"Mission/Missions (How to Build Cathedrals)", (1987/2019). Photo: Carol Mendonça/ Publicity

Ahead, “Olvido” (1987-1989). In the background, “Entrevendo” (1970/1994). Photo: Everton Ballardin/ Publicity

Nthe vast and diverse work of Cildo Meireles, if there is construction, there is also deconstruction; if there is reality, there is illusion; if there is visibility, there is what is hidden; if there is reason, there is madness; if there is affection, there is trauma; if there are affirmations, there is mystery; if there is order, it can itself generate chaos; if there is formalism, there is abstraction; where there is a path, there is a detour; in the circuit, short circuit; if there is vastness, there is also the ghetto; if there is version, there is subversion; if there is balance, it is tense; and if there is violence, there is resistance. It is not necessarily about oppositions, much less incompatibilities, but about realizing that in the powerful production of the Carioca artist there are no easy and unique truths, and that the obvious and most usual paths are always being challenged – things are not always what they seem. .

In this way, whoever visits delivering, at Sesc Pompeia, one of the largest exhibitions ever held by Cildo Meireles, 71, will come across paradoxes, ambiguities, ironies, contrasts and concerns that run through the approximately 150 works in the exhibition, curated by Júlia Rebouças and Diego Matos. In the works in various supports, languages ​​and scales, spread across the vast spaces designed by Lina Bo Bardi, the artist presents a production that activates, expands and shuffles the senses, as Rebouças explains. “It is a project that deals with the idea of ​​meaning from its multiple definitions. Thinking not only about these perceptive capacities linked to touch, hearing, vision, smell, etc., but also thinking about sense as a measure, as direction, as balance, as sense. And it's very important to understand that in Cildo's work these ways of perceiving the world are affirming themselves, but they are also contradicting, challenging each other”, she says.

delivering, the work that gives the exhibition its title, proposes that the public place two ice cubes, one sweet and one salty, in their mouths, enter a large cylindrical installation and walk towards a source of hot air. The work, designed in 1970 and first performed in 1994, triggers in the visitor's own body different sensations and forms of understanding when dealing with the contrasts between sweet and salty, hot and cold, light and dark. “And curiously, it's a job that requires very little vision. The idea that vision is the primary meaning of the artistic experience is very much challenged in Cildo's work”, says Rebouças. The artist agrees: “At the beginning of the last century, Marcel Duchamp was already talking about the intention of freeing art only from the retinal domain. Here in Brazil, from the 1950s onwards, especially after neoconcretism, this became a very important thing. Exercising this plurisensoriality became a specificity of Brazilian production from Oiticica, by Lygia Clark… And some of my pieces also deal with this”.

“Eureka/Blindhotland” (1970-1975). Photo Carol Mendonça/ Publicity

The contrasts, ambiguities, paradoxes or subversions, which are also invitations to the imagination, are still notable in other works that, sometimes, make these characteristics explicit in their own titles. be in blind mirror (1970), made of a shapeless gray mass with no reflection; descale (2003), with dysfunctional stairs; Virtual Volumes (1968-969), in drawings that present volumes without physicality; Invisible Sphere (2012), with an aluminum box that, when opened, suggests a sphere due to the internal absence of material; dark light (1982), in which a shadow forms the design of a light bulb; in the series of zero notes or coins, which question the relationship between real and symbolic value and explain that the value stamped on money is an abstraction; or in works such as The shortest distance between two points is a curve (1976) and in the works in the series Physical Art (1969)

A série blindhotland (“terraquenteblind” in free translation), in turn, with three works in the show, confuses the visitor when his vision is “betrayed” by the appearance of the objects. in the famous Eureka/Blindhotland (1970-1975), for example, dozens of balls of the same size, color and shape – spread out to be manipulated by the public – have significantly different weights; in blindhotland/ghetto, otherwise, balls of different sizes weigh the same, again creating a kind of cognitive confusion that defies the senses. Like them, several other works in the show invite the visitor to interaction, to an experience that comes through participation, dialoguing with what Cildo calls the “character of seduction” of the visual arts.    

“I think there are two characteristics that the visual arts should preserve, two aspects that should never be neglected. First is the seductive character. I think that, in a way, conceptual art, at first, tried to clean it up, make it aseptic, and you lose the chance to deal with the seduction content that a work can have”, says the artist. “And the other thing is that the visual arts are an activity that allows you to start from scratch for each new idea. You want to make a movie, you can have a thousand ideas and paths, but that always ends up in the frame. In fine arts there is no such thing, you can take anything, of any nature, with any material, using any procedure, and you get to the final work”, he says, also explaining that he never had a defined method of production.

“To Be Bowed with the Eyes” (1970-1975). Photo: Carol Mendonça/ Publicity

Poetic and political vein

Both the seduction and the variety of materials and languages ​​are also present in the works that deal more explicitly with socio-political and economic issues, and that deal with memories that are repeated in Brazilian history. In Quest/Quests (How to Build Cathedrals), thousands of coins scattered on the floor are connected, through a column of stacked hosts, to the bones hanging from the ceiling, creating an “anti-cathedral” that denounces the violence of colonial exploitation and its thirst for financial accumulation. “Indian extermination, this truculent history, this is an issue that persists over time. When I did this work, in 1987, thinking about the Seven Peoples of the Missions of the 17th century, I was talking generally about this process of annihilation. But this ends up fitting like a glove for the current situation”, says the artist, without losing, however, the hope that there can still be justice. “But sooner or later the responsibility for these crimes will fall into the laps of the perpetrators.”   

The feeling of contemporaneity that runs through the exhibition, according to Rebouças, is a consequence not only of the choice of works that dialogue with “absolutely unresolved issues”, but is “the result of a very complex and forceful production, of Cildo's ability to manage the affections , rather than responding to specific events. He is responding to a feeling that was shared at another time and that is still shared today.” And that doesn't just refer to Brazilian history. In the set of works that deal with the colonial structure are also Oblivion (1987-1989), in which thousands of candles and ox bones surround an indigenous tent – ​​in the style of North American peoples – lined with banknotes, and amerikkka (1991/2013). With reference already in the title to the extreme right-wing terrorist and supremacist organization Ku Klux Klan, the installation creates a tense atmosphere by placing the audience on wooden eggs, on the floor, and under the sight of projectiles from firearms attached to the ceiling.

As much as amerika, the show presents a series of other works that have never been exhibited in Brazil, or that have only been shown in the country for a long time. According to Rebouças, at least two generations have not had contact with a wide range of Cildo's work, since the artist's last major exhibition in Brazil toured the MAM in Rio and São Paulo in 2000. Not used to putting together exhibitions – at least currently. –, Cildo says that one of the reasons that attracted him to the proposal was the location of the exhibition at Sesc Pompeia, where there is a large circulation of people of all classes and ages and free admission. “This characteristic of Sesc, which is a deep respect and interaction with the surroundings, with the community, also brings an audience that is not specialized, specific to the visual arts. And this expansion interested me,” he points out.

“Mission/Missions (How to Build Cathedrals)”, (1987/2019). Photo: Carol Mendonça/ Publicity

Parallels with the dictatorship

It is not just between the present day and colonial history that delivering draws parallels. Artist of strong performance during the years of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), Cildo is emphatic in denouncing the abuses of the current federal government and the similarities with the military period. “But this one today is even more sinister and more ridiculous, because it has a paradigmatic naivety”, he says. The repetition of history in the deaths of journalist Vladimir Herzog, in 1975, and of councilor Marielle Franco, in 2018, both fruits of political persecution, appears in the famous Insertions in Ideological Circuits, a series started by the artist in 1970 and developed until the present day.

When stamping, during the dictatorship, cruise banknotes with the question “Who killed Herzog?” and, nowadays, real notes with Marielle's face, Cildo proposes to rotate symbols, social criticisms or slogans in everyday objects (the project started with returnable Coca-Cola bottles), creating a kind of network of counterinformation in preexisting circuits. As the artist himself explains, the inserts they have the ability to give “the individual a voice in the face of the macrostructure”, in addition to raising questions about artistic authorship and about the place of the work of art, outside of specialized environments.

Although resistant to any framing of his work as “engaged art” – “I have an aversion to pamphleteering art”, he once said – Cildo is not afraid to highlight the political concern present in his work. And tell how it came about. “It was in 1969 that I even felt compelled to deal more forcefully with political issues”, he says, about the year in which he participated in an exhibition where the Brazilian representation for the Paris Youth Biennial would be selected. “Three hours before the opening, with the exhibition already assembled, DOPS agents surrounded the MAM building in Rio and demanded the cancellation of the exhibition. There was even the beginning of a military police investigation involving all the artists. And I, who in that exhibition had formal works, without a political nature, from then on I felt almost obliged to refer to these political issues in my work”, he recalls.

Works from the “Zeros” series. Photo: Carol Mendonça/ Publicity

By relating the current context and the dictatorial period, the artist says he is outraged by the recent episodes of censorship and the kind of treatment that culture has received from the government. “We are witnessing this kind of thing, an idiot like this guy who used to be from Funarte (the current secretary of culture Roberto Alvim) come to the public to say that Fernanda Montenegro is sordid and a liar. She who is a kind of national treasure. And some guy comes along and thinks he can defecate in public. That has become the hallmark of this government.” And he concludes: “But there is a law of physics that says that every compression corresponds to an explosion. So the more you squeeze something, it will provoke a bigger reaction, that's a basic thing.”

Cildo Meireles: Entertaining
Sesc Pompeia – Rua Clélia, 93, São Paulo
until February 02
Free admission



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