Palma Mater. Teresa Berlinck, 2006

During the elaboration of the project for the facade of the Vermelho gallery, in São Paulo, three images persisted in my mind, related to the possible repertoire of a historical memory: the first one is the original representation of the human figure, obtained by means of the negative of a hand printed on stone by cavemen; the second one corresponds to the white marks that result in silhouettes, in ancient mural paintings` restoration process. In my memory, that image appears and is confounded with the scene of the discovery, and immediate effacement by oxidation, of mural paintings Antiquity, in the subway excavation scene in the film “Roma”, by Federico Fellini. The third is the apocalyptic image of the shadows revealed in walls by the bodies of people effaced by the explosion of the atomic bomb.

 

Besides an architectural element, the Vermelho facade was implanted, in this project, as a component of the urban landscape. Located in the crossing of at least four transit ways in the area of Paulista Avenue, the little alley that widens into a patio is a place of access, arrival and public gathering, daily and in the openings of exhibitions and performances. Therefore, the facade has a special character: in the complex quarters of Vermelho, it is the space the artwork is most connected with the city and its social aspect, working as a billboard, personal card and introduction of what is being presented there.

 

The rectangle drawn by the architect relates to the view the top of Pacaembu district, which the gallery building hides: a horizontal surface configuring the landscape mode. And the image projected by my imagination on that surface relates to the representation of the urban or rural landscape, something as our cultural landscape. In geography, the cultural landscape is modeled a natural landscape by means of a cultural group. Culture is the agent, the natural area is the mean, and the cultural landscape is the result. In this work, the idea includes the image of that landscape, formed by elements that are repeated in the history of its representation. Those elements are fixated and become part of the common visual memory, resulting in the typical landscape of Brazil: the national landscape. In that image, rows of Imperial palm trees organize the access to buildings, or they stand out as solitary vertical figures, quietly testifying the composition.

 

In the traditional representation of Brazilian landscape, since Brazil was “Pindorama”, which in the Indian language meant Earth of Palm Trees and afterwards, in the images produced by cartographers, traveling artists, painters, photographers, architects, landscape artists, poets, writers and minstrels, palm trees are always present. In colonial-time maps, near the seat of rural properties, in the paintings and photos of public walks and botanical gardens the Empire and the Republic, in vistas and panoramas, in poems and songs, in labels, packings and in fabric prints, since before the Portuguese arrival up today, palm trees seem to symbolize an exotic place and the tropical climate, serving as an identifier of personality, origin and nationality.

 

The work for the facade of Vermelho gallery embeds in the building a palm tree image, overlapped by a human figure, in a composition that refers to the formation of the Brazilian landscape. Focusing the imagination on that landscape, I came to the view of the Guanabara Bay and of Rio de Janeiro. And on the trail of that vista`s representations, I found the work of the “carioca” Marc Ferrez (1843-1923). In his photographs, Ferrez fixates, through the romantic vein of the picturesque, the ideal landscape of Brazil: he shows nature framing urban architecture and social life. In his affective and warm relationship with the nature of Rio, the forest and the mountains don`t represent a threat for men, but the shaded space that invites to stroll and to rest.

 

Thinking about the 20th century perspectives, I saw Marc Ferrez`s photos as the last possible idealization of a landscape that represents urban life in harmony with nature. An image that fixates and becomes the symbol of a landscape, but, in the same movement, begins its effacement, as something that can no longer exist and therefore becomes memory.

 

The palm tree image used in “Palma Mater” was extracted a photograph dated 1907, attributed to the anonymous photographer known as German Amateur. In that image, two ladies pose for the camera in the path bordered by palm trees and by the sea on Niemeyer Avenue, then in works (the connection between Leblon and São Conrado was concluded in 1917), with the Gávea Rock in the back.

 

One of the palm trees in this photo was ed for the work. That image was projected and transferred, by means of the drawing of its contour, to the gallery`s facade. The wall`s plaster was removed within the drawing, resulting in the emergence of the palm tree`s silhouette on the brick base. The dug-up image was then filled with plaster, bringing to view the image of the now white palm tree, contrasting with the wall, previously painted in gray.

 

On the palm tree image in white plaster, a human illustration was drawn starting the contour, in pencil, of a model`s body leaning on the wall. Standing, with the body parallel to the palm tree stem, the model was instructed to move the hip`s axis, supporting his weight on one leg. The mark of the human figure was drawn close to the palm tree, with the area of the left hip over the stem. At that point of intersection, a deeper opening was made on the wall and a femur bone was introduced, modeled in white porcelain.

 

Among the first plants introduced in the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro, a gift brought the Mauritius Islands by Luiz de Abreu Vieira e Silva to the king Don João VI, there was a palm tree (Roystonea oleracea (Jacq.) Cook), that was planted by the Regent Prince himself. then on, she was popularly known as Royal or Imperial palm tree. In 1829 the palm tree flourished for the first time. In order that the Botanical Garden had the monopoly of that species, manager Serpa Brandão ordered that all its fruit were removed and burned. However, at night, slaves climbed the tree, picked the fruit and sold them in secrecy. That`s how the species was dispersed throughout the country, becoming even more known than native palm trees. The specimen planted by D. João received the name of Palma Mater.

Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro: http://www.jbrj.gov.br/historic/index.htm