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Rochelle Costi: Quartos Series (Room Series)

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Rochelle Costi takes an ethnographic approach to her investigation of culture, exploring everyday domestic expression as an index of contemporary lives and customs. In her Quartos Series (Room Series) (1998), she invites the viewer to scrutinize, in exhaustive detail, a specific human universe-that is, bedrooms she photographed in and around Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil. Although not exactly scientific, these photographs present a view of these various domestic settings with a minimum of aesthetic or political commentary. They offer, however, fascinating information about a richly dichotomous visual culture-and the human need to create and personalize these most intimate of living spaces.

Taken together, the photographs in this series offer something of a typology, representing people of diverse genders, ages, and backgrounds. One photograph (right), for example, captures the ordered chaos of a bedroom belonging to a transvestite living in a favela-a neighborhood in which the residents began essentially as squatters, building their small adobes with bare heating and electrical provisions.

Cast in a soft red glow, this bedroom is shrouded by richly patterned fabrics creatively draped around the bed and billowing like a sail from the ceiling. A small table and chest of drawers are covered with lace doilies and an array of small, personal articles, including perfume bottles, boxes, vases, and clothes. Mirrors hung next to the bed and over the table serve to enlarge the space and increase the cacophony.

Each of the photographs in the Quartos Series captures the discrete qualities of the rooms and the private auras of their occupants. Some reflect personal histories-for instance, and unrequited and nostalgic longing for the past; others a deep need for order and, concurrently, a desire for chaos; still others represent social status and the human drive to create shelter and intimacy out of their physical surroundings by any available means.

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