Studio International

Published 21/03/2018

Cinthia Marcelle: The Family in Disorder: Truth or Dare

In her first major UK solo exhibition, the Brazilian artist shows the importance of collective action in an exciting experiment in the occupation and transformation of publicly accessible space

Modern Art Oxford
10 March – 27 May 2018


Cinthia Marcelle’s exhibition at Modern Art Oxford, The Family in Disorder: Truth or Dare, is an exciting experiment in the occupation and transformation of publicly accessible space and the importance of collective action in creating order. A collection of new works (all 2018) by the Brazilian artist (b1974, Belo Horizonte, lives and works in São Paulo), it responds to Oxford’s history of education, while thinking more broadly about pedagogy on a global scale, particularly inspired by popular protests in the artist’s native Brazil.


The Family in Disorder, a site-specific work made for MAO, is split between two gallery rooms, one the inverse of the other, representing a movement between order and disorder. The two rooms each house an installation composed of the same amount of identical materials, both configured around a black carpet that draws attention to the dimensions of the two rooms. In the Piper Gallery, the smaller of the pair, carpeting fits snugly to all four walls, whereas, in the Upper Gallery, bare floorboards rim the black material, an imprint of the opposing space.

Yet although the composite parts correspond, their arrangement in either room is vastly dissimilar. In one, matchboxes, gaffer tape, household bricks, plastic sheeting and other material are carefully compartmentalised into a linear barrier that runs from wall to wall across the gallery space. From the doorway, the floor in the second half of the room is concealed, almost as if the bottom has fallen out of the room, rising again as you approach, but still sealed off to visitors’ footsteps by the bisecting wall of materials.


The sparsity of the arrangement in the Piper Gallery contrasts with the twin room where the same set of materials litter the floor in pieces; clumps, streams and tatters are suspended from the rafters; singe marks waft up the painted walls; and wooden battens jut outwards in spikey forms redolent of barricades constructed on frontlines during wartime. There is a clear pathway running through the scattered setup, so that this room is at least traversable in its length and breadth, although precariously balanced structures and hanging items introduce an element of (health and safety-accredited) risk.


Risk and trust were significant factors in the realisation of the work for both the artist and the institution. Marcelle worked with the gallery’s team of technicians on the project and, after establishing ground rules in conversation with the gallery, sealed off the room and allowed the technicians to create whatever display they wanted out of the materials provided without any further direction from her. Neither artist nor gallery knew what was being made and relied on the technicians who, as with all arts institutions, are practising artists not usually allowed to think creatively in their place of work. Crucially, they are also responsible for dismantling the show, mitigating any idea of complete chaos within the white cube.   


Between these capacious installation spaces, which somehow seem to be in flux, there is space for stillness. In the darkened link space between the installation galleries is a video work, Truth or Dare, which Marcelle made from photographs taken while she was in residence in South Africa. A concrete triangle embedded in red scorched earth spins with changeable velocity, sometimes slowing but never coming to rest. It resembles a disoriented compass whose needle never definitively navigates towards either the order or disorder that it is thrust between.


In a small room nearby, a series of six delicate pencil drawings of tribal masks, No Title, are assembled in line. Each is stamped in the bottom right-hand corner with the date and location of the drawing, described by Marcelle as the “cartography of the exhibition”, having moved between São Paulo, London and Johannesburg during its conception. These tiny drawings, only a few centimetres in height and executed with an acutely definite finish, seem appositional to the rest of the exhibition. The room itself also seems a world away: windowless, enclosed, warmly lit and muffled. It is a contemplative spot that brings you face to face with the types of items typical to traditional museology drawn from ethnographic collections (examples of which can be seen at the nearby Pitt Rivers Museum), and brings the self-reflexive method of the surrounding installations into relief.


The project intervenes in well-established patterns of museum pedagogy to deconstruct the traditional set up of room, object, visitor and explanatory wall text. There is no particular way of navigating the exhibition and chance plays a big part in which direction you come from as there are two entrances, one into disorder and the other into order. I found that with each of the works, either separately or as an intra-acting constellation, I was placed into a position of in-between, allowing me to thread together reference points. “An exhibition,” says Marcelle, “is a space of learning”, which she encourages in a shared and makeshift way without being didactic. It is in this sentiment that she declared it is almost too soon for her to speak about the exhibition, as she is “still part of the process”.


Really, “disorder” is a misnomer as everything has been deliberated over and delivered by a group of people working in collaboration to make something cohesive yet unprecedented from existing materials. This, again, is to do with how and where our societies allow people to engage in education. Citing the secundarista movement in Brazil, an occupation of educational buildings by school students demanding more say and more diversity in their curricula, Marcelle proposes that learning can be a group exercise with the power to challenge patriarchal colonial structures. Rather than disorder, perhaps “unorder” would be more apt.


By carefully focusing on dismantlement and reassembly, The Family in Disorder: Truth or Dare, draws out the importance of coming together collectively. It presents a varied set of works that effect a layer of institutional critique by not treating the gallery space as sacrosanct, but instead as a place that is permeable to, indeed rests on, conflicting claims to public spaces and pedagogical practices. Marcelle suggests we “reinvent, relearn and reorganise” not only our systems of looking and learning, but also of being together.