If Looks Could
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)
in her work, environments in the world beyond. Links the beautiful and
strange at the same time and leave her brand of humor."
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
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
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)