As Surfaces conceived by Guerreiro do Divino Amor could also be called, according to him, hyperrealists, neorealists or documentaries. Because through them, in the series of works entitled World Surface Atlas, the 36-year-old artist, born in Switzerland and based in Rio, brings to light some of the deepest and most complex themes of our society, both geopolitical and referring to the collective imagination. Current issues – and nothing fictional – such as the performance of political, religious, media and marketing powers, social inequalities, state violence and strategies to whiten the population.
In videos that unfold in panels, magazines and other media, Guerreiro presents the surface universes of each city or region in which he works, from an apocalyptic perspective and the realization that we live in war. Since 2005, there have been immersions in Brussels, Rio, São Paulo, MG and Brasília. The artist is not afraid to “name the bulls” when he prints in the videos, “like totems”, the faces of powerful figures such as Silvio Santos, Doria, Bonner, Eduardo Cunha, Malafaia and Pastor Davi Miranda. He was even sued by the latter's daughter, but acquitted “in a very beautiful sentence. A relief, because nowadays you don't know what to expect from justice”.
With a very peculiar aesthetic, with strong colors and references to the internet universe, the artist questions good taste ideas and hegemonic visual standards, sometimes in a mocking and ironic way. Graduated in architecture in Brussels, he says that he found the usual way of presenting projects, everything a little gray and neutral, “a tacky”. He preferred to return to his childhood and adolescence references, from soap operas and video clips to Xuxa programs – “I think that pop moves the heart more, it has this direct and broader impact” –, and deepens “the research of aesthetics as fiction, while observe how each social segment creates a fictional aesthetic that carries with it well-defined codes”.
Your Atlas must now win episodes in Switzerland, “which has this superficial narrative of perfection”, in Italy, “in search of the roots of Christianity and fascism, very important to understand São Paulo and the South of Brazil”, and in Mexico. Guerreiro was the winner, this year, of the Pipa Prize, one of the most important visual arts in the country, and gave an interview to ARTE!Brasileiros.
ARTE!Brasileiros - To begin with, I wanted to ask you where this name, Warrior of Divine Love, comes from and what it means to you.
Warrior of Divine Love — Warrior is my last name. Divino Amor was a game that came up when I was a teenager and my father was dating a pastor. She wanted to get me into the church, and it was a bit of a tease, I wanted to put together a heavy metal band to perform in the church. It never happened, but I really liked the name, Warrior of Divine Love. Then it gained many meanings linked to my work and life, until today it represents, as it were, my life mission.
They never managed to co-opt you into the church?
Not. In fact, I was very curious about that neo-Pentecostal universe, which I didn't know well. It was one of the drivers of my work, trying to understand that overwhelming faith and at the same time with a very strong, colorful aesthetic. It was immersive.
It seems to me that several of your experiences and life experiences are very present in your work. You've already talked about another part of the family that comes from a decadent aristocracy, in addition to your upbringing in Europe...
Yes, I think it was an engine. He lived in Europe, in a context where everyone was relatively mixed, and every now and then he frequented his family in Brazil, a deeply racist people, very frivolous, but with a certain cultured veneer, an obsession with power, hierarchy and status and the certainty of knowing that everything and everyone is in its place. He wanted to understand the mechanisms of perpetuation of this caste that continued to live in colonial Brazil without being disturbed. And also from this evangelical world. They are worlds closed in on themselves, with answers to everything. I started to analyze, to dig, and it started to appear as a bottomless hole with very old and deep roots, complex and perverse logics of domination. The work is all about unraveling these structures, which, because they are so old and familiar, form an ecosystem, a given, timeless thing. And to see the role of the media, the family, genealogies, inheritance, symbolic capital in this maintenance. O SuperRio, the second chapter of the Atlas, is a more direct portrait of this attempt to understand what was around me and the relationship with more global phenomena of marketing, corporate logic, and how this influences the mind, the way people act, what are their strategies and how this translates at all scales, from the individual to geopolitics. Then I explored other adjacent phenomena. That's how it started, when trying to understand these universes and the intersections between them, and to this day I work on these questions.
And how do these Superfictions, these chapters, relate to each other, in this great World Atlas?
In the beginning, each project had its independence, exploring its own themes. Only later did I understand this as an Atlas. These are chapters that relate to issues that cross the entire work, such as the ideas of empire and galaxy, the war between civilizations in their different social, religious, economic, symbolic, aesthetic facets, the different strategies for whitening the population. In the first chapter, in Brussels, it was more strictly analytical. It is a very poor and dirty city by European standards, but with an attempt to build itself as a world city scene, capital of Europe. And when I was studying architecture, I began to perceive a lot of warlike discourse, of conquest of minds and space. This idea runs through all the work, in different ways. And the idea of superfiction really came in the next work, in Rio, which I wrote in 2005 and resumed in 2013, in the pre-World Cup and Olympics period, the height of carioca superfiction. Often, in my videos, I start from tourist films, advertisements, which is how the city wants to sell itself, what fiction it will create to export itself, this image creation.
But you start from what the city wants to show to expose what the city doesn’t want to show…
It is, as they are very well-crafted and ancient constructions, I try to identify the symbolic and historical roots and their different manifestations, of how these fictions end up being incorporated into the collective imagination of the city, and how they act and are instrumentalized in the different wars for power. In the case of Minas this is also very strong. Minas is a bit the “incarnate cuteness”. Nobody will speak ill of MG, which has that food, an ideal of hospitality. But other than that, it's a place of power, of money, it's one of the few states that doesn't have a Black Awareness Day, despite its past, it's all very veiled.
On the surface you work with various planes and layers of power that characterize societies such as politics, religion, media, police, market. How do you choose these themes worked?
It's very natural, arriving at places and observing, feeling, talking. Of course, all these layers are present everywhere, but in each one they act in a different way, with other narratives. For example, religion works differently in each place, even with very different physical constructions and different styles of preaching. But, deep down, with the same desire to conquer. In the case of the media too. In Rio, for example, there is a very strong media construction through both soap operas and police news, creating this schizophrenic narrative, represented by the wind rose in SuperRio. In MG you always see a narrative of a “return to the land”, a more rural image, a more pure idea, and this is praised in the media.
And your work is always questioning these official narratives, bringing out hidden things.
Yes, the fiction of racial democracy, for example, which in each place is narrated in a different way. And it is one of the central fictions in the construction of Brazil, which serves to appease, to explore. This denial of the slavery past. Speaking of Minas again, which is the freshest thing for me, there is all this instrumentalization of the myth of Chica da Silva. Everywhere you go there is this narrative that says “look, there's Chica da Silva, a rich, beautiful slave”. And then it looks like everything is fine. The thing becomes more subtle, but perhaps for that very reason more perverse. With that layer of honey, of sweet icing.
In addition to dealing with real cities, there are also many real figures. How do you choose these characters and how do they fit into your work?
They are icons right? They are like totems. For example, Silvio Santos, his life, his trajectory, is like a São Paulo totem. He is the incarnation of the myth of meritocracy. and working on photoshop I saw that he and João Doria have very similar traits. So at work they come together, as if they were one. They complement each other. Because Doria is also like a caricature, an archetype of the heir, of wild capitalism. You see these figures and you already know what they are about, they already bring a whole universe together. And they are not abstract phenomena. There are people who are acting there, an army. Of course, there are many others, it's much more complex than that.
You once said that your work seeks to deal with the complexity of the apocalypse. He also said that the whole work is about war, on different planes. Anyway, are we in the apocalypse? We are in war?
There is this perception that there is an apocalypse, at all levels, in terms of natural resources, for example. And the work tries to see these details, as this is a construction, it is a war that comes from very far away. In the work of Brasília, for example, I saw these cycles, as in the inauguration of Brasília they re-enacted the first mass in Brazil, from the time of the conquest. It's an apocalypse that has been brewing for many centuries, but now it's like the apotheotic moment, which has come for real. And working with that, messing with these things is sometimes scary. It became clearer as the chapters went on, reaching its apex in Brasília, where the research was carried out at the time of the 2018 elections. It seems that the slaveholders got the perfect formula. The combination of the strength of faith with emotional marketing and information technologies is breathtaking.
At the same time that we have this apocalyptic picture, the artistic milieu has given recognition to works that deal with racial, indigenous, gender issues, etc. You just won Pipa, for example. Is it resistance to the apocalypse?
I think that maybe the art world has awakened more now also because things started to reach a “whiteness” that was calm, protected, trapped in romanticism. But there are people who were already used to persecution, who know what it's like to be at war. And I think that the arts are now perhaps more focused on these, those who already know what it is about. When there is a need, everything is learned faster.