Vanessa Safavi has been over the years developing a deep and fascinating research around plastics, especially silicone, which attracts her by its allegory of beauty and perversion, transformation, its mutability and plasticity. Silicone and silicon play an important role in the modern world economy, being present in the chemical, electronic and computing industry, and especially in medicine, where its use in plastic surgery has been increasing immensely over the last decades.
Although the use of plastics have extensively been explored in the visual arts, literature and science fiction, Vanessa Safavi’s interest lies in the playful and elastic aspect of the silicone, which allows her to produce fleshy and slimy surfaces. Through her works, the artist explores diverse forms of sexuality and fashion that evolve in our digital and contemporary era. Moreover, her interpretation of silicone relates to conceive and celebrate a sexualized and powerful body as a creative and communicative tool, and not as an object.
In the exhibition Cloud Metal Cities at Kunsthalle São Paulo, her first solo show in Brazil that continues the project Nature and Knowledge, Vanessa Safavi presents three framed silicone works, whose distorted surface, although folded under the glass, still appears elastic, symbolizing a sort of entropic whirlpool. Titled Skin, body, air, they suggest the skin and the body as a connected envelope, an interior, both physically and conceptually. Safavi’s silicones are not only an allegory of the body’s performances and transformations, but also hold a feminine and poetic aspect. They explore the concept of the body as a tool to colonize space and nature. In this context, the Brazilian enthusiastic sense of body cult and body transformation is another layer to add to this work.
Having arrived in Brazil a month ago, the artist could eventually understand the modernist heritage, the neo-concretism and abstractionist traditions in Brazil. However she is not melancholic of modern times, rather more interested in how to interpret this imprint of the modernist model today in a quickly growing Brazil, that moves from a colonialist past to a new multicultural capitalist global culture. In her work, Safavi often questions the social and cultural collective as well as individual identities by using other cultures as raw material, analyzing them and incorporating them into her work. Opposing nature and science, culture and philosophy, she has been developing a new body of work, combining her research on plastics and other materials such as aluminium.
Cloud Metal Cities evokes this research on the potential of combining materials together. By using industrial materials with a poetic touch, Safavi introduces automatically new layers of interpretation. All materials are primarily signs that convey messages and information. Their materiality determines a cultural or a social value. The exhibition title works as a very simple collage of words that could relate to a science fiction scenario. The cloud – simultaneously natural and virtual – gathers the humidity of nature, the pollution of the city and in the same time stocks a constant flux of digital information. Influenced by the crystallized visions of her travel the artist describes the city physically, emotionally, and virtually with a taste for fantastic surrealism.
Histoires, Historias, the picture that illustrates Safavi’s exhibition, shows a woman wearing white jeans and a short top made of aluminum. The choice to use aluminum came also as a reference to Lygia Cark’s sculptures, titled Bichos (Critters) for their organic character. They represent the last stage of Lygia Clarks’s geometric research before she started exploring more conceptually ephemeral and sensory forms. Alluding to Lygia Clark’s body of work, Safavi designed a series of sculptures made of aluminum sheets that display her failure to reproduce Bichos. These sculptures are labeled as “failures” because they exist in a context that has changed, referring to a past which the artist has never encountered. Safavi thus prefers to give them the shape of a new existence.
Displayed on the floor, her works structure the void and remain sculptures at same time. As ruins in an abandoned city, their surfaces reflect all sources of light and sketch distorted, almost psychedelic images. Up close, crystalline dashes of an unknown liquid seem to flow down the metallic surfaces. Silent and enigmatic, almost invisible, what is on the surface is unknown, but the title Antropofàgia is nevertheless a clear reference to Clark’s work and Brazilian art history. It evokes the organic softness in a “swallowed-up” past and a raw physical murmur.