Victoria Camblin | Critic's Review (2019)

To whom it may concern,

I was very impressed with the quality, nuance, and subtlety of Mariana Lobão’s work, as well as her capacity for dialogue around it. 

She demonstrated a thoughtful awareness and precision not only with respect to the contents and form of the works themselves, but also with respect to their context and environment, and the impact of and relationship to the eye and experience of the viewer. This attention to the world surrounding her work was immediately evident in her decision to exhibit the majority of her work not inside the BOX gallery, but in a local thrift shop nearby. The objects she presented there blended into their environment creating an almost interactive experience for the viewer, who had to truly look for, and then at, the works on view, rather than simply receiving them in a typical exhibition context. I found her attitude toward the presentation refreshingly open to incorporating ideas of chance and spontaneity in how the pieces were experienced by the viewer, and how they reciprocally influenced their surroundings.

Her engagement and bringing together of a diversity of threads and motifs throughout the work was also compelling. One meta-thematic was that of clothing and fashion, which was enhanced by the context of the thrift store, which in turn created a space of consideration of consumption, waste, recycling and reuse. Her metaphorical and formal use of certain forms of sea life also tapped into an environmental discourse, invoking our changing ecology. She did this without a prescribed or heavy-handed “point” about how these phenomena were supposed to be received or processed by the viewer, instead opening up a place for dialogue and original, associative thought. I found this to be a productive approach, particularly compared to a lot of contemporary art, where didactic messaging seems to be delivered out of an obligation to address global political, social, and ethical issues, rather than out of a true interest in their impact or the phenomena they produce. I also enjoyed conversing with Mariana on this particular topic, as well as other pitfalls in contemporary creative culture, areas in which I found her to be articulate and agile as a thinker, and also in her capacity to translate these into objects. I also appreciated Mariana’s capacity to identify and create coherent links between seemingly unrelated topics – fusing an interest in clothing and accessories with her maritime inspirations through the idea of the mermaid’s purse (a natural container for a shark egg), for example. While engaging these little-known vectors of inspiration and analysis, Mariana’s approach nonetheless remained accessible, democratic –you could even reach out and grab the objects.

I found myself wondering if the one issue in the presentation and works was that they were too subtle, even self-effacing, despite being attractively absent of a sense of ego that would deter from the forms and ideas on view. When I spoke to her about her other projects and initiatives at Werkplaats, however, I realized that her vision was indeed large, ambitious. Her ideas relating to the end of year exhibition, for example, with its fashion show concept, were incredibly interesting and even inspiring to me, as they demonstrated among other things a real commitment to this interest in experience, environment, and the sheer possibilities of graphic design when it is taken out of the contexts and platforms where it is most often perceived. Her work and attitude felt experimental, maverick, and new, demonstrative of an effective curiosity and ability to synthesize that could flourish in a number of mediums and formats. 

Perhaps the question, then, is to which type of practice Mariana will turn her certain capacity for quality research and experiment in these arenas. A next step, perhaps, would be a larger scale, more visible intervention of her own works, to see what the effect would be of bringing these objects out of the shadows and into focus, be it in a gallery or elsewhere. The challenge would be to keep that material and experiential subtlety while asserting the actual visuals more, “testing” them to a degree when they are less embedded in environment or process. I suspect that the result would be strong.

It was an utter delight to see Mariana’s work, to see the Werkplaats through her eyes and those of her colleagues, and to be introduced in this way to the workings of this very exciting institution, program, and student community.

With my very sincere gratitude,

Victoria Camblin

Victoria Camblin is the current editor-in-chief of Berlin-based magazine 032c. She kindly accepted my invitation to be an external critic of Carrier Collection, a presentation/exhibition of the work I developed over the course of the 2 years at Werkplaats Typografie.