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A non-style guide

La Parisienne :: Inès de la Fressange et Sophie Gachet :: Ed. Flammarion :: 2010













Since its launch in 2010, much has been said about the book by Inès de la Fressange and Sophie Gachet. In fact, this is a great book: the text is full of humor, grace and vivacity; the illustrations (made by Inès herself) convey the same attributes, with some delicacy and even a bit of irony on herself; the photos (by Sophie and Inès) reveal a particular and unpretentious look on objects and places; and the information… well, who would not like to have a list of addresses to the less obvious and best products and services in Paris?


At a closer look, however, the book proves to be much more than a ‘style guide’ – a title not included in the original publication (simply “La Parisienne”), but added to the title in its English version (“Parisian chic: a style guide by Inès de la Fressange”), and also adopted in the Portuguese version (“A Parisiense: o guia de estilo de Inès de la Fressange”).


The term ‘guide’ implies in a work with rules and instructions that, if followed, are able to ensure the success of a certain project or attitude. But the notion that there is a formula, a recipe for being ‘chic’ (!) or to have ‘style’ is diametrically opposed to the thought that develops throughout the book – and it becomes clear right at its very beginning: “You need to learn to take liberties with the categorical statements… Some rules were made to be broken… Do you like orange dress with yellow shoes? Go ahead, people will follow you eventually!”


I believe that the great merit of the book is, in fact, to stimulate reflection and understanding on ourselves, and to value individual expression – whether in dressing, living or consuming. To read something like: “(The Parisian) is not one to spend all her salary in a must-have. First because she has no money, and second because she believes she is as talented as a stylist: why overpay for an outfit that she could have imagined herself?” is far more instructive than getting to know Inès’ particular view on how to match shoes and dresses.


Or this: “Why think that it is absolutely necessary to pay millions to have art at home? Have your children’s favorite drawings framed… Acrylic magnetic frames will transform any piece of paper you value, even a message scribbled on a napkin… “Is it really important to know where the acrylic magnetic paintings are from? No, what is relevant is the notion that each individual decides what they want to frame – that which is most valuable.


To have style is to know yourself and be clear about your preferences; it is to know what gives you pleasure, what coexists in harmony with your way of moving, thinking, acting, and living. And make each choice, consequently, an expression of individuality. To have style is to be aware of one’s uniqueness – and enjoy this condition with joy and pleasure.


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Form and thought

Mira Schendel :: untitled, from the series Graphic Objects :: 1967














From all the European artists who immigrated to Brazil during or shortly after the Second World War and who contributed significantly to the enrichment of our visual arts, Mira Schendel is undoubtedly the name of greater importance.


Born in Zurich, she also lived in Berlin, Milan, Sarajevo, Zagreb and Rome before immigrating to Brazil in 1949, settling in Porto Alegre. There are no records of any European artwork by her; she is said to have interrupted her philosophy degree in Italy and started her artistic production here in Brazil, as an autodidact.
As explained by Geraldo de Souza Dias in 2001 in the preface of her exhibition catalog at Jeu de Paume in Paris, “her intellectual infrastructure, fed by religious and philosophical questionings, found here a cultural environment which was more favorable to the encouragement of artistic creativity than to the strict scientific nature of philosophical thought.”


Schendel’s writings are essential to understanding the uniqueness of her work. Without engaging in art history, she resorted to psychology, science, knowledge, theology and philosophy to produce her work, always based on her own thoughts and aesthetic principles. Predominant in post-Plato Western philosophy, the idea of splitting, which is inherent to human nature – body versus soul, matter versus spirit –, is central to her work, often permeated with existential questionings or expressions of religious origin.


Mira Schendel quickly evolved from still life forms to abstractionism and then to writings – calligraphy of immense beauty through which she recorded her thoughts and questionings. Without abandoning the word as an expression of thought, Mira later incorporated self-adhesive letters (Letraset) into such writings, not only as vehicles of meaning but as graphical elements of countless artistic possibilities. Experiences with transparencies, which allow the spectator to contemplate the two faces of monotypes, are ultimate displays of the depth and sensitivity found in her quest.


One can’t help recognizing and falling in love with the artwork of Mira Schendel.
No one has ever transmuted the word into art with such elegance, delicacy and personality as she did. Even exceptional artists like Leon Ferrari (who shared with Mira the great retrospective ‘Tangled Alphabets’ at MoMA in 2009) and Marcel Broodthaers failed to unite, with such beauty, form and thought – body and soul, matter and spirit – and thus provide, through the contemplation of a work, deep thoughts combined with infinite pleasures.


To learn more:
‘Mira Schendel’, homonymous exhibition catalog, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2001
‘Tangled Alphabets – Leon Ferrari and Mira Schendel’, Luis Peres-Oramas, MoMA & CosacNaif, 2009

The key

Kitagawa Utamaro :: Lovers in an upstairs room :: 1788















February 27th
Just as I imagined. My wife keeps a diary. To this day I took the precaution of not writing it in this notebook, but actually my attention was vaguely grabbed a few days ago.
… I am not so vile as to read the diary of my own wife without her permission. However, driven by bad feelings, I tried to cunningly remove the tape that sealed it so as to leave no marks. I wanted to show my wife that a tape alone would be useless.



March 7th
Then I found the key lying in the same place. I thought there must be some reason, and then I opened the drawer and pulled out my husband’s diary. To my surprise, it was sealed with a tape in the same way as I had done. Would my husband want to tell me “Try opening it”?
… I was tempted to try to pull the tape without leaving marks. And so I did it, simply out of curiosity”


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Silent understanding

Issey Miyake by Irving Penn

Issey Miyake by Irving Penn :: 1990














The American Irving Penn was one of the key people in building the image of Western women in the second half of the twentieth century. He joined Vogue in the late 1940s through Alexander Liberman (his job was to “come up with ideas for the covers”), and eventually established himself as a talented creator of fashion images, full of glamour and sensuality to which the post-war American society aspired.


While on the one hand his near aristocratic view privileged poses of rigid formalism – which made reference to photos of previous decades – on the other hand the minimalism and the plainness perceived in his images showed, undoubtedly, the innovative nature of his work. Even when fashion itself was built on excesses, the sensitive eye of Penn filtered out the superfluous, and the resulting images were always of great elegance and sophisticated simplicity.


Born in Hiroshima seven years before the city was destroyed by war, Issey Miyake is undoubtedly one of the most creative clothing designers of the last century. Far beyond the “Japanese designer” label usually assigned by the international press, Miyake was never restricted to national identity, and always sought balance between tradition and innovation to create universal designs. “I do not create to express my ego or personality, but rather to get answers to those who are wondering about our era and how we should live it.”


From a simple and minimalist concept – “making clothes from a piece of cloth” – Miyake’s work is a result from the old principle of mixing a three-dimensional figure with two-dimensional material by means of folding. By combining Japanese fabric with western patterns, new technology and functionality, his “less is more” concept builds forms which are architecturally simple, elegant and of exquisite beauty.
For over 20 years, between 1975 and 1998, Irving Penn portrayed Issey Miyake’s work. The merger of these two artists from such diverse cultural backgrounds was registered in 1999 in the wonderful book “Irving Penn regards the works of Issey Miyake”, by Midori Kitamura and Mark Holborn, which will be the subject of an exhibition at 21-21 Design Sight in Tokyo, Japan, starting in September.


This union, which at first seemed unusual, has produced hundreds of stunning images, in that their work turned out to be a mirror to each other’s work. Under Penn’s influence, the models’ poses turned Miyake’s clothes into true sculptures, portraying scenes that look more like fragments of dance moves; Miyake, in turn, gave Penn a chance to exercise his formal rigor with textures, shapes and masks from another culture. And the union of these two “masters of reduction,” as defined by Holborn in the foreword of the book, yielded images of a dry, sharp and accurate nature, which offer no room for anything beyond the essentials. The result of this beautiful partnership, which Miyake poetically called “silent understanding”, proves that the concepts of beauty and elegance can indeed be universal – and can gently touch the most unique souls throughout eternity.

Our immoral soul

Clarice Niskier :: The immoral soul












“There’s a look that knows how to tell right from wrong and wrong from right. There is a look that sees when obedience means disrespect and when disobedience means respect. There is a look that recognizes the short long paths and the long short paths. There’s a look that sees through, that does not hesitate to point out that there are wicked fidelities and betrayals of great loyalty. This is the soul’s look.”


‘Our immoral soul’ is one of the most beautiful and striking theater plays I have seen in recent years – a theatrical adaptation elaborated and interpreted (elegantly and sensitively) by Clarice Niskier, from the homonymous book by Rabbi Nilton Bonder. Based on the concept that the human soul is transgressive in its very essence, the text confuses, deconstructs and reconstructs ancient views on the concepts of body and soul, right and wrong, obedience and disobedience, betrayer and betrayed.


Bonder establishes the awareness of human beings on their own existence as the origin of the moral body, which then becomes the guardian of customs, conformity and adaptation – the keeper of past traditions, who works through them for the reproduction of the species. The soul – which carries the rebellion and the capacity of mutation – is one that allows thoughts and behaviors that break the established moral, thereby contributing to the evolution of this species. He says it is the tension generated by these two conflicting and interdependent natures, and the dialogue between these forces – the conservative and the transgressive – that allow human beings to transcend themselves.


“There is no tradition without betrayal. And there is no betrayal without tradition.” Just look at the history of mankind only to find, in various forms of human expression, the beauty and truth of this statement: from Michelangelo to Picasso, from Beethoven to Stockhausen, from Isadora Duncan to Pina Bausch, from Brunelleschi to Frank Gehry, from Shakespeare to Guimaraes Rosa … human evolution depends mainly on acts that, through the eyes of customs and tradition, are deemed as betrayals. But betrayal would be not to give voice to our transgressive souls, for they are the ones who provide us with pleasure and evolution in our existence.


About the play ::  www.almaimoral.com
‘Our Immoral soul’, Rabbi Nilton Bonder, 2001, Shambhala.

The strength and beauty of words

Xenon on Berlin’s Matthäikirche, 2001 © Jenny Holzer













Born in Ohio in 1950, Jenny Holzer is an artist who, over the past three decades, has been consolidating a beautiful and impressive work in the visual arts. In spite of her flirting with the abstract arts at the beginning of her career in the late 70’s, when she moved to New York, Holzer chose the word as the driving force of her work, and began to use non-conventional media such as billboards, LED panels and lighting projections to convey both dimensions that make up a word: form and content.


The texts used have different origins: many of them are her own writings, others are internationally known poems, others are even extracted from governmental documents. But Holzer uses this diversity to work in a single line, which speaks of universal values and establishes counterpoints that deeply touch us all: the public and the private, the political body and the physical body, the universal and particular.


More impressive, however, is Holzer’s counterpoint between form and content: we see, at one time, sensitivity and strength, gigantism and fluidity, frailty and perennity – all with a plastic result of unarguable beauty.


It is impossible to stand indifferent when faced with one of Holzer’s pieces of artwork. The strength of her words beautifully invades our eyes, our minds and our souls.


To learn more: www.jennyholzer.com
“ProtectProtect”, Jenny Holzer Exhibition at Whitney Museum, NYC, 2009 (video)

The candles burn all the way

Sándor Márai :: illustration by Ignácio Schiefelbein










“A person ages slowly: first, our taste for life and people gets old, and then everything becomes so real, we get to know the meaning of things, everything is repeated so terrible and fastidiously. This is also old age. When you know that a body is not more than a body. And a man, poor man, is nothing more than a man, a mortal being, no matter what he does…


Then your body gets old; but not the whole body at the same time – first the eyes, or the legs; the stomach, or the heart. This is how a person ages, little by little. Then, suddenly, the soul begins to age: because no matter how weak and decrepit the body is, the soul is still filled with desires and memories, seeks and delights itself, wishes pleasure. And when this desire for pleasure ends, nothing remains but memories, or vanity; and this is when you get old for real, fatal and ultimately.


One day you wake up and rub your eyes: you no longer know why you woke up. You know exactly what the day brings you: spring or winter, the usual scenarios, the time, the order of life. Nothing unexpected can happen: not even that which is unexpected surprises you, nor the unusual or awful, because you know the odds, you have it all figured out, you no longer expect anything, neither good nor evil… and that’s just old age.”


I find this small excerpt from the book “The candles burn all the way” by Sandor Márai (Ed. Dom Quixote, Portugal, 2001) very touching for the sensitivity when describing the loss of the soul’s pleasures to aging and death. A Hungarian man, Márai self-exiled in 1948, unhappy with the communist regime in his country, and lived in Switzerland, Italy and France before settling in San Diego (where, at the age of 89, committed suicide). His writings often depict the decay of the bourgeoisie in his country, always with an eye turned to man’s major emotional issues: love, passion, life, pain, decay and death.


You will find pleasure in reading ‘De verdade’ (For real), ‘As Brasas’ (The Hot Coals), ‘Divórcio em Buda’ (Divorce in Buddha) and ‘Libertação’ (Freedom), all published in Brazil by Editora Companhia das Letras.


Piet Mondrian :: Composition C :: 1935


I watched the final minutes of the interview with Roberto DaMatta in the show Roda Viva, on TV Cultura channel, last January 10th. Since then, I have been thinking about something he stated firmly: “Human beings need to learn the meaning of the word ‘enough’. What is enough for me? What satisfies me? This question is fundamental, terrible, critical.”


We live in a time when there is almost no room for reflection, and certain ways of being and having are spread as universal truths: the clothes you ‘must’ wear, the car you ‘must’ own, the music you ‘must’ listen to, the place you ‘must’ go to… So many people repeat such “truths” without any reflection or questioning! And worse, many others suffer and blame themselves for failing to pull off a particular ‘being’ or a certain ‘must-have’!


Seeking something without being aware of how much of it is enough only intensifies dissatisfaction and anxiety in each one of us – because the conquest of that which we do not want does not bring any pleasure to the soul.


Being aware of what is enough for us is like being free. Looking within ourselves and understanding the measure of what we want to have, be, use, feel or hear is the only way to extend the pleasures that we can offer to our soul every day.