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Ana Mazzei, Romana (Roman Woman) (detail), 2020

Wood, pigmented wax painting, iron, engine

Ana Mazzei works at the juncture of sculpture, painting, architecture, and theater. This cross-disciplinarity was manifested in the Brazilian artist’s recent solo show, Vesuvius, which foregrounded her ingenious use of humble materials. Prime among them is wood, which she varnishes and coats with wax paints, at times adding found objects to construct dreamy scenarios. The show revolved around the idea of remnants, in particular those of the frescoes at Pompeii. One might liken Mazzei’s approach to that of Canadian poet Anne Carson, whose 2002 translation of the works of Greek poet Sappho left blanks where the original text was missing, rather than imposing a semblance of cohesion. In Mazzei’s show, omission and ambiguity similarly left an opening for the viewer’s subjectivity.

Sometimes the artist’s sculptural arrangements seemed themselves to be mysterious excavation sites—an archeology of the unconscious. Desire coursed through a number of small watercolors; only two were officially part of the show, but more were on view in the gallery’s offices and provided useful contextual hints via their theatrical imagery, encompassing props, masks, and couples in amorous embraces. In these works, the representation of the female body was frontal and geared to the viewer, and felt highly performative. One gets a comparable sense of desire being staged when looking at, say, the frescoes relating to the cult of Dionysus in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii. The bewildering energy of this lush, libidinous wall frieze from the first century BCE found an echo in Mazzei’s recent watercolors and sculptures.

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