THE LAST SUPPER
Art today often responds to social crises. The most meaningful art is never an isolated product nor the result of a closed process, but rather is open to the problems and dynamics of contemporary society. In "The Last Supper," Debora Hirsch combines contradictions and false myths that can be found in a well-defined area of her native Brazil. The towering building within a garden recalls the skyscrapers of São Paulo, specific structures characterized by the striking contrast between their height (symbolizing wealth and power) and the poverty of the materials they employ. Here, Hirsch replaces the almost absent or minuscule windows typical of such buildings with portraits of various local "apostles": insignificant and short-lived delinquents, often victims of the brutal urban life they lead. An exception is a likable Judah-like character, Beijoqueriro, a sixty-year-old man whose sole aim in life is to kiss famous personalities in public.
The precariousness of existence is further accentuated by the artist with portraits that are hard to distinguish, their features decomposed by the low definition of the pixels.
On the walls of "The Last Supper," texts are reproduced in a graphic style reminiscent of the graffiti found on buildings in São Paulo—an almost gothic lettering that has become a local style, creating a recognizable image. In a sense, the image returns as a sign. The sculpture, too, is not a scale model of a skyscraper but rather a symbol of construction suffocated by social conditions and the difficulties faced by its inhabitants.
The content of the texts appended to the sides of the building by Hirsch is partly akin to the signs of civil protest and denunciation that we encounter by walking through those streets ourselves. Others reproduce messages found on the internet, restoring to script the capacity to be an access code to reality. In semiological terms, the sign is a convention determined by both the history and the culture that produces and shares it. Dismantling and reassembling the function of these signs is an ordinary practice within the creative process. It is an attempt not nostalgically to promote familiarization with the world but to propose an art that signifies dynamic participation in society and in the construction of one's own identity.
BR-101 is Brazil’s main road, a federal route that, running parallel to the ocean, cuts longitudinally through the entire country, traversing its various states. Although it has a name that refers to it in its entirety, the BR-101 is given different designations in each state it passes through. Every day, on the BR-101, cars, buses, and all sorts of vehicles circulate—a hurly-burly of people and moods, an endless transmigration of people compelled by different motivations. The road is traveled by inhabitants of São Paulo, leaving the city in search of pleasantness on coastal beaches, but also by those who, moved by necessity, leave the more underdeveloped north of the country to set out on voyages of hope towards the more developed and wealthier south.
BR-101 by Debora Hirsch is a photographic work, but also a journey amid the contradictions and paradoxes of a country that the artist knows well, having been born and raised there. It is a work that expresses a particular viewpoint: that of someone who, having left her country of origin, has experienced distance and exchanges; someone who has known diverse lifestyles and cultures and in the process has gained new awareness of the conventions in which she grew up and was educated. In fact, Debora Hirsch left São Paulo years ago, and has lived in Europe, and distance and dislocation have allowed her to observe her own country with a renewed gaze, one that is both participatory and distant. And now she cannot help but question herself. And she does so through BR-101: a series of images that at first sight may seem like simple scenes of ordinary life. In effect, they are the result of situations found among the innumerable ones that make up the everyday panorama of some cities grazed by this road.
For years, within the sphere of its comings and goings, the artist photographed "commonplace" scenes in today’s Brazil, miscellaneous humanity immersed in everyday routine, normal people involved in normal activities and actions, in domestic environments or in the streets: a nanny with a baby, a couple alongside a doorway, factory workers working, a pregnant woman, children. But then, over the course of time, Hirsch revisited those photographs, identified the essential elements, the structural components, the signs that most clearly manifested a meaningful contingency. Just as happens in our minds, where a few of the images that pass by one after the other and are superimposed on one another in the rapid traffic of daily life are destined to re-emerge, and even those, over time, will probably end up blending together, so in Debora Hirsch’s work, a large number of photos taken at different moments, near to or far from one another, are broken up, the fragments transposed and recomposed in new contexts.
The viewer perceives a vague resonance in those images, as if in reorganizing them, Hirsch had granted them a particular order: something from our distant past re-echoes in them, a past we know through the historical-artistic Western tradition of which we are custodians. The sensation is that Hirsch, from the reality that surrounds her, grasps the same visual structures that presented themselves to artists of the past. In reality, the artist makes recourse to that shared baggage of knowledge with discretion, but with great awareness. Hirsch thus records images to isolate them and removes actions and circumstances from their background or their need, from the logic or the random chance that actually determined their occurrence in a given context. In the process, by contrast, this logic emerges with renewed clarity.
What one perceives of Brazil from this work is an organic and precise social system aimed at maintaining the status quo, with determined roles, ironclad, omnipresent—albeit often implied—laws; a situation of great social and economic division. Insistence and vagueness together. Each of these images is the result of dozens, sometimes hundreds of shots. It is as if, to better represent the reality that interests her, Debora Hirsch had wanted to overcome the physical and temporal limitations and the contingency of a photograph. As if she had sought to concentrate the maximum meaning possible in the limited space of a single image, in order to show an aspect of her country that the eye, hampered by the déjà vu of habit, may no longer be able to see: a social system that needs to be reformed and moved towards greater equity, an unstable economic arrangement that strongly impacts the existence of much of the population, condemned to uncontrollable oscillations, shifts of gear, and speed. The video "Uphill" gives an appreciable form to this continual change of gear, rendering visible the perpetual motion, the downhill speed, and the effort necessary to go back up the hill. The video’s setting is the steeply sloping 'Pelourinho' area of Salvador in Bahia, where slaves were tortured up until 1835. The current state of things is simply the effect of the post-colonial heredity of a society still in a phase of transition. A new openness is on the horizon. But the transition is opposed by forces that have something to gain from the status quo.
Everyone is familiar with the movie trailers, the short marketing video that groups together snippets from a new film's various scenes to arouse the curiosity of the public before its release. Ignoring the traditional definition and functionality of the format, the artist Debora Hirsch decided to create some 'posthumous' trailers of the 1931 film Limite.
Limite, from director Mário Peixoto, is often considered the high-water mark in the history of Brazilian cinema, and yet it was never commercially released.
Hirsch created not one, but three trailers, each using only the original images and sounds of the film, heralding the fictitious upcoming release of the film. One of the trailers incorporates Hollywood style, another introduces the characters and the basic plot of the film and the third focuses on the director and his thematic intentions.