Carolina Ponte | Only excess

Glorious Profligacy

Carolina Ponte’s exhibition, “Only Excess” brings together drawings and objects, in which the artist aims to demonstrate excess, surplus, that which frames empty spaces. Ponte therefore does not exhibit architectural parts, such as friezes or ornaments, which should, in theory, circumscribe content. With this gesture, she activates a duality, an ambivalence, confronting us with something that has no protagonist, erasing a possibly principal portion.

Carolina Ponte’s work is devoted precisely to the observation of ornaments, excessive gestures, “unproductive expense”, as Bataille terms it. Producing crocheted objects and multicolored drawings, the artist turns us into viewers of images originally connected with the decoration of temples. On the other hand, these are also connected with profane rites, occasions on which we come into contact with unproductive expense: frills, fancy-dress for cathartic consummations. The artist’s work is practically a spectacularization of form, ornate for no reason. Shorn of their nucleus, friezes and frames are, in themselves, the principal subject matter, windows blind to the world. Ponte expunges, erases information; yet this does not make us notice what is missing, but rather the human desire to dedicate oneself to excess.

Georges Bataille first developed the key concept for these discussions, when, in 1933, he wrote of profligacy, “unproductive expense”. As this scholar puts it “there is permanent pressure from an excess that perturbs living organisms and there is therefore a demand for waste, expense or discharge.” The frame, decorative features, art nouveau frills are, from this perspective, a demand for wastefulness. And such exuberance can only aim for the void, the locus of meaning, which is always veiled. This is the interplay that the artist’s work points to.

Modern functionalist architecture abhors not a vacuum but the ornamentation of the Victorian era. We know that the excessive use of images and ornamental features had a great influence in non-Western cultures, drawn on by primitivists of the late 19th century.

Carolina Ponte’s work places us within this ambivalence, provides ornaments, colors, fluting, and excessive detail for the void. She thus creates what Bataille called a cosmic phenomenon: explosions, spirals, stardust generate conditions in which we can perceive the infinite, as in the cosmos.

It is frittered away, it is destroyed; it is lost: these are the conjugations of verbs for the creation of art. Clearly, when we address loss, we think of a society justified between capitalist labor and manufacturing, rolling back craftsmanship in favor of industrial production. Being a spendthrift is thus an inconsequential gesture, somewhat too barbarous for civilized use.

This inglorious task has fallen to the artist: producing for nothing, creating “unproductive expense”; in cultural terms, connecting with excess, only excess. But life is too big for itself. Nothing is restrained by its boundaries: play, sex, spectacle. On a daily basis, we confer meaning on excess, or rather, share excesses, food, rituals, couture. We crave lyricism, the union of feelings. It is hard to containn lyricism. It is impossible to separate out desire.

In her work, Carolina Ponte creates gestures of excess, too many lines, too many colors, extensive crocheting. In this it resembles the poetry of Manuel Bandeira, which declared itself to abound in “reserved lyricism”, the “well-behaved kind of lyricism”, “that clocks in and out, has fixed working hours, protocols and compliments the managing director.” Previously, Bandeira advocated a lyricism of madmen and drunkards.

It would be wrong here to ask the artist what or who it is for. We do not want to “hear anything about a lyricism that provides no liberation.”