Reflections on the Horizon emerged from the impact that the landscape around Miami’s Deering Estate Mission, where she has been an artist-in-residence since 2016, had on Frida Baranek. The installation comprises seven elements articulated to palm trees; these elements consist of rolls of rope with acrylic plates in various colors and curvilinear prints on their ends, and are placed so that the public is able to manipulate them and to establish different connections between the elements and with the environment. In this way, audiences are prompted to approach the plurisensorial vastness of nature and to perceive it through colored lenses that mimic the hues of the local fauna and flora. In this process, given the transparency of the acrylic plates and their reflective nature, people intervene into the objects and the environment; at once, they see themselves anew, projecting themselves into the landscape and seeing it through their own presence.
Like those acrylic plates and those rolls of rope, Frida Baranek’s recent works can be read as glasses for looking again at her oeuvre as a whole-as threads for tracing the unique path of her career, which began more than three decades ago in her native
Rio de Janeiro. Motivated by that specific site, Reflections on the Horizon can be connected with Baranek’s interventions on the Rio de Janeiro landscape in the mid-1980s, which had a markedly socio-political and existential bent. Beach, pond, and street where the urban spaces that prompted Baranek to create those unexpected installations of generally outsize objects: a slingshot comprised of a large rubber band attached to a tree and a rock; a buoy floating around a rocky islet on Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, later-during the 1984 exhibition Como vai você geração 80?, which celebrated the new cohort of artists then emerging into the Brazilian art scene-drowned in the School of Visual Arts pool; a large balloon anchored to the same islet, which remained as a graphic intervention, and another balloon, this one upside down, connected to a rock attached to the ceiling of Petite Galerie, the space where in 1985 Baranek had her first solo exhibition. Other works from the same period also included, in an irreverent spirit, uncommon inversions and juxtapositions. They provoked disparate feelings of attraction and menace, desire and powerlessness, delirium, stagnation, and impossibility; their ambiguity reprocessed, with critical irony, the cultural climate in the last days of the civilian-military dictatorship that ruled Brazil since 1964.
Reflections on the Horizon also bolsters an element that has gained prominence in Baranek’s recent work: granting the audience the possibility of manipulating the art, as in the 2014 series Mudança de Jogo (Game Change). Appealing and even dependent on the participation of the public, these works bring to the fore the interdependence between subject and object in the artistic experience, and reveal the way in which Frida Baranek’s work was nurtured, at the start of her career, by the Brazilian art scene.
As is the case with other members of what is known as the 1980s Generation, Baranek’s dialogs with artists of preceding cohorts combine continuity and differentiation, respect without reverence or stasis, and they help outline the concatenation of ideas and artworks, artists and movements that have shaped a unique territory for the arts in Brazil. Baranek’s studies under João Carlos Goldberg at the School of Visual Arts and with Tunga at the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro, as well as the special conversation she maintained with Cildo Meireles, help us understand how her works derive less from the practices of sculpting, modeling, and melding, and more from the unfolding of sculpture as a mode of experimentation involving objects, spaces, and bodies. The somewhat randy sense of humor that pops up here and there connects Baranek’s work with Lygia Pape’s and Tunga’s. The combination of industrial materiality with organic anthropomorphism that is one of her work’s characteristics links Baranek to Pape, particularly to her metal Bichos (Bugs) and her rubbery Trepantes (Climbers). These references persist even as she travels around the world and creates works based on different contexts, a process in which she has gradually incorporated other interlocutors-her printmaking collaboration with Joan Hall being of particular significance. Another key referent assumed by Baranek in Reflections on the Horizon is Mário Pedrosa, with his transitive elements arranged for the intervention of others, dependent on those active interactions for the initiation of the artistic experience.
Such an opening to audience participation is also present, in a different range, in Nós (Us) and Situation, from 2016. In these series, as in many others by Baranek, the reordering of the elements is prefigured in the very structure of the works, which are not set in a definitive way but can be reassembled following principles established by the artist. For Baranek, retaining a degree of uncertainty is of vital importance. This morphological indeterminacy gained even more support on the basis of her recent meditation on Werner Heisemberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Meanwhile, as in Mudança de Jogo, in these new series manipulation is almost impossible. The fragility and the delicacy of the glass or ceramic components limit handling by the audience even further. By frustrating the very invitation they pose, these works signal the existence of constraints imposed, at the personal and institutional level, on group participation in her works, in the arts in general, and beyond.
The relative morphological indeterminacy that traverses Baranek’s work is a way to deal with the crisis of the work of art as an artifact- and environment-producing paradigm. It is also a strategy for the (re)configuration of an artistic subjectivity in the midst of unstable conjunctures and out-of-control changes, be it in her own life or in the contemporary world as a whole. Not only the individual works but the selection itself change as they are relocated. As Frida Baranek continues to evolve, she subtly restructures her oeuvre. Rather than augmenting the total number of works, the new components redefine the whole, attenuating or accentuating previous decisions, lines and points of pressure, idiosyncrasies, and exceptions while opening up new fronts for action.
To comprehend the subtle morphological uncertainty that characterizes Baranek’s work, another constant is equally key. Having long avoided making her sculptures final, she has preferred solutions that were capable of being reassembled in various ways. Noticeable since the beginning of her career, this characteristic derives less from the difficulty of die casting and sculpting in Brazil-then as now-and more from her preference for mobile threedimensional objects, a feature that runs through her entire oeuvre and encompass what is usually considered, thanks to the persistence of artistic conventions, sculpture or printmaking. It is nevertheless important to note that this special kind of permanence was not properly speaking a choice, but a strategy for handling the constraints imposed on her work by Baranek’s constant moving between Brazil, Europe and the United States since the 1980s. While she maintained a studio in Rio de Janeiro, Baranek lived and worked in São Paulo, Paris, Berlin, New York, and London; she is currently located in Miami. Given how nomadic her life has been so far, very seldom does Baranek conceive her work to be rooted to any single place. In general, they can be disassembled, transported, and reassembled, and it is possible to adjust them to the different contexts without major impediments. Even those works that were created for specific sites-a small fraction of her oeuvre-are sometimes adaptable; such is the case, in fact, of Reflections on the Horizon, which was reinstalled at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden in July, 2017.
The procedures employed by the artist also contribute to the mobility and the displacements that characterize her. In the same way she piled up fragments in Nós and slabs in Situation, in other works Frida Baranek gathers, juxtaposes, coupled, added, superimposed, interwove, hung, and punctured components and materials. Without giving expression to the physical and chemical tensions at play in the works, without emphasizing the connecting or supporting elements, without making the effort required for the execution of the works explicit, Baranek generally produces morphological arrangements that appear fortuitous, almost random, but are in reality justified by the meanings associated to the images from which they derive or to which they allude.
Nós and Situation also show how, in parallel to her interventions in public spaces and her large-scale projects, Frida Baranek has also produced smaller, almost portable works. The dimensions of her porcelain works are close to those of the prints she has been making since 1991. Besides confronting tremendous challenges head-on, she is also driven to complete actions that are, in principle, minor. Yet, even as she oscillates between smallness and bigness, in general Baranek’s works situate themselves in the everyday human body scale. Independently of their size, they prefer the prosaic and eschew monumentality.
The variety of materials is another characteristic feature in Frida Baranek’s work. As in the case of certain sites and objects, she has found motivation in her materials. Her experimentation in recent series with porcelain, acrylic plates, jute rope, telephone cables, and wooden planks and ribbons is an indication of a forceful attraction for matter that is processed or set up as artifacts. It is not by chance that the selection of engravings and prints in the artist’s website (http:// www.fridabaranek.com) has paper and silk as keywords. Another example of the way in which materials motivate Baranek more intensely than techniques is found in her pottery, where the physical experience of working with clay is more important than the fire-burning process.
Baranek’s recent series reaffirm her interest in the characteristic materials of post-industrial culture, common to both exterior, public spaces and to the domestic spaces in global societies. This results in a rather wide spectrum. Although metals are constant in her work, there does not seem to exist an “ideal” Baranek material. Her materials can be mineral in origin, they can be plant-derived, or they can be of animal provenance; they can be exceptional or commonplace, even banal; they can be in use since ancient times, immersed in artistic and cultural traditions, or they can be recent inventions, novelties identified with the present. At the same time, while no materials are selected a priori, they are not interchangeable. This is even more clearly the case when it comes to her techniques, which Baranek deploys according to need. In Abysm with Thread, from 2017, for example, the laser-cut wooden piece combines drawing, engraving, and sculpting procedures in order to generate volumes with lines and planes based on those volumes, which, along with colors and textures, generate counterpoints: organic vs. inanimate; amorphous vs. structured; order vs. irrationality.
Baranek is never indifferent to her materials. Some have nothing to say to her, while others are powerfully appealing. She appropriates the latter, experiments with them, and reacts: she can continue her exploration just as easily as she can stop it. What matters are the meanings and feelings that are invested in any particular moment. At any rate, the materials do not exist in isolation but in articulation to the other elements that Baranek sets in motion in her artistic experimentation.
Recently she has explored both the colors of her materials and of chosen elements, as well as color in itself, for example in her series Mudança de Jogo e and in Reflections on the Horizon, which echoes the coloration of animals and plants in Deering Estate’s Mission. A concern for color was never absent from her work, but only recently has it acquired greater relevance. The lines engraved into the acrylic plates in Reflections on the Horizon take us back to another long-standing constant in Frida Baranek’s production. While early on in her career exaggerated, dysfunctional, ironic, and ambiguous objects dominated the work, she later created tangles and stuffings that persist to this day. To put them together she has used a varied range of metals, but also other materials, as can be seen in her series Indeterminacy and Uncertainty Relations, as well as in individual works like Abysm with Thread and No Control, all from 2017.
Over more than thirty years Baranek has used accumulations of continued or fragmentary lines, generally curved, that can be lengthened, truncated, twisted, turned, bent, fold on themselves, or continue forward to give shape to tangles that are more or less closed, dense, or rarefied, and can be trivial, tense, elegant, and at times almost decorative. In this way, graphic form reigns even in what is deemed sculpture, clarifying her investigation even more in parallel to engraving and printmaking. Frida Baranek literally draws with her materials in space. Volumes generated by lines to which often she adds planes and even other volumes, her three-dimensional drawings have given structure to objects that come close to turning into anthropomorphic figures, suggesting skins and bodies, evoking living beings, exhaling vitality.
These tangles are so frequent that they could be taken for the artist’s personal signature. Yet they go further than that, becoming elements through which she expresses herself. Their various graphic-material manifestations can be seen as indications of Baranek’s moods, diagrams of her states of mind. In Uncertainty Relations III, Indeterminacy II and No Control, the gracefulness of these lines, along with the material, chromatic, and luminescence exuberance of her recent work, signals a moment of intense sensorial charge, potent, lively, and expansive.
One cannot forget, however, the fragments in Nós and the rubble in Situation. It is true that these series charge, with irony, against the unexpected condition of the work of art as an accumulation of fragments, an exceptional refuge for luxury, a ruin manufactured to be preserved ad æternum. Yet, these series also make it possible- in fact, mandatory-to think about the ways in which beauty and crisis, humor and bitterness, pleasure and suffering exist as pairs that traverse Frida Baranek’s oeuvre from the start, as we have seen.
Baranek certainly expresses that which affects her: facts, memories, ideas, feelings, anecdotes, and history. Meanwhile, her preference for symbolic assumptions over linear narratives makes it difficult to understand her work as mere, unmediated autobiography. This explains the coexistence, not necessarily peaceful, of the external and the private in her art. Like life itself, art is a game that requires partners and cohorts. The vitality of Frida Baranek’s oeuvre is due, above all, to that way she interlaces art and life in works that are, rather than mere extensions of her body, objective manifestations of her being-with-others in the world.