WAR MACHINE . JULIANA MONACHESI
It opens with a battle scene. Paolo Uccello comes to mind. The tension in the white room is sustained by 45 flagpoles set into the two lateral walls. The absence of soldiers shifts one’s attention to the tips of the flagpoles, each different from the other. They are signs taken from the Brazilian flag, but with a warlike aspect, since they are sharp. The flagpole tip, explains the artist after a thorough investigation of the literature of Army regulations, is not only symbolic; it also harbors the country’s sovereignty, serving for both defense and attack.
Coupled with the evident cutting potential of the tips, the installation’s nearly tactile presence virtually throws the viewer into the midst of the battle scene, that classic genre which, it should be remembered, works as an epic narrative – a monument to the military sagas – with aims for civic edification. As positivist propaganda, the battle scene is surpassed only by the national flag which, being more abstract, coalesces more euphemisms. Nevertheless, each and every association of ideas concerning conflict and authority in this main room of the solo show by Reginaldo Pereira is temporarily suspended when one takes a careful look at the work’s title: Abre-Alas.
It cuts to an aerial view of the symbolic carnage there below. From the top of the stairs, the loose signs of the tips look more like the elements of a constellation. They are the 45 fragments that derive from a clinical splintering of the Brazilian flag. On the mezzanine, the violence is revealed more profoundly: real swords painted to mimic the plant known in Brazil as St. George’s sword (Sansevieria trifasciata) are stuck into the husks of watermelons – green on the outside, but with the potential for red symbolism inside. Paolo Uccello comes back to mind, now with his horseman impaling the dragon with his lance. But once again the encounter with the title, Maiastra Ogum, destabilizes the initial association. The titles are not riddles, the artist warns, they are deviations.
They deviate the reading, in fact: from the language of control to the imagery of the Carnival, or from the symbolism of the violence of the cut toward the lightness of the flight of the bird in the eyes of Brancusi. In the Maiastra Ogum series a viewer might note a parallel between the watermelons and the sleeping muses of the Romanian sculptor, not to mention the sculptural pedestals sculpted to take on a role as important as the piece they support. One cannot help noticing the “Brancusian perception” that the benches designed by Pereira, if piled up, would update the infinite column.
Yet the most important displacement carried out in the show is perhaps the following: Reginaldo Pereira walks between socially determined material culture and the nature of the things. The visual reversibility between the Saint George’s sword and the watermelon husk, just like the camouflage of the Army uniforms, serves for two contradictory purposes: to deceive the senses, which tend to perceive one thing as another (an especially effective aim when one wishes to make the enemy confuse the soldier with the surrounding vegetation), and also to charm the senses that, fascinated by the tautology, do not allow themselves to be deceived (a convenient aim in the field of visual arts, fashion and consumerism).
In the artist’s work, tautology, reversibility and repetition are aimed at freeing the meaning. More than with Uccello or Brancusi, the narrower artistic dialogue that takes place in the show is with the German conceptual artist Hans-Peter Feldmann. The one who, upon receiving the Hugo Boss Prize, from Guggenheim of New York, in 2001, lined the room with the prize (in the value of 100,000 dollars), in used one-dollar notes. An encyclopedic collector of mundane things of this sort, at that show he stripped bare not only the question of value in art but also that of the silent life of the banknotes, those archaic devices in a network. One facet of the artwork does not exist without the other.
Feldmann said that he works with series because a single image is too literal, while in the atmosphere of a set one perceives the differences and makes comparisons. In light of a set, it is possible to perceive what exists between one element and another, that is, one observes the process. By choosing the national symbol and unraveling it to exhaustion, tautologically aligning its conceptual implications – the military parade, which looks like a party, which in turn looks like a military parade; the fruit that resembles the foliage simulated on the sword, which resembles the leaf that simulates the fruit, etc. – he brings to light not one or another aspect of a complex system, but the entire system.
It is a mistake to identify political art with the pamphleteering practices of the “socially engaged,” or as the extreme opposite of conceptual art, when, in reality, the best political art is highly conceptual. Pereira’s work in this exhibition being held in parallel with the Bienal de São Paulo is situated, like Feldmann’s (which is being shown at the Bienal), between the vaguely comic and the latently subversive. They both assume a conceptualism that is not ashamed to deal with the field of art as a battlefield, and they understand the exhibition room as an eminently political space – as its own and provisory war machine.