Nuno Ramos.
Nuno Ramos. Photo: Manuel Marques

Around 20 bricks falling from a truck body welcome visitors to the long-running show Migrate: Experiences, Memories and Identities, on the second floor of the Immigration Museum, on the east side of São Paulo.

Bricks and bodywork are part of the installation É Is this a Man?, by Nuno Ramos, an artist used to provoking the spectator as in the historical White flag, the work that mobilized public opinion around the presence of vultures during the 29th Bienal de São Paulo, six years ago.

The only work of contemporary art in the Immigration Museum was chosen from a competition with two artists – Rosângela Rennó and Carmela Gross – and created inspired by the book Is This a Man?, by Primo Levi (1919-1987), a Jewish and Italian concentration camp survivor. “I'm a big fan of this book because it presents an ethical debate about the limits of life in a hideous situation,” Ramos tells ARTE!Brasileiros during the assembly of a large exhibition at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB) in Belo Horizonte, entitled The Right to Laziness.

Reopened two years ago, the Immigration Museum addresses the various migratory flows that São Paulo received since the XNUMXth century and, with the work of Nuno Ramos, avoids a narrative that mythologizes the theme right away. “It's about the load that it destroys”, summarizes Ramos. The installation also comprises a glass showcase containing a chair with a brick on its seat facing a sound box. From it you can hear an excerpt from Levi's book in seven languages ​​in the artist's own voice – sound has been a recurring element in Ramos' works.

For the execution of the work, the historic building where it is located, built from 1886 to serve as an inn for European immigrants, had to undergo structural reinforcements. It is not uncommon for the artist's works to become production challenges, as it is part of his concept to work within the limits of matter. This has been the case since the 1980s, when Ramos began to paint, accumulating paint in such an exaggerated way on canvas that many of these works need constant maintenance.

Would this poetics be a way of letting chance act in the work? "I think not. Basically I try to release the material, but always with some control”, explains Ramos. In case of Is This a Man?, the bricks fell from the truck due to a torsion caused by hydraulic jacks, an operation that the artist had already tested elsewhere before.

Ramos is one of those artists who constantly reinvent their procedures. In fact, few visual artists are as multifaceted as he is. Author of several books – the award-winning ÓReed e the crow's bread, between them; composer – Last year Mariana Aydar released an album with only her compositions; and essayist, Nuno Ramos stands out for his versatility.

“Is this a man?”
“Is this a man?”, view from the exhibition at the Immigration Museum, São Paulo, 2014

The shift from abstract canvases from the 80s to works with a political theme is another of Ramos’ differentials among artists of his generation, especially those with whom he shared the Casa 7 studio – Paulo Monteiro, Rodrigo Andrade, Carlito Carvalhosa and Fabio Miguez – , which, in 1983, began to host the São Paulo painting inspired by German neo-expressionism.

In this sense, 111, a 1992 installation, created shortly after the massacre in Carandiru, represents Ramos' entry into art that addresses issues of the country's sociopolitical reality. In it, each victim was represented by a cobblestone covered by asphalt and pitch and, in each, a lead cliché print informed the name of the deceased, in addition to a copy of a newspaper article about the episode and ashes of burned pages from the newspaper. Bible. “I was very impressed by the physicality of the violence and sought to create a memorial of it that was not literal,” she explains.

Yes, White flag, the one made for the 29th Bienal, in 2010, was created in a period of Brazilian economic euphoria, very different from the current moment. The immense installation, selected by the curator Moacir dos Anjos, placed in the center of the Bienal pavilion a post-apocalyptic scenario, with dark and gloomy volumes and the vultures around them, as if they were in the midst of ruins. It would be a perfect image to represent the sadness of today. “I pride myself on doing it in a moment of hysterical optimism. Too bad the debate with the vultures led the work to an ecological discourse”, he comments.

In April, Ramos inaugurated at the CCBB mineiro the exhibition The Right to Laziness, having as its centerpiece an immense installation in the courtyard of the centenary building with metallic scaffolding that are used as wind instruments. “The work is the music,” he says.

As in several of his works, Nuno Ramos starts from the thinking of other intellectuals, and in this case it is the son-in-law of Karl Marx, Paul Lafargue (1842 – 1911), who wrote the pamphlet “The Right to Preguiça”, in 1880, when working hours in France exceeded 12 hours a day. Today, due to the internet and the constant exchange of e-mails, work hours are again extended in an abusive way, an inherent and ironic comment in the artist's new installation.

Thus, the scaffolding, typical of the civil construction work environment, becomes a playful object: a musical instrument - thanks to a compressor that blows air into the tubes and plays slowly The One Note Samba, by Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. Here, again, Ramos uses everyday elements, such as bricks and the cart, to transform its meaning. “My place is where matter becomes meaning and meaning becomes matter”, he defines.

Without taking the risk of illustration, The Right to Laziness reveals itself as a good example of Nuno Ramos’ poetic strategy: “I don’t want to arrive at the real as a value, I want to look for what is hidden, where what is essential is born.”

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