Agnaldo Farias. Jogando com os limites. Publicado no livro do artista, edição Pinacoteca do Estado, São Paulo, Imprensa Oficial do Estado – versão para o inglês: Playing with limits – 2008 -
In 1910, when Constantin Brancusi polished the surface of his small (16 x 27.3 x 18.5 cm) sculpture Sleeping Muse, a head lying on a table, it was necessary to revise the very definition of sculpture. Up to that moment, every sculpture, whether made of wood, stone or metal, was an opaque volume that interrupted the continuity of space. The problem that Brancusi introduced when he transformed the surface of his sculpture into a mirror is that it seemed there was no longer any separation between it and the surrounding space. Observing it involves the simultaneous observation of reflected fragments of the environment. Observing it from close up means observing oneself in the act of observing. This has given rise to many consequences in the field of thought and the production of knowledge; here is an object inseparable from the observer, which is seen at the same moment that the observer sees his own reflected image. Its unfoldings have proven endless.
Indeed, this discussion is continued today in the work of artists such as Dan Flavin, James Turrel and Robert Irwin, who have expanded on the idea of Brancusi’s mirrored sculpture to arrive at sculpture made of light, but also, in a direction diametrically opposed to that of these masters, in the work of Luiz Hermano. Before going further, I must point out that this essay concerns only the artist’s three-dimensional artworks, without mentioning, except tangentially, his prolific production of drawings, prints and paintings – and, even then, always with the aim of shedding light on his three-dimensional artworks. Despite the high quality of his work in other fields, I believe that Luiz Hermano’s greatest contribution, which has made him a unique reference in our art world, lies in his three-dimensional production, including reliefs, sculptures and prints, as well as some mediums incompatible with the prevailing art categories, as is the case with his “wearable sculptures,” from 1994, and other works by this singularly seminal artist.
Instead of expanding outward toward the surrounding space – a common denominator for most of the installations and other variants of the classical notion of sculpture – Hermano’s artworks are more concerned with the membrane that separates their interior from the world. In the form of volumes with porous, interwoven and thick surfaces, reliefs attached to the wall and even prostheses for attachment to the body, in every case his constructions beckon for close-up examination, of the skin, and then the openings in the skin, inducing the viewer to discover that the bodies, as defined by their limits, are, to paraphrase Herberto Helder, “a text that is multiplied inwardly, without growing, incessantly crossed by tunnels, corridors and paths of rough pronunciation.” (Poesia toda, Lisbon: Assírio Alvim, 1981, p. 381).
Large and small, in most cases made of everyday, ordinary materials such as kitchen sponges, sheets of tin, electronic capacitors, plastic toy trucks and other irrelevant minutia, these artworks that can be as large as an entire room flirt with a wide range of commonplace materials and their residues, defending them as being significant and full of energy, like those small flakes of dirt that accumulate day by day, those enigmatic colonies of subtle material – part of them, as we know, made up of the skin of the inhabitants, produced by the gentle currents of air which enter, curious, into our houses, sweeping them. Doesn’t the same thing happen with the everyday scraps left over by a society like ours?
The relief of skins
Although Luiz Hermano has been increasingly involved in installation, especially after his participation in the 21st Bienal de São Paulo, in 1991, he has engaged more frequently in the production of sculpture, particularly relief. Generally, they involve twisted weavings, some of them produced by the systematic and rhythmic articulation of copper, aluminum, steel and other types of wires; most of these volumes are hollow and light, while their skins – besides being responsible for their variable rigidity – are rough, airy shells whose material is nevertheless organized in a manner that evinces the hand of the artist in their making. The energy that went into their production flows through these structures that separate inside from outside, and through the membranes that took form as they were being made. Once completed, these forms contain a circular energy, which draws the viewer’s gaze to the movement they express.
The question in regard to references is one of the most fertile aspects of these reliefs. Are they paintings or sculptures? The pictorial dimension is seen in the contrast between the primary colors and their subtones, present in the industrialized objects, as well as in the circular and reticulated compositions (Kathmandu, p. 31; Redes de cubos [Cube Networks] III and IV, pp. 40 and 41; Bandeira [Flag] and Bandeira II, p. 44, Onda [Wave], p. 45). Alongside the chromatic treatment, Hermano’s work presents a particularly complex problem of cross-references. For example, the recurrence of geometric forms, including circular ones, springs from the artist’s interest in fundamental aspects of various liturgies. To understand his use of mandalas, the viewer should remember the meaning of the word mandala in Sanskrit – circle of magic or of energy – and bear in mind its attributes as a formula that synthesizes the relation between man and the cosmos, and as a focus for meditation, which would corroborate the idea that this is a means of capturing our gaze. This is particularly true when it comes in this way, combined with the effect produced by the colors, as takes place in Onda, with its concentric movement. Along with this extra-artistic reference come those pertaining to the field of art history, which in the case in question include most significantly the syntony with the propositions of hard-edge painters such as Kenneth Noland and Ellsworth Kelly, problematizing painting’s conventional rectangular format.
The sculptural aspect of the reliefs considered in and of itself, in terms of the emphasis given by the thicknesses responsible for their projections off from the wall, is even more evident in the case of accentuated twistings, as well as in those composed by spatially voluminous objects, as in Brejo, pp. 42 and 43, and in Língua and Poesia-concreta, on pp. 54 and 55, respectively, and, in regard to the second case, Bilros, p. 59. Two aspects call for attention in this field of problems: 1st – underscoring what has already been said, most of the time these reliefs, like most of the artist’s oeuvre, are made with objects belonging to the mass of heteroclyte things of everyday life, the trifles useful to those that are a source of entertainment; 2nd – they usually involve the presence of an elusive order, which can be confused with chaos, and particularly evident in the artworks that submit geometry to the laws of the material used for their embodiment, and in the artworks made from items used in games, whose rules are visibly altered with the aim of investigating their constructive possibilities.
Luiz Hermano’s reliefs, sculptures and installations induce the viewer to engage in two types of looking: looking as reading, identifying letters, numbers and objects; and looking due to the fascination of what is seen, entangled in the details of the material or the impermeable logic of the constructions. He obtains this effect through his thoughtful approach to the skin of the pieces, the more or less thick film that separates the intimate realm from the outer world. In the case of the reliefs, attached as they are to the walls, the skin does not serve to separate anything, but only to emphasize itself; demonstrating that, after all, everything is on the surface because the surface is all there is. In the case of the volumes, at the same time that they lead us to reflect on the interior – the inner world of things, which the artist generally keeps visible, though inaccessible – the skin continues to be the fundamental aspect, that which from a structural point of view guarantees the form’s unity and, simultaneously, teems with potential happenings, a world of its own. Whatever the case, they transfix our gaze, injecting it with significance; they confront us with obscure and mysterious situations: the table where imagination and fantasy feed.
These constructions of Hermano’s do not belong to the present time, but rather date back to the very beginning of his artistic career, which took place in the late ’60s and early ’70s, a little while before being an artist became a possibility for young people who, like him, were born in the late ’50s and early ’60s; a generation that suffered the effects of the military dictatorship, growing up in an environment adverse to cultural debate, at the core of a hiatus in the continuity of our artistic production.
Lacking formal education in the field he chose to work in (for that matter, at that time there were very few interesting college-level art schools among the small and mummified set of courses within the academic tradition) and without enjoying the benefits of an active, up-to-date art world – during the 1970s the Bienal de São Paulo, the main source of information on what was happening in art suffered a national international boycott – the only way possible for Luiz Hermano was to find within himself the greatest part of the substance of his poetics. He gleaned the elements of this substance from his childhood in the small town of Preaoca and from other cities in the state of Ceará in which he had lived, from the philosophy course in Fortaleza that he took but dropped out of in order to take a series of trips in Brazil in neighboring countries, and from, naturally, the history of art properly speaking.
It would be worthwhile to extend this commentary. On a path opened by artists such as Gilvan Samico and Bené Fonteles, from the Brazilian states of Pernambuco and Pará, respectively, and alongside the artists of his own generation, such as Emanuel Nassar (Pará), Marcos Coelho Benjamin and Fernando Luchesi (both from Minas Gerais), Marcelo Silveira (Pernambuco) and, more recently, Marepe (Bahia), Luiz Hermano has based much of his work on popular tradition, without however (as is their case as well), this implying a search for an art of “purely Brazilian roots,” which is a compulsion as ideological as it is obsolete, though it does sometimes figure in the more naïve aesthetic agendas, especially in the era of globalization. Hermano’s path is not strewn with autobiographical narratives, a commitment that he gradually established insofar as his artworks progressively lost any trace suggestive of egoism, and which he ensures through the recurring use of found objects, ranging from sponges to miniatures and, beyond that, in the adoption of procedures akin to post-minimalism, as noted by Tadeu Chiarelli, in his text “O minimalismo, a arte brasileira, o pós-minimalismo e a produção de Luiz Hermano – mas não necessariamente nessa ordem” [Minimalism, Brazilian Art, Post-Minimalism and the Production of Luiz Hermano – But Not Necessarily in That Order] (catalog for the exhibition held in 1995, at Galeria Joel Edelstein, Rio de Janeiro). In fact, it is the direction he has taken through extensive use of pieces from games, and the awareness that most of the time the structure of the work depends more on a preestablished system than on an arbitrary attitude, a virtuoso gesture, typical of a modern artist. Even though the artisanal technique used in his artworks is apparent, it is normally discrete, limited to the joining together of elements produced by mass production and, consequently, anonymous. Therefore, far from signifying a retrograde or nostalgic movement on the part of someone who grew up in a small town in Brazil’s interior but today lives in a metropolis like São Paulo – an accusation sometimes arising from unaware readings – Hermano assumes his work in a faceless manner, in accordance with the economic order that subsumes the traditional practices, but which, at the same time, embodies, in its own key, the needs that people have for fantasy.
Hermano always persevered in his movement toward the interior of things, carefully examining what they allowed to be seen, demonstrating that they contain their own universe within them, a world that is practically inaccessible, only partially inscrutable, and permanently mysterious. Investigating and proposing machines and prostheses, atmospheres and scenes extracted from people and animals, by means of paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and installations, the artist’s attention has always fallen on the inner world, whether he is presenting more-or-less fantastic versions of motors and gears that control the dynamics of living or man-made beings, or because the manner of representing and constructing them makes use of hollow, flat structures made with airy interweavings, frameworks, tangled lines, like the skin that, at very close range, is seen to be a culture of wires stuck in the pores, the microscopic ducts by which our body perspires and relates with the outside.
Space and charm
Detailed images of soft spheroids, woven from lines of varying thickness, in whose interiors can be glimpsed colorful plastic toys, dolls, soldiers, rhinoceroses, bicycles, spiders, scorpions, an infinite range of trifles that street vendors and dollar stores offer to kids in general, especially needy kids, also enabling their access to the world of dreams, where, thanks to the work of the imagination, all objects – including those made by such a common material as plastic – have an unsuspected power. The artist has known this from the outset. Even as a child, Hermano invented toys made with animal bones; he entertained himself and others with a material that is essentially incompatible with toys, thus proving that the desire to use one’s imagination is what makes the world go round, at the same time that it is precisely the act of playing that makes us momentarily forget our existence.
As we shall see, his installation titled Encantados [Charmed], materialized in 2004 at Galeria Nara Roesler, in São Paulo, is an unfolding of his watercolor drawings from the early 1980s, based on a thinking that pervades a large part of his artistic career. In this large artwork, probably the most daring among all those that Hermano has produced – even more so than the exceptional installation Resíduos e vestígios [Residues and Vestiges] presented at the 1991 Bienal de São Paulo, although it is easier to like this latter one due to the clarity of its formal propositions – the artist radicalizes his poetics based in fantastic visions of objects and beings, and the revealing of the mysteries of organisms. And this twist is perceived in the way that he enlarges his strategy to involve the viewer’s gaze, inviting it to approach his architectures to look inside them, drawing it into the interior of an atmosphere of dreams. One enters Encantados like one delves into a cosmic space occupied by the nebulae seen through telescopes, the multicolored, distant and silent explosions filled with myriad tiny points of light.
The gallery’s large rectangular space (5 x 14 x 6 m) was transformed into a misty sky punctuated by clouds and balloons, some of them attached to the ceiling, others floating on the ground, with irregular formats, some suggesting ascending movements, while still other, fatter ones appeared momentarily immobilized. These pieces shared the space with equally strange constructions, such as a group of semispherical volumes arranged just inside the entrance, to the left. In this group, each volume was formed by the face-to-face joining of two plastic basins, each closing the other, and all connected by unaligned wires that powered the light bulbs shining within each unit, transforming them into compact blocks of light. There were, moreover, some equally enigmatic constructions, including some small green cubes made of metallic screens, also pregnant with light. Standing on the floor but leaning against the wall, beginning at the second half of the room, a fine-meshed metallic screen was unwound along the entire back wall, with deformations due to its softness and the settling of its own weight. The lighting produced by the irregularly arranged light bulbs irradiated through the setting, streaming through the tiny gaps in the metallic mesh, with an effect like fireworks shot with a high-speed camera, or a Lilliputian fun park with all its rides lit up on a dark night. But the definitively intriguing element, the “charmed” element of the title, consisted of the small beings hanging from wires attached to the walls – each wall, in fact, was practically covered with wires – wrapped like insects captured by spiders, although the name would suggest more the condition of a chrysalis, beings in an advanced gestational state, ready to break the shells of their cocoons. Would they be born if they were unwrapped? Would they wake up?
The varying gradation of light inside and outside the “clouds” suspended or sitting on the floor was carefully calibrated so as not to detract from the overall setting of half-shadow. These volumes, tied to the walls or rooted to the floor, were also striking for the small colored objects wrapped up inside them, similar to the “charmed” elements stuck to the walls. These were the same miniaturized reproductions of people and animals, motorcycle riders, babies, soldiers, giraffes, rhinoceroses, bicycles, spiders, scorpions, frogs, bats, fish, alligators, and stars; in a constellation of cheap toys, deformed and patently artificial reproductions, like certain orange, blue and purple suckers that color the tongues of children. Multiple modalities of life from above and below the planet, walking, digging, jumping and flying. Each cloud was made up of bulbous masses, several of them resembling those multicolored plastic sponges used in household sinks. Within each of these bulbous masses pulsed one of those tiny colorful miniatures, made attractive by the source of light that shone from the inside out, emphasizing their silhouettes and the transparency of their bodies, raising them to the status of seductive but inaccessible preciosities.
Encantados belongs to the same family of constructions as the castle in the clouds that was home to the giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” or the seas on which Sinbad the Sailor sailed with his intrepid boat – although these are no more than fantasies. Are they no more than that? It should be remembered that this – the ability to fantasize or imagine that the terms can be treated as similar or even equivalent – is everything, or, returning to the comment by Francis Bacon concerning artistic production, it is the ability that constitutes their bases. And this is precisely the overriding aim of Luiz Hermano’s artworks, ever since the very outset of his career, though, as previously mentioned, at that time lacking the maturity of his later productions.
The mystery of machines
His career as an artist began in the late 1970s, when his multi-hued watercolor drawings featured images of people and extraordinary machines: boats, balloons, airplanes and bicycles on parade with tightrope walkers and acrobats; winged creatures, including angels and demons; beings mounted on fish, horses, serpents and elephants; beings with the hybridism of fauns, satyrs and centaurs, taken from pagan mythologies and arranged side-by-side with iconographies of religions ranging from the biblical Tower of Babel to the Hindu cosmology that describes the world supported on the backs of elephants, which in turn are supported on the back of an immense turtle, which in turn is… The first consideration to be made in regard to this uncommon ecumenism – which combined elements from the language of surrealism with psychedelic-like ones, both of which were in vogue at that time, and quite proximal to one another – is that it bore with it, in the manner of a more refined deliberation, a collection of images taken from his childhood in a small town of the interior, from the literature of cordel, from almanacs of curiosities, from instruction booklets for assembling toys, from world maps and from the shiny patterns on the missals and little saints that attract children to religion.
It is worth noting that these drawings were anticipated by others he realized using coffee. More than a curiosity, this is a detail that sheds light on an important facet of the artist, since coffee occurred to him simultaneously as a desire to explore its potentiality and as a practical strategy on the part of someone who, lacking resources, used a paint that was so readily available and so cheap that only a creativity provoked by need would ever come up with it. It is precisely this persistence to go ahead inventing worlds out of everything he encounters, beginning with the unlikely toys made of bones, which brought him to consider, as a possibility for his playful struggles, all of the common and cheap materials that are normally cast aside, just as they have remained outside the territory of art, with its so refined and affected nature. There is no poor or uninteresting material, is what we conclude from his work. In his own way, Hermano revisits the lesson of Pedro Nava lecturing on the sugars, explaining that it is a rudimentary mistake to classify them as superior or inferior, a “criterion of who sells them, not who buys them.”
This process became more concentrated with the series of metal engravings Projeto para dias de chuva [Project for Rainy Days] presented in 1987, in which, getting away from his previous paintings whose chromatic temperature and gestural frenzy were aligned with the paintings from the period of his young colleagues of the Geração 80 [’80s generation], with one eye on the solutions of the Italian transvanguard and German neo-Expressionism, the artist developed a series of sober artworks based on profound reasoning. The grid present in most of them springs from his experience as a technical, mechanical drawer, a resource that he employs to anchor his drawings of machines/devices within the sphere of the project. These machines/devices, namely ships, submarines, lamps and balloons, are the artist’s recurring motifs, surrounded by motors, mechanical parts and gears, of obscure use and nature, though imbued with some sort of suggested familiarity. The notebook of a good-humored scientist, a diary of utopia projects? Even though they have round windows and conventional propellers, the odd appearance of these uncommon and funny machines, these unlikely contraptions that resemble bloated boats, spaceships and submarines, suggests a precarious functionality and indicates that they are meant to function at the service of dreams rather than for any practical purpose.
The objects are presented in association with people, who manipulate them, carry them around, and use them, or even interact with them in a strange way, as if their very lives were in danger. Elaborated without the help of tools, these contraptions and uncommon devices pertain to the same type of future announced by artists as diverse as Moebius and Panamarenko, who refuse the idea of an aseptic tomorrow as presumed in the books by Isaac Asimov or movies such as 2001 by Stanley Kubrick. Maybe because he lives in Brazil, where he sees inequalities of every type, including technological inequality, Hermano’s designs foreshadow both the rusticity that is to come as well as the oneiric component presupposed in this exercise.
If Encantados has its origin in the oneiric atmosphere of the artist’s first artworks, investing in the creation of an environment devoted to fantasy, obtained by means of hollow and light volumes, nests of colored miniatures whose mystery is accentuated by the baffling use of light which, instead of making things clearer, accentuates the silhouettes, then Máquinas voadoras [Flying Machines], an installation of varying dimensions, executed in 2002, underscores those first artworks, with the same fantasy and the fascination for machines, with emphasis on those used for transportation. In this sense, it is totally related with Projeto para dias de chuva, although the novelty lies in the fact that all of the pieces that compose each of the artworks and which together make up an installation are the result of the artist’s exploration, far beyond what is prescribed by the instruction manual, of the possibilities of combining the pieces of certain construction-set toys of the stick-together type, designed to introduce children into the realm of structures, in the wide scope of scientific fields such as engineering, and biology going back to the paleontology of the dinosaurs, among other equally seductive toys. In Máquinas de voar, the artist moves forward to build entangled constructions from the sheets of plastic taken from these toys, cut in predominantly organic shapes, adding toy-car wheels, chairs and tables to the backbones, fluted wings and spindly skeletons, all in a virtually incomprehensible jumble. Suspended on nylon strings, each “machine,” transporting and being driven by human silhouettes, is the tremulous result of the bizarre combination of the different modules that make up the various toys. Some of them suggest carriages, carts or airplanes from a time before they were invented, while others make us think about certain zoomorphic elaborations, distant relatives of the celebrated Passarola airship of Bartolomeu de Gusmão, a pioneer of lighter-than-air flight, or of the Nautilus, the magnificent precursor of the submarine idealized by Jules Vern, in his 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (much later made into a movie by Walt Disney), and close to the fighting machines that George Lucas presented us with in the first episodes of his Star Wars series.
The artist also makes use of the rectangular sheets on which the figures come. After separating them, the artist uses these sheets in orthogonal arrangements with empty spaces where the figures were removed. With these sheets he makes airy constructions, tiny hollow houses, with walls that open in more-or-less familiar transparent gaps; architectural palindromes that can be read either by what is there, or by what is not.
If Máquinas voadoras corresponds to the three-dimensional version of excerpts of drawings and prints the artist made in the 1980s – in particular the album of metal engravings Universo [Universe], 1981 – the room/installation at the 1991 Bienal de São Paulo was the first and exceptional result of this transposition. Dramatically lit, the points of light in the room were studied to better highlight each unit of the wide set of large-scale reliefs and sculptures, some of them made with steel-reinforcing rods of different thicknesses, but most made from strips of wood. Starker and simpler from a formal point of view, the 1991 series – contrary to the most recent one, based on volumes produced by the intersection of planes – was composed of a group of hollow volumes arranged on the floor, attached to the walls and hung from the ceiling. More abstract than the drawings that had established him as an artist, some of these artworks took machines as references – Nave mãe [Mothership], Balão [Baloon] and even Catedral [Cathedral] – while others, such as Caracol [Snail], Casulo [Cocoon], Masculino [Masculine], Feminino [Feminine], and others had organic forms. The volumes are enounced by their negative, that is, by their limits, by the delicate warp and woof of wooden strips, interwoven and twisted into regular fabrics, which call attention to themselves, to their gracious and skillful curves, their polished brown that divides in bands embracing the void. Some of them blend two qualities of wood, one light-colored and the other darker, and the variation of the surface occurs due to the alternation of these colors or because some of the rectangles formed by the crossing of the strips are closed by smaller plaques, of diverse coloration, though with the same thickness. This artwork, more removed in time, more clearly reveals the artist’s interest in emphasizing the volume by means of the element that separates its interior from its surroundings, in this case an exoskeleton, since all the pieces are reduced to the material that defines them and gives them their form. This procedure which consists of stripping down the volume to its structure is even stronger in works such as Catedral, imposing for its large dimensions (170 x 200 x 100 cm), whose impressiveness, guaranteed by its dimensions, contrasts with the lightness of its design, made by curved and soldered steel-reinforcing rods and thick wires. With its two built-in spirals, one on each leg, Catedral is perhaps Hermano’s artwork that dialogs more directly with the family of drawings focused on fantastic beings and machines.
This installation is in keeping with the overall thrust of Luiz Hermano’s oeuvre, as he has always been an enemy of literalness. Even so, his symbols are evident, universally shared, presenting a certain familiarity to the viewer. As Mallarmé taught: “To name an object is to do away with three quarters of the enjoyment of a poem, which derives from the satisfaction of guessing it little by little: to suggest it, to evoke it – that is what charms the imagination.” (Cited by Edmund Wilson, in O Castelo de Axel. This explains his obsessive interest in games. Hermano plays with the seriousness of an adult who – unlike a child who falls ecstatically into the rules of the game – considers its rules, its goals, to then modify it. Which leaves us, the viewers of the artwork, to imagine the laws and rules that have given rise to it.
Of rules and games
According to Hermano, art, like a game, is a leisure activity that is based on and is fulfilled by the joy of constructing, and which is expanded in the fabrication of the astute networks among the parts to establish nontrivial constructions, a prerequisite for the construction of new meanings, produced by our active imagination. From thence comes the premeditated perturbation of the rules in light of the awareness that they are arbitrary. His artworks spring from the understanding of engineering as an intrinsically playful activity, without any requirement for functionality, which would restrict the scope of action; they are made by deconstructing and perturbing the methodical steps of such engineering, treating it as the matrix of flexible and unforeseen structures, on the verge of falling apart. The artist’s challenge is to found a world whose vertebrae are constantly interchanged, based on the continuous and changeable establishment of relationships between things that differ among themselves, a product of someone who sees the world as a kaleidoscope of rhythms and images and who teaches us that every variation develops our ability to observe and to play.
The series Redes de cubos [Cube Networks], 1999, preceded by works such as Cúbico II [Cubic II], 1995, Cubo desmontável [Disassemblable Cube], 1997, Quadrado em cruz [Crossed Square], 1998, are geometric solids and structures, systems that common sense associates with certainty, precision and irrefutability. Suspended on walls, abandoned to their own gravity, they clash and hang there in their disorganization, as though thumbing their nose at the pretensions of calculus, demonstrating the gaping chasm between the idea and its materialization. There is no fixity in these artworks even though they are made of small units of rigid material, metallic (aluminum and copper) sheets and lines; it is as though we were watching the deformation of the cube which serves as their module. Their fleetingness and changeability grow the more they are examined, and the detailedly analyzed form they acquire in our mind does not fit with what we see, tangled-up with the shadows produced by the incidence of light, confused by the flattening of the elements which comprise them, an effect of depth vision. The more stripped-down, lightweight sculptures and reliefs recall the diaphanous work of Gego, the Venezuelan who lent a cosmic sense to sculpture. But the fact is that they are more temperate, compact, aware of the volumes enunciated by the lines, more laconic and effective for the aim of demonstrating the obliteration of the game proposed by geometry (what are its axioms and postulates if not this?).
Cidade?, an installation of varying dimensions, constructed from dark-pink plastic sheets from which the shapes of letters have been cut out, which can be shown either on a wall or on the floor, whispers to the viewer about a game composed by various layers. A set of diverse constructions – a two-story house, a high building, a pagoda, a building with the same arc-shaped solution adopted by Niemenyer in his Pampulha design, other simple, more-or-less allusive variations on the theme – are arranged in orthogonal order, like a portion of the urban fabric. As the walls are made of letters – the basic unit of verbal discourse – and there are letters in the walls and roof, seeing the childish depiction of these simplified the houses implies a reading of them, which is the same thing as underscoring their opposition to nature and their crucial role in the establishment of rites, in the demarcation of spaces, in the possibility of isolation from the world, of the being’s withdrawal. It is notable how the letters are not organized into words; there is no evidence of the use of the syntax that rules the Portuguese language. Yet, this does not prevent the presence of one letter from invoking the following one, as what happens with numbers. This is therefore a mechanism that incites movement, in this case the movement of comprehension. On the other hand, there does exist the syntax of houses, of walls and roofs and their arrangement on the plane of the wall or the floor, as what takes place with the city. The communication among all of them, which alludes to small-town memories, is furnished by a network of slender, rectilinear copper tubes that resemble the copper tubing that conducts natural gas to a household stove. Once again, here we have the idea of a flow of energy and of latent, under-the-surface movement in the things. It should also be remembered that, in Portuguese, the word lar [home] is related to the word lareira [fireplace], the dwelling place of fire, the element that assures comfort in the dead of winter, vital for the unity of human settlements.
In the version realized on the wall, the artist writes with a pencil among the houses, on the rough, white surface as though it were thick-textured paper, thus adding to the composition the possibility that it could also be a map. The circle, however, is not closed, since together with the normal toponyms such as “Hotel ABC,” “Aeroporto” [Airport] or “Laboratório” [Laboratory] – things that normally appear on urban maps, but which are also susceptible to passages and transformations, to the circulation of energy that the artist so highly values – we also find vague allusions, such as “Sábado” [Saturday] and “À tardinha” [In the late afternoon], associated to – who knows? – states of spirit or eventual happenings that took place on a Saturday or on a late afternoon lost in time; we also find “Faxinal das artes” [Faxinal of the Arts], the name of the only edition (held in 2002) of an unforgettable artist-residency program held in Faxinal, a village in the interior of Paraná State, which gathered 100 artists from all over Brazil for two weeks. The small conglomeration of houses served as a place of encounter and interchange, but also of reclusion. A place of passage, of connections (another of the words written), of double meaning (yet another), in which this can signify a daily life shattered by the extraordinary.
Like a pack rat, Luiz Hermano gathers forms, toys and objects in order to use them as the raw material for his constructions, stitch them together, connect them by metal and rubber hoses and tubes, submerse them into tangled lines of aluminum, create truncated circuits whose purpose and activity are unknown to us, but from which we cannot manage to escape. We study these artworks with the same attention we once devoted to playing the game of hangman on a rainy afternoon, testing all the possible words that can be built from a small set of letters. Each letter would attract another, fragile syllabic molecules would begin to form and break apart to allow for the chaining together of other ones that better suited our purposes. The incontestable fact is that we loved to play this game; indeed we needed to play it. And the artist, aware of this need, bases his work on structures defined by rules in order to reinvent other rules, which underlie his works which for this very reason are enigmatic, even though they are so near and so material, separated by a simple, yet thick membrane, itself a fragment of the universe.