If Looks Could Kill
By Michael Petry

Emptiness and loss haunt the works of Mara Castilho. Like spectres at a ball, they drift into and out of the frame, into and out of focus. Like an icy wind they chill the viewer as they flicker past in what seems to be candlelight, even when it is the harsh florescent of the underground. Somehow Castilho manages to 'light' even these found spaces with an inner combustion that heats up the cold, hard, even brittle surfaces. Yet the fire is one that scares as much as it comforts for it threatens to enflame the viewer in her view of the void.
Castilho's work addresses the void no less than Yves Klein, and in no less a dapper fashion. Klein was always perfectly be-suited, whether in a judo costume or a well cut French suit he looked the part, the man ready for the existential executioner. The ghosts in Castilho's works have already met Madam Guillotine, and were as fashionably dressed as Klein. They look great, you want to see what they were wearing, what they looked like, how attractive they were, and often you want to know of their beautiful anguish. For now they cry, they howl, they rage against the darkness and their pain strikes the viewer straight between the eyes. They fight back from the beyond, they will not go silently, they cling to the now, the last moment of breath, the instant before eternal stillness. They are terrifying for they have been to the other side, and like Orpheus in the land of the dead, they would rather spend an eternity as slaves on earth than as champions of the underworld. They long for corporeality.
Yet they cannot have this longed for fleshiness, as they inhabit the world of images, of movies, of videos, of projections, of light caught on photographic paper. They can never be real, they are in fiction, they are more than fictitious, they are fictive, their beauty is not real (if anything can be said to be). Their existence is in Castilho's imagination. They owe her their lives and they fight to break free...but cannot. They are bound, caught in the medium that brings them into existence and traps them in the space of the eye, in the being seen, they flee from view, they run past, they strain the eye. How cruel she is.
What makes her all the more cruel is how perfectly she stitches her fictions into the frames. The films themselves are full of light and dark areas, rich monochromes jump out from the dark, with soundtracks that accentuate the action, that add another layer of pathos until the installations almost explode. But they don't, there is no release. Castilho keeps them bound, she is not in the least sentimental, she is brutal (as beauty so often is). The works do not free the spectres nor spare the spectators, they are harsh, they are beautiful, they do speak of death, and we have to be strong enough to watch.


"In Trapped Inside My Self tranquillity lends strength and a sense of peacefulness surround a prostate, nude woman with anxious breathing, suggesting nature’s fertility. However, this projected body lying on a green carpet of turf traces back to fields where thousands of death bodies lie, testimonies from the Balkans war. ... Art may have finally liberated itself from the service of political dictates but it maintains it servitude with regard to horror. Castilho’s art puts us on the path of complete destruction and suspends us in time – it offers pure pleasure without real death."
Rui Cepeda (Lapiz Magazine . Spain)

"Mara creates in her work, environments in the world beyond. Links the beautiful and strange at the same time and leave her brand of humor."
Carlos Noronha-Feio

Ausencia II (Absence) has the power, simplicity and beauty that brings Bill Viola to mind. A video-installation projected onto the glass front of MOCA London in SE London. Visible only from the street outside, a woman resplendent in red, spirals relentlessly back and forth in a one-minute loop. She appears suspended in a space which is dark and without any limits, as if locked in her own cycle, in some kind of abyss, yet like a meditation. What appears still, is in actual fact thick with movement and in constant motion.
As she caresses her shaved head, her dress swirls around her body, almost controlling her. Her hand snakes round to cover her eyes as if afraid to look beyond, afraid to look into the future or further than she knows. Her soundtrack is the street life, continuing around her, cars randomly pass, every now and then someone enters the gallery through a doorway on one side, dwarfed by the enormity of the figure dancing in slow motion, creating a strange and powerful rhythm. Rather than a story or clear answer to what Ausencia II is all about, what one engages in is a sense, a mood created through colour, rhythm and sound.
A soft, yellow light creates a halo around this angelic figure. She is melancholic and mournful but within that has a strength, elegance and dignity. In the tungsten streetlight, her cold, white skin, against the warmth, passion and sexuality of the red dress, reminiscent of a flamenco costume, makes for a bold and striking image, but also evokes contrasting emotions and symbols. Innocence and purity sit side by side with experience and history.
Fundamentally though, this piece is based on a very simple idea, which I would describe as the duality in the human condition - black and white, old and new, good and evil, virgin and harlot, the two sides to the same coin, ‘Jekyl and Hyde’, as familiar a theme as the love song is in music. Ironically Castilho’s work feels totally refreshing, because it gets straight to the point, emancipated of any excess baggage and psycho-babble, that seems to dog so much art. ...suddenly everything makes sense, that beauty, simplicity and universality, going straight to the core”
Anne Gilpin (New York Arts Magazine . US)