Occupying an indefinite place between architecture, design and art, the work of Daniel Acosta (Rio Grande, Brazil, 1965) questions the latter’s proverbial uselessness. His sculptures/shelters/furniture invite the spectator to an active exercise of participation, interaction and dialogue.

Acosta invokes a long tradition of architecture and design, based on the modernist postulates (standardization, use of industrial materials and modular coordination) while escaping from them through unique perspectives where geometric rigor is prodded into playfulness (and is put into play) by means of unexpected organic shapes. In many of his works, Acosta makes erudite references to the history of modern design; his work presents echoes of Charles and Ray Eames in the creative use of industrial materials like the plywood of Archigram, in Joe Colombo’s idea of architecture as an organism, in the creation of object-spaces that are simultaneously furniture on an architectural scale and shelters/places that contain the viewer/user, proposing multiple uses or activities in their interior.

Acosta’s references to the history of modern design help to situate his work on a conceptual line of a utopian bent, where design and architecture aspired to have real possibilities for the transformation of society. Today, the historical distance allows us to see the limits of this pretension. In this sense, Acosta’s approach also involves a critical attitude: the use of certain materials, such as Formica, already bears a sense of anachronism, vestiges of a recent past, where progress and technology seemed to go hand-in-hand.

Referring to his work, Acosta talks about functional availability, in the sense that even though his objects allow for interaction, they do not necessarily demand it. Many of these works have resulted from commissions, and therefore resort to design to come up with a solution for a specific functional and spatial situation. They are spaces of inclusion, open to the public, that encourage a nonstandard and uncontrolled use. Many of these projects are in public places, with completely free access. It is common for strangers to engage in conversations within them, since the situation of intimacy establishes a setting conducive to this sort of spontaneous interaction. For example, the structure of SATOLEPKOSMOCAVE (2006) – the first of a series of shelters/places/sculptures – is located in a public space in Pelotas and proposed as a space for observing the city’s architectural heritage. In TOPORAMA, made for the Centro Cultural São Paulo (2010), a series of whitish hues of various tones of wood of different heights gives rise to a sculptural enclosure that can be an object of observation, which can be modified by the users according to their needs to form small groups for discussion or reading while waiting to enter the cinema or theater auditorium.

On the other hand, CAVURBA (2011), conceived for the exhibition Paralela, in São Paulo, was located just outside the show’s entrance, outdoors. The public used it to talk, smoke or to wait for someone before entering the show, without being certain whether it was one of the artworks in the exhibition or an urban fixture. This ambiguity does not concern Acosta; on the contrary, his situating the piece in a public space was essential, since within the exhibition space the work would have been read as a sculpture and its use would have been closer to the ritual of visiting an art show (enter, experience, leave) than to what it was actually used for.

The present exhibition places into relation two parallel aspects of Acosta’s work: the architectural side, which is manifested in structures that contain the spectator or define the space in which he or she moves, and a more clearly sculptural aspect that is visible, for example, in the artist’s interest in plastic children’s toys. In some of his previous works, Acosta had already used children’s toys of the Gulliver brand (a famous Brazilian toymaker), as he did in Mono1mento ao grande topological (2006), which includes toy lions. Freestandupmonkey (2010), a large monkey made of resin, replicates a small plastic doll on a monumental scale, while Imagens Transportadas (2011) features adhesive pictures stuck to the sidewalls of trucks driven through the public space.

In both cases – architectural and sculptural – Acosta identifies “the different experiences of an artificial, industrial, standardized nature, which is present in daily life, whether in the materials and patterns of wood (tektoniks), or in the representation of animals (toys).” Taking these small toy animals as a model, Acosta reproduces them on a large-scale, carved in wood, completely changing the perception of the object and its materiality by converting a mass-produced and popular object into a unique, refined and precious artwork. In the artificial context that refers to the natural, the piece of furniture begins to operate in a more allegorical way, transforming into a garden that serves as the preamble to the installation with the animals.

Acosta is aware of the transformative potential of art when he crosses over to the realm of design, where the task of giving an aesthetic treatment to a functional priority involves the notion of its being used by people. Concerning this subject, Acosta states: “all of these works, besides having a more sculptural situation – that is, they look interesting and involve materials, structuring… – can also be seen as small architectures in function of their use. The possibility for people to sit down approximates them to urban fixtures and design. When seated, the people can do various things, including taking a look at their surroundings. Thus, (these works) are like apparatuses that empower the environment, indicating by contrast, in the case of the city, the spaces of exclusion.” Acosta’s sculptural architecture represents precisely the opposite, establishing spaces of inclusion where the spectator exercises his or her civic right of expression.


José Roca

Estrellita B. Brodsky Adjunct Curator of Latin American Art, Tate Modern, London, and artistic director of FLORA ars+natura in Bogotá.