Museum of Labour, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2013

From September 11 to October 27, 2013

Held at the Museu do Trabalho (Museum of Labour) in Rio Grande do Sul, this exhibition brings together a group of works that have the purpose of building real and fictional trips between the past and the future. In confrontation with the existing objects and machines of the museum, it was presented a set of photographs, films and cameras produced and used by the artist in previous projects.presented a set of photographs, films and cameras produced and used by the artist in previous projects.

The Invention of Invention

What is the future of machines? What about their present? Machines, one can say, are good for speed acceleration, making space smaller, capturing images, and for many other things as essential as trivial, like copying a key in the corner locksmith. The more useful these objects are, the more invisible. They are brought to the world of visible – and useless – things only when overtaken by more efficient machines, becoming mementos of a technologically obsolete era. This idea made me reflect on the place of the machines Letícia Ramos developed in recent years, now exhibited alongside with photographs and drawings. (And not by chance, at the Museu do Trabalho [Labor Museum,] where contemporary art shows share space with a collection of machines that took part in the industrialization of the State of Rio Grande do Sul.)

Paradoxically, the machines built by the artist are already born in the future of machines, defined as the moment they are perceived as parts of the history of a given workmanship. Naturally, they were built within the context of art, thus were born for the museum, for being seen. The obsolescence of these objects is not caused, therefore, by their technological overcoming; they cannot be surpassed as they are not intended to overcome anything. Besides, at a glance they look completely unnecessary – as if Letícia was reinventing the wheel –, as photographic and film equipment with the most elaborated capabilities already exist.

Therefore, these machines can be perceived as being here, in our world, because they are deeply linked to pleasure, and just fairly related to usefulness . They are born to a specific image with plenty of mental constructions and conjectures about the unknown. Literature, science fiction, Franklin’s lab (from the Monica’s Gang comic books) arise as references to places where inventing the wheel is as primordial as the wheel itself. For not even pleasure is better than the pleasure of pleasure seeking.

ERBF, POLAR, and ESCAFANDRO, the cameras shown in this exhibition, were designed in the 2007-12 period, each made for a specific image. These objects were built from other objects; a 35 mm movie camera, Polaroid cameras, and underwater cameras were simultaneously the starting-point of these machines. Leticia’s cameras, as well as her photographs and films shown here, are dominated by a nostalgic atmosphere, and tell us about a bygone, analogic era when everyone had to travel by land or water. A time when capturing an image was an experience almost as extraordinary as reaching another place.

But nostalgia is not the same as sentimental conservativeness. Hence, in these works there is not any trickish grievance of progress and its astounding velocities. The delight of inventors and explorers – past and present – is what really springs from them. At their workshops, laboratories or computers, these curious and pertinacious people have a twinkle in their eyes that convinces us their gadgets are going to work. But they are not seriously concerned about it, once pursuing is maybe more important than finding.

Besides these objects, the exhibition also displays the project of a film projector specially developed for a machine in the museum’s collection. This drawing was developed from a 35 mm-film drying cabinet (from the Museu do Trabalho collection), and takes us a bit closer to the artist’s creation process. We can see through it that another machine, born from the contact with this object, explores the limitations and idiosyncrasies of the original model in order to recover a sense of usefulness, however briefly. Not a movie industry utility, but for the magic, unique delight of moving images.

In other words, Letícia starts from objects, or from the imagination of certain points of view – as in the ESCAFANDRO camera – to design cameras, and thus inverts the traditional principle of the history of images, according to which movie or photographic cameras generate visual stories. Taking sides with this overturning, this inverted logic, favors the construction of a kind of science fiction of the past. So the notions we have about “new” or “obsolete” are not precise anymore, and need to be reexamined.

The photographs, drawings, and objects by Letícia Ramos invite us to a trip to the artist’s universe – a universe combining unknown future and past times, dwelled by phantasies and a concrete element: the construction of machines for image capturing. In a way, Letícia’s creative compass condenses these two poles which formerly used to compose a dichotomy: imagination and knowledge.

Gabriela Motta
September, 2013

According to Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents, usefulness and pleasure seeking are the “motive forces of all human activities” (p. 39.)

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