(9-13/10/2017) Material News Project Research - Farnese de Andrade, Betye Saar, Leonilson, Wagner Schwartz

Farnese de Andrade

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Farnese de Andrade - 'Oratório da Mulher,' 1973, assemblage.

The Brazilian artist was fascinated by the process of assembling material found during the long walks he would take along the streets and beaches of Rio de Janeiro, taking discarded material that he would then repurpose in his art. He also acquired many historical artefacts from antique markets, as well as old family heirlooms and photographs, which he would incorporate into his art, dealing with intensely personal themes of sexuality, religion and oppression. By recontextualising objects from the past, the artist creates a dialogue with the present state of his country, which was at the height of a military dictatorship, and explores the relationship between affection, memory and emotion. I was particularly influenced by Andrade's use of religious iconography and the juxtaposition of these sacred items with banal objects, and how one shifts the meaning of the other to arrive at a seemingly neutral middle ground; this is seen in my own juxtaposition of the crucifix with the lycra stockings. This piece in particular centres around themes of femininity, birth, life and death, suggesting the sacred nature of these topics to the artist. Stylistically, I was influenced by his choice of using worn-out wood that was found abandoned, showing the artist's role in elevating mundane objects to the level of something worthy of worship. The flesh-like tones of the wood, and the carnal red of the background, are also echoed in my piece.

Betye Saar

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Betye Saar - 'Spirit Catcher,' 1977, assemblage.

"Spirit Catcher is a mixed-media assemblage— created from bamboo, bones, feathers, shells, and wicker—that was inspired in part by Simon Rodia's Watts Towers. The artist's conceptual inspiration for this work also comes from her first visit to Africa as well as Tibetan spirit traps, which were blessed by shamans and placed on roofs to ward off evil spirits." (https://hammer.ucla.edu/now-dig-this/art/spirit-catcher/) I saw Saar's work at the Frieze Master's collection and was immediately struck by its poetic nature, and how the assembling of pre-existing objects generate new meanings. Saar explores themes of racial representation and spirituality in her modern context, and so the inclusion of her art in a gallery space immediately leads viewers to recognise and pay attention to her message as she utilises imagery and materials that are not conventional and commonplace in a western, white-dominated space that generally does not draw references from sources such as tribal African religions. The ritualistic undertone of this piece is evident in her use of objects such as feathers, wooden beads, straw and artisanal crafts, that are combined to create a tower that has a domineering, imposing presence, almost as if it were an object used for religious purposes. I was inspired by Saar's overall aesthetics and how she approached the theme of religious/spiritual oppression and visibility, and I aimed to create a sculpture that responded to conservative outlooks on the nature and validity of certain art forms.

Leonilson

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Leonilson - 'Empty Man,' 1991, thread on embroidered linen.

The clear connection between my work and that of Brazilian artist Leonilson is the use of red thread. Used given the strong, suggestive symbolism of the colour, the material has a delicate, almost fragile quality that adds an element of visual poetry to the piece. The artist is also concerned with exploring the properties of his surface, which appears unframed, in a raw, unrefined state that serves to direct the attention to the very essence of the message he tries to get across. Leonilson, active during the height of the AIDS epidemic, was an active supporter of the cause given his positive status, and aimed to discuss and bring a new perspective to the issue during a time where people living with the disease were seen as 'untouchables,' exposing his own struggles with mortality as a beacon of hope that inspired others in the same situation. Here, he meshes together a childish figurative method of representation, with text rendered in an imprecise manner, creating various possible associations and layers of meaning. The 'Hare and Turtle' motif, as well as the child on the bottom half centre, appears almost as a way for the artist to regress to an infantile state, where ignorance and naiveness would erase his own self-awareness of emotional emptiness. Overall, I was mainly fascinated by Leonilson's ability to tell a highly subjective tale through his visual poetry and arrangement of elements on a surface, something I aimed to explore with my piece.

Wagner Schwartz

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Wagner Schwartz - 'La Bete,' 2015, performance

This performance by Wagner Schwartz was the starting point for my idea given the controversy it generated after being shown at the MAM in São Paulo. Alongside an interactive sculpture by Lygia Clark, the artist laid on the floor and invited members of the audience to move his limbs as if he were the sculpture himself. The content of the performance was not the main source of inspiration for me, but rather the fervent response it generated from conservative religious groups after videos circulated of a young girl touching the artist's feet. I was interested in the idea of having a public debate about art and its place in contemporary society, and wanted to express my view as a member of that community who believes that it is wrong to censor the artist, and going as far as accusing him of pedophilia , simply because his nude body was exposed to a girl whose parents were completely unbothered by the situation. This led me to the image of strips of flesh covering a crucifix, in which Jesus appears nearly nude, as a commentary on the hypocrisy of condoning the devotion to a naked figure versus the condemnation of a naked artist. Metaphorically, my piece draws from Schwartz' performance as a way to express the way that humans have tried to place an identity onto a religious icon and claim it as their own. In a way, it is a provocation to the conservative mentality through the fact that I attempt to interfere with, and conceal, the object of their worship, in the same way they did with Schwartz. I wanted the piece to be a direct tribute to the artist, and serve as a reminder and interpretative aid to viewers, and so titled it 'Operation After Wagner Schwartz.'

© Antonio Gullo, all rights reserved

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