The Last Supper (text by Maria Anna Potocka)

The work is themed on ordinary people who turn criminal. The artist portrays the subjects using colourful geometrical compositions, rendering them completely unrecognisable. In a sense, they do not exist. This form of representation also implies that they have fallen apart, in their own perception as well, having lost a sense of their own identity. Mysteriously, Hirsch calls them 'apostles'. Perhaps the connection is that Biblical protagonists were also ordinary people whose fate took an unusual turn, albeit fot the good. The title of the work is an explicit reference to the Bible. Fot the apostles, the Last Supper was a solemn occasion; for a criminal, it is the last meal before being executed.

 

BR-101 (text by Gabi Scardi)

BR-101 is Brazil’s main road. It is a federal road which, running parallel to the ocean, cuts longitudinally through the entire country, traversing its various states. Although it has a name that refers to it in its entirety, the BR-101 is given different denominations in each state is passes through. Every day, on the BR-101, cars, buses and all sorts of vehicles circulate: a hurly-burly of people and moods, an endless transmigration of people compelled by different motivations. The road is traveled by inhabitants of Sao Paolo, leaving the city in search of pleasantness on coastal beaches; but also by those who, moved by necessity, leave the more backwards north of the country to set out on voyages of hope towards the more developed and wealthier south.

BR-101 by Debora Hirsch is a photographic work, but also a voyage amid the contradictions and paradoxes of a country that the artist knows well, having been born and raised there. It is a work that expresses a particular viewpoint: that of someone who, having left her country of origin, has experienced distance, and exchanges; someone who has known diverse lifestyles and cultures and in the process has gained new awareness of the conventions in which she grew up and was educated. In fact, Debora Hirsch left Sao Paolo years ago, and has lived in Europe, and distance and dislocation have allowed her to observe her own country with a renewed gaze, one that is both participatory and distant. And now she cannot help but question herself. And she does so through BR-101: a series of images that at first sight may seem simple scenes of ordinary life. In effect, they are the result of situations found among the innumerable ones that make up the everyday panorama of some cities grazed by this road. For years, within the sphere of its comings and goings, the artist photographed “commonplace” scenes in today’s Brazil, miscellaneous humanity immersed in everyday routine, normal people involved in normal activities and actions, in domestic environments or in the streets: a nanny with a baby, a couple alongside a doorway, factory workers working, a pregnant woman, children. But then, over the course of time, Hirsch revisited those photographs, individuated the essential elements, the structural components, the signs that most clearly manifested a meaningful contingency. Just as happens in our minds, where a few of the images that pass by one after the other and are superimposed on one another in the rapid traffic of daily life are destined to re-emerge, and even those, over time, will probably end up blending together, so in Debora Hirsch’s work, a large number of photos taken at different moments, near to or far from one another, is broken up, the fragments transposed and re-composed in new contexts.

The viewer perceives a vague resonance in those images, as if in reorganizing them, Hirsch had granted them a particular order: something from our distant past re-echoes in them, a past we know through the historical-artistic western tradition of which we are depositaries. The sensation is that Hirsch, from the reality that surrounds her, grasps the same visual structures that presented themselves to artists of the past. In reality, the artist makes recourse to that shared baggage of knowledge with discretion, but with great awareness. Hirsch thus records images in order to isolate them, and removes actions and circumstances from their background or their need, from the logic or the random chance that actually determined their occurrence in a given context. In the process, by contrast, this logic emerges with renewed clarity. What one perceives of Brazil from this work is an organic and precise social system aimed at maintaining the status quo, with determined roles, ironclad, omnipresent – albeit often implied – laws; a situation of great social and economic division. So, an upper-class house is a sort of autonomous microcosm in which flaunted luxury and redundant Baroque-ism dominate the rooms, and, amid the furniture and knick-knacks, within gilded frames, large paintings hold forth, testifying to the regard for tradition. In one such house, a babysitter with a baby in her arms would never be at her ease in the family’s wing, but would remain in the less-visible service quarters; in the dining room, the elegant table would be set solely for people of adequate social status. But in Debora Hirsch’s images, the babysitter, pulled out of her destiny of invisibility, walks quickly across the polished, inlaid floors of the hall, amid mirrors, sconces and crystal lamps.

And three meninos de rua stand next to a richly laid table, looking out through the glass door. In a curly frame, contemporaneity peeps out with its disharmonies: Hirsch has inserted an anonymous landscape with an uneven road. While in a library, an unstable, apparently ephemeral structure stands incongruously.

In the exterior shots, the incongruences are the fruit of a subtle insistence. The figures were photographed in the same environment in which we see them, but individually and at different times; Hirsch then brings them together, in some cases dislocating them. Two workers wearing overalls and orange identifying jackets are seen on a sandy beach, but they seem quite absorbed in road maintenance work. A group of children dressed all alike, students from the same school, stand in a stone-paved street. They seem indifferent to a man lying on the ground next to them: who is he? is he alive? is he asleep?

These are extremely real, concrete presences, “almost” plausible, but not quite, endowed with an extra intensity, but at the same time somehow random. Insistence and vagueness together. Each of these images is the result of dozens, sometimes hundreds of shots. It is as if, to better represent the reality that interests her, Debora Hirsch had wanted to overcome the physical and temporal limitations and the contingency of a photograph. As if she had sought to concentrate the maximum meaning possible in the limited space of a single image, in order to show an aspect of her country that the eye, hampered by the déjà vu of habit, may no longer be able to see: a social system that needs to be reformed, and moved towards greater equity, an unstable economic arrangement that strongly impacts the existence of much of the population, condemned to uncontrollable oscillations, shifts of gear and speed. The video Uphill gives an appreciable form to this continual change of gear, rendering visible the perpetual motion, the downhill speed and the effort necessary to go back up the hill. The video’s setting is the steeply sloping ‘Pelourinho’ area of San Salvador in Bahia, where slaves were tortured up until 1835. The current state of things is simply the effect of the post-colonial heredity of a society still in a phase of transition. A new openness is on the horizon. But the transition is opposed by forces that have something to gain from the status quo.