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” The house is our first universe”

( Gaston Bachelard The poetics of Space, 1969)

Verônica Alkmim França group of sculptures explore the house as the archetypal space of homeliness. “Body Architecture” represents the experiential relationship between bodies and the spaces they inhabit, a relationship that is at once objective and subjective.


The structures she uses to investigate the phenomenology of architectural and bodily homeliness present an eclectic selection in keeping with the hybrid appropriations of contemporary Brazilian art. Alkmim França ’s work has consistently explored the unity of body and soul: “ When I made my first doll’s dress at eight, I discovered that our body is the only concrete form we have. Clothes are like a skin”. This statement reveals the holistic approach that is a significant mark of her work, revealing the limitations of the traditional Enlightenment opposition between mind and soul, head and hand. It is rather a Baroque sensibility, significant in Brazilian art and culture, advocating a unity of body and soul, that is more keeping with the concept of “body architecture”. Alkmim França ’ s work, therefore, should be seen and understood as, what Germano Celant, writing about contemporary Brazilian art, termed a “psychophysical aggregate of forma and volumes”. The sculptures in “ Body Architecture” echo the specifically womanly experience and conquest of modernist and pre-modernist spaces as contained within houses.

Cemitério do Batom ao Vivo

Cemitério do Batom ao Vivo

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The feminine embodiment is extended in the use of the materials of everyday life, found objects that are part of the domestic environment, scraps of fabric and kitchen utensils which emanate from the in side rather than the outside of houses. The engineered bricks and mortar of architectural forms are reinterpreted into a feminine, quotidian materiality. Raiding the kitchen and the sewing box, Alkmim França ’s art is an assemblage of gendered and incongruous materials, a strategy that subverts and challenges the established


The eight sculptures presented in “Body Architecture” are based on specific buildings that provide us with an experience contemplation of different forms of survival, of meditations on the heterogeneity of living regardless of gender. If we  begin with Brazilian models, the favelas exemplify the creative bricolage of Alkmim França ’s vision in which the female torso, an icon of classical sculpture, is poignantly re-presented and re-constructed out of found scraps and readymades. “Favelas” celebrates the enduring creativity of an organic Brazilian architecture of bricolage at the limits of a planned architecture. By contrast, “Niemeyer” pays homage to the architect’s “Poem of the curve”   which compared the beauty  of architecture to  the beauty     of  the  beloved woman’s body. Alkmim França nevertheless plays on the extra terrestrial qualities of this New World woman, endowing her with a totemic solemnity. Minas Gerais , famous for its polychrome baroque elegance is alluded to in Alkmim França’s tailored torso Market by its arched detailing.

Rather than transposing the grander architecture of the city, it is the everyday sphere of the marketplace which is captured, the draw handle reminding us of the sorting and storing of possessions, one of the essential function of “ housing”. The influence of European models is a key subject area for many Latin America artists.

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Niemeyer’s reinterpretation of Corbusian ideology created a uniquely Brazilian modernism marked by the hybridity and originality of antropofagia, the term coined by Oswald de Andrade and the artist Tarsila do Amaral to indicate the revalorisation of local cultural forms in order to challenge the hegemony of foreign models. The important role, therefore, played by recycling as a strategy, of materials and of the meaning of spaces represented by the houses, becomes crucial in the appropriation and reinvention of Alkmim França ’s European body architectures. “Pompidou” responds  its vision of an art that is enmeshed with daily life, flexible and contingent while also evoking signifiers of Brazil’s indigenous culture but through the use of modern materials. Public buildings dictate how bodies circulate through their spaces. Alkmim França ’s quells the alienation and sense of displacement that foreign sites can engender. Domestic architecture, a container of social relations and activities can nevertheless, seem equally strange and unfamiliar even to the displaced twenty-first century nomad. The red Swedish house represents Alkmim França ’s move to Europe.

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The appropriation and physical sense if its architecture is apprehended through a refashioning of its details and, like “Pena” based on the palace in Sintra, Portugal, it draws on the folk precedents of European colonial cultures which here imply the personal as well as the historical/political. In “Meteora”, however there is an intense and direct re-enactment of the theme of “body architecture”. Bachelard noted that a house “is imagined as a vertical being” and this  piece represents the coherence between spiritual function and physical structure apprehended through its upright maternal form, reaching for and locating the heart and soul of its spiritual centre.

The opposition of inside/outside is one that is consistently applied to both bodies and buildings: the interior is privileged as private, as the repository of authenticity, the outside is designated as the façade of public exteriority. Michael Hopkins‘s Schlumberger Research centre provides França’s with the opportunity to meditate on this relationships, the building’s tent-like construction reminding one of circuses in contrast to the solemnity of its purpose. However, rather than using bodies and buildings simply as metaphors, Franca presents us with a theatrical fusion of body and soul thereby making explicit the complexities of bodily knowledge, and the varieties of lived experience in spaces other than our own. In the words of Bachelard, “ Our soul is an abode. And by remembering “houses”…we learn to abide within ourselves.



Linda Sandino

Camberwell College of Arts


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