From iron to emotion

by Felipe Scovino
Porto Alegre, 2010

It was in September last year, during the Intrépida Trupe s rehearsals for Projeto:Coleções, that I first saw Raul Mourão s Balanços [Swings] series. Mourão was trying out the first experiments in his series (although he himself describes them as studies or a sequence of experiences, as if each sculpture were a project or a model for something “better” or bigger, I understood that it was precisely the challenging, inconstant and molecular properties of the sculpture, as transition, that would enable the artist to produce these highly-charged, exploratory, landmark works) using the dancers of the company as a laboratory. Seeing one of them stacking some sculptures, spacing them out, squeezing themselves into the hollowed out parts of Mourão s pieces, their rubber like bodies, fitting into and moving easily around that structure, which for me represented something rigid and for mal, I was sure (as I guess Mourão was) that something consisting of silence (despite the idea of aggression conveyed by the iron) was being turned into flesh, language, and emotion.

I was impressed to see not just a novel kinetic artistic experience, but action in its rawest, most fundamental state transfiguring something which we had always identified as being leaden.

This was an action, therefore, which broke the inertia of the matrix-like form and projected the sculpture into the space. Through the action of gesture on matter, these sculptures re main the same, although they are absolutely different from one another.

At root, all are contained in each. In its shift from contemplation to action, Balanços promotes a kind of suspension of the subject; set off when the kinetic mechanism is triggered by the audience. Through the coordinated rhythm of its movement, the audience is, as it were, encapsulated in a fraction of time (which does not cor respond to chronological time, but presents itself as space-time in suspension): as if, in that exact state of space and time, the piece were announcing that art is not reduced to the object that results from it, but is this practice as a whole.

Having something in common with minimalism but, at the same time, throwing down a challenge to the art of sculpture, Mourão is not concerned to place Balanços in any particular field.

The piece is committed to dialogue, is playful, and, at the same time, provides a constant overlay of emotion.

If, in minimalism, the object tends to be closed in on itself, forestalling any dialogue with the general public, unless they threaten or obstruct it, Balanços projects itself as a field of pathways that involves everything that surrounds it. They are skin-sculptures, imbued with the same idea that the neoconcretists liked to call art blessed with geometry. By working with iron, Mourão exposes this sculpture-body to time. The decomposition of the material endows the work with an almost imperceptibly changing course over time. In its gradual decomposition, the iron reminds us of the precarious state of our own existence.

Is it the rust, the ageing skin, the wrinkles that provide these swings once again with a permanent link to the outside world? Mourão imbues something that would appear to be static with mobility. Balanços creates ambiguity: another possible form of existence and understanding of its poetic power emanates from the isolated and static artwork. The repose of its perfectly poised heavy structures and the diverse and subtle ways in which it treats the passage of time, even when there is no action, are just some of the reasons why this series has a lot to tell us about the place of sculpture in Brazil. It suggests shifts and combinations, bringing together provisional units that lie in the realm of relativity.

Returning to the meeting of dancers and art in Mourão s work, it was re markable to witness that, in contrast to neoconcretist sculptures, in which the absence of mass or void is filled by air, in Mourão s sculptures the void is essential for the dialogue between the body and the artwork. In so far as it presents itself as an almost anthropomorphic structure, the pendulous movement of this series invites us to think that its habitat comes to include also this gift of life that human contact brings when it sets the pendulums in motion. In the tussle between sculpture and human being, the breaks and empty spaces in Balanços allow the dancers to interact with it and take it over in various ways, endowing it with a certain sensuality (that contrasts with the somber quality of the iron) and accept the breaks as a structural feature rather than a prop. A precise, unwavering cut, with a rich capacity to generate a plethora of phenomenological meanings and possibilities. A cold, clean cut that is nevertheless still possessed of a certain sensuality, or at least a more effective and affective willingness to enter into dialogue with the world.1

In this exhibition we are confronted with a power that we normally only feel in the artist s studio: the coming together of a number artworks that connect and interact with one another, rather than each occupy ing its own separate space. But here this occurs in a wider sphere that includes a symphony of forms, vibrations and rhythms. The best news is that this is only the start: Balanços is ever-changing precisely because it is repetitive.

1 CHIARELLI, Tadeu. Amilcar de Castro: diálogos efetivos e afetivos com o mundo. In: ______. Amilcar de Castro: corte e dobra. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2003. p. 20. Although Chiarelli is writing here about the work of Amílcar de Castro, I feel it applies equally well to the work of Mourão and demonstrates the extent to which the interests of the two art ists overlap.