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The iced parade

Guilherme Wisnik

English version: Miriam Giovanardi

On September, 2, 2009, a very amazing fact occurred in the Brazilian artist Néle Azevedo’s career: photographs of her Minimum Monument installation on the staircases in Gendarmenmarkt Square in Berlin became the image of the day in the world’s press, printed as breaking News on the leading newspapers, seen in the news programs and in the Internet news worldwide.


Modestly recognized in Brazil, the artist was, out of the blue, the center of world’s attention, because even unintentionally she was in the eye of the hurricane of our time, where art, globalization and ecology are all mixed up in the instant mediatic image.


As a result, Néle played a prominent role in the Berlin exhibition “Examples to follow! - expeditions into aesthetics and sustainability” in 2010. She also opened the Arctic Biennial in Norway, and she is one of the artists in the great Trespass catalogue (A History of Uncomissioned Urban Art), one of the most ambitious Taschen publishers work. What explains this phenomenon?


Minimum Monument is a public work of art that consists of the manufacture and placement of a multitude of smallanthropomorphic ice sculptures in urban area, and that is consummated by its total melting. Nele started her art work in 2010 and it consisted of just one or two figures that witnessed their lonely and ephemeral existence to the passers-by in differenturban sites.But from the mid-decade on, Néle’s work gained a more dramatic perception when the number her art action population contingent was increased.


In 2005, 300 ice sculptures were placed to melt down in Sé Square in São Paulo City Center. In 2009, they were 1,000 in Berlin. And then, the initial contemplative lyricism turned out to be tragic, stating explicitly thecollective sense of the ritual of life and death settled silently before thesilent procession of people. Such aspect resembles the historical origin of monuments: a memory that reminds us the sacred and funerary rites.


It is the antimonument though. It is the reverse sense of monumentality as something grand and eternal, meant to be perenial in History. Néle’s work registers the ephemeral and fragile in a way that implies accepting the partial and transitory and not eternal contemporary experience. Thus, travelling countless cities around the world, her tiny ice figures act in “celebrated” spaces, motivating a sharp thinking upon crumbling and finitude, that is, the individual life time and place amidst crowd. Ergo, Minimum Monument is entirely collaborative nowadays, engaging the public in the work of taking the sculptures out of the freezer and placing them on pedestals and urban altars(usually staircases). Ergo, it ends up generating unexpected responses of people as when alady, distressed by the urgency of thersituation in a food market in Ueno, Tokyo, “kidnapped” some sculptures and put them away in a fridge.


In 2008 when the intervention was hold in Piazza della Santíssima Annunziata, in Florence, Italy, it luckily coincided with and was joined to a 40,000-people protest against the privatization of public education in Italy. That was understood as a “poetic end” of the protest by the press because it was a metaphor for the melting of man and their institutions.


Suddenly, the next year, it hit the planet sustainability wave, which has been developed hugely in several areas around the world, including in art. We could say, in that sense that Minimum Monument has surfed on that tsunami bringing the big News agencies to Gendarmenmarkt that day, at the same time the World Conference Climate Change in Geneve was hold.


On the other hand, the actual nature of Néle’s work of art might be changed or even sterilized, transforming it into a literal demonstration of the ecological cause. Moreover, literality is its inner feature as the sculptures are humanoid.


However, opposing to what it seems, its content is harsh: the sacrifice. Thus, even we intend to read Néle’s work connected to the environment cause, it is crucial to understand that some has to perish for others to survive. The sacrifice is expiatory. When I saw the cold water descending the steps of Sé Cathedral in 2005, I could not help but think of the river of blood running through so many staircases throughout human history, in pagan sacrificial rites. Surely, the Minimum Monument is far from suggesting a peaceful communion for universal peace.

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