Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Cosmology made with a line: Where do axioms come from?

The past two-three weeks have been largely devoted to intense and instinctual making, which barely left time for thinking, let alone for writing. Now, on a post-residency slumber in Cabo Frio, I have a chance to think through past events and articulate my so far only vaguely expressed ideas with the benefit of distance, as well as to compile documentation from this last big project.
On Thursday, May 28th the studios at Largo das Artes opened again for an exhibition. As a summing up of my residency, I created an installation to both reflect on and to make sense of my experience of Brazil. The idea of the project came to me almost at once, seeing the main components in my head in a sudden burst of insight. At first, I had no idea why these parts had to be together but I was certain of their necessity. Many of the smaller details came and left during the weeks of making; the process of dumping everything into the space (making a "glorious mess") was an exhilarating riddle of potentials, after which eliminating pieces in order to solidify the whole became a painful but absolutely necessary exercise.
Given the short deadline to finish, even leading up to the exhibition, I was certain that the ideas that arose would require more time to be refined and made sense of, time that I will only have once back in my own studio. So I was thinking about the installation as a sketch version of a piece that will be finalized later. But, as I was actually putting on the finishing touches, it became clear to me that this—just like any other installations I've made—is a one-off. It is tied to the place and the experience, I can't, don't need to and I probably wouldn't be remaking.

The next few images are early "undigested" versions of the installation. There is a lot more in here, including text, a firehose and various material studies that were interesting but never made the connections to the other parts.
Testing various ways of presenting the dog. 
I really wanted to use the cut vinyl piece from last month but it was too delicate and it did not feel right. At the end, it had to go. 
This early version in which the shadow and the objects together make a black and white drawing is also interesting. 
Many things, like this material study made from the super-cool find of a thrown away firehose never made it. In fact, one of my biggest regrets with the residency was that I could not find a good enough idea to make something worth making out of the firehose. 
I discovered this shop devoted exclusively to selling styrofoam forms and figurines only too late. Sadly, at that point, there was no place any more in my universe for these amazing kitsch objects.
The residency provided an enormously helpful opportunity to have the insight of two curators, Carla Hermann and Alexandre Sá on my work. It's such a rare chance to have someone to add their thoughts to mine during the making process. Both Carla and Alexandre contributed not with critique or concern (like it has become a practice of necessity for me when trying to keep student projects on track) but instead with an interesting perspective to add from the viewpoint of an outsider (with regard to my work), who is also an insider (with regard to the culture the work seeks to establish some kind of relationship to).

So given the number of images and the lengthy narrative that goes with the work, I'll be making two entries related to the installation. This first one explains the materials and how they had come into the work, as well as why they've never left. Here we go:

Net and hair extensions: These two came hand in hand in my almost photo-quality moment of insight. The net is unravelling into threads of hair, ...or the is hair woven into a net? They are both black, creating another subtheme for the installation: black drawing on white surfaces. Both net and hair are synthetic. Their artificial nature is important; made with the same kind of plastic, they add another aspect of make-believe to the scene. The net is both a barrier, a soft version of the ubiquitous fences and zones of demarcation in Rio that separate the have's from the have-not's, but it is also a protective canopy that spans over and beyond the entire scene.
I started with hanging the net and later adding the hair extensions to it. This process opened and closed spaces and later on allowed me to play with the tensions. 
In a few weeks I've attached hair to all the ends, making a much larger net. This picture was taken before the net was raised into place. 
Claire, Fred and Anton are installing lights for Claire before the night before the opening.  The ceilings at Largo das Artes are very high with barely any support or place for the ladder, making the suspension of anything a real areal feat. I could not have put up this installation without the help of Anton, Pablo and Consuelo.  
Hands: Drawing became an important theme for me since having a chance to watch an artist from the Kayapo tribe applying paint on someone's body. Her hands were covered with paint that is a mixture of charcoal and some kind of tree-sap. Kayapo drawings are a mind-boggling puzzle of linear geometry. These encompass what seems like an entire cosmology, marking and thus placing the individual according to her/his lineage, characteristics and, possibly, fate.
Kayapo women making a body painting. Kayapo designs are very linear, and typically based on parallel lines that sprawl the entire body, including the face.
A page from the book Grafismo Indígena (Indigenous graphics) edited by Lux Vidal. These Nhiakrekampin drawings of animals inspired the idea of incorporating animals in the form of a drawing into the installation. 
Dog: I first met the dog when helping fellow residenct, Martha Ferracin with her public project out on the square. The dog is a homeless dog, a companion of the many homeless people who live and sleep on Largo do São Francis, in front of our studios. Nicknamed Thintail, he comes and goes in a trusting, somewhat stupidly optimistic way, sometimes laying down in the middle of the square only to be awakened by passersby with probing kicks. There could be lots of animals to represent Rio (and I'd considered a variety of birds, monkeys, and even cows) but Thintail is what for me represents the easygoing manner of the people I've met. His predicament is also in some sense a version of mine, both of us are without a home and making one from what is around.
The Real Thintail.
A test version of Thintail created as a white light, a projected animation. 
I love the way the form fills the space and puts the other objects in relationship with the projection but this test version of the black dog did not go forward because it diverted the meaning of the dog too much. 
Petting Thintail's head with Kris Barz, who helped to translate my animated movement sequence into a line-drawing with his tablet. I then made the still frames into the finished version of the animation.
Asphalt and tar: In contrast to the gold map piece I made during the first month of the residency, I was interested in black as a color that could be equally associated with the opulence of the colonial baroque and with the afro and indigenous cultures that create such a large part of Brazilian heritage. Black is also a color of oil, a natural resource that has made, and if it was not for the corrupt management, could still make the country rich.
These compressed asphalt discs undergo weight and pressure test in the lab. I was able to bring the discs back to the studio and use them in my project. The tar that is in the little container was also given to me by the bemused technicians. Tar becomes liquid at temperatures above 200degrees celsius. As kids in Hungary, we used to pick out the congealing tar from the gaps of the fresh pavement and made little sculptures with it. 
Various aggregates (sand, small gravel and crushed rock) is waiting to be added to the asphalt/bitumen which is a byproduct of oil refining and commonly referred to as "tar."
With the help of Carla Hermann, who, in her formal career worked for the city as a geographer, I've made connections with a civil engineer and arranged to visit to to one of the municipal asphalt companies, Usina de Asfalto Caju. The visit sounded adventurous, especially that neither Carla nor I knew Leonardo, the engineer. As often is the case in Brazil, the connection was made online and our date was arranged for a pick-up at one of the metro stations in the north suburbs. The asphalt company is located by the harbor, nestled in with one of the most neglected neighborhoods. Considering the location, Leonardo has offered to drive us to the facility and led us around introducing the labs (where they test the resilience of the compressed tar, sand and gravel mixture that makes up asphalt) and the actual mixing facilities.
Carla and Leonardo discussing the process of asphalt making. 
The giant mixer of the Caju asphalt plant.
The people who live right next door to the plant hang laundry. The air is very polluted with silica and dust. We, as guests were given dust masks, but no one else at the plant seemed to wear them.
Rubber: With some careful looking one can discover real treasures among the droves of cheap plastics in the SAARA. Natural rubber was such a discovery for me. It comes on meter-wide rolls, in a variety of thicknesses. Differently from the vinyl sheets that may look the part, natural vulcanized rubber is surprisingly supple yet very heavy, which gives it the weight of a limp body. Tough against abrasion but quite fragile to tear and can be easily cut. The color is deep black with just enough natural sheen to be seductive. Vulcanizing (a chemical process that creates polymers using sulphur) gives rubber resilience, the color and the smell.
Rubber tree in the Jardim Botanico.
Installation in an early, work in progress stage. The designs that are on the wall are cut from rubber. In the final version they are on the ground. 
Ornamental colonial designs seen everywhere in the ironwork of gates, windows and railings have been an interesting contrast to the simple rhythm of Kayapo drawings.
Ceramic tiles and plastic plates: In Parallax, I used stacked porcelain plates as both a metaphor for a precarious balance and as interesting sculptural forms. I like that they are both domestic, i.e. familiar, and also somewhat secretive and mysterious when stacked or upturned one on the other. I discovered these "Ruby Crystal" plastic plates in the store that sells party supply. Drawn to their jewel like transparency and the color, I picked up a set of various sizes. In the studio they became futuristic looking building structures, (for me) very much embodying the constructivist/modernist utopia of architecture. As I wrote before, this architecture was one of the first things I knew about Brazil from my research. They represent both functionalism and an idealism that is very particular to the 50's and 60's Brazil but still has an effect on the modern mindset.  The materiality of the white ceramic tiles is a counterpoint to that of the cheap plastic. They are also ubiquitous in Rio's homes, since coming from the beach one needs to have a quick way to rinse the sand off of their feet. They also help to unify the floor with the rest of the space.

Some of the constructions from an early version of the installation.
Finally, about the title:The installation shares many aspects (theatricality, metaphors, a hand that does some kind of a trick, a play with materials in which many things are not what they seem to be, a central animal character that is my alter-ego, projection, soft and hard sculptures, scale-shifts, etc...) with the installation Parlor Games: Parallax I made for the University of Puget Sound's Kittredge Gallery in the winter. I've planned Parlor Games to have three iterations, each exploring a certain aspect of the same subject: the process of knowledge through direct experience and through a mental process of abstraction. I arrived at the formal ties between the new installation and the old one rather unconsciously. When the time came to name the installation I was still somewhat hesitant to cement the connection between the two, settling on Parlor Games: Axioms after considerable hesitation.
I love the word. It's especially meaningful to me and was not sure if it could be applied to such a specific idea or that I should wait and use it at some later time. I love the idea of axioms. They play a large part in my making processes in the form of simple rules and starting points that are given and do not change. With our mathematician friends, I enjoy taking about mathematical axioms, constantly inquiring what they are, how they had come about and whether or not they hold true. Seems like there should be things that are fundamental and unchanging, on the other hand, their existence is also a difficult proposition to accept. I love axioms and I hate them. I need them and I fight them. There are axioms in not only in math but everywhere else in the world: in societies, in cultures, in philosophies, in the way we each live our lives. I don't know if I've managed to say anything new about them, but, at the end, this new iteration of Parlor Games has enough in it for me to call it Axioms.

No comments:

Post a Comment