By Denise Carvalho – Brazilian artist Angela Freiberger creates sculptures that celebrate past and present, tradition and contemporaneity. Using marble from Italy and Portugal, she sculpts “receptacles” or “recipients” as she calls them in her native Portuguese. Her urinals, wash-basns, bathtubs, vessels, and bowls are reminiscent of Greek and Roman funerary vessels. In their treatment, they are smooth and uniform, with little oxidation, nearly pure.
The contemporary side of Freiberger’s work begins with the atmosphere surrounding its making, a marble factory where builders and stonecutters, not artists, prepare and cut the stones. Using traditional sculpting techniques, she blends machines with the detailed precision and smoothness of her work and mixing a worker’s mood with what she sees as a female sensibility. This sensibility is extended to her vessels, which are “receptacles” for her own body.
Freiberger began to make these objects in the earl 1990s, and her immediate concern was to create lightness in marble by substituting negative space for positive sculptural matter.
As her interaction with the work developed, she emphasized the relation between sculpture and performance, using her own body as a mold. Her vessels, plates, washtubs, and bowls were all taken from casts of her body-her back, stomach, and head for instance. Other works, made as replicas of utilitarian objects such as bathtubs, bidets, or urinal, contain signature marks of the artist’s hands, fingers, or toes imprinted on the stone.
By mixing ancient and contemporary processes and ideas, she follows what has long been seen a signature of Brazilian art-adapting foreign influences to local conditions, redefining sources into an international art par excellence. Masculine archetypes such as over rationality, excessive organization, and symmetry-a Constructivist influence rooted in Brazilian art since the late 1950s-are replaced with feminine archetypes such as smoothness and roundness, though still sustaining cohesiveness and attention to detail.
Since the interactive works of Helio Oiticica and Lygia Clark (1960s), Brazilian sculpture has been connected to the body of the viewer or to that of the artist. In Freiberger’s case, a connection to the body’s performance is implicit, even when the piece stands alone in the gallery. In her work, both the process and the finished piece are shaped by anachronistic historical influences leading to a synthesized finished object. Sh reverses the process of much Brazilian art, which begins with a clear framework and ends in organized chaos.
Freiberger’s vessels link sculpture, architecture, and performance. Her connection with architectural space begins with her awareness of the viewer. Although the sculptures are extensions of the body, they appear frozen in space. There is an ambiguity between stillness (which usually suggest a balanced weight, a gravitational point of axis) and lightness (movement). The performing body here is not necessarily moving: more often it is frozen like a snapshot, a positive element to the negative forms of the receptacles.
In the Carrara marble pieces Woman Washing her Soul, Woman Carrying the Place of her Head, Woman Carrying The Place of Her Fingers, and Man Ray’s Violin (all 1999), Freiberger connects sculpture and performance. Photography here serves a purely documentary roles, though it questions the very reason of the performance, its source of action and immediacy, making us wonder whether the stillness in the snapshot actually takes away the performance’s most vital significance-its subjective interaction with the viewer. It is possible that the need or photo documentation determined the nature of the performance, with the stillness in the performer’s body a way to simplify reception both for lens and the viewer.
Lavabo da Alma (1999) is a large washbowl created an inverted form or spirals engraved inside that reference the earthworks of Robert Smithson. According to Freiberger, the relationship to Smithson suggests the female body as ultimately connected to nature, a concept that still prevails to nature in Latin American culture.
For instance, in the works of Ana Mendieta, the artist’s body becomes an extension of waterfalls, grass, mud, and other natural materials. In this way, the female body symbolizes life and death. Similarly in Freiberger’s work, the physical condition of the marble, its purity or higher level of oxidation, leading to fragmentation or sedimentation, reveals a constant negotiation between opposing natural forces.
The installation Bath House (2001) consists of a bathtub, a bidet, and a large bowl for washing woman the feet. While the bathing woman has provided subject matter for many artists, from Degas to Picasso, in Freiberger’s work, the presence of the woman is transitory. In her absence there is death, violence, loneliness, and abuse. This relationship between life and death is underscored by the placement of marble vessels and other ritualistic objects in large rooms to emphasize a sense of emptiness and abandonment after the brief appearances of a performing body. Performances such as Sora (1998), in which the artist bathes with I.V. drops of cranberry juice, suggest the ambiguous relationship between pleasure and pain.
Collection of Urinals (2001), an installation shown at Rio de Janeiro’s Centro Cultural Oduvaldo Vianna Filho in 2002, featured marble urinals inspired by a scene in Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (Il Gattopardo, 1963). Freiberger re-creates the bathroom set, filled with Roman-style urinals, next to a monitor, where the movie clip is replayed. In the scene, the Prince of Salina, played by Burt Lancaster, senses death approaching and seeks refuge in the bathroom of his mansion during a ball celebrating the engagement of his aristocrat nephew and the nouveaux riche daughter of a merchant. In the gallery, the viewer replays the part of Salina by entering through the door.
Freiberger’s performance O Banquete (The Banquet, 2002) was also inspired by film. Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe (1973) and Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of The Bourgeoisie (1972) treat the act of eating a subversion of moralistic rules. In Freiberger’s performance, a model dressed in a voile apron kneels on a large table, as if she were a dish, surrounded by large marble plates and peaches. Spectators around the table participate by “eating with their eyes.” After 20 minutes, the performer stands up, picks up the peaches, and offers them to the viewers. The sensuous game of hunting and being hunted with the eyes, of desiring and being desired, is also the game of the arts. The spectator eats without possessing, whether the goal is an art object or a woman’s body.