Cranks (Cranks), 1999. Photo: Publicity

*By Moacir dos Anjos

The work of Antonio Dias (1944-2018) is multiple. It is not reduced to styles, nor is it faithful to techniques or the choice of themes. Over almost 40 years, the artist has made paintings, objects, installations, records, photographs and films, promoting a rigorous dismantling of any hierarchy between the means of expression he uses. Sometimes it refers explicitly to politics, although it never slips into activism. In others, he discusses the functioning of the institutional environment of art, preferring, however, the oblique comment, to what is presented as immediate and apparent.

The uncertain place of the body in the world is, at all times, also insinuated as an important issue, but not as a memory report or as a mechanism for subjectivation of the work. Although each set of similar works by Antonio Dias (grouped in conceptually cohesive series or just by approximation of the support used) bears the mark of singularity and the unique event - being irreducible, therefore, to an absent totality -, there are no signs in this individuation. of dispersion or isolation. Taken together, his work allows continuous semantic slippage and becomes a place of transit and contagion between what is different and distant. Putting different meaning chains in contact, the work of Antonio Dias is a rhizome, a model for making provisional but broad alliances.

Many of Antonio Dias' works carry, inscribed in their apparent form, the marks of the symbolic clash and bond that permeate his entire production. In several of the paintings from the 1960s, schematic figuration drawn from popular and mass culture (mostly graffiti and comic books) is deliberately truncated, blocking the narrative fluidity and light communication skills found in their source references. The chromatic contention of these works (there are almost only black, yellow, red and white in them) and the precise ordering of the figures on the painted support reveal, moreover, the artist’s adherence to a constructivist code that has not preserved its ideals of distancing from what is uncertain or impure. In Note on the unforeseen death (1965), a work characteristic of this period of unlikely overlapping of such distant traditions, three of the four squares into which the support is divided are occupied by images that seem to slide out of the spaces in which they are inscribed, not getting to compose the history of violence. that suggest exist in the world. In the remaining square of this surface, this centrifugal dynamic is accentuated even more, causing the images to gain volume and become a soft object, horizontally projecting the signs of death previously contained in the vertical space of the painting. The approximation between painted support and lived places and the simultaneous dismantling of the constructive rigidity contained in these works, echo, in Antonio Dias' initial production, the two main strands that, at the time, were affirmed in his surroundings: the New Brazilian Figuration and the Neoconcretism. There is no sense of synthesis, however, in this critical approach; there is, rather, tension between the characteristics of those aspects, brokered by the slippage between different meanings that mark the artist's work.

This syntactic exuberance is abandoned in a large part of the production of the following decade, which turns, on the contrary, to the thinness of the precise concept. The series is from this period The Illustration of Art (1974), composed of works that investigate the very symbolic demarcation of what art is and its insertion in the objectified space of mercantile exchanges. Faithful to his inclusive and contaminated vision of the contemporary world, Antonio Dias explores in this series the idea of ​​circuit, a descriptive model suitable for apprehending the continuous slip between aesthetic and economic values ​​through which consensus emerges – always provisional and always aspiring to permanence – around the supposed universal validity of certain standards of judgment. In The Art Illustration/One & Three/Generator (1974-1975), the cumulative circularity of this relationship is represented as a graphic image that is itself, however, also an art artifact – an ambiguity that only confirms the connection between the terms on which the artist leans. The volatility of this valuation process is still brought by Antonio Dias to the scope of the formal presentation of his work in the work The Art Illustration/One & Three/Chassis(1974-1975): using four rods as a metaphor for the space that the painting (art) occupies in the world, he retracts and expands them, as if to illustrate, through this physical slide, two exemplary cases of his accommodation to the mechanisms that govern the artistic products market.

From the contact he established, in 1976, with Nepalese artisans who manufacture paper in various textures, Antonio Dias produces works that seem to point to a field of creative investigation in everything different from his current concerns. There are also in these works, however, the marks of the attention that the artist gives to the symbolic flows that, at all times, produce friction between different semantic chains. By deliberately and precisely incorporating the materials and techniques of Nepalese artisans into his own work, Antonio Dias transports them to the cultured art circuit, which gives them meanings and values ​​different from those they had before. This process of re-signification operates, however, also in the opposite direction: calling one of these works a The Illustration of Art (Me and the Others) (1977) or recording together, in The Illustration of Art/Tool & Work (1977), the imprint of his hand and that of the craftsman who helps him, Antonio Dias seems to propose the expansion of that circuit so that it also includes, in a critical way, the discussion on the limits between art and craftsmanship, between authorship and repeated gesture. , between interest only in the concept and the tactile enchantment of raw material.

While the softening of the graphic rigidity that marks most of the series The Illustration of Art gains visibility only from their contact with another culture, works made simultaneously with those included in the series and executed in a wide variety of media, give new form to the symbolic convulsion that years earlier had inaugurated the artist's work. Eloquent examples of this are the works Sheet music for Dangerous Performers (1972) conversation piece (1973) and A Fly in My Movie (1976). It is the work entitled Poeta/Pornógrafo (1973), however, that among these best indicates, in its simple architecture, the constant unfolding of meanings that is the work of Antonio Dias. The work is formed by two pairs of neon semicircles hanging from the ceiling: one emanating calm blue light (the poet) and the other a lush pink (the pornographer). Despite the polarity alluded to in the title and confirmed by the spatial arrangement of the object, there is a suggestion in this work of a split unit, of whole circles that would have broken into halves and slid in opposite directions. There is no nostalgia here, however, for a situation of supposed completeness. The rupture of what could be imagined as whole is ontological and the slipping back into whole circles, a possibility that is never realized. There is only the continuous pulse of a movement that is never completed, that is prolonged in the infinite path that, simultaneously, brings together and separates different symbolic territories.

This sliding operation is also visible, in other ways, in the artist's recent paintings. In caramur (1992), two large canvases are juxtaposed and covered by, in addition to acrylic paint, energy-conducting materials (graphite, gold, malachite), bringing out the idea of ​​flow that the diagram applied to them only accentuates. In the recurrence to a form that resembles a circuit, there is also a reference to the concepts that mark the series The Illustration of Art – artistic autophagy that permanently thickens and expands the poetic plot woven by Antonio Dias. Already in the paintings of the series Autonomies (2000), canvases of different shapes and sizes are placed side by side and also superimposed, creating the illusion that they can slide over each other and produce different configurations than those presented by the artist himself. The fact that portions of the support are covered by different materials and patterns (from monochrome to stain) also forces the eye to move between the various textures and chromatic areas that make up these quasi-objects.

It's maybe Anywhere is My Land (1968), however, the work of the artist who best performs this metonymic operation in relation to his work as a whole. Splashing the black painted canvas with white paint, Antonio Dias creates a myriad of disordered dots of different sizes on its surface. He also superimposes on this space a wide reticulated mesh, equally painted, giving an identical value to any of the points located there. This annulment of hierarchy – suggested by the title of the work – makes each of these points a possible access to the metaphorical and fluid geography that it represents on the canvas.

As in Anywhere is My Land, the work of Antonio Dias is formed by points (works) that are connected to each other, without ordering importance or chronology. Although, retrospectively, the works are grouped into sets or series, they resist tight framing and, at all times, announce slips towards borders that only seem to isolate them from other times or symbolic contents. The work of Antonio Dias is resistant, therefore, to any formative genealogy, which allows past works to gain meanings different from those already established, from their contact and confrontation with newer works. It is this generous reception of varied meanings that produces the extensive and dense enervation of the work.

By promoting connections between different semantic chains, the work of Antonio Dias highlights what is in between, what inhabits the interstices of precise fields of meaning and what undermines places that were supposed to be closed. In the work entitled The Space Between (1969-1999), two large blocks of ore – white marble and black granite – are drilled at numerous points and have their holes “filled” with the material extracted from the block of different color, creating spaces for exchange and intimate contact between the two. Subjects. Loading one of them the inscription The Beginning (The Beginning) and the other the inscription The End (O Fim), these two hybrid blocks evoke, when brought together, what there is latent communicative possibility in what is commonly taken as a place of absences. A similar operation is performed on the triptych called Project for the “Body” (1970), in which two canvases (one white splattered with black paint and the other painted in reverse) welcome, respectively, the inscriptions energy (energy) and memory (memory) and flank a third canvas, left empty as a container for everything else. that the creative act engenders. It is this range of infinite possibilities that Antonio Dias points out, in yet another way, on the vinyl record called Record: The Space Between (1971). On one side of the disc is Theory of Counting, recording the rhythmic sound of a clock, interrupted every three seconds by moments of silence of identical duration and where anything fits. On the other side, you can hear The Density Theory, a record of a person's respiratory cycle, interspersed with pauses that potentially bring out all the cognitive strength of language and speech. By demarcating the distance that separates mechanical from organic noise, the thin and light object on which they are recorded subverts, on the symbolic level, their own corporeity: the record becomes thick and dense, a platform for what is not known. There are many ways in which the artist expresses the incomplete and fruitful nature of his work.

This place of diverse possibilities is treated in a purposeful way in the work Do It Yourself: Freedom Territory (1968), diagram built on the floor that suggests the existence of a symbolic space for experimentation and invention. Instead of being represented in an elliptical way as in other works, this space assumes the authorial concretion typical of maps, constructions made from what the cartographer points out as landmarks that guide his path over a certain territory. It is in this space of affirmation of singularities that Antonio Dias plants the flag of The Invented Country (1976), a red cloth that bears the most recurrent mark of his work: the absence of the upper right corner of what, to eyes accustomed to the perimeters of regular shapes, would be a rectangle. Index of central aspect of the production of Antonio Dias, this mark refers to an absolute, irreparable and diffuse lack; to the inexistence of a totality that summarizes and explains a work in constant mutation – work that is the construction of a place that does not end. What is permanent about it and what anchors the artist's firm poetics is precisely the affirmation of its transience and incompleteness. A work through which, in an incessant symbolic torrent, the impurities that make up the world slide.

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