1958, Rosario, Argentina
LADIES OF SHANGHAI
Right away I found out that those portraits, which had “shanghaied” me, came from some particular almanacs called yuefenpai (月份 牌), literally a calendar poster in Chinese. Today, sought after by many collectors and reproduced ad infinitum on postcards and posters, these advertising almanacs were produced in Shanghai and had their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s. In their brilliant chromolithographs, illustrated by male artists, we find glamorous representations of the modern Chinese woman who, like the fatal woman in film noir, while being the object of the male gaze to which she offers herself, challenges –in her own way and by her own visibility– the patriarchal order. Modern women who are the subject of discussion in today's society, particularly in Shanghai's society, and whose echoes, those of this discussion, currently resonate in our society.
In the convulsed China of the 1920s, the New Woman, in Chinese Xīn nǚxìng (新 女性), became the standard of all those who sought a change in society. The struggle for a change in the cultural paradigm that would assign a new role to women (in a country emerging from a patriarchal feudal system in which women had almost no voice and no visibility except as a courtesan) became a central theme for diverse interests, local and foreign, from politics to advertising. Also in cinema, whose industry was installed in Shanghai. During its golden age, the 1930s, many of the films, especially those of leftist ideology, had the "New Woman" as their theme and its subversive potential for a patriarchal tradition. In many cases the roles, especially in their tragic fate, bore similarities to future femmes fatales in film noir. The men directors were in charge of pointing out the correct path for the modernization of women. A male character makes it clear in a film: "Only those who are more self-sufficient, more rational, more brave and more aware of public welfare can be truly modern women!"
Fragment of the curatorial text by Daniel García, 2019
'Freak' as a pretext
While they sing and hum, some in half language, they all move with spastic contortions, "we accept you, you are one of us, gooba-gobble, gooba-gobble!". A little boy walks through the table and gives them to drink from a huge cup, acting as a profane communion. The bearded woman, the Siamese women, the clown, Hercules, the hermaphrodite, the armless and the legless are happy and celebrating the union of Hans, the dwarf, with Cleopatra, the trapeze artist. Everyone laughs except Frieda, the Lilliputian who looks like a doll and is in love with Hans. The drunken scene, bacchanal of open and drooling mouths, is cut off by the shout of "freaks!" that releases the "normal" aerialist on all of them, while saying it to herself, without knowing it yet. In this way, with that yowl is sealed not only the extraordinary film that Tod Browing shooted in 1932, but the use of that word. Everything is going to be very different, in terms of imagination and semantics, after Freaks. The one who does know this is Daniel García, and against that backdrop, with that film and with the posters that advertised these attractions, the Freak Shows at fairs and circuses in the United States, he began to paint his acrobats. He paints those images of complicated poses, folded bodies and deformed postures on the edges of the canvas. There he makes them fit to start the routines of each one of them. He restricts the place to a minimum, in the small squares; takes it to its maximum expression, in the large formats. In any case, he transforms the redoubt contained in those frames into an experimentation arena.
Not only in the twisting of limbs and trunks of the figures, García confirms that he knows how to decompose the human body, make it elastic and bend it until it is ready to be put in a pocket, but in that formal drift there is a sentimental journey, in going from what has been learned in figuration to the metamorphoses of new geometries The human form, so present in his paintings, attracts us with a singular empathy. The colors of the suits, those yellows, greens and muted blues, work as an emotional theory of color. The backgrounds are scratched and worn not only to account for the passage of time. Also to endow them with a certain longing, a singular affection for those objects rescued from time and memory. They are paintings to love as we do with some people and animals. Something strange happens with the legs that wrap us in hugs, turns that caress us, arms that attract us to slide through our eyes and close them to take us away. To a world of acceptances, of balance and good coexistence. Where we are accepted in our differences and that it is fulfilled, as in the aforementioned movie, that if we hurt one we are doing it to everyone. Because if that happens, we already know that the revenge of the freaks is true and ruthless.
Laura Isola, 2016
Curatorial text for the exhibition Acrobats and Wolves
Little Paintings of Flowers
Look at the flowers that are always faithful to the earth...
Rainer Maria Rilke
The scene is repeated: a vase or jar with flowers, upon a fragment of surface and with a plain or tiled background. In each, the flowers are standing, shorn from their habitat, fully exposed to those who view them. Some arrangements are more generous than others, they alternate between the moderation and exuberance of plant life.
Within this repetition, variation occurs in the colours and types of flowers, in the different vases or jars, which themselves, in turn, carry images of flowers or sketch out a scene, a smoothness or a transparency.
These ‘little paintings of flowers’ are presented as floral potlatchs, offered as domestic sacrifices to ornament and pure expense.
What is visible in each of the small pictures is the inevitable end: the deterioration of the epiphany of freshness and splendor, like the flame of a candle:"'A stalk of fire! Can we ever know how much it perfumes?' says the poet Jabés. The stem of the flame is so straight and so fragile that the flame is a flower."(Gaston Bachelard). What is invisible is the fragrance and the original tree or plant in which the flower was fortunate destiny.
The container - the receptacle that fulfills the double function of simultaneously containing and exhibiting - participates in the ornamental composition, maintaining the group of flowers in relation to the hollow, the emptiness, and also sustaining its vital breath with water, air and light.
In Myths on the Origin of Fire, James G. Frazer says that "when the Menri came in contact with the Malays, they found among them a red flower (gant’gn: in Malay gantang)). They gathered in a circle round it and stretched their arms out over it to warm themselves." Perhaps all flowers are flames, seeking essential unity with fire and light.
Gilda Di Crosta