The line through absence

Hermetic in form, austere and frugal, the work constructed by Cassio Michalany over the last fifty years presents, in its coherence and constancy, an exceptional place in the panorama of Brazilian artistic production. Centered on questions of form in art, silent and ruminant in its propositions, it can be compared, without risking exaggeration, to monastic life, governed as it is by pre-established rules and characterized by balance, by discretion, by the rigid manipulation of life and meditative repetition of each day and its contents. However, beyond the spiritual or metaphysical concerns of monastic existence, Cassio Michalany’s work, in its obsessive iteration, becomes a formal exercise in the freedom of repetition, since it is through repetition that it garners strength. Closed, resilient, ordered, while simultaneously simple and complex in its formal ruses, Michalany reduces, in an extremely restricted economy of resources, artistic practice to its most sparing element. Blocks of anonymous essences which transmute into something else when they interact, revealing to us the world and ourselves through fresh eyes.

This exhibition brings together part of the artist’s recent production, two sets of reliefs dated between 2020 and 2022, and three drawings from almost a decade ago. In them we observe Michalany’s masterful manipulation of identical elements. Boards of wood are painted in a restricted palette of atonic colors, in the anonymous appearance of industrial work, without gesture, without a mark or singularity, the maker becoming estranged from the object  – “the less noise, the better”, in the artist’s own words. They are, as such, arranged in combinations according to the equality of parts, at times bordered by fine strips of wood invariably painted in white, and screwed together. In the case of the works on show, we observe the invariable in the line, be this in the joining of two uneven parts, with the line proclaiming its absence, or in the bringing together of two fields of color by way of a white strip, with the line becoming a presence. This omnipresence of the line in the work has already been noted by Miguel Chaia, an important and long-standing interlocutor of Michalany’s, in texts about the artist’s production. Yet, while still a presence, it is also, in these cases, a double absence, the two fields of color creating grooves of emptiness, absent lines, when united by a white strip. This results in blocks of color arranged in a mutual conjunction of parts that never reveal themselves for what they are.

The equality of the parts in these works might easily yield monotonous results, if not for the potent and resonant silence that accompanies the obsessive joining of this practice and the subtle and silent manipulations that alter the constituent repetition as it forms a whole. Of its own accord, these construction-paintings dialogue inexorably with Michalany’s previous works, creating parallels and suggesting mutations of intention and, more importantly, with the world around us. As Tiago Mesquita has written of the artist’s work, “nothing is immune from interrelating visually”. This relationship can only be effective through our own gaze and, as such, through our sensibilities and projective mirroring.

Describing these reliefs is not the most pertinent task at hand, discussed at considerable length by so many who have taken to considering Michalany’s work, and this can offer us little of true value. Contemplating them is sufficient to allow them to reveal themselves. A modicum of attention, care and time suffice to let them appear in their monotonic individuality. However, disclosing the line as an integral element of the collection presented here does seem to be of certain importance. Furthermore, it seems fundamental to understanding a certain lightness of hand rarely granted to Michalany’s body of work. The whispered line, arising from the encounter between polychrome boards, is key to the delicate nature of his production, and it is in the repetition of the minimal space that exists between boards, boards and strips, or canvases, that the announcement of the skeleton of his practice resides. His works become irresistible in their variations through what is absent and what surrounds them. By means of the minimal subtleties of their differences, they return life to us through fresh eyes, similar to what critic Rodrigo Naves identifies as an “improving of the gaze”, which, far from being little, amounts to a lot.