"She believed in angels, and because she believed, they existed."
In the difficult game of articulating contemporary art and classic paintings, the young artist Gabriela Noujaim found her place.
In the difficult game of articulating contemporary art and classic paintings, the young artist Gabriela Noujaim found her place. With the video “Fiandeiras”, inspired by the painting “As Fiandeiras” (The Spinners), by Spanish artist Diego Velásquez (1599-1660), the artist simulates a fictional scene as an installation in the “Salão Nobre” of Parque Lage. The space, perfect for showing videos, offers illumination and dimensions in which the artist can develop her creation. A spinning wheel, a screen at the back for projections, waltzes being played – these are the elements that Gabriela used to interact with her characters: a couple dancing, a man spinning and an angel.
When painting “As Fiandeiras”, Velásquez divided the scene into different planes and used light to emphasize the various pictorial elements. While the painter positioned the atelier and the artisans spinning wool in the foreground, the real motive for the painting – an enormous tapestry from the Spanish Santa Izabel factory – occupies the upper background of the painting. The tapestry shows the mythological scene of Aracne and Athenas, where the goddess Athenas is about to punish Aracne, transforming her into a spider, destined forever to spin her web.
Spinning wool or cotton on the wheel was a task done almost exclusively by women. While they spun, they told tales, like the Greek mythological figures Cloto, Laquesis and Átropos coiled, tied and cut the thread of life, thus deciding the destiny of human beings.
Gabriela, in the video, also puts the spinning wheel in the foreground. But here she reverses the roles: the artisan is now a man who slowly undresses and eventually becomes blind. Like Aracne, he is destined to spin eternally. The light is on him, leaving the dancers to occupy the background. Dressed in red, the woman waltzes non-stop, swirling round the room with her partner, indifferent to what is happening to the man at the spinning wheel. They also appear destined to go on dancing forever. The woman carding the wool in Velásquez’ painting also wears an enormous red skirt.
The artist’s work of interpretation is significant in extracting narrative elements from the painting, creating her own reading. Immersed in the scene, Gabriela highlights the various symbols and enters the dream, creating her own scenery. Velásquez is present, but what is shown to us in the video has contemporary light and color. The renaissance angels who point to Aracne in the tapestry, appear in Gabriela’s conception as just one dancing angel, who circles the scene. The music encompasses as do the colors and movements. The visual language of the artist diverges from that used by men of the 17th century, but the thread that unites them permeates the images. Where there is strength, there is delicacy, when the unusual surprises, the classic prevails.
What above all enchants us in the work of Gabriela Noujaim is the power of her contemporary experiments that remind us of centuries of fine arts, bringing us close to the masters and showing us new ways to fruition.
Isabel Sanson Portella
Doctorate in History and Art Critic
Curator of Galeria do Lago/Museu da República