Pinacoteca de São Paulo, museum of the São Paulo State Secretariat of Culture, presents, from November 10th, 2018 to February 11th, 2019, the exhibition Invention of Origin, on the fourth floor of Pina Estação. With curatorship by Pinacoteca's Nucleus of Research and Criticism and under general coordination of José Augusto Ribeiro, the museum curator, the group exhibition takes as the starting point the film The Origin of the Night: Amazon Cosmos (1973-77), by the German artist Lothar Baumgarten. The film, rarely exhibited, will be presented alongside a selection of works by four Brazilian artists — Antonio Dias, Carmela Gross, Solange Pessoa and Tunga. In common, the selected works allude to primordial times and actions which could have contributed to the narratives about the origin of life.
Shot on 16 mm between 1973 and 1977, The Origin of the Night: Amazon Cosmos, by Lothar Baumgarten, is based on a Tupi myth, registered by the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, on the origin of the night — which, according to the narrative, used to “sleep” under waters, when animals still did not exist and things had the power of speech. From images captured in the Reno River, between Dusseldorf and Cologne, the artist creates ambiguous situations. “The images are paradoxical, they show a kind of virgin forest in which, however, the waste of human civilization is spread. Baumgarten turns to the cinema to reassemble the myths of a tropical forest, so the spectator does not know whether that is the principle or the end of the world,” says Ribeiro.
From the issues presented in the film, the curatorial research focused on a very specific part of Brazilian production, which comprises about 40 works by five artists, including video, painting, sculpture etc., produced from the 1970s to today. The selection takes into account language and material experiments which are converted, at the same time, into images and objects with immemorial aspects, with suggestion of fundamental gestures, inserting the observer into a kind of system of production or communication of ideas which are still in formation.
In the first exhibition room, where is also the film by Lothar Baumgarten, the visitor encounters two works by Carmela Gross: Facas [Knives] and 300 larvas [300 larvae], both from 1994. For Invention of Origin, the curatorship brought together 500 of the approximately 1000 pieces (elementary forms of knives) which make up the first one. The artist's operation for the work anticipated the change from one knife model to another every time she considered she had acquired the ability to make that modeling.
“Thus, Carmela Gross seems to reset, in each group of knives, the advent of a technique, a zero level, a kind of first gesture,” in Ribeiro's opinion. The setup of the work reminds us the result of an archaeological excavation or an ethnographic cataloging. Next to it, also referring to the idea of anthropological inventory, it is installed part of the work 300 larvas [300 larvae] (1994), group of monotypes which Gross produced in various sizes and types of paper.
From the production of Antonio Dias, deceased in August this year, the works selected belong to a specific period, which extends from 1977 to the mid-1990s. In this period, Dias travels to Nepal, where, with local craftsmen, he learns the manufacturing of handmade papers and develops dyeing techniques for paper sheets with natural elements (earth, ashes, vegetables etc.). This research with materials unfold then into painting, with the use of iron oxide, gold sheet and glittering pigments, which give the screen ore and metal aspects. In these works the images of bones and references to rock paintings are recurring, as well as images from pop culture. “The series highlights passages full of tension between nature and culture. The title of the painting Brazilian Painting, Bosnia's Jungle (1995), or “pintura brasileira, selva da Bósnia”, produces this conflict with sense of humor”, says Ribeiro.
In the same room, there is a set of pieces by Tunga, produced between 1980 and the mid-2010s. Some of them are taken as the most famous works by the artist (Tacape [Club], Escalpo [Scalp], Tranças [Braids]) and other recent ones, which were not widely exhibited in public spaces. Among the iconic works of this production, it is the painting Sem título (Sedativa) [Untitled (Sedativa)], from 1984, which image reports to the common vocabulary of the artist’s work, and also appears on the metal embossing Revê-la antinomia [Molten Antimony], from 1985.
“The operations which conform these two works highlight the importance that Tunga attaches to the processes of work accomplishment, to the investigation on the limits of an artistic language, and at the same time to the allusive and imaginative capacity of the results,” comments the curator. Another work integrating the series is Lezart, from 1989, which participated in the artist's retrospective at the cultural center Jeu de Paume, in Paris, in 2001, and the unreleased Projeto de obra pública [Public work project], from 1992, which Tunga conceived for the urban space of the city of Rio de Janeiro, in 1992, but was never held.
Finally, in the last room of the exhibition, Pinacoteca presents a work still in process by the artist from Minas Gerais Solange Pessoa. The installation, conceived between 2004 and 2018, consists of a 10-meter long sculpture, made with feathers from birds and tissue, pending from the ceiling in a conic form, remembering a tree's torso.
Around it, a series of clay embossings and 36 paintings on paper, with silhouettes from fantastic and polymorphic animals, a mixture of birds, reptiles or vegetables, as if these forms were in transmutation. “It looks like a bestiary which alludes to the formation of species”, says the curator of the exhibition. Which in turn reintroduces the visitor once again to the universe of Baumgarten's film, “the idea of a principle of everything which seems to have emerged a bit polluted, impure”, concludes Ribeiro.
Antonio Dias (Campina Grande, PB, 1944 — Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 2018)
Carmela Gross (São Paulo, SP, 1946)
Lothar Baumgarten (Rheinsberg, Germany, 1944)
Solange Pessoa (Ferros, MG, 1961)
Tunga (Palmares, PE, 1952 — Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 2016)