Alex Femming at MAM-Rio
Flemming’s installation “The Uniplanetary System – In Memorian Galileo Galilei” exhibition was first exhibited in 2008, in the ruins of St. Johannes Evangelist in Berlin. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of MAM-Rio, it gains space alongside other works and artists.
A selection of works from the MAM collections, produced through different media and supports, focusing on the panorama of transformations from landscape painting to modernity and the present day, was revived. So, curated Fernando Cocchiarale e Fernanda Lopez, Flemming is once again in the spotlight.
*By Diogo Mesquita, in November 2009
The exhibition Uniplanetary System – In Memorian Galileu Galilei, by the artist Alex Flemming, took place in 2010 at the Pinacoteca do Estado, in São Paulo, within the Octágono Arte Contemporânea Project.
Flemming proposed the inversion of the heliocentrism theory. The thesis that the Earth revolves around the sun, proved by Galileo Galilei, is highlighted in his work. Curated by Ivo Mesquita, 50 school globes rotated in orbit on 50 phonographs.
“My proposal is to portray an ideal world view – and to a certain extent utopian – in which all individuals should live in different orbits, even if at different speeds and rhythms, but harmonious with each other”, said at the time the Brazilian artist, based in in Germany since the 1990s.
the traveling artist
The wanderings, typical of the successful artist in contemporary times, almost always lead the wanderer to dedicate a careless, superficial or anesthetized look at the realities encountered. This is not the case with Alex Flemming, who has the habit of carrying a travel diary, in which he writes down reflections on the different aspects of the places visited and their inhabitants. In them, the artist demonstrates curiosity, but also his adhesion or rejection of the situations experienced. Everything interests him and is annotated without hierarchy, from relevant aspects, such as historical facts, to the most prosaic occurrences, such as a printed advertisement in a local newspaper of someone asking for company to face the loneliness of everyday life. Many annotations are incorporated into his art projects.
In honoring the telescope, Flemming plays with metaphors and poetics that deal with the theme of vision, one of the essential elements of artistic language – knowing how to see. From the Greek "tele”, which means far away, and "scope", which means to observe, the intention is to allow to extend the capacity of the human eyes. The artist's objective is to allow him to look far and to go to the limits of the possible consciousness of his time.
History records that, in 1608, Hans Lippershey, a Dutch lens maker, built the first telescope in Middelburg, a small town in the Netherlands. The news came to the attention of Galileo Galilei, who in 1609 presented an apparatus made by himself from experimentation and glass polishing. That same year, Galileo pointed his telescope at the night sky to observe the Moon. Thus, he was the first to use this type of apparatus for astronomical investigation. The instrument became popularly known as a luneta.
To carry out the installation at the Pinacoteca, Alex gathered 50 school globes that rotate on record players. The artist stated that “the globe symbolizes the world that is each one of us, all the same, but at the same time different. Each one in its rotation, some very fast, others about to stop, others already stopped forever. And the turntables are a kind of archeology of everyday life, which recovers part of the electrical-electronic paraphernalia with which we surround ourselves in an attempt to be happy”.
The proposal was to present a set that contradicts Galileo's observations, provoking a game of contradictions with history. The globes, or Alex's planets, do not revolve around the Sun, nor do they obey systemic, astronomical logic. They revolve around themselves, as individualities, with varying rotations, slow or fast. Some simply do not turn and are mere extras among dancers. With these different performance variants, Flemming created a stimulating and provocative set, based on the inferences and interferences of other logics and other realities. Embark on new poetics. It suggests the allegories of individuality (each globe revolving around itself) and of sociability (the dynamics of the 50 globes).
The silent movements of the turntables and the formal relationships between the sphere and the record create situations of seductive visual choreography that can even provoke hypnotic effects due to the constancy and chronometric articulation of the compilation.
Alex Flemming's work
The use of icons from history and not just from art history is a recurring attitude in his work. In the installation of the Pinacoteca, the title draws our attention to the historical facts that occurred in Italy in the XNUMXth century. There is a revival in memory of the conflict between science and religion, between truth and power. Galileo, in order not to contradict Church dogmas, was forced by the Court of the Inquisition to go back on his conclusions on heliocentrism, under the threat of prison and death. There is no doubt that the extraordinary significance of this conflict motivated Alex Flemming. The themes of injustice and violence have always instigated the artist and are present in the different phases of his production. Perhaps, when naming this installation, Flemming had in mind Galileo's phrase: “Truth is the daughter of time and not of authority”.
Before starting his career, Alex was linked to cinema. He made seven short films in super-8. However, the cinematographic experience was incorporated into his look and way of approaching various themes. In his first exhibition, held in 1978, Alex showed works of a documentary nature – there were nine photogravures that made up the series Dead nature. This small group is impressive for the forcefulness, rawness and violence of its images, which denounce the absurdity of torture. Scenes of fragmented bodies, teeth being pulled out by pliers, the penis being electrocuted. At the time, in the midst of the military dictatorship, the open pain in the engravings acquired dramatic force and provoked conscience by portraying situations that were part of reality.
In the following projects and throughout his vast and diverse career, Alex Flemming did not lose his cinematographic and documentary look. Even in works in which this view is not prevalent, one can perceive the appreciation of the document, as one who, through it, seeks to give veracity to his poetics. On the Serie Heights, used sofas and stuffed animals are documents that try to stop the march of time or testify to our loneliness, desires and frustrations.
From Heights, Flemming began to add letters, initially with the function of writing the names of those portrayed and, later, with a new protagonism – they revealed and concealed concepts and poetics. Texts by Haroldo de Campos, by Heinrich Heine were engraved on the surface of the canvas. The arrangement of the letters, however, made it difficult to read. The texts follow a particular logic for each series. For example, on the painted furniture, Alex gathered texts from newspaper advertisements. In the portraits made for the Sumaré station of the São Paulo subway, the artist selected a poem for each character, always by different authors, covering a vast period of Brazilian poetry – from José de Anchieta to Torquato Neto.
Everything about the body fascinates the artist. Youth and its beauty, carnality in ecstasy and pain, even the cold anatomy illustrations or taxidermy works. Eros accompanies all the work of Alex Flemming, reveals feverish desire for a young body and disappointment in the eschatology of time. Physical beauty is ephemeral and youth is fleeting.
In 1987, he started the screens Athletes, resuming many of these images in 1989, in the body-builders. In both series there is a clear intention to seduce, however, in the body-builders there is seduction and political violence. The male body is portrayed frontally, covered by a swimming trunk that reveals the volume of its contents, the muscular chest on which Alex has merged maps and geographies that refer to armed conflicts to the skin. The canvases breathe eroticism, but they also bring the presence of death and raise questions about time and the transience of life. In the interview with Henrique Luz, the artist states: “In the political series of body-builders I used Old Testament texts that preach war and the extermination of the other”.
In 1990, I was director of the São Paulo Museum of Art and Alex Flemming proposed to create an installation on the steps of the museum located on Avenida Paulista. The artist called it Bullfighting – Former Bulls and it was made up of several stuffed bulls' heads (those that are displayed in steakhouses), painted a blue reminiscent of Yves Klein, arranged over garbage cans, placed upside down suggesting Greek columns. The heads were in the open air flanking the steps that gave access to the museum. You Ex-Bulls paved the way for installation The sacrifice, held the following year, at the XXI São Paulo International Biennial. This served as an initiation rite for the numerous works of stuffed animals that followed in his work. At that time, Alex Flemming attended the São Paulo Museum of Natural History, which was not open to the public, and convinced professors and scientists to donate stuffed animals to him that would be incinerated because they were already deteriorated or lack of scientific interest. “With this rubbish of science I set up my participation in the Bienal”, the artist later said.
Flemming never turned his back on history, the social and political conjuncture. Many works explicitly deal with the political conflicts, ideas and polemics of his time. Shortly after the terrorist action on the twin towers of New York and in the midst of military retaliation against Iraq and Afghanistan, he developed the project Flying Carpet with works made from Persian rugs that were cut to assume the silhouettes of American fighter jets or bombers.
His works are present in the main Brazilian museums.