Texts / Fernanda Lopes
Note(s) About Space(s)(Fernanda Lopes - 2016)
It is almost impossible to see Watchtower without walking towards it. The piece which is 1,90 meters tall draws our attention due its scale and presence in space, but also due its composition: a “body” that structures itself with metal pieces used in industry, covered by concave mirrors used to amplify the field of vision of cars’ and trucks’ rearview mirrors. We walk towards the work and we are intrigued by its structure, but we are also inevitably interested in seeing our reflection in the mirrors. As we move closer, we try to recognize, without much success, the fragments of space and of our bodies (ours and others’ in the room) that the mirrors reflect. Because they are positioned in different heights, angles, and pointing to different directions, they do not reflect or reproduce the space and the bodies in the way we would expect, or in the way we already know. On the contrary, they present spaces and bodies that look like nothing we see around us, which are almost unrecognizable when seen from other points of view, changing as we move. Two people do not see or experience the same space, even when they occupy the same place, the same time.
Watchtower (2016), from the series Measure of Dispersion (2014–2016), presents an important moment in the work of Gustavo Prado. Over the course of 15 years of production, the Brazilian artist based in New York has been developing thoughts on space through sculpture, drawing, performance, photography, video, and installations. In his first body of work he focused on the investigation of perceived space. The installations of the series Perceptível (2002–2011) are spaces constructed with fluorescent lamps, fabrics, metal structures and motion detectors, as if they were apart from the real world — as in a lab in which outside interferences were suspended — where the spectator is transported to and finds the ideal conditions for experimentation. In the last years, though, instead of inviting spectators into a constructed space, Gustavo Prado’s work seems now to push them out, to the world, and to make them deal with a space that is not passive, static, and that despite our desires and projects resists representation: resists being captured, frozen. The reality then is seen and presented as a construction and in construction, open, in process, and that has as its variables the political, social, and economic relations.
In 2011, Prado’s move from Rio de Janeiro to New York certainly sped up and contributed to this internal process of his work. Being in a space that is not yours it is possible to perceive in a clearer way the processes and layers of construction (maintenance and alteration) of city spaces and the frictions that are part of these processes––that are also so present in our hometowns, but because of our proximity with them are more difficult to be perceived. From that point on, there is in Gustavo Prado’s production the acknowledgement of the inevitability of the fragmentation of unity, of confusion instead of definition, of doubts instead of certainties.
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that his more recent production —his other three series from 2011 on — developed from his walks across New York. In a culture in which the human body is taken as one of the main measurement units (instead of the metric system in Brazil), both The Unseen (2011-2016) and Oedipus Punishment (2012-2016) are photographic series that are not satisfied with simply bringing the record of bodies’ presence to the world. Both reveal to us how the world imposes an impact, a wear, and even a disappearing to these bodies, without surrendering to them. In The Unseen we take a while to perceive that the formless masses that we see occupying a great portion of the scene are actually covered people. The subway cars — which for most people are just places of transit in the everyday of the city — are for these individuals the only remaining place. In this act of covering oneself, in the vanishing to the eyes of the other, there is a twofold refusal: those who prefer not to see this condition and those who do not want to be seen in this condition.
In Oedipus Punishment, the car is recognized both as an important tool for life in a big city, but also as one of the most important objects of desire of the modern and contemporary cultures. With the front lanterns damaged by the clash with the world, these photographs point to a reality that resists and refuses our attempts of projecting desire; of organizing it, and consuming it. As the artist points out, there is a movement of castration in this, therefore the relation to Oedipus, who pierced his own eyes. Closing his most recent works is the series Harlem Turrell (2013–2016), in which the artist asks to himself about the power of attributing a non-artistic value to an object or, in this case, a space in the city. The ongoing series of photographs depict, during months, days, and hours — in random moments indicated in the titles of each work — a span between the number 772 and 778 of the Saint Nicholas Avenue, in Harlem. All photos are shared on social media with the hashtags #harlemturrell or #turrelldoharlem. The series, which started in 2013, already have around 300 photographs and it expands the condition of doubt beyond the domain of the city, reaching the domain of art.
The world is much more complex and fragmented than only an image can capture. After a period of seeking the construction of spaces, small worlds, now it is a moment in the production of Gustavo Prado to recognize that, perhaps, the most potent space of art is, actually, to accept this impossibility of unity, to accept that this will to organize is actually a utopia condemned to failure. Instead of presenting answers to the proposals; one needs to raise questions, to work within doubt. And that there is no point in trying to gather a group of images, because this is a puzzle in which the fewer pieces we have, the more we perceive that pieces are missing and that the ones we have do not fit in as perfectly as they should, or as we would like them to.
is Assistant Curator at the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro, currently pursuing doctoral research in Art History and Criticism at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and lecturing at the Pontifíca Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro and Escola de Artes Visuais do Rio de Janeiro. Lopes earned an MFA in Art History and Criticism. Her thesis won Marcantônio Vilaça Visual Arts Award from the Ministry of Culture and Funarte (MinC | Funarte) in 2006 and was published by Alameda Editorial in 2009. Lopes also published Área Experimental: Lugar, Espaço e Dimensão do Experimental na Arte Brasileira dos Anos 1970 (Figo Editora | Funarte) in 2013 as a result of the Production Stimulus Grant for Visual Arts Criticism from the Ministry of Culture and Funarte (MinC | Funarte). She is also the editor of Francisco Bittencourt: Arte-Dinamite (Tamanduá_Arte, 2016). Since 2010 Lopes has been a freelancer contributor of art reviews and feature articles to national and internacional newspapers, magazines and websites, and also has been developing several projects as curator, researcher and producer. In 2010 she was the Guest Curator of the 29th São Paulo Biennial, responsible for the Rex Group Special Room. Lopes was also Member of the Nominating Committee for the Pipa Prize (2015), Member of the Cultural Comitee of the Galeria Ibeu (2013-2014), Editor in Chief of ARTINFO Brazil (2012-2013) and Member of the Visual Arts Curatorial team at Centro Cultural São Paulo (2010–2012).
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