Hammer of the Gods

Guilherme Dable brought the memory of his childhood homes to his first solo exhibition in London. If we think that memory is nothing more than the territory in which we fictionalize the world and the home that shelters us – in anguish, in epiphany – this is a show of house ghosts, and they wander to other houses: those that the artist invented for himself, and to tell a little about him to others. The radio was always on in the kitchen is a title that embraces many ambivalences. Dable was a child was in 1970’s Brazil, a country that was already known for the Bossa Nova of Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and João Gilberto; that had already been introduced to the powerful lyrical repertoire of Chico Buarque and gone through the inventions of Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in Tropicália – movement that went beyond national borders by merging the Brazilian music with lysergic electric guitars, and that took its name from a work by Hélio Oiticica.

But it’s not just this country and these songs, legitimated by the so-called good taste, that this show adresses. The radio sounds that the artist heard as a child came from the service area, a space that is still to this date is treated with distinction in Brazilian households. It was the radio of a population aside, consisting of domestic workers who were at the time almost invisible: cooks, nannies, maids, cleaning ladies. The sound of this popular taste – singers like Roberto Carlos and Odair José mixed with the folk repertoire of Rio Grande do Sul state, where Dable was born – infiltrated the living room and other rooms from the kitchen. It was and is a trace of a Brazil that other Brazils still do not listen to and keep refusing. The silent violence of this repression is contradictory, since it transforms this gagged nation in a force that haunts, in the best sense, this whole body of work.

The exhibition’s title was taken from the eponymous work in which a boiling kettle triggers a set of microphones. Possible metaphor for a polarized country in ebullition, the video works both as antenna and sponge of the latest events in Brazil, which faces a political crisis triggered, among other reasons, by the sound of the kitchen, echoing the old slave quarters, has become audible. Apart from being tuned to the events that surrounds him, Dable puts down the deepest roots of The radio … in his own artistic path. Over the years, he has always treated music analytically, recovering its sensitive math and distilling it as a range of sounds and silences. Through a particular synesthesia, is transposes his Tacet series transposed full and empty spaces of a sound interval to a game between smudge/line and erasing/void that guides drawing. Yes, drawing. With eyes and ears open to a huge legacy (John Cage, Chelpa Ferro, Rebecca Horn), the artist now uses a kettle to turn vapour in music and the microphone sound in air drawing. In the past, he made his pencil out of a noisy floor waxing machine, bowing to this kind of dancing vortex and its random tracing path . Nevertheless, polishers and kettles are household objects. In our childhood’s Brazil (we are both from the same generation), and also today, they are also tools of a work done mostly by the popular classes.

Samba has not yet arrived , installation that fills the gallery, also refers to music in its title. By mentioning samba, Brazilian culture’s most recognizable rhythm, but choosing a verse that says that it “has not arrived yet,” Dable may point to two important issues. The first relates to his own formation. Born at the Southern extreme of a giant-sized Brazil, the artist has always had difficulty in recognizing the tropical references associated with our identity. The other point implied by the verse is the idea of transit: “Samba has not arrived yet”, but it may be on its way, show up any time. Or not. The song quoted in the title continues with “samba will not die / see, the day has not yet dawned.”

I highlight these two possibilities I can see in this title because I believe that this work can make us travel to a previous point: the Shelterruin/Ruínaabrigo drawings, which Dable presented in this same space, in the group show Bar to the Future in 2013. Intended to be on the floor, they were installed in place of the gallery’s entrance mat. They showed a mosaic of William Morris patterns, so important to the visual memory of the London houses, done in watercolor pencil. This was covered with a translucent perspex plate that had patterns of cobogós, a hollow tile widely used in Brazilian modernist buildings, cut through it. Visitors crossed this set of references every time they passed through the gallery entrance. If their shoes were wet, the water collaborated as the cobogós’ negative shadow began to dilute the watercolor and reconfigure the artist’s nod to William Morris. A dripping made by chance, as the steam from the kettle and the dance of the waxing machine.

To look at Shelterruin/Ruínaabrigo after seeing Samba has not yet arrived has, however, even more important when we surpassed the formal boundaries to risk a tour through subjective and symbolic networks. The two works neighbor their abilities to evidence the transit of images, so important for someone from a country whose visual inventory was born mestizo, baroque, elliptical and traveler. Interestingly, Dable’s two incursions in London had the same power: to stimulate the artist to recognize himself a little more Brazilian, taking risks in works that dive vertiginously in the tropics’ exuberance and noises, but also in their pains, their repressions, in its immense melancholy.

It is also noteworthy the statement that Samba has not yet arrived does makes of an idea of home. If Shelterruin/Ruínaabrigo turned our attention to the floor, we are now invited to look at a huge fake tile panel panorama of seemingly disjointed distinct images.There are not only Athos Bulcão’s panels, with their lyrical geometry, created for Brasilia’s modernist buildings, a heritage acknowledged by the so-called “educated elite”. Those ordinary patterns come from the same kitchen that inhabits Dable’s child memory, where popular taste amalgamated the tiles under a contrasting palette of flower pictures and op art reinterpretations. Crucial to Portuguese culture, tiles are both Brazilian memory and strategic element of our modern architecture. But quoting this repertoire, the artist chooses a memory filtered by a look that comes from the margin, the kitchen, diminishing the importance of the panels of those monumental halls or the taste that comes from the living room. This is a filter that makes visible what is, as I said before, repressed. In this case, not only in Brazilian culture, but also in the arts circuits and discourses. We have neglected the symbolic, the applied arts and the popular; We have dammed poetry through a strictly formal analysis connected with the “latest trends”.

Part of Samba has not yet arrived’s strenght comes from something – actually, someone – that is not new, and that offers challenging obstacles by the insistence on formalism’s exclusivesness. The gray leaves that take the walls and floor much of this environment, cut and hand-painted one by one, lead us to Matisse, painter, traveler and artist of the transits par excellence. By flirting with the matissean cut-outs, Dable recovers the possibility of joining painting, drawing and three-dimensionality in this ordinary and ancestral support: paper. The range of gray chosen for the work creates numerous crossroads. In the history of art, the gray color is passage of a color field to another, a bridge between worlds, light and form modulating in sfumato – a brushstroke that is as vaporous as the kettle blowing. In the popular field, the Ashes baptized the Wednesday of regeneration after the excesses of Carnival and before the contention of Lent, noting that the samba can be sad as Dry Leaves are. Matisse went to Morocco, created stained glass and murals and assumed himself as wild, without fear of being labeled as exotic or decorative. Here, in this other time, Dable creates a cement of disparate and somewhat shameless references. With it, he builds walls and spreads on the floor these singing images. Their sound is muffled but steady, consistent. Hammer of the gods.

Daniela Name


1. I refer here to the artist’s Waxing Floor Machine drawings series he started in 2007.
2. If The radio was always on in the kitchen [or] the hammer of the gods quotes a line from Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, “samba has not yet arrived” is a verse from Desde que o samba é samba, song included by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in the album that commemorated Tropicália’s 25 years.
3. In Portuguese, the word “gray” means both the colour and ash.
4, Name of a Nelson Cavaquinho samba, one of Brazil’s most important composers, and a fundamental name for the Estação Primeira de Mangueira samba school, in Rio de Janeiro.