Installation Views
Kiki Mazzucchelli

Between late 2019 and 2021, Zé Tepedino carried out countless ephemeral interventions in various public spaces in the city of Rio de Janeiro, always with the help of friends to carry materials, set up structures, and document the work. Carried out improvisationally and without any official authorization, to a certain degree these actions reecho the subversive spirit of Flávio de Carvalho, who, upon encountering a Corpus Christi procession in the center of São Paulo in 1931, decided to walk against the flow of the faithful to carry out an experiment on crowd behavior. Less scientific and perhaps more playful, Zé Tepedino seems to be primarily interested in the aesthetic potential of these interventions in the cityscape. In Encantado – Linha Amarela [Enchanted – Yellow Line], the artist painted a hopscotch game on the central lane of Rio de Janeiro’s busy Yellow Line expressway, in a risky action that depends on moments of pause in the heavy traffic. Another intervention, this time on the beach in São Conrado, consisted of a temporary sculpture constructed with pieces of found Brasilite roof tile, of various lengths, stood on end in a line along the seashore to form a sort of topographical drawing. On the same beach, on the day of Saints Cosmas and Damian, Zé Tepedino created a playground of sculptures constructed with boards and slats inspired by the shape of public playground equipment. However, these playground items were sculptural: the ramp on the slide had a 90-degree drop in it; the seesaw had two boards forming a fixed “x,” thus preventing any of the equipment from being used in the traditional way, in keeping with standards of safety.


The exhibition Tudo é a forma que fala, Zé Tepedino’s first solo show at the Casa Triângulo gallery, opens with one of these pieces, installed in the gallery’s outdoor space: an immovable swing with ropes tied to two symmetrically positioned structures, in such a way that the seat is in a permanent state of suspension. Inside the building, we find a diverse group of sculptures, wall works, films, and works in other media, produced in the last five years. It seems fair to say that Zé Tepedino belongs to a long tradition of artists – from movements including dada, surrealism, pop, new realism, arte povera, and beyond – who work with found materials, creating compositions through the assemblage of these objects. In Zé’s case, the emphasis is on the encounter of the physical qualities of the material (the form) which, for being mostly second-hand material, already comes charged with information accumulated over its previous existence as a useful object. They are, moreover, common materials, which are part of his everyday experience in the city (the umbrellas, the construction-site protective screens) and in his private life (the coat hangers, rubber flip flops, books).


According to the artist himself, his method of work is analogous, to “a certain way of saying things, an improvisation with words.” In this sense, each object or material used in his constructions is equivalent to a semantic unit, a term, a word, whose meaning transforms depending on the context and the way it is used: depending on the other terms of this sentence, whether it is shouted, whispered, spoken with affection, anger, or humor, with the ability to express infinite meanings depending on how it is presented to the world. Zé Tepedino cites filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho: “There are no new subjects. Just different ways of talking about them.” In Zé’s work, the form can be an assemblage of objects, but it can also be an experience in space, an image that is built, even if momentarily, in a cityscape. But, the starting point is always the material, its formal characteristics. The work is a response to what already exists in the world. Here I see a nearly meditative attitude, a certain calm in his meticulous observation of the details that each object bears, almost like someone who seeks to understand an unknown language in order to then start a dialogue. It all begins with the form, with the material.


Since the form is such a malleable language, distinct from verbal language, it is not limited to a predetermined idea or proposition; it is not an illustration of a thought. There is, in Zé Tepedino’s work, a repertoire of materials, which are the “words” from which he builds his language. I see Zé’s repertoire as bearing formal interconnections with a vast inventory of iconic works by avant-garde 20th-century artists and contemporary ones, sometimes both simultaneously. In the collection presented at Casa Triângulo gallery, I see echoes of Rauschenberg’s combines, references to concrete and neoconcrete works, echoes of Marisa Merz, Eva Hesse, Alexandre da Cunha, and many others. And yet, Zé’s works involve a DYI approach, humor, and a power of synthesis that make them uniquely his, expressions of a language that dialogues with what exists in the world. I actually don’t know the extent of Zé’s knowledge or interest concerning any of the names I mentioned, nor does that matter. Isn’t form precisely this other language which gives each person the opportunity to find, within it, associations and references that have to do with his or her own experience?