dusty ground. Here, also, form seems to dissolve. The artist records the attempt to attribute contour to volatile, unmanageable matter.
Although it emerges in exemplary fashion in her photographic images, this issue has always been present in Germana’s oeuvre. Let’s reexamine the recent works. I believe that both the non-adhesion of the paraffin to grounds of always high indetermination and the dissolution of the plane in paint indicate a volatile, unwieldy place. In the drawings, what seems to give us some formal definition in the midst of the granulated darkness of the paper is the wax that the artist glues to the surface. The forms carry the memory of map contours. But, since wax is fragile, everything seems temporary; an attempt to ordinate with a medium marked by adversity.
The planes of the paintings indicate something similar. Unlike the drawings, the line does not define what happens inside that which it outlines. The whole plane is dirty, of difficult orientation. The thick brushstroke seems incapable of handling the drip that covers the entire canvas. In one of the most beautiful works, the brushstroke forms a handle. The two extremities appear at the top of the canvas, the curve almost at the base. This curve is wider than the two upper parts, as if it had widened in an attempt to contain what was dripping on the canvas. But everything can break down; it’s like those lines that sustained the high sand banks. The gestures strive to invert an impending dissolution. They are vigorous, attempting to establish a refuge, even if only for a moment, in an adverse environment.
The contemporary environment often requires that we spend most of the days, weeks, and months alienating ourselves from our desires, from our most primordial needs. We have more bills to pay and distances to travel than spaces for public conviviality.
Such demands make us live in a flux in which obligations are constant. That is why we look with so much interest at the moments that we reserve for ourselves. They end up becoming the good memories amid the turbulent life. We identify them as the place where life happens, where we undertake our lifetimes.
Art is one of those places where we can see the world in a different manner; in which we can dispose of time, objects, and personal relationships in a way that is unthinkable under the objective conditions of life. Perhaps the best example of this is Matissean painting. Made with intense areas of color and a decorative sense that melds with the vigor of nature, in such work nothing seems to bow to the demands of traditional composition.
Germana Monte-Mór lives in another era. But she also seems to seek these shelters. Finding forms that attempt to overthrow impositive, external demands. In her work there is no pattern, no decoration, or even color. It happens in spaces filled with crevices, where the integrity of the bodies is constantly corrupted. It is discreet, made of brutal colors, rigid like ore. The setting in which it happens is similar to that described by theorists of modern alienation. However, the artist’s effort is to trace, with traces sometimes broad and heavy, areas where life does not escape us and, for a few moments, seems to demand nothing from us, even if immediately afterwards it trips us up.