Wesleyan Exhibit Looks At Brazil, U.S. Cultural Overlap

Clarissa Tossin, a native of Brasilia, Brazil, now lives in Los Angeles. Her art focuses on the overlaps between Brazil and the United States: in architecture, topography, iconography, even tragedy. An exhibit up now at Wesleyan University in Middletown is called "Stereoscopic Vision" gets its title from this duality of perspective.

"By using this strategy of juxtaposition in different ways, the issues present in the work become more complex in the same way an image acquires perspective," Tossin said in an interview in the gallery.

Tossin works in many media: photography, video, installation, plaster, paper, found-object installation. A series of photographs focuses on towns, one in Michigan and one in the Amazon rain forest, that housed Ford Motor Corp. employees. Both use Cape Cod-style architecture "that is not something that is ideal to a tropical climate," Tossin said. The photographs use either Michigan or Brazil as the backdrop, while elements of the other town are placed over, to show the similarities. "I'm creating a third space, beyond the topographic space," she said.

This differentiation is emphasized in an installation nearby, a two-sided printout of the topography of the two villages. Folded origami-style and laid on the floor, the printout blurs the distinction between Michigan and Brazil. "I call it a 'geographic accident'," she said.

An amusing piece is "Matter of Belief." Many in Brazil, where the unit of currency is the real, carry on a ritualistic habit of keeping at least one American dollar in their wallets, as a talisman to attract more money. "There's this symbolic idea that the dollar is a stable currency in the world, the one that will not lose value," she said. Tossin used the same aesthetic as the floor map, printing strips of paper with one-dollar notes on one side and one-real notes on the other. "With the fluctuation in the exchange rates, you always win if it's a dollar or a real," she said.

Architecture is at the root of an installation in the center of the gallery. Tossin shipped an old Volkswagen Brasilia used by a pool-cleaning service from Brazil to Los Angeles. She drove the car to a home in Santa Monica, Calif., that is the only American house designed by Oscar Niemeyer, who designed many ultramodern civic buildings in downtown Brasilia. "That home was like his bastard child," Tossin said. The Santa Monica home has a swimming pool, but Tossin was not allowed in. The car sits in the gallery, alongside pool-cleaning equipment and a video of the car's journeys in Brazil and in the United States, the video adding a performance aspect to Tossin's presentation. "I wanted to show the city from the perspective of a worker's car," she said.

"Sneaker Thief" is a wall installation of 36 discarded athletic shoes coated with plaster. Tossin said she intended the work as a commentary that applies to people in both countries. "How much of our bodies become brands?" she said. She also intended the work as a memorial to young men who were killed by people who wanted their expensive shoes, a tragedy that happens in both countries.

CLARISSA TOSSIN: STEREOSCOPIC VISION will be in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University in Middletown until March 5. wesleyan.edu/cfa.

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