Cabelo´s work first gained notoriety in 1996, when he took part in “Antarctica Artes com a Folha”, a landmark exhibition in Sao Paulo that introduced a new generation of Brazilian artists after that of Ernesto Neto, Adriana Varejão and Rosângela Rennó and which includes Rivane Neuenschwander, Marepe, Laura Lima, José Damasceno, Jarbas Lopes , and Sandra Cinto. In 1997, Cabelo (“hair” in Portuguese) took part in Documenta X, where he presented an intricate performance involving actors, an aquarium, and threads that connected the participants and were set on fire.
The works shown here were part of Cabelo´s ongoing production of drawings made on thin pieces of cotton fabric. This time the artist used mostly white fabric (along with a few pieces in bright orange), on which he drew with gentian violet, a purple dye commonly used as bactericide and fungicide. The exhibition was held at Galeria Paulo Fernande’s new “window gallery”, which looks out onto the streets of Rio’s old downtown, next to the gallery’s old space. The three interior walls were almost completely covered with pieces of fabric of different sizes, which hung precariously, looking like torn and stained bedsheets nailed to the walls. Scattered about on the floor were a dozen purple-stained sculptures made from sacks of the same fabric stuffed with sand, resembling child-size protohuman figures and bearing similar drawings on their surfaces. The gallery looked like some weird kid’s bedroom, full of ominous stuffed toys and apocalyptic drawings.
Cabelo´s works often construct fantastic and elusive fictions, full of both political and poetic references, through powerful characters and narratives. He frequently uses the image of a monstrous-looking figure whom we see (intertwined with purple stains and lines) in various scenes and situations. The lines seem to represent something, or many things, but one can only begin to wonder what-roots, routes, roads, rivers, veins, streams of water or blood, umbilical cords, some kind of foreign or illegible writing? Or is it simply a pure abstract purple line representing only itself? The result is crude yet complex, overflowing with violence and sexual connotations. The deceptively simple form of the works and the carelessness with which they appear to have been installed add fragility and precariousness to Cabelo’s powerful themes of life and death; the gentian violet itself will slowly fade.
Finally, the title of the show, “Suite Volátil” (Volatile Suite), which recalls Picasso’s Suite Vollard, 1930-37, the famous series of prints once exhibited in the nearby Paço Imperial, points to the unstable nature of everything in the exhibition. This was one of Cabelo´s most unassuming shows, yet also one of his most accomplished. Content, form, and medium were precisely articulated here. With the bareness of the materials, their rough finish, and their haphazard installation, the artist evoked the overflow between art and life, so it made sense to find his work not in some rarefied atmosphere, but in a window on a busy downtown street in Rio de Janeiro.