Sentido Legacy - Flora Parrott

Artist Flora Parrott's reflections

It Was If I Was All Surface

During a late night Google search, connections were trying to be established. Keywords were typed into the little box and then deleted, new ones tried, conjuring up lists and avenues below.

The search was for cave networks in Brazil, dark passages in which the body would be squeezed and contorted, and the edges of ones form would become blurred.

At the time there were several unresolved strands to the work that I was making, I was trying to correlate confusing ideas around virtual space and geological landscapes, setting them unsuccessfully as opposites. There were so many ideas that were just out of reach of articulation in language. The ideas would slip away from me as I tried to write and drop into shapes or weights before dissolving without trace.

It was around this time that I was introduced to the work of Brazilian artist, Lygia Clark (1920-88), who challenged the relationship between viewer and object, in her work she explored the potential of the physical experience of an artwork.

With much help in the act of wrestling my ideas into an application form, in 2012 I was awarded an Artists International Development grant and travelled to Brazil, visiting São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and the PETAR cave network in the Atlantic Forest.

I visited the Lygia Clark Foundation in Rio de Janeiro. Clark’s progressive ‘corporeal experiments’ and ‘relational objects’ blurred the lines between object, maker and viewer, questioning physical and institutional frameworks. After participating in one of Clark’s works, a man declared ‘It was as if I was all surface, the place where we meet the world.’[1]

In her work, Clark seemed to acknowledge another register for communication, a space between senses that was as much about feeling and being within, as it was about looking or writing. The legacy of the Neo-Concrete movement can be found in artist run spaces and studios all around the cities that I visited, artists working with process and physical encounter with materials with such ease and fluidity.

I spent three weeks of the six in Brazil, near to the caves and went into them on most days. I was guided by a highly knowledgeable team, most of whom had grown up in the region and who know the caves like the back the back of their hand. My Portuguese is extremely limited, I spent most of time catching only partial meaning, the main mode of communication was through hand gesture. The guides would generously draw my attention to a feature in the rock and explain its’ formation with a sequence of hand actions. Layer upon layer, fissure, plasticity, fracture, brittle all carefully demonstrated by movement and touch.

During a caving trip in the PETAR Karstic network I saw the spot that had magically appeared on my screen during the google searches. It was the jagged edges of the mouth of a cave, a portal leading from the lush green forest to the dark interior.

The experience of being in Brazil, being in the caves and physically thinking through the place - the body in the place - has been a catalyst for a new way of working. Lygia Clark’s use of artworks as tools for tacit understanding has given me the opportunity to think through the material encounter in new ways; rather than looking for clarity through opposition, by looking for the meeting point, the spaces in which the edges between states become blurred.

Flora Parrott

These threads of thought and introductions to ways of working have continued into current work, and in 2016 I was invited by Charlie Levine to participate in Camden Sentido, a project connecting the UK and Brazil. Gustavo Ferro and I decided to walk each of our cities: London and São Paulo connected by a virtual conversation on Whatsapp. We described what we encountered along the way in detail, the conversation dropped in and out; reception, battery, broken Portuguese, broken English, screens wet from rain. Occasionally we came across moments of symmetry, as if the frequency had tuned in perfectly just for a moment.

The conversation was printed in a publication, made solid in sculpture and then spoken out again in a performance, the times of each message from the two cities before the words.

I met Gustavo in São Paulo on my first trip there in 2012, he is now based in the UK. Charlie is in Brazil, possibly walking around the streets that Gustavo described in his Whatsapp messages. She is making new connections and re-establishing existing ones, these exchanges have been so generative and will, I hope, continue to grow.

[1] Frieze Magazine: March 2006


Read curator and commissioner Charlie Levine's article here