When his father gave him the keys to the old factory, the artist Francisco Brennand confessed that he entered it never to leave, and he did so. It was on November 11, 1971 that Brennand, aged 44, decided to occupy the ruins of Cerâmica São João da Várzea – a 15 km complex2 – and make it his studio.
Died in December 2019, Brennand took two steps before he died: “He made his own funerary urn in a set of sculptures called the Temple of Sacrifice; and turned the Brennand Workshop into a institution private for public purposes. It was ensured that the land where the workshop is located could not be sold or have its purpose changed. In this way, her work could not be forgotten”, as the dealer Cecília Ribeiro Peirão notes. The creation of the urn is intrinsically linked to its deep relationship with the place. To Folha de S. Paulo, in 2013, he even confessed: “I have been dealing with fire for many years… I want to transform myself into what is, let’s say, a ceramic, so I will be cremated, I go back to this urn, part of my the ashes will be in this urn and the rest will be thrown there at the house of [engenho] São Francisco, where I lived, where my family came from”.
Now, half a century after the artist's occupation, the workshop transformed into an institute organizes a large exhibition that will show around 200 items - including paintings, sculptures, engravings, serigraphs and documents - mined from the institute's permanent collection (which has more than 3 thousand works), from private collections and museums. “I never worried about unity because the feeling I have is of several, we are several”, the artist came to attest.
christening Returning the earth to the stone it was: 50 years of the Brennand Workshop, it will be on display until October 2022. Its curatorial approach is based on the conceptual pillars “Nature”, “Territory” and “Cosmologies” – topics that also guide the program of the new phase of the institute and mark the artist’s production. In this proposal, the “Nature” pillar allows us to think of the ecosystem as an identity, but also offers an opportunity to eliminate the supposed dichotomy between nature and culture. At the same time, her choice is linked to the fact that “it is impossible to think about nature without thinking about territory, without thinking about cosmologies”, says Júlia Rebouças, current artistic director of the institution, who shares the curatorship of the show with the Venezuelan Julieta González. .
“In Brennand's universe of creation there is a great diversity of hybrid species, which merge animal, mineral and vegetable existences, always in tension with human forms. Nature is also present from the coexistence with these two very important entities, present and constituting what he understands as the workshop's territory, the Capibaribe River and the Várzea forest”, explains Rebouças. It is precisely to this environment that the “Territory” axis refers, with a focus on the geography and history of the region. “We are developing specific actions for the region, which began with the strengthening of a relationship network. In 2021, in addition to extensive teacher training, partnerships with UFPE, we launched an educational residency that also served to raise work proposals in the region. With the deepening of these actions, the educational is being formed and projects and work policies with Várzea must be announced”, says the artistic director. “Cosmologias”, in turn, intends to approach the fabled and self-mythologizing aspect of the artist (described by himself as “feudal” and “superstitious”) through archetypal, literary and philosophical evocations in his works. “They [referring to the sculptures that Brennand called 'guards'] are on top of the wall that actually surrounds the whole factory and that closes the citadel, with all its mysteries”.
According to Rebouças, “Brennand understood that the memory and preservation of his work needed the tension of the present. The creation of the institute with the purpose of housing other productions was the result of that”. Here are two missions for the new phase of the workshop, one to create dialogues with the contemporary – about whose art Francisco publicly acknowledged: “None of that interests me”; another to preserve the artist's memory beyond his fortress. An example of this are the pieces he donated to the Parque das Esculturas, in Recife, due to the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Brazil – many were stolen over the years. Interestingly, in the 2012 documentary, eponymous to the artist, he says: “The sculptures will receive sun and rain, cross night and day and they will last forever if they are not destroyed, only the hand of man can destroy them”.
Regarding the future safety of the pieces in the Sculpture Park, Marianna Brennand, grandniece of the sculptor and president of the workshop, says: “This project has suffered from vandalism since its opening, with great misfortune. Over time, some works were replaced, but in recent years the situation has worsened and almost all bronze works were stolen”. She notes, however, that the current administration of the city hall (by João Campos, from PSB) is committed to bringing a long-term solution, not only with the restoration of the park but with actions to reinforce the security of the space and improvements in the flow and welcoming visitors. The Workshop is collaborating and providing the necessary support, in addition to supplying spare parts and working on the restoration of ceramic pieces”, assures Marianna. She also mentions that the artist Jobson Figueiredo, Brennand's partner in the original project, is developing the bronze pieces from the original molds.
For the future, the monumental pottery has an expansion led by METRO Arquitetos Associados, with a view to the mission of making interventions that consider the flow of the public in the space while respecting the seminal and historical characteristics of the original space. As the changes take place, Returning the earth to the stone it was: 50 years of the Brennand Workshop follows its course normally, not being, however, the only exhibition about the painter and sculptor taking place at the moment. In São Paulo, until January 29, 2022, at the gallery Gomide & Co (which represents Brennand's estate since the beginning of 2021) the exhibition can be visited Francisco Brennand: A primitive among the moderns, also curated by Julieta González. ✱