Artists Art Issues Exhibitions About Us Search

featured artist
Antonio Manuel

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Dec 01, 2005
Location: Brazil
Topic: Interview with Antonio Manuel in Laranjeiras, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Interviewer: Virginia Gil Araujo

LatinArt:  Could you comment on your installation called Sucessí£o de fatos [Sequence of facts], presented at the recent 5th Mercosur Biennial at Porto Alegre?

Antonio Manuel:  Sucessí£o de fatos [Sequence of facts] is a work in progress, continuing the work I developed on 2002 for an exhibition at Centro Cultural Sí£o Paulo [Culture Center of Sí£o Paulo], continuing with Ocupaí§í£es/Descobrimentos [Occupations/Discoveries], which are walls, full with holes made with sledge hammer blows. I built these walls in 1998 at the Museum of Contemporary Art - MAC in Niterói designed by Oscar Niemeyer. Later in 2000, I made an installation with walls at the Serralves Museum in Porto so the public could walk through them, intervening in the magnificent building by Alvaro Siza, an important Portuguese architect.

I am very interested in environmental issues, questions relating to interiors and exteriors so the work intends to provide an experience for the public in regard to the space built there. There are ninety square meters, that is, twelve times seven meters, covered by two thousand Marseilles tiles which form a sort of roof/covering over the floor. The public must walk on it and they will feel what its like when the tiles break. There are several metaphors; "glass roof" is one of them. I also see this work as a garden. There is a well and a hanging bucket overhead that keeps constantly dripping -plop, plop, this continuously generates movement, like waves.

LatinArt:  You propose public participation. This experience of walking on the roof seems essential for understanding your work. People walk on a floor covered by tiles, and suddenly tiles break, which provokes the consideration of body weight versus material fragility. However, for the 5th Mercosur Biennial installation, there is a walkway near the entrance and many times the monitoring signs controls the public so they can’t walk inside the installation.

Antonio Manuel:  We have placed a walkway for the public as an alternative to the extreme fragility of the material. They had bought many tiles, but since they are of low quality they break easily. The walkway was a resource so that we don’t need to change the tiles every time. I don’t really care about the fact that they break easily. The tiles form a line through the path where people walk and those signs are interesting. They reveal the public intervention in my work. I will say that when I design something I am concerned with giving all the instructions for its maintenance. For example, the water bucket must be lowered into the well and filled every day so as to keep the dripping constant. Without this maintenance, the work looses some of its significance.

LatinArt:  Sucessí£o de fatos apparently contains some tactile effects. We are seduced by the well water. The color pigments inside the white basins also arouse desire. Somehow, I associate this stimulus with Lygia Pape’s work, particularly her last one [Tetéia n. 7 (1991) exhibited in 2004 at the Paí§o da Artes, University of Sí£o Paulo] where piles of blue pigment can’t be touched and, as in your work, there is a tuned light over piles of pigment. At Sucessí£o de fatos, aside from the light over pigment filled basins there is also light over the water. When I see it from the walkway it seems that its light reveals the colors’ vibration and the motion of water, guiding our eyes and our way throughout the installation, providing an almost motion-picture scene within the environment.

Antonio Manuel:  My work doesn’t have to be touched by hands, it is for the eyes, for the other senses and for walking on. Like I said, I see it as a garden, those basins are like victorias [aquatic flower]. The critic Alberto Tassinari said he feels a touch of Magritte in this work.

LatinArt:  Your installation Fantasma [Phantom] reminds me of the Magritte work The lovers, because of the photo of the man who was presented to the press with a wearing a white-veil over his face. Within the hidden face of the lovers, Magritte reveals the blind nature of love. Magritte doubles what is obvious. But in the Fantasma installation you highlighted a social reality, the violence that exists is in Brazil. This is implicit by the photograph issued by a newspaper of a man who has witnessed a crime, and loosing his identity. It seems to me that your intention, just like Magritte’s, is to reveal what is behind this presented scene. On the other hand, in Sucessí£o de fatos there is an architectonic structural inversion. The roof on the floor turns out to be a lyrical thought. Does your choice of roof have something to do with everyday reality or your childhood memories of Portugal?

Antonio Manuel:  It has something to do with my studio also, specially this window. [At this moment, Antonio Manuel points to one of the highest windows in his studio, where there is a view of rooftops, as if they really were in his garden].

LatinArt:  Recently, on October 2005, you were invited to Cyprus to open a new space for contemporary art in Nicosia, the Pharos Centre of Contemporary Art. Tell me why they chose you to open their space and describe your proposal for the Cyprus project.

Antonio Manuel:  I was invited by Garo Keheyan, Pharos Trust director and Michael Asbury, researcher at the University of the Arts London. In 1998, I did Ocupaí§í£es/ Descobrimentos for the Museum of Contemporary Art of Niterói, Rio de Janeiro to mark the 5th centenary of the Portuguese discovery of Brazil. In this work I tried to make a relation with the modern architectural legacy of Oscar Niemayer. The work, at first in situ, attracted the attention of Garo and Asbury, who had come to Rio for research and realized that my work could relate to Nicosia’s topological situation, the territorial controversy cited by UN between the Greeks and Turks. When I arrived at Nicosia the Foundation wasn’t ready for the opening. There were workers still working and for me it was a very interesting situation since I kept building the walls of Ocupaí§í£es/ Descobrimentos [Occupancies/Discoveries] with workers that were there finishing the building itself. Garo Keheyan took me to the conflict area so I could see how much my work looked like, the walls with holes everywhere which served as shelter during the guerrilla.

LatinArt:  I see that Sucessí£o de fatos and Ocupaí§í£es / Descobrimentos refer to your Urnas Quentes [Hot Urns] - hermetically closed boxes to be opened with axes by the public during the Apocalipopótese organized by Hélio Oiticica and Rogério Duarte at Aterro do Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro in 1968]. There is a certain urgency to body action and a breach that implies breaking material. It makes a relation between the environment and the enigma - what is going to be revealed. You make the act of breaking materials courageous and thusly, heroic. On the other hand it seems to me that you play with meaning, like [in] Super jornais-Clandestinas [Underground Super newspapers - appropriated newspapers, prepared, issued and clandestinely mixed with daily newspapers, often sold as the newspaper O Dia at newsstands in Rio de Janeiro in 1973], you don’t give up the caustic humor and transgressive satire implicit within the relation between text and image, like Dada artists taking communication systems as their own.

Antonio Manuel:  I have re-issued Urna Quente at Cyprus since the last one I did in 1975, and which must stay forever locked. During the opening of The Pharos Trust, the foundation director thanked me publicly in Greek and I gave him a hammer to open the Urna Quente. Inside Urna Quente I placed a bell that I had found at an open-air market. To me, it looked like Duchamp’s fountain or a heart. I also placed some newspapers that I had found at Nicosia’s newsstands. One of the local newspapers had a funny image of a cock fucking a chicken, very ambiguously trying to illustrate a headline about the new bird flu epidemic. After Urna Quente had been opened, all the fragments and images were spread on the floor until the end of the exhibition. On the wall, there was a black and white photo and on the floor the broken Urna Quente.

back to artists