Alex Cerveny: All The Places: Casa Triângulo, São Paulo, Brazil

Installation Views
Overview

The Imaginal Realm of Alex Červený

Since Antiquity, artists and preceptists have been concerned with two forms of imitation: the naturalistic (physical) and the fantastic (metaphysical). As an alternative to the hegemony of the naturalistic Greco-Latin painting, art historian Jurgis Baltrušaitis (1903–1988) identified in medieval art one of the culminating points of the fantastic. Not the cathedrals, the romantic probity, the ogive arches and stained-glass windows. But rather the illuminations, the gargoyles, the books of hours, the planimetry, the anamorphoses, the bestiaries, the thanatologies, the upside-down world, the carnivalization.

Based on metaphysical premises, fantasy pervades different orders of reality, it exalts analogies, twirls the great chain of beings, and plays with the cosmos, in a worship of metamorphoses. It has no aim to represent nature. It is concerned about representing the continuum of nature. Animals and minerals, plants and humans, animate and inanimate beings, the objective and the subjective: all the substances participate and interpenetrate in each other within this divine drama.

Starting in the 16th and 17th centuries, with the rise of perspective, of the Albertian centric point and that which Marcel Duchamp defined as retinal art, a new hegemonic cycle of the naturalistic began. Denied, the fantastic migrated to the treatises of alchemy and magic, the books of rebuses and hieroglyphology, the enterprises and the emblems, the heterodox theophanies, the labyrinths of concepts, the enigmas and the treatises of chromaticism, the cabinets of curiosities, the naturalist illustrations of an inexistent fauna and flora, the reports of travelers.

At the same time, two decisive developments took place: the emergence of rationalism and the conquest of America. For this reason, some authors identify a fundamental paradox here. While Europe was crowning the Cartesian split between subject and object, which was an underpinning of the expansionist project, America was dedicated to a countercolonization movement. To this end, it reorganized the free-floating signs of fantasy and expanded the frontiers of the imaginary, in powerful operations of a deliberate anachronism (Didi-Huberman).

In the wake of the great art of the 20th and 21st century, both in Brazil and worldwide, the work by Alex Červený is based on these two complementary movements: it navigates in the countercurrent of this fracture between subject and object and pioneers free imaginary territories, potentialized by the American heritage and by the atavism of a robust fantasy.

In Todos os Lugares [All the Places], we have a precious curatorship in regard to both the formal diversity and imaginal wealth of his universe. The exhibition at Casa Triângulo covers aspects and phases of his work as a whole. The book of the same name, published by Circuito, is focused on the images and descriptions of cities around the world visited by the artist, an intense traveler. They are complementary views of Červený’s visual universe. They each approach the multiplicity of layers and paths presented by his singular and multifaceted oeuvre.

Červený’s places are between-places: spaces of intersection. The large living field of these relational places-images is the body. Understood as a fantastic entity, the body is organic, but not biological. An animist sphere of animation, it is the privileged point where the beings of the physis come together and are scattered, in movements of expansion and contraction: the editus and the reditus of which the mystics speak.

By emphasizing figuration and metaphysical planimetry, disregarded by many modern artists, Červený’s work gains doubly. First, because it is thus free to transgress the presuppositions of realist, tridimensional illusion. Second, because it begins to act in a space without border, bound or limit. It dwells in the absolute identity between the real and the imaginary. Ever since the medieval Sufi mystic Ibn ‘Arabī we have called this the “imaginal world” (mundus imaginalis).

The variety of techniques, media and materials in Červený’s work is admirable and singular in contemporary art. He begins with collage, assemblage, palimpsests, sculptures and interventions, passes through various sorts of printmaking, including cliché verre (a rare 19th-century French printmaking technique), to arrive at painting, watercolor, illustration (Darwin, Boccaccio, Collodi) and drawing in the strict sense.

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In this sense, drawing can be seen as a common thread running through the image-thinking of Červený, who is, not by chance, an excellent draftsman. Not drawing understood only as a technique, but the line explored as a concept. Unlike the commonsense notion, linearity is not an incision, a cut, a containment. The line is the prolongation of the gaze toward the indeterminate and the unextended. In one word: toward the infinite.

This zone of linear indiscernibility is found at the core of this work. And it is manifested in one of its main formal mainsprings: the image-letter relationship. As though words and things, signs and their referents, language and the world had never been broken by the gaping fracture between subject and object, a thin golden chain of Homer (aurea catena Homeri) connects letter and nature, text and world, signifiers and images, images and writing.

For this reason, bodies are fused with letters. Letters frame the sex. The umbilicus flowers out into an R. An H divides a human body. A penis is encircled in the midst of an orgasm by a Q. As Derrida wished, writing is previous to speech because the letter (gramma) is language. But writing is also grass: the simple leaves of the sod on which we walk. Nature is an anonymous book. The world, an infinite signature of things.

This singular cosmology of Červený overflows the consecutive demarcations of text and texture, of grammic and graphic, of granulation and phrase, of semantics and color. This is why his work instates modulations between elements apparently as diverse as lines from the Lusíadas by Camões, two prints (Aleppo and Jafa) by Cornelius de Bruyn (c. 1715), a pamphlet from the Chinese Cultural Revolution and references to telenovelas, popular songs, cinema, pop culture and especially circus signs, one of the cornerstones and main inspirations of this art of the imaginal in a pure state.

Jung defined alchemy as the language of the unconscious. Červený defines the unconscious as the language of art. By extension, art, the unconscious and alchemy share in common the fact of being operations of pure transference involving the soul. Everything in these regimes is derived, displaced, floating. Nothing bears its own meaning. There are only appropriated signifiers. The profane revelation of Červený’s visual alchemy consists in this: a mysterious transmutation of beings, between nature and language, between letter and figure, from the nigredo to the albedo, toward an unlikely transfiguration.

Rodrigo Petronio