Celebrating three years of activities, KUNSTHALLE São Paulo invites Spanish artist Elena Bajo (b. 1976, Madrid) to present her first solo exhibition in Brazil, curated by Marina Coelho. Adopting a conceptual approach, the artist focuses on social issues and artistic processes and conditions. Her research-oriented practice unfolds in the use of a wide variety of media such as sculpture, installation, painting, performance, film, text, participatory projects and publications.
For the project in Brazil, the artist chose to address capitalist political systems by comparing the material labor of production lines of the past to the immaterial labor of today. After a wide research of digital archives, Elena Bajo visited Fordlândia, the city founded by Henry Ford in the Amazon in the 1930s, for the industrial production of latex, used in Ford tires. Making an allusion to both, the artificial environment created by Ford, and the digital environment of today, Elena Bajo creates the exhibition Isle of Innocence, an installation with a window case character, composed of seven works: an environment to be experienced from a distance by the observer.
The first work, which links the entire installation, is the floor painting. Produced by the dripping of white latex paint, the work refers not only to the human gesture that imprints the individuality, but also to the latex bleeding from the Seringueira tree. Furthermore, by creating a white environment, the artist brings in the idea of “clean rooms”, referring to aseptic environments – the hospital in Fordlândia was the first one in Brazil where a skin transplant was conducted – such as the clean rooms where micro electronic components for computers and phones are assembled and manufactured, and also to the latex products used in bacteria absent environments, such as surgical gloves and condoms.
In the right corner of the installation, lies a work made up of ceramic and rubber molds used in the manufacture of surgical gloves – one has been mass produced and the other individually crafted. This also suggests the hands of the workers, their lives, and individualities, as human parts becoming machine parts and products. Closer to the center, there are a number of left-overs from artistic molds made in latex brought from the workshop of a craftsman, where the production system is individualized, opposite to mass production. Behind it, the artist made an assemblage with plastic materials and artificial latex, pointing to the lack of awareness and irresponsible attitude when replacing the production of natural latex by the artificially produced one, which is highly pollutant.
In the back of the space, leaning on the wall, there is a series of seven used wooden white frames with glass, left empty, without any images. They are lit and connected by a blue LED strip, resembling computer screens. These frames can both refer to the disappearance of the individual in the material labor production line of former factories, or to the immaterial labor performed nowadays by Internet users. On the left side of the installation, there is a work composed of amorphous objects made of Styrofoam (a highly pollutant artificial derivative of latex), which, arranged on top of white tiles and under a suspended metal rod, suggest some of the manufacturing processes in a Fordist factory.
Finally, right outside the main installation, a rolling text LED screen displays the sentence “LOVE AND DO NOT MULTIPLY,” taken from the title of a book by the Brazilian anarchist Maria Lacerda de Moura. Considered one of the pioneers of feminism in Brazil in the early twentieth century, Maria Lacerda de Moura discussed women status from the perspective of class struggle and defended big taboos of the time, such as the right to sexual pleasure and conscious motherhood. This work points to the absurdity of the rules that Ford imposed to their workers, as the title of the exhibition – after all, “Isle of Innocence” was a place in an island in the Tapajós river, 8 miles from Fordlândia, created by the Ford factory workers to escape Ford prohibition on alcohol consumption and sex, for their nightlife amusement, where they could consume alcoholic beverages in the company of prostitutes coming from Belém and Santarém.
Elena Bajo lives and works between Berlin and Los Angeles.