Some things to consider

I’ve often found myself hesitant about the idea of writing what people call today an ‘artist statement’. It’s as if there’s an expectation from the art world that artists must articulate their intentions succinctly, as if they knew precisely what they are doing, packaging their creations neatly in a few pretty words and selling it to the world. Waltercio Caldas, a well known Brazilian artist, once said that if an artist were to write about their work, they might as well be writers rather than artists. This idea resonates deeply with me. As an artist, I’ve been always trying to use language in a way that seemed to me purely restricted to the realm of art, otherwise, why art and rather not something else? For me, that is the core reason for why I do this thing that we call art. I prefer even not to call it art, rather just something I do that provokes access to a space of thought that I don’t have the habit of entering elsewhere. I do write too, but it’s clearly discernible to me the distinction between my written work and my artistic practice; they inhabit distinct realms of consciousness – and still, I must say, there are times, a few times, that these realms get intertwines, and this is such a moment of joy, is pure ‘jouissance’, as the French would say. Anyway, If I were to narrate my artistic pursuits in words, then what exactly would be the sense of doing it in that manner? Only if, I have to say, my articulating of words were that one of the same realm as the artistic practice. For that I sought to. 

I ponder: Isn’t the artwork itself a form of discourse? Paradoxically, though, I’ve come to realize over time an enjoyment in writing about my work – at least in finding a favorable way to enter its worldly-realm. Let’s put this in other words: I’ve come to realize that many of my writings are already about my work, even unintentionally. When I reflect on life and the enigmatic facets within it — those mysteries not to me, but to the unknown itself — I realize I’m inherently discussing my work. It’s somewhat tautological. What fascinates me is how humans construct meaning from things. It seems that things, objects don’t actually exist intrinsically; codes, concepts, purposiveness, all of these are inventions made by humans. As the work of Marcel Duchamp once rendered, art is what the artist deems as art. Art isn’t art ‘per-se’. One has to claim something to be art, and hence, there is indeed a concept for art – one that can be applied to something, or is it really the other way around? Is it not the concept of art that changes once one deems something as art? Similarly, Joseph Beuys famously asserted that ‘anyone can be an artist’ (Jeder Mensch ein Kunstler). Both these assertions provoke profound questions: what delineates art from mere objects? What defines an artist? Is it the art system that makes individuals artists? Is it gaining academic credentials?, the pure act of ‘artistic’ creation, or perhaps the commercialization of one’s claim of art that legitimizes them as artists? Which comes first, the artwork or the artist? And in the case of either one, really, what constitutes their essence? Is there an essence? Or does one merely claim to be artists to be so? All of these questions are somehow interwoven within my artistic endeavors.

I’ve always felt apprehension towards the conventional notion of artistic education in contemporary times. I find myself highly critical of the expectation that artists must possess a clear understanding of what they are doing and adhere rigidly to their ‘artist statement’, as if, almost, it were a brand – basically what differentiated one artist from another in the market (not only the commercial market, but the ‘artistic market’ within major or minor exhibitions, and also, in a kind of market of one’s own esteem of accomplishment towards the idea of authenticity as an artist. In my personal journey, it unfolded quite differently, almost reversely, I must say. I went to art school as an undergraduate, and during those years in art school, I produced what I can only describe as worthless (compared to the transgressive, inquiring and investigative energy within me). I was indoctrinated with the belief that I needed to define my “poetics” and stick to it rigorously — oh, and god forbid if it wasn’t original, as it had to be something that would set me apart and confer value upon my creations and myself as an artist. I did get my diploma, but I felt utterly lost. If being an artist was akin to any other profession, then perhaps I didn’t want to be one at all. (I initially sought for making art and going to art school in the hope of escaping societal norms. Little did I know…). I obviously grew skeptical of the art world and with the idea of being an artist (and, off course, art school), until I encountered a radical artist-educator who sought to transcend the confines of traditional art education. In his experimental art school and collective studio, where I spent a decade — forever considering myself his student — I rediscovered the spark I thought I had lost forever. Though initially hesitant to embrace the title of artist, I eventually began teaching expanded art classes there. It was in this environment that I rediscovered the joy of feeling like a stranger in my own world, experiencing a daily sense of the uncanny, and embracing the urgency of being alive. Through my practice there, despite my resistance to identifying as an artist for many years, hence starting an ongoing project of being a collector and investigating what really it means to ‘collect’, I came to understand that I was already one, albeit unwittingly. Now my collection that holds more than 2000 objects of every kind, is one of my primary projects. Armed with this revelation, I navigate the dual blessing and curse of my artistic identity. 

To acknowledge my identity as an artist is to embrace fascination with the world, to marvel at its intricacies, syntax, and structure, and to recognize the inherent potential for constant transformation in all things. ‘Meaning’ is waiting for us to attribute it to things and to life itself. A simple round pottery vessel can embody either a mug or a talisman; burgundy liquid resulting from grape fermentation can be either wine or the sacred blood of Jesus. It is through our act of attributing meaning that the essence of things unfolds. My artistic endeavors are deeply involved with this.

From a young age, I’ve been surrounded by art collectors and witnessed the flourishing of the Brazilian art market, always pondering: what exactly does the collector buy? Why do collectors rely so heavily on galleries to purchase art? What does it mean to buy art? What is art? If art is something claimed by the artist as art, then once the object is claimed as art, it ceases to belong to its previous status. Having said that, what does it mean to buy art? What really is art? What really is this thing that collectors buy? 

As an artist, well, indeed as a human being, I’ve always held an interest in collecting – but I’ve never really needed external validation to deem something as art. In fact, I aspire to create a network where I investigate relationships between disparate things that I perceive as art. 

I believe that things depend on a context to exist. Without context, objects are nothing more than inert matter. And the same goes to language, the same goes to people, the same goes to almost everything. Just as words, without the framework of a language, are merely sounds. By stripping away context, we can view objects as pure entities, devoid of intellectual or functional association, existing solely in an aesthetic realm.

Similarly, we can also create new contexts for things. It is humanity that imbues meaning and value into an object, not the other way around (although we are living in times that things got to the point where brands attribute value to people). Thus, a sculpture by Brancusi, next to a piece of wood, assumes the identity of wood, while the wood itself can transform into an objet d’art (this I learned with Jimmie Durham’s work). Just as in other civilizations, sacred objects derive their significance from contextual associations. Outside of these contexts, they lose their sacred status and become mere objects of contemplation. Conversely, humans can elevate mundane objects to a sacred realm – we can simply watch a child riding a broom stick as a horse (for the child, it is not “as a horse”, that broom-stick is a horse. In the end, can we conclude that we are all like these children riding our brooms-sticks while appreciating art works). Humans can imbue sacred values to mundane objects. This is the magic I seek to explore: the alchemy that converts the ordinary into the extraordinary. How do we turn an ordinary journey into a spiritual saga? How can we truly make life miraculous?

To sum all of this up, Art is, for me, a very convenient excuse for me to do the things I really want to do, but lack the context. Inventing the context for doing so, is what I do with my work. 

Apologies for my prolixity.