cola como leite

Matheus Rocha Pitta
04/06 - 06/09/24

"From various points of view, nothing seems so much like an image."
Roger Caillois, Pierres

Amadeus of Lausanne, a Cistercian monk and learned figure of the Catholic Church, wrote at some point in the 12th century about the role of "nourishing the one who nourishes us" played by the Virgin Mary. Referring to Mary, he wrote: "Blessed is she who was fated [...] to suckle the child who fills the same breast he sucks, to nourish the one who provides everything and even grants to birds what they eat!" Ultimately, Amadeus of Lausanne refers to the miracle experienced by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, in whose abbey he chose to serve. It was there that the saint, a Doctor of the Church, narrated an extraordinary vision in which the Virgin Mary, breastfeeding the infant Jesus (Madonna Lactans), caused a jet of milk to flow onto his lips (Lactatio Bernardi). This image, due to its power of synthesis in associating milk with nourishment and pleasure, but also for repositioning, in its own way, the problem of the appearance of images and the sustenance of their regimes of visibility, gained significance throughout history, appearing instrumentally in the Counter-Reformation as a highly effective rhetorical tool. It is also this image that solidifies some of the key elements that populate "Cola como leite," an exhibition by Matheus Rocha Pitta, in which the artist brings together some works from earlier phases of his career with others produced especially for the occasion. In a moment, it traverses a longstanding inquiry grounded in the observation of the means through which images integrate a political substance, generally associated with the production and distribution of the elan of life, and preserve their respective capacities for generating meaning about themselves.

The milk-nourishment entering the saint's mouth is a metaphor – or conceptual tool – of the interruption procedure – of language by miracle – a subject the artist has been studying since his early experiments with slabs, cement objects produced in precarious molds, bottomless, isolated from the ground with newspaper sheets that adhere to the surface when dry. Here, milk and cement unexpectedly converge. In the interruption of language, much like in the image adhered to the mass, lies the mystery – stimulating the imagination of what comes next – and the anticipation – ending at the moment of the image's revelation. In this procedure, the limitation of materials to the most common of our time, anchoring its production in the immediate present, contrasts with the breadth of mnemonic repertoire.

The observation of how images form through the transformation of material appearance, a focal point of Matheus Rocha Pitta's work, was captured by offerings to Defunta Correa, an important figure in Argentine popular culture, for whom numerous altars are built along the roads that cross the desert zone around the province of San Juan, where she lost her life in the mid-19th century. It is said that her son was found in her arms still alive, with his mouth on her breast, days after her death. In homage to the woman, plastic bottles filled with water are stacked, evoking the nipple of she who ensured the child's life, transforming the fluid nutrient of her body into vital energy. Unlike the episode of Romulus and Remus being breastfed by the she-wolf or the Allegory of Mercy, figured in the key of the generous act of feeding the hungry, in the case of Defunta Correa, breastfeeding is interrupted soon after the interruption of life and consequently of language itself, a necessary condition for the diffusion of the event as a miracle. In its place, the construction of altars in honor of the phenomenon promoted by the deceased replaces language with the mimesis of the miracle agent, repeating the procedures adopted by the artist, who now – once again – must reveal the image. For this purpose, no medium is more suitable than photography, also an interruption of the passage of time.

The interruption of the passage of time is perhaps the historically most recent – and urgent – element that appears in the collection of figures and stories that Matheus Rocha Pitta mobilizes in his series of works. The theme manifests through images of hands evoking those of climate protesters who protest against the environmental collapse we are experiencing by merging their bodies into the fluid material of fresh cement, in an act of martyrdom and voluntary relic production. The gesture of protest, identified with the throwing of the stone – jectare, "to throw away" in Latin, a gesture similar to the jet of milk into the monk's mouth – is now replaced by the immobility crystallized by dry cement. The political gesture definitively meets the religious, Christian gesture of testimonial production. The ultrapop image of the Walk of Fame melancholically dissolves as the mass solidifies, integrating a desire and a certainty: the desire to postpone the end of the world and the certainty of its imminent end, irreconcilable.

In all cases, the endless friction between the desire for eternity and the certain end, a metaphor assumed by both milk and cement, sometimes alternating, sometimes simultaneous, lies at the origin and the anguished destiny of the subject facing oneself and the traces of one's existence on earth – the Anthropocene. The impossible, milk extracted from stone, is the challenge attributed to sculpture that fits remarkably well with our time. Faced with this, we are left with one question: what to do with the images, if not to await them with open mouths?