São Paulo plastic artist Laura Vinci and her new object of interest: plants. Photo: Jennifer Glass / courtesy of the artist and Galeria Nara Roesler

Ephemerality and transience are essential words in the poetics of the plastic artist Laura Vinci. Both are translated into site-specific works and installations, or even interventions and sculptures of less monumental dimensions than what she usually conceives, such as the kinetic works in her most recent show, machinata, on display until August 8 at the Rio branch of Galeria Nara Roesler. There, nature and various equipment, recurring elements in her creations, dialogue in what the artist calls a search for “new paradigms of how to deal, think and relate to the world of plants”.

“I have studied a lot about them, it is a subject that is currently being discussed by different areas, such as anthropology, archeology and philosophy. when conceiving machinata, I wondered if the machinery could help us think about them, the movement they make, their sensitivity. If machines, something that we humans create, could sensitize us to think about them differently”, says Laura. Among the works present there are, for example, golden, swirling leaves, “that appear like jewels, relics for the future”. For the artist, the transience of the leaves, which “go to another state when they fall from the trees”, and the very seasonal exchange of plants reflect something we also have. “We are also seasonal throughout our lives.”

Born in São Paulo, Laura Vinci has been dealing with visual arts since “little girl”: at 15, she says, she had a small studio at home. Still in her teens she had, however, trained as a musician at a conservatory. Laura was instrumentalist of the Youth Orchestra of the Municipal Theater, later she was part of its Quinteto de Sopros. She first played the transverse flute, and then turned to the oboe.

“Then I decided to study fine arts. I entered college a little later, at the age of 20”, says Laura, who graduated from Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado (Faap) in the late 1980s. “I finished my studies as a painter, but in the following decade I had my first exhibition individual as a sculptor, in 1991, at Centro Cultural São Paulo, in a program conceived by Sônia Salzstein, for young artists. It was an important gateway for my generation.” The exhibition, says the artist, marked the official beginning of her career, which turned 30 years old last year.

The transition from the painting plane to three-dimensionality, explains Laura, has always echoed her reflections “on our existence, what our bodies are and their relationship with space”. But it was at the end of the 1990s, when she participated in the third edition of the Arte/Cidade project, by curator Nelson Brissac Peixoto, that Laura claims to have had the great turning point of her career, when she created a work for a ruined building, a factory which was, with the development of São Paulo, gradually being pushed out of the metropolis.

“There, I started to consider architecture as the structuring of my creations, which became fundamental in my production”, he says. “The work also dealt with the issue of time, which I have been working with until today. And then came the idea of ​​changing the states of matter: I put 50 tons of sand on a floor of one of the floors of the building, drilled a hole in the slab, and this mountain drained to the floor below during the time of the show, who wanted to talk about the conditions in which the city was and its history”.

The artist says that she deepened the idea of ​​changes in matter in 2002, when she took an exhibition to the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in São Paulo in which she experimented with the water states. “From steaming to freezing, the same matter was seen differently, from one floor to the next,” she recalls. Two years later, she took the same work to the Nara Roesler gallery, which began to represent her.

Still at the end of the 90's, Laura started her collaborations with the Workshop Theater, by José Celso Martinez Corrêa. There, he did the artistic direction, again in dialogue with the built space, this time the powerful architecture of Lina Bo Bardi. The first play in which he participated was Cacilda!, about actress Cacilda Becker (1921-1969). She also worked on the audiovisual adaptation that Zé Celso made of Bacchae and, in the following decade, participated in one of the montages of The Sertões. 

She also worked as a scenographer for the mundane company, a “child” of the Oficina, in shows such as The Duel, directed by Georgette Fadel and Camila Pitanga in the cast, and world machines. According to her, this montage was a staging in which the visual elements were the protagonists and were, in turn, related to her work. world machine, which is part of the Inhotim Institute, in Brumadinho (MG), since the mid-2000s.

For Laura, however, Cacilda! it was his most important foray into the theater. “I was able to perform some passages that are now anthological, such as the scene in which Cacilda has a stroke, while Waiting for Godot, a central part of Zé Celso's dramaturgy”, he says. “In the scene, the blood from the surgery that she would have to do fell on a transparent plastic, which ran all over the theater floor and ended up in a small bucket, and this required the help, the manipulation of the actors. It was my first experience and a very intense thing, and as an aesthetic result it was a very successful piece as well.”

From the experience with the theater, some elements migrated to work as a visual artist. The x-markings, for the actors on stage at the Oficina stage, became lithographs and an object made of rosso fiorentina stone, from the series Multiple, which are also in Inhotim. The x reappeared, in turn, in the exhibition world hill, presented in 2018 at Nara Roesler, in São Paulo. Another example is the piece duel, which asked for a storm scene in which papers fly when opening a window, among other scenic elements. Later, the artist created a similar work, called Single Papers, for the exhibition Made By… Made by Brazilians, held in 2014, in the former Matarazzo Hospital.

In the timeline of her career, Laura considers that her trajectory follows a harmonious path in its unfolding. “Although I float, navigate through various types of materials and physical situations, with the luck of carrying out works in public spaces, the flow is more relaxed”, says the artist, who ponders, however, that there was an “interesting turn” in 2014, in an exhibition about the 70 years of a jewelry store, curated by Marcelo Dantas, at CCBB in Rio:

“I made a shower of gold, of golden papers”, he recalls. “I created something like a giant pan, I put it in the vault and there was a fan that from time to time blew these little leaves. They fell 15 meters down the hall and this caused a commotion I had not imagined. People just threw themselves at them, shouted, there was a very beautiful delivery from the audience. This changed the relationship of my work with the public, with the stimulation of an interaction, in an emotion where the body went before thinking. The work called for a very spontaneous reaction. I think it has a little to do with my theater experience. In Up in the air, which I made at the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture and Ecology (Mube), in 2017, also had this characteristic of the work calling the spectator’s body”.

In Laura Vinci's works, another recurring element is the various devices. “There is almost always equipment in my creations, sometimes they are not visible, but behind the scenes. In States, at the CCBB, had all the sophisticated machinery for supermarket refrigeration. I think this comes from a desire to, in order to observe nature and natural events, use the artifice of machines, which manage to repeat these movements”, he explains. "Already in world machine is different, the work brings equipment from high industry, from mining. There was the logic of the machine in the concept of the work, and it was there, explicit”.

The installation Máquina do Mundo (2005), inspired by an excerpt from a homonymous poem by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and part of the collection of Instituto Inhotim

Music, an interest that began in adolescence, continues to this day to inform the artist’s poetics, as well as the lyrics – world machine, It is worth remembering that it was inspired by an excerpt from the homonymous poem by Carlos Drummond de Andrade. Married to writer and musician José Miguel Wisnik, “the subject of literature is present at home all the time”, according to her. “But I've always been a reader, especially of Brazilian authors. Literature is a companion and a trigger for reflection and stimuli for creation”, she says. On your bedside, at the moment, are plant revolution, by Italian botanist Stefano Mancuso, and The Plot of Life, by the English biologist Merlin Sheldrake.

The artist considers that her work, in general, has a characteristic that is not very marketing. They are very large structures, from a commercial point of view “very unviable” by nature. “So much so that I have always done more exhibitions in public spaces, where it is possible to present them. I also have a more viable production for purchase, in parallel, but I go at my own pace, I don't keep up with the market”, she reflects.

Regarding the market, Laura celebrates the fact that it and the institutions have strengthened in Brazil in recent years. "There is an environment that wasn't there when I started. Today a young artist can live from his work, if he manages to enter the market. It is something very positive”, says the artist who, however, considers the need to “always keep your eyes wide open, so as not to miss the opportunity to make an immediate challenge, when necessary”, as Cildo Meirelles recently did, when removing the works ceded to the collective Brazilian Stories, at Masp, after the institution's refusal to include a set of photos related to the MST (Movimento Sem Terra).

According to Laura, we are experiencing a “true tragedy” in these years of Bolsonaro’s government. And institutions have also been suffering from this, for example, with the persecution of the Rouanet Law, which affects the holding of exhibitions. This, however, should not be an obstacle or a safe-conduct to criticism.

“It will take a long time to rebuild, it's true. What we are going through is very violent. But I think the artist needs to take a stand and confront the contradictions of institutions. This is part of the maturation of art in the country as a whole. This government will leave a negative legacy, which will last. At the same time, Brazilian culture has enormous power, and we will continue to fight against it, with our tools”, he concludes.

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