Bale Literal’s lexical: a Laura Lima show

14 June 2022 - no responses

It is June, 2019: Rio de Janeiro / Brazil. Laura Lima, a Brazilian philosopher, artist and feminist activist presents ‘Bale Literal’ at A Gentil Carioca, one of the most important art galleries in the country.

Bale Literal was an unprecedented work that connected the two gallery buildings directly to a crossroads through an ingenious engine. The project was designed as a living organism that involved dozens of people orchestrated by the artist to create a ‘one-off event’. Considering my background in architecture and my interests in experimental projects, I was invited by the artist to write about the experience. The result was three texts focusing on before, during and after the exhibition. Together, they contextualise the intentionality and materialization of the project through a glossary in order to build  – or initiate – a Balet Literal’s lexical.

At that moment (not much different from the present day, even more tragic), an overfly through Brazil indicates the persistence of a toxic scenario. In March 2018, left-wing councilor Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes were murdered. In September 2018, the National Museum burnt down, destroying almost the entirety of the most important and oldest historical and scientific collection in the country and some of the largest natural history and anthropology museums in the Americas. The October 2018 elections marked the seizure of power by the extreme right.

In this recent past, inhabiting a persistent malaise, Bale Literal represents insurrection, a revolutionary impulse that feeds the struggles for existence and resistance in Brazil today. Read in retrospect, the dissemination of the three texts are fundamental elements in constructing a narrative of experimental actions not based exclusively on objective artistic practices. Review the texts critically is a gesture to register Bale Literal as a landmark in the experimental matrix of contemporary exhibition history.


Bale Literal (Literal Ballet)
(In three simultaneous acts)

Eleven years separate Fuga (Escape, 2008), the last solo exhibition by Laura Lima at A Gentil Carioca – when the artist transformed the space of the gallery into a nursery for 50 live birds – from the presentation of Bale Literal (Literal Ballet, 2019), an unprecedented work that connects the two buildings of the gallery directly at the crossroads through an ingenious contraption. The project, the result of her research with architecture and living beings, is a living organism that mobilizes dozens of people orchestrated by the artist. The event will take place on June 29, starting at 7:00 p.m., and the exhibition will remain until August 30, 2019.

In Literal Ballet, the inner and outer spaces of the gallery are configured as the aura of a theater. The ballet of the artist is composed of the construction of a bestiary of things and people in a back-and-forth: in place of dancers, there are works, objects, machinery, equipment, architecture, sound and lighting; as well as the audience that, like a choreography, move through the triangulation that ties the two buildings and the crossroads of A Gentil Carioca together with the invisible beings that live there. The descents, pauses and ascents of this ballet move rhythmically, at the invitation of the artist, to an unprecedented symphony specially composed by Ana Frango Elétrico.

Referring to the dictionary, literal points to what is ‘expressed, strict, restricted’. But Laura Lima subverts it`s meaning and ‘literal’ turns out to be the ambivalence of the term: if the work escapes from classical conceptual ties, literality, here, becomes the dimension of a production that affirms itself by recognising, first of all, what is not. In this unstable and fertile terrain, her work ends up choosing guerrilla and chance as the protagonists – in its multiple possibilities and dangers. At the crossroads, organic crosses between poetic materialities and logistical challenges weave the experimental, which contains errors, successes and improvisations with the power of doing by doing.

In this context, during the process of the construction of Literal Ballet, loose threads touch the elaboration of other-new languages, shuffling the position between meanings and signifiers. Operated in triad, we have: 1. the development of an imagistic-textual lexicon of words (defenestrated, ritornelo, balaclava, …); 2. impulses anchored in historical references (Bosch, Berkeley, Hilst, Tatlin, Marquis de Sade, …) in connection with the genealogy of previous works (Puxador, Dopada, Baile, Cinema Shadow, Mágico Nu, Notas de Rodapé, …), and 3. the figurative contextualization of the dancing works (Chandelier of coxinhas, rain of fish, cloaks in co-authorship with other artists, like Fernanda Gomes, João Modé and Cabelo …). In the triad open to translation and interpretation of the other, the ellipsis … are active operatives of the configuration proposed by the artist.

If the art and spirit of her time go hand in hand, the footsteps of Laura Lima’s Literal Ballet are markers of our ‘absurd’, wavering, wandering time that configures a lexicon to come. Among contradictions, what is literal in the era of fake news, extreme visibilities and misrepresented narratives? How can we deny the strength of the now – in all its eloquence and vertigo? Invited to dance, we have to actively contemplate the delirium, the production of the madness and the lucidity of the staging of which we are part, to explode the moment collectively. After all, trust is the balaclava.


(Michelle Farias Sommer and Victor Gorgulho)

– – – – 

[Credits to Pedro Agilson / A Gentil Carioca]


ACT 01 – BEFORE / Invention and tangent concretion

‘The experimental cannot be defined. It is in the very concretion of the invention’, said Hélio Oiticica to Ivan Cardoso in 1979.

2019. It is known – from rehearsals, conversations, messages – that Literal Ballet, under construction, is a living organism, resulting from research and interactions between architectures and living beings. For its operation, urgencies are outlined in the development of an imagetic-textual lexicon. Words emerge: defenestrate; ritornello; balaclava; mockery or sarcasm?; instauration; absurd; contraption; cliché – in (dis) connection to the literal / figurative (a double); the chaosmos = chaos + cosmos; shit/poop. Loose anchors are cast on historical references:  BoschBusby Berkeley;HilstTatlinMarquis de SadePasoliniGeorgi LigetiMaya Derenthe ExorcistPowers of Ten(Charles and Ray Eames); Judith & HolofernesDavidKopenawaFitzcarraldoCocteauSokurovBeckettRobert Musil; the red light bandit. And other anchors in more contextual references: Ana Maria MaiolinoCildo MeirelesAngela Davis; The Pasquim; the 7 deadly sins; plagues of Egypt (rain of frogs); comics from the French Revolution; posters of marches and political demonstrations (from 2013 to 2019). Added to this is the genealogy of the artist’s previous work: dopada (doped), baile (ball), cinema shadow, mágico nu (nude magician), notas de rodapé (footnotes), vaca na praia (beach cow), fuga (escape), ouro flexível (flexible gold). A mixed salad of everything properly annotated, notes (various formats, on the wall of the exhibition space – literal, inclusive). Eloquence and vertigo of the force of now.

Invited to dance the ballet, in an agreement of presence to actively contemplate the delirium, in the production of the madness and lucidity of the staging of which we are a part, the vanishing point lies in the collective explosion of the instant-event. The turning point – the moment – is an invitation to a journey in a state of mind to shape languages.

ACT 02 – DURING / Infinite Present

Gentil Carioca gallery, June 29, 7pm and a few minutes. Beginning. An analogous contraption structures the ritornello. The two buildings are connected – from the gallery to the crossroads – for the execution of three gestures: the descent / defenestration (of works); a pause at front stage where the street is the stage; the rise / return. The exhibition space is bare (everything is in sight): it is an aisle. On the one side there is a list of works and also works in a descending line (it is not known if they are in literal order); on the other, works in progress, live. On the list of works, written on the wall, in brief incomplete notes, we read: hammer, squawker, still life, black malevich, fish (white clothing), red malewitch, (…), ‘we saw no evil on second thoughts’, reverend beast, anonymous rag, (…), cut Bosch, vini’s joint, dark side of the moon (…). In the street, the crossroads are inhabited (the bodies are mostly ergonomically seated), a point of visuality (which can be plural) is chosen in face of the invitation to circulate through spaces (free movement). Scenes are lit, the nonsense lynchian sound of Ana Frango Eléctrico is heard (announcement of the apocalypse?).

The great dress rehearsal is the act itself: poop comes down – concrete emoji; words descend – logger (single?), parthenogenesis (check google, the virtual dictionary of today); an illuminated garbage bag comes down (sublime). The rhythmic-regular-stable ritornello guides the tempo: 1. descent; 2. pause; 3. rise. Time joins the architecture of light with each new cycle, expanding the perception scales of the works, between the monumental and the banal (where is the real reference in absurd time?). Light gives light – the enlightenment of defenestration – to the production and projection of shadows, simultaneously, in the quiet-frantic cathartic experimentation of Laura Lima’s literal (absurd) ballet.

In the list of references and things, an encyclopedia of visualities is configured and ingested (a cachaça chandelier – to drink; a coxinha chandelier – to eat). A Free Lula flag descends, an ovationary reaction to the latent muffled shout, an inevitable integral part of the political moment and – among many other objects – an established connection that configures a certain state of a fraternal confraternization, of the camaraderie that inhabits the crossroads (literal and metaphorical). All driven by artistic force in the guerrilla activism action.

In this ballet we dance together: we, the delighted drunks, attest to the liveliness – and death – of the irreproachable instant. Orfeu’s Testament (by Cocteau, by Laura Lima), return (or revisit, also a ritornello) to the representativeness of the artist’s work in live and alive orchestration. Someone contests: ‘It’s not ballet, it’s cinema!’Cabelo sings ‘Exu é número 1’ (‘Exu is number 1’), in a spontaneous special participation: an offer of coexistence, a footnote in the hallucinating trance of the collective. And then: a pause, silence.

The donkey comes down, Magnolia Gilberta, feminine noun. “O jumento é nosso irmão, quer queira, quer não. O jumento sempre foi o maior “desenvolvimentista” do sertão” (“The donkey is our brother, whether you like it or not. The donkey has always been the greatest “developmentalist” in the sertão”), sang Luiz Gonzaga (not there), in apology to the animal, this sterile hybrid. Is it an ethical unkindness throwing the animal out the window? Animal? A high degree of reality prospecting is achieved with synthetic taxidermy that establishes doubt as an (intentional) desiring element between the real and the figurative. Hanging from her feet and with her head dragging on the floor, the existential anguish of civilization in the infinite present hangs in a (hopefully brief) state of suspension. Of the donkey remains the memory of tenderness, that rises.

Grave tempo of the gravity of things. In gravitational attraction (again, literal), it descends toward the ground: weight and fall. End Times: there is no turning back. To say that something is over is to take a critical stand for a fact: nothing will be as it was before, nothing will be as it was after. Everything has a flaw and that’s where the light comes in’, echoes the writing on the flag, descending at some point, which remains active in the edited memory (already in the direction of a ‘post’, a ‘to come’).

ACT 03 – AFTER / Incomplete Shadows

Post-rise, in the exhibition space (literal), the floating works are in montage at alternating heights. ‘The works are incomplete shadows,’ says the artist, afterwards. Defenestrated, they become something else: everything is sectioned. And they inhabit this (metaphorical) closet of senses, lie under a veil, and although confined between wall-ceiling-floor, they remain open, with no expectation of answers. How metaphorical is the literal (and vice versa)?

In the post-immediate virtuality (to the event), # emerge (plurals) : #irreversible; #scandalous. Other lexicons struggle – in continuum – residue, trail, trace, shadow-leftovers and: goodbye to language!

The dog remains, the German Shepherd Astor, on guard: faithful, docile, trained, domesticated, in a domesticating space (immediate reference: O Sermão da Montanha: Fiat Lux, 1979/ The Sermon on the Mount: Let There Be Light, by Cildo Meireles). Watchful watching (or not), the dog sleeps, oblivious to the surrounding events. In the time after, the time of the edited memories (‘Memory is an editing island… memory is an editing island’, said Waly Salomão), the possibilities of a perception that sees the unseen is renewed (state of perception of Astor the dog). Laura Lima’s ‘Literal Ballet’ is a fast-paced breath of the (in) auspicious infinite present of the now.

– – – – 



Refrain, chorus: marking that delimits a musical piece in a score that must be repeated. As read in the generic Wikipedia: ‘For the French philosophers, more than a cell that repeats itself and makes us follow the melody, the ritornello leads to a kind of place between the ‘I’ and ‘what is outside of me’ (the other, the world) in which this connection (inside / outside) seems to make sense – at least momentarily’.

Laura Lima proposes the use of the term in Bale Literal (Literal Ballet), stemming from the creation and development of the concept by Deleuze and Guattari. In general terms, for both, the ritornello is a common point, linked to the problem of territory, exit or entry into the territory, that is, the problematization of deterritorialization. Force does not exist alone: the ritornello is always in relation to the circumstances in which it is operated and in relation to other ritornellos. Three components are intrinsic to the ritornello: a directional component; a dimensional component and the operation of escape paths, stating that a territory is always transitory. One can affirm that the ritornello configures a logic of existence. It is intrinsic to this discussion, ethics: of experimentation, of prudence and of improvisation.

Literal Ballet is also operated in triad, from the setting of three simultaneous acts. An ingenious contraption connects the two buildings of the A Gentil Carioca gallery to the crossroads by performing three gestures: descent / defenestration (of works); a pause at front stage that has the street as its stage; the rise / return. The movements of this ballet are danced to an exclusive symphony specially composed by Ana Frango Elétrico at the invitation of the artist (will the symphony also have a ritornello?).

In Literal Ballet the ritornello is always in relation to the circumstances in which it is operated and to other ritornellos. Amongst the circumstances of doing by doing, it assumes chance, improvisation, error and failure as inherent conditions to practice. At the launch, ‘defenestration’, it reaches the territory (street) to conjure chaos; in a momentary pause, it traces and inhabits the territory for the infiltration of chaos; during the ascent it is thrown out of the territory (street) to inhabit another known territory (gallery), in the cosmos that distinguishes itself from chaos.

Literal Ballet is the ‘chaosmo’ of Laura Lima, the path that returns to itself, the circular operation of the three dynamisms. Between experimentation, prudence and improvisation, nothing is the same: force does not exist alone, existential ritornello.



Act of throwing something or someone violently through the window (literal). Eliminate (for example, politically), expressly dismiss, marginalize, exclude (figurative) someone.

Although the etymologies researched on the origin of the word are divergent, the act that points as a reference to the use of the term is an episode that took place on May 23, 1618, in Prague, known as the ‘Defenestrations of Prague’. On that occasion Bohemians invaded the castle of Hradsin, interrupting a meeting between imperial commissioners and state deputies, and threw two commissioners and their secretaries out of the window, prompting, as a result, the events of the Thirty Years’ War.

The recurring practice of the seventeenth century is taken up again at the second decade of the 21st century by the artist Laura Lima in Literal Ballet.

In active defenestration, we have – according to the list of works (in progress) read by the artist, from memory, ‘by heart’, remembered at dawn, written down, and repeated at the table of a bar and transcribed here: curtain with safety pins and dry ice; chandelier of coxinhas; rags; LGBT flag (don’t know how many); phrase 1 (‘trust is a balaclava’); phrase 2; phrase 3; phrase 4; phrase 5; small flaming pieces of wood; Kite; a donkey; sculpture; fish 1; fish 2; fish 3; fish 4; fish 5; poo; bee clothes; rocket banner; cups of cachaça on a tray; FREE LULA flag; Laura & Modé clothing; Laura & Fernanda clothing; white artwork with moving objects inside; still life; Bosch still life with hollow geometric forms that, with the light behind them, make it necessary to focus the retina; painting by Hieronymus Bosch (to be worked on with Nina the lighting technician); maybe a fern; Black Malevich (black cross); Red Malevich (red cross); some insults; sardines; Santos Dumont staircase (will not be possible to execute).

Historical referential antecedent for the proposed defenestration: a horse thrown from stairs that ends up falling; scene from the Soviet film Andrey Rublev, by Tarkovsky (1966). Vaguely based on the life of the painter Andrei Rublev (who lived roughly between 1360-1430), the Russian monk is credited with liberating painting from religious icons in Russia in the Byzantine traditions of art.

The active defenestrations of Bale Literal (Literal Ballet) are loosely based on historical antecedents and throw themselves violently into the de-sacralization of works and of the exhibition space, simultaneously, in a literal and figurative, double, sense. Through the acts of falling, pausing, and ascension, defenestrated works free themselves from the archaic and confined traditions of art by moving toward the use and the delight of the public in public space, openly, for free appropriation. Please eat.



A balaclava – or ninja mask – is usually made from knitted wool mixed with elastic fabrics. It covers the head and neck. Its traditional function is to protect against the cold. Its updated function is to conceal identity.

‘The confidence is the balaclava’, as goes the song ‘Balaclava’ by British band Artic Monkeys, featured on the ‘Favorite Worst Nightmare’ album (2007). The aphorism is applied in Literal Ballet.

Black blocs – a group of people masked and dressed in black for a joint action or common purpose as a block: a solid block of inert matter – emerged with vigor in Brazil during the demonstrations of 2013. Their practices are, anarchist, tactics of direct action undertaken by affinity groups that meet for protest. They use direct attacks on private property as a way of drawing attention to their opposition to capitalist symbols, multinational corporations, and the governments that support them. Their clothing and masks – among them the balaclava – are designed to protect the physical integrity of the individuals and ensure their anonymity, characterizing them as a single, immense block.

The final verse of the song is ‘Sorry sweetheart, I’d much rather keep on the balaclava’. Us too.


By Michelle Farias Sommer

[Bale Literal (Literal Ballet) translated by Thaís Medeiros]

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The maximum upload file size: 15 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

scroll up