IOLE DE FREITAS, 1970S / IMAGE AS PRESENCE
In 1970, then in her twenties, the artist decided to consolidate her career, which had always gravitated towards art. She left for Milan at the start of the decade, taking with her an experience involving modern dance going back to her childhood, as well as introductory studies in design at Rio de Janeiro’s Escola Superior de Design. Her love of dance and her fondness for design would charge all her subsequent work with the decisive interest in movement, in the scale that the body naturally imposes on space as it moves, thus endlessly modifying it. Both Rio de Janeiro, where she had moved with her family from Belo Horizonte as a child, and the Milan she met in 1970 offered themselves as stimulating laboratories of ideas for a young artist.
In the Carioca capital, she had frequented an artistic environment where the modernist constructive tradition had become radicalized and Neo-Concretism had been forged, decisively marking much of the art that has been made in the country since then. An example of this effervescence was the exhibition New Brazilian Objectivity at the MAM in Rio in 1967, visited by the artist, in which the period’s most restless currents of Brazilian art were present. Iole certainly would not remain indifferent to the poetics of the body that had sprung up in the wake of this experimental enthusiasm, nor to the emphasis that many artists a little older than she, who had emerged from Neo-Concretism, placed on the body’s erotic and sensorial dimensions.
Rio de Janeiro would also be an important sounding board for the Tropicalist Movement, whose anarchic facets had electrified the national political and aesthetic debate since the end of the previous decade and during the darkest years of the civil-military dictatorship that took hold in 1964. There is an irresistible urge to conjecture that the frankness and truth with which Iole offers the constructive processes in her work are to some extent due to her early training, which took place in the wake of the experimental practices that had inspired Brazilian art from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s. Likewise, Tropicalism subtly echoes in the 1972 film Elements, for example, at the beginning of which we hear Caetano Veloso interpreting the song “Asa branca” by Luiz Gonzaga and Humberto Teixeira, in a rousing soundtrack.
Similar to what she had experienced in Brazil, in Milan Iole would find an artistic and cultural environment in full renewal, in which the political and aesthetic debate’s radicalness and the resounding voice that the feminist movement had gained in this debate stood out. In those years, the city was emerging as a cosmopolitan cultural center, relatively receptive to the presence of foreign artists. Together with her then-partner, the artist Antonio Dias, Iole frequented the period’s most active European art circles, where the manifestations of arte povera, body art, and conceptual art intersected. She also found an artistic milieu in which there was a notable growing participation of women as artists, curators, writers, and feminist activists, most of whom were questioning the representations of the feminine in the culture industry’s universe. Some of the period’s most radical feminist authors, such as Lucy Lippard (who had seen Iole’s work at the 1975 Paris Biennale), Lea Vergine, and Annemarie Sauzeau-Boetti dedicated texts to the artist’s work.