Otávio Roth, installation "Peninhas", collaborative activity
Otávio Roth, installation “Peninhas”, collaborative activity

the immense tree, which takes up the entire lobby of Sesc Bom Retiro, creates a visual frenzy in the spectator with the exhaustive repetition of the small sheets of paper, with a color and transparency that reverberate different luminous games in the space, depending on the floor the spectator is on. This monumental installation, measuring 400 square meters, which spans the four floors of the building, opens the exhibition To Breathe Freedom-70 Years of the Declaration of Human Rights, by the artist Otávio Roth.

Artist of many resources, drawing, engraving, photography, he completely changed his work after the murder of Vladimir Herzog, on the premises of DOI-Codi, in October 1975, in São Paulo. After that episode he stopped making movies and cartoons to dedicate himself to the art of social content. Everything he sought in his work was in the epigraph of the dead journalist, summarized in the phrase: “defense of human rights”.

The tree conceived at Sesc, with an unusual three-dimensional assembly, reconstructed in the shape of a large mobile, was specially designed for the inner atrium, by the architect Pedro Mendes da Rocha. In other two-dimensional formats, the work has already been carried out in some countries, according to the architecture of the space. The collective execution in São Paulo had the participation of 70 young people from various public and private schools, over a two-month workshop. Conceived by Roth, who participated in the initial productions, the work remains alive even after his death, having been multiplied by the hands of thousands of students. Names, ages, country of origin, of all of them, are on cards that can be consulted during the exhibition period.

Otávio Roth, “The Tree”, participatory installation in progress

In São Paulo, the critic Fábio Magalhães, and the artist's daughter Isabel Roth, sign the curatorship, while the project is by Pedro Mendes da Rocha. Active and engaged, the artist put all his graphic experience at the service of the struggle for human rights. The collaborative work, one of his hallmarks, gave life to a pulsating horizontal work. Many Brazilian artists engaged in political issues. “Since the 1930s, Di Cavalcanti had already produced illustrations for the press with criticisms against fascism. Portinari showed the drama of misery and extolled the strength of the worker and his human qualities”, recalls Magalhães. During the dictatorship period, some seminal works emerged, such as the work/performance Who Killed Herzog? By Cildo Meirelles. It is “a stamp in which the question was applied to banknotes, denouncing the lie and violence of the repressive apparatus of the dictatorship”. Still on the same theme, Magalhães talks about the painter Antonio Henrique Amaral with the canvas death on Saturday, made in the heat of the fight.

Roth died prematurely at the age of 42, lived in Israel, England, Norway, United States and, in these countries, developed his technique as an engraver and his interest in political topics. In Oslo, where he lived for three years, he created in woodcut the first illustrated series of the Declaration of Human Rights, in Norwegian and later made in English, consisting of 30 pieces and which also makes up the exhibition. In 1981 the English version was adopted by the UN and since then it has been on display at the Geneva, Vienna and New York offices.

In addition to his active political contribution, in 1979 Otavio Roth created the Handmade, the first craft paper workshop in the country, with the aim of producinggo paper for artistic use with quality. In the search for new discoveries, he even worked at the IPT (Instituto de Pesquisa Tecnológica), in 1982, the same year he exhibited at Masp and MAM, in Rio, the first exhibition on nature. of paper. Roth became interested in the work of Ben Shan, master of American printmaking, and Robert Rauschenberg, linked to pop art. With a differentiated graphic design, he created a calendar for the Brazilian Amnesty Committee in engraving with the thoughts of Charles Chaplin, Che Guevara, Santo Agostino, Carlos Marighela among others.

As a visual artist, he produced “feathers” and the installations with this material synthesize, according to his daughter and curator, “the meeting between two great axes of Roth’s work: the study of craft paper and the role of the individual in society”.

With this form executed with the smallest sheet of paper he was able to produce, the artist began a participatory and experimental work building large-scale installations, exhibited in museums in Germany, Denmark, Japan, the United States and Brazil. The tree that “bloomed” in the lobby of Sesc is the most ambitious project he has ever created. In times of political-ideological darkness that invades us today, this itinerant, political, joyful, festive installation, made up of thousands of painted sticky sheets, with messages from children, reminds us that, despite everything, it is spring.

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