IOLE DE FREITAS, 1970S / IMAGE AS PRESENCE
Iole de Freitas (Belo Horizonte, 1945) moves to Milan in 1970, to work as a designer at Olivetti under the guidance of Hans von Klier. The artist finds a culturally vibrant city that wields great influence on the European scene; contemporary art’s most experimental elements had been converging there since the 1960s, and brought with them a powerful network of galleries, museums, critics, and art publications. Iole finds herself part of an expanded universe of artists, critics, and gallerists, in which arte povera, performance, body art, and conceptual art intertwine.
Iole is witness to the period’s radicalized political climate, characterized by workers’ strikes, student protests, and the violent actions of fascist currents and the Red Brigades, an extreme leftist group. The feminist movement gains prominence on the Italian scene and manages to impose new agendas on the international political context. The country she had left is also plunged into turbulence due to the tightening of the military dictatorship; nevertheless, there exists an aesthetically and culturally vigorous environment, spurred on by the interventions of Tropicalism and by the vitality and resistance of local artistic production. Throughout the decade, Iole did not lose touch with her friends in Rio de Janeiro.
In 1971, the couple stays in London for around three months. Rara Dias, Iole and Antonio’s daughter, is born (she appears as a child in the filming of Memory 1 and Memory 2, included in this exhibition). Returning to Milan in 1972, the artist produces her first Super 8 films and photographic sequences capturing her own body; in these photos and films, she strives to capture the subtle marks that her body leaves in space – surfaces of diffuse luminosity, enveloped in shadows, reflections, and transparencies, with a strong physical and sensorial appeal. The interest in movement, in the expressiveness with which the body responds to it, are central issues in the works.
Elements and Light Work – Iole’s first films – scrutinize internal spaces; both were shot in the artist’s studio apartment in Milan. They are engaging recesses, responsive to the objects that inhabit them. The camera seeks to traverse them, inquiring through windows and curtains and other translucent surfaces – inviting passages and precipitating abysmal changes of scale, which freely toggle between the small and the large, the interior and the exterior. Also in 1972, Iole and Antonio move to New York for approximately six months. The couple settle in a loft on Grand Street, where the artist shoots part of the film Exit; the other part of the film was shot in Milan. They maintain contact with Brazilian artists living in the American city.
In 1973, Iole begins to exhibit her work regularly. Her first solo exhibition – in which she presents Elements and Light Work – takes place at Galeria Il Diagramma, founded by the critic and editor Luciano Inga-Pin, who actively promoted body art. The magazine Prospects, which he edited, published Iole’s writing and frames from her films. The artist takes part in an art circuit with a notable presence of women who are not only artists, but also critics and curators. She briefly returns to Rio, and that same year, together with Antonio, she organizes the group exhibition Fotolinguagem [Photolanguage], which brings together works by Christian Boltanski, Annette Messager, Katarina Sieverding, and Duane Michals, among others. The artist presents her photographic sequences, this delicate operation in which her body is revealed in the very act of photographing herself. In São Paulo, she takes part in the Expo-Projeção 73 [[Expo-Projection 73] exhibition, the 7th Young Contemporary Art event at USP’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
1974 – 1976
Iole attends several European art festivals and gatherings, especially in Germany and the former Yugoslavia, and also in Canada; these events propose experimental works, encouraging “new media” – with emphasis on cinematographic and photographic production by artists.
In 1974, she experiments with 16mm film, extracting great expressive power from repeated muscular movements of the eyes, nostrils, and tongue – this work is featured in this exhibition. That year (and the following one), Iole participates as resident artist in the Festival of Expanded Media in Belgrade, then a vibrant, avant-garde center frequented by many body art artists such as Gina Pane, Katarina Siverding, and Hanne Darboven.
Also in 1974, she returns to Rio for a solo exhibition of her photographic sequences, also at the MAM. In Rio de Janeiro, she exhibited Elements and Light Work at the Luiz Buarque de Hollanda and Paulo Bittencourt Gallery. Back in Italy, she partakes in the Nuovi Media [New Media] exhibition at the Centro Internazionale di Brera, and holds a solo show at Galleria Carla Ortelli in Milan. In the magazine Data, the critic Barbara Radice comments on the symbolic complexity that the knife – present in more than one of the artist’s works – reveals in the work. For her, one cannot reduce it to a phallic symbol, since she sees it appearing above all as a primary object of the technical world, of culture:
"If we are our body, Iole de Freitas' search presupposes a kind of physical schizophrenia between the body and its reflected image. [...] The knife is first observed with curiosity and distance, an almost unexpected object, coming from an unknown world, materialized before a need that is not yet enough to define it. It is the first intrusion into this closed dialogue with one's self, the first time that, faced with a precise demand, it becomes necessary to build an instrument and project a cultural world around oneself. As she becomes intimate with the new instrument, she learns to use it with circumspection, almost with fear, her hand does not wield it, she holds it with the tips of her fingers (at first the hand does not even appear, and the blade emerges through a lacerated white cloth). [...]. In the last works the knife, guided by the hand, becomes its extension."
The artist grows close to Luciano Fabro, with whom she will maintain a productive dialogue (she will exhibit with Fabro in Rome in 1977). She often meets the couple Tommaso and Ciaccia Trini (he, art critic, editor, and founder of the magazine Data; Ciaccia, co-editor, vital presence at the publication). Lea Vergine discusses her work in her 1974 book Il corpo come linguaggio [The Body as Language], and in 1975 Sauzeau-Boetti interviews Iole in a piece for Data, which also features the artists Carla Accardi and Marisa Merz.
In 1975, the artist takes part in the Paris Biennale, at the invitation of Tommaso Trini and Jean-Christophe Amman (director of the Lucerne Art Museum), the event's curators. She appears with the installation Glass Pieces, Life Slices, which she presents together with a short text, in which she comments on the discovery of a malleable, multiple body, unconditioned by the premise of verticality:
“...The image is delineated, blocked/ the body enclosed/ trapped/ by a circle of seven mirrors/ below/ the image/ crosses/ the ground line./ a foot rises/ breaks/ the rigidity/ of the body-trunk/ flies over each mirror/ completing the/circle...”
The installation at the Biennale catches the attention of feminist critic Lucy Lippard, who writes about the work and analyzes it in her 1976 book From The Center/Feminist Essays on Women's Art. Between 1974 and 1976, Iole’s work appears in magazines known for their engagement in the contemporary art debate: Heute Kunst; Data; Fotografia Italiana; Art Press; Flash Art; Art International; Studio International and Art in America, among many others. In 1976, the artist exhibits a new installation at Galleria Gian Carlo Bocchi, with works from the series Glass Pieces, Life Slices, in which she revisits themes from the work shown at the Paris Biennale. That same year, she takes part in the event Körpersprache [Language of the Body], at the Frankfurt Kunstverein and at the Haus am Waldsee, in Berlin, among other exhibitions, many of which focus on interventions by women artists.
During this period, Iole continues to participate in various individual and collective events, whose focus is almost always to highlight the critical power that can be extracted from interventions with unconventional means – photos, performances, and short films. Invited by Sauzeau-Boetti and Gian Battista Salerno, the artist takes part in Pas de deux at Galleria La Sallita in Rome, in 1977. Parodying classical ballet choreography, the title dialectically focuses on the male/female pair; the curators proposed that the gallery space be occupied by pairs of artists, and Iole performs alongside Luciano Fabro.
In Milan in 1978, the artist shows Exit, installation and performance, at Studio Marconi, whose gallerist, Giorgio Marconi, is one of the most notorious promoters of contemporary art in Italy and on the international scene. In the installation, Iole brings into play some elements, besides the mirrors and the knife, which suggest, like them, a narrative function; the narrative promise is cast into silence, as in some of the artist's other installations. Perhaps a comment on the suspenseful film narrative, Exit, in the way it beckons the audience by offering them the drama of a female body, ultimately frustrates the presumed narrative function; there are shadows, projections, and unfathomable recesses – the body’s drama is precisely what is missing in this scenario.
Also in 1978, the artist is invited to participate in Arte e Cinema [Art and Cinema], organized by Vittorio Fagone at the 38th Venice Biennale; at the invitation of Sauzeau-Boetti, she illustrates the book Donne, Povere, Matte [Women, Crazy, Poor] (Edizione delle Donne, Roma). She returns to Brazil, bringing along a collection of her works to the Arte Global Gallery in São Paulo, at the invitation of Raquel Arnaud. In 1980, she takes part in the group exhibition Camere Incantate – Espansione dell'Imagine [Enchanted Chambers – Image Expansion] at Pallazzo Reale in Milan. In 1981, she presents a new installation with works from the series Glass Pieces, Life Slices at the 16th São Paulo International Biennale. Slide projectors show the images of the decoupaged series, emphasizing the body’s fragmentation process and introducing a time-lapse in the sequence’s projection.
At the start of the new decade, the artist reveals a novel interest in materials: fabrics, rubber strips, flexible plastic tubes, copper, brass, and aluminum wires – all of them soft, ductile materials, responsive to touch and presence. Despite the apparent shift in relation to her previous work, the body and the complex and contradictory universe of its affections remain a crucial theme in Iole’s work.