The Brazilian artist's mixed-media sculptural works explore the power of enigmatic storytelling
Arts Writers is a new collaborative initiative between Glasgow International, Glasgow School of Art and The List, which sees students from the Glasgow School of Art's Master of Letters in Art Writing programme write features and reviews about works at this year's Glasgow International. The writers and critics will receive mentorship and publication via The List. The next work to be published in this series is Enxhi Mandija's review of Ana Mazzei's Drama O'Rama: Other Scenes.
A choreographed conversation; a lyrical face-off. Ana Mazzei's installation Drama O'Rama: Other Scenes, shown as part of Glasgow International's commissioned programme, expresses sculpture as a series of gestures, dance steps, improvised riffs and remembered poetry lines. Playfully engaging its audience in its storytelling and meaning-making mechanisms, the works also subtly advocate for a means of engagement with one another that pay attention to the detail, the fragment, the fleeting moment of an unlikely encounter.
São Paulo-based Ana Mazzei's first Scottish commission for Glasgow International comprises a series of mixed-media sculptural works arranged over two floors in the suggestive spaces of the Pipe Factory, next door to the Barras Market. The tinker and chatter of the street seeping into the space through the open windows seem to activate the works and be as much a part of the exhibition as the wooden sculptures and the whitewashed, bare-bones spaces of the Pipe Factory.
The sculptures on the first floor punctuate the space as a compact group in the centre of the room, bringing together abstract geometry and organic matter as streamlined, minimalist shapes encounter wood and natural linen. The eerie yet intriguing shapes seem to have been caught mid-action, halfway through a gesture, a step, a sentence, like chess-pieces waiting ready on the chequered board. On the other hand, 'Temple,' on the second floor, invokes a place: a larger-than-life structure of thin, tall, cedar wood flat sculptures arranged in a semi-circle, at once inviting and confrontational, suggests the fiction of theatre scenography or the awe of religious ruins.
Yet just as the works invite appraisal in terms of a distinction between active characters and passive setting, they throw off that simple dichotomy: the 'characters' are sculptures, therefore inviting engagement as static, spatial elements within a place; the 'setting' is itself housed within a larger 'set', that of the Pipe Factory, therefore also operates as a character, or agent, within it. A fanfare of drums, brass instruments, steely guitars and distorted, scat vocals in a crescendo of tension also intervenes on this second sculptural work, suggesting a situation of theatrical, belligerent stand-off.
Rhythmically interrupting the space, at once bodily and abstract, the works playfully enact a productive tension between themselves, the space they are housed in and their audience, challenged to participate in their staged conversations. The material itself of these conversations or stories remains enigmatic, forever unyielding, its non-disclosure allowing instead for endless imaginative possibilities. Drama O'Rama: Other Scenes asks to pay attention to half-heard words, interrupted phrases, glimpsed images, challenging its audience to engage with what – and those who – communicates in a vocabulary that remains unknown, broken and perhaps mistranslated, never fully graspable, yet no less worthy of our attention.
After more than a year of screen-mediated life, the physical awareness that the works demand is welcome, yet it also plays out the accumulated anxieties and limitations we still feel and must respect around physical proximity. The works on the first floor seem to invite us to look closely and walk through them, yet that is still not allowed, and the visitors circle around them instead.
Pursuing a long-standing enquiry into performance and performativity, storytelling and the encounter of bodies in space, Mazzei's dialogic works remain intriguing and beguiling, inviting close engagement with what can be grasped on the surfaces of an enigma.
Ana Mazzei: Drama O'Rama: Other Scenes is available to view at The Pipe Factory until Sunday 27 June.