‘The churches are like jewel boxes containing complex, fascinating carnivorous jewels that are capable of ingurgitating any foreign element, taking disseminated fragments and accumulating them, deforming them and integrating them into their sacred universe' (A. Varejão, quoted in Adriana Varejão: chambre d'échos, exh. cat., Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris, 2005, p. 81).
In Adriana Varejão’s Sarça ardente, crimson filigree sensuously float cross a creamy, plaster-covered surface that towers above the viewer like a cracked wall. Drawing the viewer into its material splendour and visual excess that transcends the boundary between painting and sculpture, this work perfectly illustrates Varejão’s fascination with materiality of paint and surface and, by gesturing to a lavishness that lies beyond the picture plane, evokes the architecture and aesthetic of the Baroque that pervades her oeuvre. Weaving rich layers of allegorical narrative into the surface of this work, Varejão in particular alludes to the powerful religious symbol of the ‘sarça ardente’, the burning bush from the book of Exodus that signifies abiding reverence and faith. Executed in 1991, Sarco Ardiente work belongs to the artist’s early Baroque series (1987–1992), in which she explored the ornate style that was brought to Brazil by the seventeenth-century conquistadors. Mobilising stylistic traditions introduced to Brazil as part of a brutal colonial encounter that have been inherited and elaborated over time, Varejão’s unique vernacular explores painting, sculpture, installation, and photography to reflect on the fractured and violent artistic and political past of her native Brazil. Varejão’s enduring fascination with the Baroque stems from her visit to a church in the former colonial mining town of Ouro Preto during her early twenties. The multi-sensory transcendence of this formative experience is powerfully brought to life by the quivering leaves that are inscribed in the sculpted flesh of Sarça ardente, as though consumed by flames. For Varejão, the sensual materiality of flesh itself is quintessentially Baroque in nature. As she explained, flesh is ‘the space of abundance and excess based on pleasure and lust. For me, flesh is a metaphor for Baroque wood carving, covered all over in gold. Pure voluptuous extravagance’ (A. Varejão, quoted in H. Kelmachter, ‘Echo Chamber’, Adriana Varejão, exh. cat., Cartier Foundation, Paris, 2005, p. 85). Created at the same time as Varejão’s series Terra Incognita (1991–2003), this work testifies to the artist’s enduring interest in the Eastern pictorial traditions imported to Brazil; the crocodilian, cracked surface in here in particular recalls the fissured surfaces of Eastern Chinese Song Dynasty ceramics. By interrupting this appropriated stylistic veneer with wound-like, convulsing punctuations, Varejão probes into the complex relationship between history, violence and representation that has long structured the collective socio-cultural unconscious of Brazil. Seamlessly navigating the territory of violence and beauty with a quiet, and yet fundamentally visceral, lyricism, Sarça ardente is a definitive example of Varejão’s universally acclaimed oeuvre.