Lais Myrrha (b. 1974, Belo Horizonte) is a São Paulo based conceptual artist who reconstructs narratives at the intersections of modernity, architecture, urbanization and the theater of politics. In large scale installations, conceptual and video work she investigates the abstract instruments of power and knowledge that construct our experience in the world from the place we occupy it.
Myrrha’s artistic practice researches areas of instability, and creates situations where the familiar becomes odd, where conventional logic seems to fail. By de-naturalizing what is so familiar to us, like our country’s constitution, or the newscast that we watch every night, the artist creates room for approaching everyday situations from new perspectives. More than that, by bringing light to the internal mechanisms of socially determinant symbolic structures, she unveils their artificial essence, which, by itself, is a libertarian act of demystification.
An important aspect of her creative process is the selection and precise use of materials, which reveal the attention she pays to their ability to condense narratives. In Double Standard (Dois pesos, duas medidas) (2016), commissioned by and presented at the 32nd Sao Paulo Biennial, the artist built two towers with the same dimensions composed of stacked materials. For one of the towers, she used materials found in indigenous constructions (woody vines, logs, straw), for the other, those used in typical Brazilian construction (bricks, cement, steel, glass, pipes) – two methods that embody ways of life and two different projects of society that, even if they are possibilities for construction, already declare their forms of ruin.
The relationship between architecture and ruin has been further explored by the artist with the exhibition Gameleira 1971 Project (2014). Presented in Sao Paulo’s Pivô Art the show was a comment on one of the most dramatic accidents of Brazilian civil engineering and construction history, which took place in Belo Horizonte in 1971: Minas Gerais Governor by that time had plans to inaugurate the new Palace of Industry, designed by legendary Brazilian modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, on March 31st 1971, in celebration of the 7th anniversary of the then called Military “Revolution” (now referred to as the Military Dictatorship) in Brazil. However, on February 4th, around noon, part of the construction slab collapsed, resulting in the death or disappearance of 117 workers. After this event, it was decided to demolish what was left of the construction. Until today, a huge silence surrounds this accident, which was completely erased from Niemeyer’s biography.
The exhibition was specially conceived for Pivô Art Space, which is located in one of Niemeyer’s most iconic designs, the S-shaped Copan building, in São Paulo, and comprised three pieces: the installation “Geometry of the Accident”, an accumulation of concrete slaps, a model (proportions approximately 2:1) of the construction site after the collapse; the installation “In memory of architect’s silence”, a plotter on wall with the names of the117 workers who died or were missing by midnight of February 04, 1971; and “Transitive State #2”, composed of posters with the photo used as a basis to the “Geometry of the Accident” installation, a text contextualizing the project and the poster matrix.
As one of the most powerful institutions in current society, the press is also an object of study in Lais Myrrha’s practice. Myrrha’s ongoing series of collages Reparation of Damages, created from April 2016 onwards, explores the media’s incestuous relationship with the corrupt political and economic Brazilian elites as it culminated with the impeachment of elected president Dilma Rousseff (who has never been charged or found guilty of any crimes) at the end of April 2016. Using newspaper clippings of scenes of the impeachment process including press conferences, speeches by right-wing politicians and a panel of federal level judges who turned a blind eye and ratified the impeachment, Myrrha transforms the tired scenes of political spectacle into empty scenes.
The same way that now, in Brazil, the media circus has been creating an image of hope and even utopia through the many delations associated with high profile corruption investigations lead by the Supreme Court and enforced by the Federal Police, this collages bring to the foreground the monuments and scenarios of another time of hope, that of the construction and inauguration of Brasilia, a city designed by Modernist icons Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa. The euphoria of Brasilia’s inauguration, nevertheless, was soon followed by the repression and crude violence of the military dictatorship, which lasted for over 20 years. Therefore, it is not without irony or melancholy that the artist creates a parallel between then and present time, when Brazil is facing another, much more subtle and yet even more cruel, state coup.
By removing the characters from the political theater, as Rousseff is removed from the office to which she was appointed, Myrrha reveals what remains: the furniture in a conference room, the AK-47 of a police officer, a wilted Brazilian flag and country motto. Institutions and their power are as much abstract, a fictional historical creation, as they are real forces that mold people’s lives. Looking past its actors, the artifacts and mechanisms that support these systems remain, from abstract ideologies like national identity to the definition and conceptualization of space through architecture, which is one more face of the institutional power held over the population’s physical body, especially in the late Modernist dream that is Brasilia.
Myrrha has a Master in Fine Arts from the School of Fine Arts of UFMG, 2007, and graduated in fine arts course at the Escola Guignard, UEMG, 2001. She has been granted a number of prizes and awards, including the I Foreign Ministry – Itamaraty Contemporary Art Award, in 2011. She has exhibited extensively in Brazil and abroad, and amongst her most prominent shows was her participation at the 32nd Sao Paulo Biennial, Incerteza Viva (2016); her solo show “Gameleira 1971 Project” at Pivô Art Space, in Sao Paulo (2014); and her participation in the four-year project (2016-20) “New Cities, Future Ruins”, curated by Gavin Kroeber and launched in Dallas, Texas.
(Text by Caroline Carrion and Emma Engle)