Stories I want to tell. Marcelo Campos. 2013.
“Stories I want to tell”: this is how Gabriela Machado expresses this conceptual urge to use painting, her trusty companion, in short stories, chronicles, so to speak. There are three levels of observation we can see in this device: the story, the willful urge, and the narrative resolve.
When we look at her paintings, we see marginal, almost unnarratable subjects. What is developed here is an exercise in storytelling conducted like a momentary comprehension of events. Painting of moments; some moments of painting. This process is orchestrated by the use of machines that produce images in a moment: Polaroids. Gabriela Machado highlights the inquisitive, tactile, (even) childish urge to make the clicks that accompany her on her travels around the world. So it is that we see a foreign landscape, a detail from some hotel furniture, a drape, a cat, a sunset. The artist homes in on the tiniest things, lending them disproportional importance, because this is no factual history, but rather a non-factual biographical story.
There is also arguably a eulogy here of the use of popular narrative: the snapshots of lives that can only be ennobled by the sum of their humdrum happenings. In this shared “moment”, desire is the centerpiece. The desire that makes us follow what we do not know. There is a certain delay, a certain lag, between the image observed, the camera obscura, and its slow-motion development, the stages inherent to the Polaroid process.
Historian Eric Hobsbawm notes that in a “popular narrative history”, the “event, the individual, are not ends in themselves, but means to elucidate some bigger question, which far surpasses the private account and its characters”. Interest is lost in what the historian calls the “big why questions”. At the same time, the headlines, the newsworthy events, characteristic of the advent of mass culture, start to take center stage. As we are faced with the ordinary, we perceive a certain denial of any ideological commitment. Room is made for all pictures, all people, any light. Everything is pictorial, everything is picturesque. And the image is painted over, printed, in a fourth stage, a fourth generation. After seeing, photographing, developing, we have painting.
However, Gabriela Machado makes a “personal interpretation” in the way she brings together the forms, blocks, piles, something that is already present in her work. “There is nothing new in choosing to see the world via a microscope rather than a telescope,” Hobsbawm writes. To which we could reply, along with Arthur Danto, that “to ask for the significance of an event, in the historical sense of the term, is to ask a question which can only be answered in the context of a story”. So we see Gabriela Machado testing, tweaking, sabotaging this ambivalence: great stories, small scales, homespun photos, significant events. Here, the notion that “authentic history considers the chronicle as a preparatory exercise” is subverted. The preparatory exercise is an ambitious end, even if it has no grandiose purpose. What is activated, in a different way, is the sense of collecting, accumulating, making museums of everything, image atlases.
What might significant events be? Narration as an essay, as a chronicle, liberates the tools of narrative to concentrate on the supposed freedom to forge significant relationships inside micro-histories. And these are the histories that accompany us through life, like prosaic short stories. Gabriela, in a different measure, admits: “I want to tell”, bringing the image into direct contact with the personal. Anything, any fact, any empty space, is made pictorial. And so a “mere chronicle” is “authentic history”.