Emotional geographies in So near yet so far - Mariana Gil interview by Selma Vital
Emotional geographies in So near yet so far, a photo exhibition by Mariana Gil at END OF THE LINE
Interview and text by Selma Vital, journalist and educator
Ironically, long before meeting Mariana Gil in person, I saw her in a photo, back in 2015. She was wearing a burgundy winter hat and since our common acquaintance told me she was an artist, I took the cool hat as part of her artistic persona.
I cannot attest how much of her fashion describes her as an artist, but her approach to photography certainly does.
“In a way, I treat photography a lot like painting. When I digitally manipulate an image, when I frame and arrange it this or that way, I’m reconstructing it. I’m composing it just like I would do in a painting”, she explains.
Trained as an artist at Universidade de São Paulo, one of the most renowned art programs in Brazil, she switched from painting to photography when she moved to Denmark, in 2012.
Days before her moving, she had her first exhibition there, at the university, as part of her graduation. An installation in which, not knowing, she already anticipated some themes of her current work. Mixing light and shadows, she added a projection to the experience.
In her first solo exhibition So near yet so far, in Aarhus, opening at END OF THE LINE on August 16th, she similarly features contrasts. Now she mixes the multiple shades of the greenish mountains of her hilly home landscape and the dark nights of the Danish winter, with the blazing and blurring of its neons and city lights. At the exhibition, far and near are placed next to each other in an attempt to break distances and promote a fluid, visual dialogue.
The images shown at END OF THE LINE, Mariana tells me, represent her ‘emotional geographies’. I ask her why did she abandon the easel in favor of a camera. Pragmatically, she says, photography would request no atelier, canvas, neither brushes or paints, making settling easier in her new home.
On the other hand, she assures me that photography, on the contrary to what some people believe, is not an antisocial activity. “ For some, taking pictures may be a lonely deal. For me, in Aarhus, it has facilitated my interactions with many groups and with the city itself, its streets and nature”.
After a stay in Maribo, a southern small town near the German border, Mariana moved with her husband to Aarhus and decided to continue studying here. This time she pursued a master’s degree in Cognitive Semiotics, at Aarhus University. We joked that her first job after finishing her master’s program was to explain to people what her studies really mean…
While the subject may sound enigmatic to the majority of simple mortals, Mariana had a solid reason to choose it: “I wanted to understand how perception works. Why some particular perspectives and compositions call people’s attention?”
If you are slightly like me you would be curious to know if she found what she was looking for. " I learned references in Psychology and Neurology that helped me to be more aware of how I can create certain information. I got into the formal aspects like composition, light, contrast, symmetry and how long it takes to someone to see a picture as a whole, for example”.
Mariana was also interested in categorization. “If you see a picture as a work of art or if it illustrates a story in the newspaper, this alters the way a person sees an image. Besides, the perception of an image can be very personal, each observer has a background and hence a different glance on the same piece”, she adds.
The theoretical background is important for Mariana Gil’s photography, no doubt about that. However, her education is filtered by her emotions as much as the ‘geographies’ she blends together in So near yet so far.
In her undergrad years, even before thinking about photography as her main path, she remembers that her Photography professor, João Luiz Musa, had the habit of bringing books with the work by different photographers as references for the students.
The books were passed around so everybody would have a chance to comment about them. One of these books had a collection of polaroids by Tarkovsky.
“I remember how those images really resonated with me and the impact of later seeing his movies for the first time”, Mariana recalls.
Another source of inspiration also came from those years as a student in Brazil.
“Around the same time I was enchanted by Tarkovsky, I was introduced to the short films by Maya Deren. Her work is extremely beautiful. It was and still is a great source of inspiration to me. She experimented with different film techniques and created a unique universe with such psychological depth. I could keep mentioning all sorts of references but these are works that I think will always move me somehow”
The color and the deepness of the mountains of Gonçalves, Minas Gerais, the place you will see in some of her photos at the exhibition have the feeling and the deepness of painting; as well as the everyday scenes of a nocturnal Aarhus convey a dreamlike quality under her lenses. Seeing those photos and now knowing better her professional trajectory, it is hard not to wonder if painting is really off the table in Mariana's near future. Her reaction, although, leaves no room for doubts. “There's no way back to painting for me”, she assures me.
Regardless, Mariana avoids to label her work.: “When people ask me to give a definition to my photography I always prefer to leave it open. It is good to make space for some questions”, she tells evasively.
My question then is if she considers this exhibition a good, even if a small, representation of her work as a whole. “ I see this work as the reverse of a travel journal. It is a trip inside my space, a manner to be present, to explore the path; it is a trajectory rather than a destination”,
she elaborates. “It’s my attempt to retain things and to step back, to be aware of the passages as real as that one I’ll be passing by soon”,
she says, pointing to the hallway near the quiet, co-working room at Comwell Hotel, in Aarhus, where we sip our coffees.
As we leave the only tall building around the center of Aarhus and face the nonstop Danish wind, in spite of the sunny, beautiful summer day, the contrasts we have been talking about for the past hours are made more real to me.
It is refreshing to see how Mariana Gil, a Brazilian photographer, born among the valleys and mountains crossed by the Tropic of Capricorn, creates this flow between here and there, between things near and far away.
So near yet so far, Photo Exhibition by Mariana Gil
END OF THE LINE
Opening Night: August 16 from 16:00 31st, from Wednesday to Friday 15:00-19:00 and Saturdays 12:00–17:00