Interview with Raul Mourão for the book MOV – 2010

Raul Mourão Studio
conversation via skype with Maria do Carmo Pontes (Londres) and Frederico Coelho (Rio de Janeiro)
October 2010

Maria do Carmo: Rosalind Krauss wrote a lovely text about the grid, in which she talks about the presence in the painting of the 20th century of the grid as an emblem of modernity. She refers only to painting, but I think that the concept is valid for other things as well.

Raul Mourão: I’m not familiar with this text. Does she mean the orthogonal mesh that is behind some paintings?

MC: Yes. A grid can mask and reveal at the same time. To my mind, the sculptures in the Swing series are clearly derived from the Railings series. I see the Swings as Railings that are constantly in movement.

So, the inside and the outside are forever changing, each moment, and with each person, which gives a speed and agility to the movement. It is a new moment, a new volume, a new inside and outside. How do you see the creation of volume in this piece?

And another question also related to this. There is something that is said a lot about Swings, all the texts I have read talk about the sculptures in movement. But what interests me a great deal is the way the sculpture is when it is at rest, not moving at all. I remember what Eduardo Coutinho said, in a book of interviews, about his procedure for interviewing people for documentaries, that he is very interested in their words, but also in the silence between the words, the empty time in which nothing happens. So, perhaps relating this creation of volume inside and outside with the moment in which nothing happens. The moment when it is at rest…

RM: This series of sculptures has these two modes. They are both static and in movement. These are two modes of a single piece and both are equally valuable, equally important for me. I like the scene which Frederico describes when he writes about the LURIXS exhibition, when the viewer arrives at the exhibition and finds the sculptures all at rest, as set of static sculptures.

Then, when the viewer begins to participate, he or she comes to see the same pieces in a completely different mode. A mode created by the viewer that will never again be repeated, something he or she has created at that moment in time. The sculptures in movement take on various shapes and sizes, as you say. I think that this piece has this quality of situating the viewer as an observer, in a privileged, differentiated position.

It takes more time to view the pieces in movement and, in this time, by giving the piece a more generous share of time, the viewer interprets the various moments contained in the movement. You can freeze the movement in your head and see the design of the piece at its highest or its lowest point. These various points in time and the duration of time that the viewer spends looking at it end up generating a different kind of gaze, a privileged place of observation and I think that this is the point where a truly new experience is created, which is different from ones relation with the static object. I think that the viewer is dislocated by this, taken of this privileged observation point, as Scovino put it in his text for Porto Alegre. And to go back to where the piece came from which was from the sculptures in the Railings series, I should tell the story of how I met a group of acrobats, actors and dancers here in Rio, called the Intrepid Troupe, which works with movement.

Valéria Martins, one of the directors of the Troupe, invited me to take part in a show in the second half of 2009 in which the members of the company were to Interact with the work of four artists: Marta Jordan, Guga Ferraz, Pedro Bernardes and myself. Valeria wanted to use the pieces from the Railings series and I as reluctant at first. But she insisted and they came to my studio to do some improvisation with the pieces and get to know the work, which they hadn’t seen before. I was reluctant because I had never thought of the pieces coming into contact with someone s body. Railings is a commentary on the public security crisis and an observation regarding the way the cityscape has been transformed.

Frederico Coelho: Another thing I find interesting is that railings are intended to keep people away.

MC: That’s funny too, isn’t it? I thought a lot about railings. Why railings and not a fence? I think that railings have precisely the characteristic of guarding but being open to conversation. They clearly create two spaces, inside and outside, but, the wind can communicate between one and the other; there is a certain fluidity that fences don’t have. It is one of the ways of keeping people at a distance, keeping people out and it s interesting that railings have this very prominent visual aspect.

RM: When I began the Railings series in 1988, I started taking photographs. They were photos that documented a visual aberration that was beginning to spring up everywhere in the Rio de Janeiro cityscape.

A building I used to visit was suddenly surrounded by railings. Another where a friend of mine lived, likewise. And another near my house; even the buildings where my parents lived, and so on. This transformation began to interest me visually and I began to produce these photographic notes. At that time, I thought that, despite their strong visual presence, despite the fact that railings were transforming the landscape of the city, many people weren’t noticing what was happening because it served the urgent and necessary function of providing security and protection, which overshadowed the visual impression. Ten years later, the photos gave rise to the Railings series. In real life, railings are placed around a building to keep people away and I had never thought that my work could interact with the human body as Valeria from the Intrepid group was suggesting, because they are heavy pieces, some with sharp cutting edges, sharp points. I produced Railings to be looked at, although on some occasions, people could go through the railings, as was the case with the Buraco do Vieira installation at the Vale Museum, in Vila Velha. So, they always had this visual dimension and were not meant to be handled. When the Intrepid group came to me with the idea of interacting with these pieces, I resisted the idea, because I knew how heavy they were; I had already hurt myself working with them, because they weren’t inviting people to touch.

However, the Intrepid groups sees an object not meant to be handled as a challenge. They are used to climbing up into unusual places; the risk is a part of their job. Any object that does not attract or invite use is a challenge for them.

Then, when I first met them when they came here to my studio, I realized that there were various interesting uses these objects could be put to and I ended up accepting their invitation. And it was during one of the rehearsals for the show that I first got the idea of the two sets of railings moving and then I reworked them in the studio, giving rise to the series of kinetic sculptures that people are calling Swings.

MC: But I think that there is an aggressive quality to Swings too. They are very violent. In order to move the sculptures, especially the larger ones, you need to apply great force. Danger, Hot, which was the title of the exhibition at the Nara Roesler Gallery in São Paulo, aptly expresses this idea of danger.

RM: The sculptures in the São Paulo exhibition were dangerous. That’s why I gave them the title Danger, Hot.

They are heavy pieces, some of them weighing up to 30 kilos. If you’re not careful when you walk around the exhibition, we can end up being hit by one of the mov ing pieces and hurt yourself. Although they invite you touch them, when you break the equilibrium and set them in motion, the pieces are also dangerous.

FC: In the text I draw a connection with the idea of love, which can sometimes be heavy, dangerous, but, even so, we always ended up getting involved in it, even though we know that it could hurt us at some stage. But to continue on the subject of the swing and the railings, I remember that your ear lier work, even though it had a very broad graphic appeal for someone from Rio, clearly identified a certain situation in the city. It could refer, for instance, to the security crisis or a Rio bar. There was this local rationale in your work. And with the swing, this came to an end. You created an object that, if it were exhibited in New York, or Korea, or Germany, would be the same. It has something universal or non-territorial about it, to use the current critical jargon. Is this change something that you are going to begin to introduce into the rest of your work or do you think that it was specific to this series and does not need to be applied to future work?

RM: The railings pieces were certainly very local. I even think that, if you show them in other places, they completely lose their power, because they lose the interpretation of being a commentary on violence, on the security crisis, the fear and paranoia that is very much a part of liv ing in Rio and other cities in Brazil, which I think are disappearing now. I remember a conversation with an artist in Los Angeles who asked: “Is it about prison? About being behind bars? And I replied, “No. This is a prison that we live in, that the population put up for themselves . And the worse thing about it is that I think people don’t even notice. To the extent that, after I started working on these pieces, especially after the Entonces exhibition at the Paço Imperial, various people from Rio came up to me to remark that they were seeing railings going up all over the city, railing that probably had already been in existence. That exhibition woke many people up to seeing what was going on, as if I was alert ing them, giving them a new channel of vision, when they saw the show and then started to see the city in a different light. Just the other day, Omar Salomão sent me a photo of some railings, which is something that I always take photos of, which is a set railings for an air conditioner without the air conditioner inside, leaving the caged space with nothing in it. Other people have sent me such photos too. I remember another that João Modé sent me. The piece establishes a genuine dialogue with the city, to the extent that when you are no longer in the exhibition, but walking around the city, you remember my work and see things in a different way. I think this is really cool and I love to see it happening. I think that, deep down, the main purpose of the work of art is to educate the eye, to stir its sensibilities, to transform the way people look at art, at the world, at their own lives. I think this re ally happened in the case of the Railings series. The Swings series, the set of kinetic sculptures, are objects in themselves. They do not comment on the world but are their own world, with their own internal discourse. They lack any idea of an outside world. I came at a certain point to believe that there was no idea at all behind it, that it was a pure play of form, a geometrical dance. I said in jest that it was anti-conceptual art. And I do in fact believe that is true.

MC: Without a concept, as Hélio Oiticica said.

RM: Exactly. Pure experimentation.

FC: What you say is great. It reminds me a little of Oiticica s Meteorites, since the Meteorite is a fusion of color and object, the materialization of color by means of its relation with each specific object. This is what you are saying about Swings, the way you play with the object, following its internal logic.

RM: Absolutely. They are autonomous. A good part of my work has always been conceptual, or had an underly ing narrative, be it a commentary on every day life, on a football game, on the art system, on politics. My position was to pilfer some event in the real world and take this as my starting point, visual observation of an event, in a bar, in road signs, in people. There is obviously another side to my work which comes from fantasy, pure fiction, an original invention, coming from nowhere, from an empty space. Many of my drawings are like this, such as the tables series that I showed at LURIXS. This kinetic series arose from this organization of forms, from the grace and the power of movement, speed, equilibrium weight, from the cube placed above that moves in such a way as to reveal other sides of the same cube, with the support of that which lies below. So, there is a view from above the piece, a way of observing the composition, a search for beauty in that composition or in the movements, which is something new, and this entails adopting different practices in the studio, a more handicraft-like approach, more trial and error, in which things come about as you go along. This is different from my previous work, which are much more about planning, design and execution.

FC: Do you think then that this is a less rational period in your work? Do you have less control now?

RM: Yes. It is less rational. It has a different routine, which requires a nov el kind of experimentation, but is also highly stimulating. It s as though the pieces had a life of their own. It s a much more intense kind of experimentation. The work began to dictate the rhythm too and it was very fast. It s a true dialogue. I make one of them and, as soon as I’ve finished, it s already given me the idea for another. And this other one gives me the idea for two more. It s like they are procreating and talking to me at a dizzy ing pace. It s a giddying experience but also a very rich one and a lot of fun to do. And I think this is reflected in the way people view it. People seem to be happy in its presence, which is rare in the art world, both during and at the end of the exhibition. Nuno Ramos saw three pieces in Tomie Ohtake, at the Equilibrium Point exhibition and we had a brief conversation. He liked the work. We talked for about five minutes and he spoke of the joy he could see in this work, remark ing that generally there is not much joy to be found in works of art. I spoke in terms of humor, while he spoke in terms of joy.

MC: You use humor a lot. It s a strategy you keep coming back to.

RM: Yes. There is humor in other work of mine. But I think the joy is something new.

FC: You talk about your work—I don’t know if you’ve touched on this, as if it were a kind of literature. You described the previous series as chronicles of the everyday, news reports from the street and so forth. And you have described this Swings series as a novel. The characters are driving the author, since, as you have said, “they are leading the way . I think this narrative jour ney in your work is important.

RM: I always saw my work as falling into two main groups, alternating between a documentary and a more fictional approach. If I was a film-maker, I would make both documentaries and fiction. If I was a writer, I would write journalism and fiction. My work moves back and forth between these two fields.

MC: And the Swings also incorporate both? I think there is a figurative series and an abstract one.

RM: No. It doesn’t incorporate both. Some pieces are more figurative, some more abstract, but both are in the field of fiction. They do not represent observation of the world. They are not commentaries. They fall into the category of fiction, pure fantasy.

MC: And the house? How did that idea come about?

RM: Some pieces suggest figures; they are more figurative. This was also something that happened by accident, as I was going along. Initially, Swings was more abstract, taking the form of two rectangles rocking back and forth on a prism. And at one point that suggested the shape of a human body to me and I did not reject the idea. When I showed it at the Nara, there was a bit of both. By the time of LURIXS, I was emphasizing the figurative side a bit more. LURIXS is about the same size as a family house. It was built for that. The Gallery occupies and old house in Botafogo where a family once lived. So, the door to the LURIXS is the door to someone s home, not the door to a gallery. It is four meters high and three meters wide. It is the original door of a family home and it has a nor mal kind of staircase and hallway that you would expect to find in such a home. In the LURIXS main gallery, I arranged the pieces in such a way as to suggest a family set ting. If you look carefully you can see this. One piece has the same scale as a table and two chairs, another looks like a human figure, and there is yet another piece on the wall that could be a painting. I did this to reinforce the figurative direction the series was taking, even though it had not initially been intended to be figurative. But, nowadays, these things are rolled together, I work on both of them at the same time in my studio. They are no longer fields that I have kept separate, that I have thoroughly investigated and arrived at many conclusions. I would also like to say that this line of work is still very much in its initial stages, even though I have been producing it for over a year, which was enough time to exhaust my interest in other series. In this case, I can state that I am still starting out, because various possible directions are open. I have already tried some of these out and some are being documented, so as ensure that these streams of inspiration don’t run dry. I made lots of notes. For one possible direction, I produced drawings in a lit tle notebook. Another I put on the computer in 3D. And for another I made small models, with this series of words, Floor, Wall.

MC: There is one thing that I find very beautiful in Swings. There is a tendency in contemporary art to invite participation, all that kind of thing, emancipation of the eye. A tendency for you to occupy a position between that of spectator and actor, in a somewhat ephemeral state. Swings has this, but it also has something very powerful, that I think your art in general does, which is a certain simultaneity. Because the swings are always moving, you are at the same time inside and outside. And this inside and outside, as we have said, are changing all the time. Another thing that you can see in the titles of the pieces is a desire to be all-encompassing. There s a piece entitled House/tree/street, as well as Armless and Headless or Railings and Stone. And there’s also 5 paintings. And this fits in with a nice idea that Herkenhoff brought up in his text, that you produce afflicted objects.

RM: I think this business of participation has become a bit pathetic in the art world nowadays. People produce work intended to be participatory but they already have a clear idea in mind of how people are going to participate. They lead the way and try to imagine in advance what will go on in the viewer’s head.

MC: I think that in your work participation is a consequence.

RM: In my case, I think it is more genuine, it is not gratuitous, nor is it something where I have said Oh! One day I’ll do a participatory piece . It is something necessary for the very existence of the work. It is a legitimate participation that is genuinely intense. When someone, at the exhibition in São Paulo, takes hold of a piece, feels the weight of it, he or she interacts physically and becomes a co-author of the work, because it was at rest and now has another meaning, another character. In São Paulo, to go back again to what Frederico said, you could see what people were feeling when they arrived and saw the static group, which was already full of life, since those stat ic pieces have their own beauty, their own qualities as a work of art, communicating with the audience without moving. Then, they set the pieces in motion. Suppose that a person is viewing the exhibition alone and he or she sees something that was one way in a completely different manner, one move ment on top of another. The pieces work in isolation, but the view of the whole is almost another piece in itself, as if it were a single piece, within which six parts are in motion. This feeling is so strong that, for a moment, talking with Daniel Roesler, we considered the possibility of selling the group as a single unit in order to “keep the family together”.

MC: There’s this very strong idea of a group in the piece.

RM: There is. Of preserving that grouping because of the way it is installed. Because of the way you could see one piece behind another, movement along distinct planes. In the video on the Nara Roesler site, Fernanda Figueiredo and Eduardo Mattos portray this a lot using a piece in the foreground and another behind it and another behind that. The same person who saw it at rest and touched it is now the author of it, and the way he or she is seeing it, the way it is moving, is unique. No-one else will make it move in exactly the same way. You move one first and then another and then a third and the movement of the first one slows down, depending on how you touch it. If you touch it softly, it is very slow. If you press it as hard as you can, it starts off fast and then loses speed. So, each visitor makes his or her own exhibition. This is exactly what Frederico talked about in the text. And it is a unique movement. The viewer really is a co-author of the work. People Interact with it in a way I haven’t seen happen in other interactive works out there. There is something concrete and genuine in this interaction which also think is…

MC: Of another order. Of simultaneity. It is not an agent of emancipation in the sense of taking on a role and taking part in the piece or turning on a light. There is something very personal and very simultaneous about it.

RM: There is. But you were saying something about the afflicted object. Was that what you meant?

MC: Paulo Herkenhoff, in a text he wrote in ARTE BRA, makes a connection between your work and that of Arthur Bispo do Rosário and another artist, because you all create afflicted objects.

FC: I loved this definition, because your objects, even when they are stationary, have a certain vibration to them. For example, Dumb-Mute is a highly static object, but the impossibility of removing it from that musical instrument causes it to be an afflict ed object. The same can be said of Cartoon, which is a piece that becomes afflicted because of that block of wood on the head of the doll, because you know that that s a joke, but the block presents a very strong impression. I understand the idea of the afflicted object in this way. There is some kind of vibrancy to the work.

RM: Maria, you mentioned this idea of another place. I imagine the viewer seeing the piece and its title, but this refers to other events, perhaps even transports the viewer to another place. The object is contaminated by another field of references and thought that also open up in the mind of the viewer. So there is also a relation with the object and with the subject matter that surrounds it. This is true both of Railings, as we were saying, but also Phytographs, or even of pieces from the CuddlyLula series, because this piece had its own value, but was also commenting on a political event, about a series of events surrounding it. It expands the experience a bit. It is a visual experience and so forth, but it also invades your mind with other information from the surroundings. Was this more or less what you meant?

MC: Yes. Insisting on having every thing at the same time. A sort of “I want it all” or “I want them all” mentality, because that is the key to your affliction, in a personal sense too. Not wanting to be restricted to writing, updating your blog, being an artists, meeting people. I think there s something joyful about this business of wanting to embrace the whole world. For me, something that is very powerful in Swings is the idea of an embrace, which applies to CuddlyLula as well. The individual is devoured by a phagocyte, the thing is all-enveloping.

RM: I think that this energy that you see in me finds its way into my work too. Although, in some cases, there is a cleanness, a rationality, and industrial precision, holes drilled in aluminum plates, an electric saw, the drawings of Lula, which I did with an extension cord, putting a pencil on the point of an electric saw using a 3D file. Or the geometrical paintings, which are industrial, or the pieces where I use formica. All of these are sort of cleaned up and they have an industrial finish that is somewhat different from the more chaotic and euphoric side of my personality. But, even so, I can see a mixture of life and work in them, which is the category that the critics came up with. My life is not the subject of my work but a mere material, a field, a landscape from which I take a cutting, or a branch, or a seed here and there to transform into something else.

MC: It is a consequence. It can’t be separated.

RM: Yes. I even got Scovino worked up. He asked me about life and art for his book, and I said: “But, come on, can you think of an artist who doesn’t mix life and work? I can’t. They all do…

FC: Maybe this idea of life and work has a lot to do with the romantic ideal, in which the artist has to give his all to the creative process to the detriment of his ordinary life, because there was a belief in an almost sacred process of inspiration, in which the artist had to reach a different state in or der to be creative. Nowadays the two are not separated so drastically. But I would like to go into this question that Maria brought up: your Studio is an open place and I am sure that this finds its way a lot into your work. Few artists, to my knowledge, in Rio de Janeiro, have this kind of relationship to the city, to the culture of the city, as you do. I believe, as I have said before, that you are one of the artists who knows the most about contemporary art. I am talking here about information. I don’t mean to say that you are necessarily a critic, but you are a guy who is extremely knowledgeable about contemporary art and your interest in it goes beyond your work. Likewise, as Maria, once again, pointed out, you have this frenetic side to you that is constantly blogging and social networking. You’ve made a video and you have always worked with various media. So I have two questions. What impact has this had on your work? And, do you think that this kind of attitude to the world is inevitable in a contemporary artist?

RM: I don’t think it s inevitable, no. I don’t believe in rules. You can find works of genius created in complete isolation, with little regard for what is going on in the world. So, I don’t think there is a rule. But, in my case, from the very beginning, this contamination by things that are happening in the city, in the art world have been the fuel, the raw material for my work. I don’t live in isolation, I do not inhabit a protected aesthetic, philosophical world, in which the work of art is produced, sheltered from external influences and the like. My work is the product of this clash, I’m more of an agitator, an inquisitive person who reads, comments on things, is constantly passing on ideas among various groups of people, day and night, wherever I am, in a meet ing, in the public sphere – since I’ve already been invited to work for the State Culture Department and to help draw up the master plan for the School of Visual Arts –, or at a party, passing ideas onto people that are struck by them and pass them on to others. So I do think that this is an important factor and it reminds me of that email you sent me saying that perhaps the most important thing about a work of art is its ability to be a spark, to tirelessly stoking the fire in all walks of life. However, despite the fact that I have stirred things up a bit here and there, creating the Item and O Carioca magazines, at AGORA, which had a gallery in this very building, at the Love s House or Other Thing exhibitions, in our speeches to the General Assembly, despite having a body, having made my mark, having influenced people, I think that my work, despite what various people, such as yourselves, say about it being important, is very restrict ed, not a very big deal, hasn’t had much impact. And this is what led me to withdraw, in the period after AGORA, when I shut my self away in my studio. For a long period, in which I toned down my role as an agitator, as someone engaged in collective processes that are processes of transformation, dissemination of ideas and information, I withdrew into myself because of this modest impact. And I only opened up the Studio again very recently for informal meetings, such as the ones you attended here with Nelson Meireles, Felipe Scovino, Carlos Vergara and others, which are, in fact, a way of also using the studio as the setting for more ordinary, informal conversation. Then came the parties at which Artur Miró, Lucas Santana and Nepal played, Nina Becker’s Red and Blue, and the launch of Sergio Cohn and Francisco Bosco s book, Cultural Digital.

FC: Yours surely do these things because there s a demand for you in the art world and in Rio cultural circles. This dynamism also deprives you of some of the time you could be in your studio, producing work, because you can’t always do both at the same time. You are constantly oscillating between one and the other.

RM: I do oscillate like that. Sometimes I have to cut out these activities to do some work on my art. But it is such a big part of me that, when I see some collective project with a more public profi le, I can’t help myself from getting involved—in social and political work, stirring up the art world a bit, provoking people into questioning things.

MC: But what’s funny about this is that your art isn’t political. And that s a good thing. Your art is a field for other concerns; it doesn’t criticize institution, it doesn’t have anything political about it in this sense. The politics you involve yourself in is effective, and not through the State apparatus. Not that politics in art can’t be effective…

RM: In my artistic work, there were two occasions, two pieces, when I overtly touched on politics and verged on engaged art. These were Railings and CuddlyLula, which is a commentary on a scandal and, at the same time, a commentary on political marketing, the big lie, the great farce that is the electoral process. None of this is the presentation of government programs, it’s all “the voters want to hear this, we found it out in the research we did last week.

FC: Sorry to interrupt you, but your Lula is open to various interpretations. Many people see it as a homage.

RM: Everything is open to interpretation. CuddlyLula was inspired by the ‘big monthly payment scandal and the way Lula was marketed as “Love and Peace Lula by Duda Mendonça, who was also involved in this scandal.

MC: Different from Vik Muniz s Lula, which came at a time when there were lots of images in the magazines. Isn’t this what s at stake?

RM: No. Vik s piece is just a por trait of the president as an eminent Brazilian.

MC: Like Joãosinho Trinta.

RM: Like any of the others he produces. My Lula is not. My Lula was a critical commentary, which, like Railings, has these political overtones.

MC: But I think that it fits in more with what Francis Alÿs says about engaged art. He says that, sometimes, you do something poetic that becomes political. And, sometimes, you do something political, that ends up becoming poetic.

RM: That’s interesting. As I don’t have much time for most so-called participatory art, neither do I have much time for most engaged art, so-called political art. Paulo Reis did an interview with me and, in one of my responses, I talk about how music is an art form that can more effectively communicate a political content. I cite the The Clash and Chico Buarque, and I mention a specific song by Mundo Livre S.A. called “Militant in Counter-information . The problem with works of art that aspire to be political is that they have zero effectiveness. Often, these pieces are seen by very small numbers of people. The capacity for a work of political art to have a big impact on the world is very small compared to music. Other fields more for political activity are literature and journalism. When the visual arts try to be engaged, the results are of ten pathetic. They are works of art that are going to have zero effect.

FC: As you say, the visual arts are not necessarily a mass art form. But, when an artist does produce engaged art, at least he or she is taking a position and placing it before society. Whether it is going to be eff ective or not in the eyes of the public, that s the big challenge.

RM: What I think is this. At the very least, it’s taking a position. Having an influence on a small group is a political act and has some value. But, in some cases, you see that the artist has a program and intends to achieve this or that.

MC: Yes. The problem with political art is that, when art sets out from the very start to be political, it is very boring; it is just politics, there s no art in it. I see an enormous amount of stuff. I’ve never seen a good piece on the invasion of Iraq, for ex ample. Everything is seen through the eyes of the BBC.

RM: But there can be no doubt about the power of those newspaper pieces by Antonio Manuel and other work from the generation of Antonio Dias, and Carlos Vergara, when it was practically obligatory, because it was a time of…

FC: Brazil developed an engaged kind of art that was effective against, let s say for malist art, but that dealt with the question of form. It s a debate that stretches back in Brazilian history to at least the mid 20th century. The thing is that when you actually study the 1960s, which was the height of political engagement in the nascent mass culture in Brazil, different from the theater, the cinema, or popular music, the visual arts, with some exceptions, did not play a big part in this great debate.

MC: You can go to Pinacoteca de São Paulo and see work by these guys. If you weren’t there, if you don’t know the history, you haven’t heard about through other channels… They are wonderful artists, Claudio Tozzi, Gilberto Salvador, Marcelo Nietzsche, a whole generation of politically engaged artists from the time of the dictatorship. It’s a curious feeling.

RM: Talking about the ineffectiveness of political art, CuddlyLula is itself a concrete example of this. It was a piece that I produced to criticize political market ing and the scandal, and many people think that it is a piece showing support for Lula. Lula himself has a CuddlyLula. He sent me a telegram thanking me for it.

FC: The doll, like marketing, be it Lula s or yours, is a big hit. In this sense, it was a success.

MC: And, in my view, CuddlyLula almost has something Roots of Brazil about it, generating a kind of intimacy with the president, who hugs you, who s there for you.

RM: Yes. But it was produced in a specific context. It also has a lot of humor in it and, to tell the truth, has become a joke. To the extent that large numbers of people refer to it without having been to the exhibition. It was a complex exhibition, with almost thirty drawing, with contributions from other guest artists, there were the titles of the pieces and an installation with a hundred dolls, but this was emptied of meaning, because the title, CuddlyLula and the image became well-known out side the art world. It is a work of art that broke out of the art world. It found its way into Diogo Mainardi’s column, it was on the back page of Quem magazine, it was commented on in politics columns, in the business pages, in the social pages. Years later, I still received emails from people saying that they were returning the doll because it was defective and the like. It spread like a joke. I think it is a rare case of a work of art becoming a joke. It was funny, it was a real-world cartoon. If I was a cartoonist, instead staging an exhibition with lots of dolls, producing the doll and then staging the exhibition, I would have drawn a cartoon of a child holding a CuddlyLula. This would have appeared in the next day s newspaper and I’d have moved on to the next cartoon.

MC: Raul, I have a question that, in fact, is pure curiosity, about your book. Until around 1993, all your work was untitled. Only later you began to give your pieces titles. The title, for any artist, and you are no exception, provides a reading of the work, albeit in a dialectical fashion. How do you come up with your titles?

RM: I think that, at the very beginning, I didn’t use titles because I lacked the maturity and experience of life. I was tak ing my first steps, constructing shapes, re searching materials, trying to find my voice. I always wrote, very modest little stories, minimalist short-stories, things I’d jot down in a bar, but I didn’t believe these were powerful enough to gain an audience. AT one point, I realized that I could use words in the art work that I was beginning to show. So, I think the title comes from a desire to use words, to incorporate words into a visual work of art and sometimes it suggests a reading of the work. It is an essential element of the piece, full of poet ry or reinforcing the poetry. The title is one of the basic ingredients and it has become indispensable.

FC: Your career stretches back some twenty years. Given that, two questions come to mind. When we first met, you said that your generation keenly felt the lack of productive criticism, to have a critic to enter into dialogue with. Do you think that s still the case? And the other question concerns whether, after a twenty year long career, can look at the art world in Brazil and see any significant changes.

RM: I have seen countless changes since I started studying art in 1988 at Parque Lage. Enormous changes. For example, the Rio Salon prize in 1991 was around 1,000 Brazilian reais; nowadays it s 100,000. One hundred times the size. There were almost no scholarship programs or residencies for artists. There were far fewer galleries, far fewer collectors, institutions, university courses, post-graduate courses. The change has been impressive. At that time, we could never have imagined it. Today there is a wider audience, more interest, more publications. In 1988, there were almost no art books. I remember Waltercio’s Apparatuses and Funarte’s ABC series; books on artists were basically restricted to these. Nowadays, you have Cosac Naify, Automatica s ARTE BRA collection, the Cobogó Publishing House and many others. There are more things than we could ever have imagined. SP Arte itself, for instance. The other day, I asked Carlos Vergara if he could have imagined an art fair of this scale and he said no, and it s a successful fair. There s also Celso Fioravante’s Arts Map: two cities in Brazil have an ex tensive guide, with a large number of institutions, galleries, and so forth. Nowadays there are Brazilian collections all over the world, with various Brazilian artists in a longterm relationship with important international galleries. It s been a huge change. Now the other thing that you asked about, about criticism, I didn’t really mean art criticism in that sense. Neither can I speak for my whole generation, but, in my case at least, over the years, a thinking person to enter into dialogue with, be it an art critic, a philosopher, a journalist, a poet, whatever, someone to talk with regularly, someone to suggest alternative reading matter: do you know the work of so and so?”, “let s study the work of so and so together?”, “have you heard of this composer?” Someone who comes from another field of knowledge, with a different training, a different background. I was always under the illusion that I would one day bump into this person. Other artists had this kind of relationship, at times a very intense ones, others less. But I never did, despite enjoying a lot of dialogue with my peers, my fellow artists, Basbaum, Coimbra, with whom I did so much at Item and at AGORA, Bechara, who I shared a studio with, Marcos Chaves, Tatiana Grinberg, André Costa, Fernanda Gomes, Cabelo, Barrão, Lucia Koch and Vergara. And more recently, you and Scovino have come along, visiting the studio more often and playing this role of a thinker to enter into dialogue with, telling me about Deleuze s critical reason, and Michel Serres, who I wasn’t familiar with. What is really valuable is the routine, the frequency, to come back and see the changes, “this wasn’t here before , “this is new . To let your guard down, to come here to the studio, kick off your shoes, sit on the floor, smoke cigarettes and drink beer and let the conversation flow. I think it important that these meetings have some sort of method, some sort of discipline, that they be fortnightly, or weekly and continue for two, five, ten years. This gives you a strength that you can use.

FC: It seems that the visual arts in Brazil today are represented by a generation of artists in their 40s and 50s who have a lot to say with their work and their ideas.

RM: I think I am curious and try to find things out. I’m not a scholar, I don’t read texts, I didn’t read Luisa Duarte s thesis, or what came out in some magazine or other, I don’t read many texts in catalogues, but I go to exhibitions, I visit studios, I talk to people. I’m very interested in following the work of everyone, without prejudice. In a few days after my arrival in São Paulo I have made a point of seeing Tunga at the Millan, Caio at the Luciana Brito, Vicente Melo at the Eduardo Fernandes. I saw the collective exhibition that was on at the Baró, Zerbini at the Galpão da Fortes Vilaça, Rodrigo Moura s collective exhibition, Colares, Neto, I went to the Vermelho to see Komatsu, and the Biennale of course. I follow the work of Komatsu, Nicolas Robbio, and Marcelo Cidade. I also follow the work shown at Raquel Arnaud’s gallery, the Luisa Strina, the Triângulo, all of them. I’m always visiting galleries and, when I can, studios too. It s a curiosity that I don’t see in colleagues of my generation. Sometimes, I ask, “Do you know the work of Nicolas, of Rodrigo Mateus”?

MC: They are important artists of the generation in their thirties.

RM: But I have colleagues here in Rio who don’t know them. So, in this sense, there s an interest, a curiosity. To get to talk to people, and a willingness to pass the information on, even put it on my blog. Nicolas has been on my blog, Komatsu too.

MC: There s also something important in what you are saying about wisdom, without prejudice regarding high and low culture. Your interest is not restricted to these studios and these artists, to Luis s thesis or Tatuí. There s a much bigger, broader dimensions to it.

RM: I am interested in culture and the arts in general, from DJs to writers, from tambourine-men to philosophers.

MC: You can see that from your blog. It’s very wide ranging.

FC: That’s what we’re saying. Not that this is a sign of genius, but it marks you out that people know that you are a visual artist, that your work has depths, like the Railings series. And, at the same time, you have this contact with the people you meet, who say that, if it weren’t for your blog, they would know a lot less about what s going culturally at the moment.

MC: And people really read it.

FC: They do. Inside and out. I am using this metaphor because it s interesting. The guy who is really involved in the art world, with work like Railings, and is outside of this exclusive group, talking about other cultures, feeding people information. You are a filter, because you are always curious to get information. There are people who have no curiosity whatsoever, but you do.

MC: I was saying to Damasceno yesterday that I think that this is the only possible position to take in the art world: being inside and outside. There s a really great book called High price, by Isabelle Graw. If you don’t have it, I can mail you a copy. She talks about precisely this, that the only possible way to go is to be an anthropologist, with one foot inside and one foot out. And you always have this open-minded, ethnographic view of the world. Open to the outside world so that you can carrying on producing your work.

RM: I’d like to go back to the Swings and to the early stage when they still had a relation with Railings. There s a piece called Passage, which is an installation that I presented at Caixa Cultural here in Rio de Janeiro, at the Projetos (in)Provados exhibition, and in São Paulo, at SESC Pompeia, at José Sanchis Sinisterra’s show, directed by Malu Gali, that predated Hugging Machine, an exhibition that included Eduardo Coimbra, Chelpa Ferro, Caetano Gotardo and Nino Cais. Passage has its name because I was doing both things in my studio. At the time I received the invitation from the curator, Sonia Salcedo, I had just finished the stones for the railings, and was starting work on Swings. So, in the Passage installation, I decided to mix the two, Railings and Swings. It was a large 3×4 meter cage, with two entrances, one at each end, and inside there were three swings, built with half-inch rods, which is the same type of rod as the railings and the same design that I had for building the railings. It was thus a free object that was coming into being, mixed with another piece that first saw the light of day back in 1988. And I made a point of producing this installation, presenting it, and mark ing the passage, showing a piece that contained both things. I already knew what was coming, I was already making swings with one-inch bars and I could already see that every reference to Railings was going to disappear, but I made a point of presenting that Railings-Swing to mark the transition.

MC: Raul, I have one last question that takes us back to Rosalind Krauss. In her text, that I’ll send to you as soon as we ve finished here, she says that, in the West, no painting can ignore the symbolic power of the cross. You can’t, because it opens up a Pandora s box. Do you ignore it?

RM: There s one sculpture in the Swings series, which was in the General Archive exhibition at the Hélio Oiticica Arts Center, and one that was at Nara, both of which have a clear cross shape. You may not notice it at first, but, once you have seen it, you find it difficult not to.

FC: I’ll ask my last question then. You have just said that you are still producing the Railings series. At the same time, this transition to the Swings is another way of dealing with this issue. Will these two worlds continue to be a part of your work?

RM: Yes.

FC: Your art doesn’t have to have a single theme, does it? You can work on everything at the same time?

RM: I have always worked on var ious series at the same time. Obviously, at some times, one series becomes more important in my work in the studio, as is now the case with Swings, but it doesn’t stop me working on the others. It s always been like that. The birth of a new family, of a new series, the beginning of a new journey does not necessarily entail the death of those that came before, does it? There s also a new series, that I also think will be an extensive one, that I’m calling Shadows, about which I’ve already talked to Maria. For the time being, I only have notes for this one. But something happened to me recently in a restaurant that was one of those chance occurrences that appeared to be more of a sign, a message from beyond driving you to produce something. I was sitting in a restaurant, facing the street, and a maintenance truck stopped out side and it had one of those revolving lights on top. The truck parked and the light fell on a signpost. And the shadow of this signpost was projected onto a wall on the other side of the street, throughout my meal. It was a film being projected onto my back ground. While I was eating, another truck past, also with a light on top, and projected a tree. The shadow of the signpost and the shadow of the tree were together for an instant. And, when I asked for the check, the truck turned off its light and drove off. It was there for exactly the same time it took me to have my meal. After that, I started to notice a sequence of other shadows. I am noting them down, photographing them and I have talked to David Pacheco about going out and filming them. This series is still in its initial stages, but I can already see that it will be ex tensive, and long-lasting. It also seems that it will be large-scale, like the Swings series. Railings, until then, was my largest series: the photos began in 1988; the sculptures, screen-prints and blown-up photos appeared in 1998, 1999, ten years later, and I’m still working on the series today. And I always have the feeling that they are never going to come to an end. In spite of the various other pieces that I have produced in this period, and the pieces that were reborn in an unexpected way. The football series, for example, that I thought was finished, came back with a vengeance in the miniature, Penalty. That untitled penalty of 1993 became a little penalty in 2009, and then came The Field All Broken Up, Double Penalty Area and others. And this is happening again with this series of red and white ar rows from road-works signs. They were once paintings and now they are screen-prints in acrylic paint on 30×30 cm polypropylene. They are free-standing pieces, but they work as a group. The title is Road Arrow to Barros, Bulcão, Colares and Volpi.


KRAUSS, Rosalind E. Grid in The originality of the avant-garde and other modernist myths. Cambridge, MIT Press, 1986. p. 9.

ALŸS, Francis. Sometimes Doing Something Poetic Can Become Political and Sometimes Doing Something Political Can Become Poetic. New York, David Zwirner, 2007.

GRAW, Isabelle. High Price – Art Between The Market And Celebrity Culture. New York, Sternberg Press, 2010.