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When lives become form, by Jacqui Lindo

November 16, 2009

When lives become form

Bold, bright and inviting is how I would best describe When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art, 1960s to the Present, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, the show presented works of Brazilian artists, architects, and fashion designers. Many of the works and installations such as Lygia Pape’s Roda dos Prazeres or Wheel of Delights and Hélio Oiticica’s Cosmococa 1: Trashiscapes, had to do with the cannibalism of culture, or Anthropophagy. Oiticica described Anthropophagy as “the defense that we posses against such external dominance, and the constructive will, our main creative weapon.” (Nelson) The show also celebrated the “originality of the culture of people who live in the tropics,” and a move away from the influences of the West, otherwise known as the 1960’s movement, Tropicália. (When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art)

I was almost too distracted by the bright. bold graphics from other works in the exhibit to catch a few pieces of currency framed on the wall. It was the work of Cildo Meireles (b. 1948). The wall text accompanying his work explained that Brazil had fallen under a coup d’état in 1964 and was under military control. After the freedom of expression was taken away along with civil liberties after the Institutional Act No. 5 in 1968. These events inspired many Brazilian artists, including Meireles in the 1970’s. His work at this exhibit was a currency project that was supposed to act as a “quiet campaign against [the] oppressive regime,” in Brazil. (When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art) I felt his pieces, Zero Centavo (1978-84), Zero Cruzeiro (1974-78), Zero Dollar (1978-84), were filled with political content. He produced realistic dollar bills with a zero value. The Zero Dollar had the image of Uncle Sam in the center, and the Brazilian currency, Zero Cruzeiro and Zero Centavo had images of native Brazilians. They were obviously meant question the symbols countries use to represent themselves, in the case on their banknotes. It was interesting to see Uncle Sam as the United States representative on the Zero Dollar, it actually made more sense to use him than our presidents in a way. I have a feeling other countries would know our Uncle Sam symbol better than who all of our presidents were. It was also interesting to see, in contrast, that Meireles had pictured native Brazilians on the bills when it doesn’t seem like the government was about picturing the individual. His work could also comment on how banknotes could be used as propaganda to sell a message through a symbol and the fact that their values are zero could be commenting on how we can assign specific values to pieces of paper with symbols on them.

Right beside Meireles’s Zero Currency was André Komatsu’s two pieces, Untitled (Living room) and Untitled (closet) of the series Embutidos, also politically charged work. These two pieces, both doors collected from buildings, blended right into the wall, but then I noticed the images Komatsu had inscribed into them. Born 1978 in São Paulo, Komatsu “He brings a new perspective into the everyday reality of urban life by drawing an image directly,” on the pieces he has gathered from buildings and used in his installations. (When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art) His pieces are about time’s destructive effects on and the perpetual change buildings go through. These two doors have images of where they came from inscribed in them as if they were apart of a memorial. Their images are ghosts of what they used to be a part of.


Rivane Neuenschwander, born 1967 in Belo Horizonte, had a few pieces in the show, but my favorite was her Canteiros or Conversations and constructions (2006). In this series of sixteen photos she used common food items, such as noodles, onions and radishes to build fun-to-look-at architectural structures. “The degradable materials create a humorous deconstructivist criticism of the canonical status of these buildings.” (When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art) These food sculptures are models of modernist structures and buildings. Her works are supposed to connect us “to nature and its daily condition in a lyrical fashion.” (When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art) These images reminded me of André Komatsu’s idea of the destructive forces of time on buildings. Her food sculptures will also fall victim to time and perpetual change.

Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980),  born in Rio de Janeiro, was founder of and central figure in the Tropicália movement. Inspired by the theorist Oswald de Andrade’s Manifesto Antropofago (Cannibal Manifesto), Oiticica “worked to define this new [Brazilian] art through experimental works of art and considerable writing efforts. “ (Nelson) His Quasi-cinema installation piece, Cosmococa 1: Trashiscapes, was supposed to involve the audience in an enjoyable, lounging experience, but I found myself a little uncertain and unclean in the space surrounded by black cushions littered with nail files and faced with images of cocaine lines on the faces of people in magazines. I also felt awkward when people were lounging. I think the way Oiticica made the space, I would have only felt comfortable if I had joined them on the black mattresses, acting as a sort of peer pressure. This is perhaps where my idea of cocaine clashes with Oiticica’s. He used cocaine in his work to “put forth the idea of cocaine as a symbol of resistance to imperialism.” (When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art)


Lygia Pape’s Roda dos Prazeres or Wheel of Delights (1968) consisted of a perfect circle of white bowls containing a dyed liquid, yellow, blue, green, and red with a plate and dropper next to each one. “Pape sought to integrate art into the everyday and viewer participation was very important to her work. “ (When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art) After Lygia Clark’s piece, Bicho Em Si (Animal in Itself), a metal sculpture you were invited to “play” with, I had already been introduced to the act of touching art in a museum space, but now I was getting to taste it. The area smelt of licorice and mint and were part of the invitation to take a taste and consume the art. The work was literal anthropophagia, and the way the colors did not match your expectation of the flavors only made you want to taste them all. Pape “emphasized the viewer’s physical relationship to the artwork within the parameters of geometrical form and experience of color. “ (Nelson) “The idea of ingestion correlates to literally taking in the art and experiencing it wholly, as well as to concepts of anthropophagia, a cultural cannibalism, in which one devours something and then forms a unique connection to it.” (When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art)

I felt I got to take part in the act of Anthropophagy with pieces like Lygia Pape’s Roda dos Prazeres or Wheel of Delights and more a sense of history and struggle with pieces like André Komatsu’s Untitled (Living room) and Untitled (closet) of the series Embutidos. I got a sense of what Tropicália was by getting to experience rooms of bright colors and bold shapes, and even some brightly colored flavors. I got a taste of Brazilian culture and history.

Work Cited
Crystal Am Nelson. When Lives Become Form. Contemporary Brazilian Art, 1960’s to the Present. San Francisco: The Visual Art Department at YBCA, 2009. Print.

“When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art, 1960s to the Present | Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.” Yerba Buena Center for the Arts | Contemporary Art & Performance. Web. 09 Nov. 2009. <;.

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