Installation Views

Over the years, Nino Cais (São Paulo, 1969) has been patiently refining the sculptural meaning of his poetic production. The exhibition that guides us under the sign of Clarão [Effulgence] is very evidently concerned with the expressive power of the body – the form of our presence in the world’s eyes. True to the objects of everyday life and to his intimate and formative repertoire (which includes Catholic and familial semantics), the artist presents us with a consistent group of works, combining symbols, utensils, words, balancings, drawings and compositions. In doing so, he underscores how art’s political condition is inherent in each and every artistic gesture. Such gestures, steeped in implicit content and not always manual, bear the ephemerality of presence and of memory.

Therefore, it would seem that Nino Cais’s art is defined mainly by three underlying thrusts: the evocation of a basis of feelings and memories that constitute his own personal history, his continued appreciation of the intuitive power of creation, and his unique view of the language of sculpture, which he has refined and broadened based on the historical tradition of Brazilian art and the experimental exploration of his own feelings through other media and materials. By considering this conceptual, tripartite basis we can get an idea of his bearings, the compass guiding his critical perception of artistic practice.
Cais understands art as a trade, craft or occupation, something that is developed on a daily basis and demands time, routine and practice. It’s not that reflection is absent. Rather, reflection is the symbolic and abstract thread uniting all his production – whether graphic, material, objectual or performative. His activity is therefore imbued with a strong sense of presence, in which the artist himself is seen to be continuously implicit. His appropriations and assemblages – practices that are indissociable from the body of his oeuvre – are direct outgrowths of his desire for presence and evocation in art.
We are especially fond of a certain perception of where the artist’s work is located: curator and professor Agnaldo Farias once stated that “the artist sees objects as being closer to the body than to architecture.” He moreover stated that in this world we dwell in, and in which we weave our affective, productive and political relationships, a sense of permanence and recognition depends on communion based on the use and appropriation of these objects. As Farias puts it, “a world without objects would be nearly uninhabited” – an idea at the core of Nino Cais’s production. Getting beyond the epidermic or compositional condition of his works demands that we use our gaze to investigate these “worlds/objects” that he creates, in order to then delve into each thematic condition that arises when the works are brought together, as well as into the figures of language evoked by each work individually. Therefore, what we will see in the spaces and interstices of gallery Casa Triângulo is the clarification and embodiment of ideas through Cais’s creations.
To this end, I suggest taking special note of the series of works created through direct contact, using the frottage technique, which appear prominently in this new production by the artist. Most of them are bidimensional pieces that share some common denominators: the bidimensional space of the framed rectangular paper, the monochromatic choice of the lines, and the representation of the textures of fabrics, clothing articles, and flexible everyday objects. In the Verônica series (2023), it is the memory of the cloth handkerchief, a classic accessory used by men in Brazil, and, for him, one of the few memories he has of his father. In the Santo Sudário series (2023), we see another occurrence of the shirt symbol – a clothing article omnipresent in Nino Cais’s appropriations. With a touch of humor, he adds to it some delicate lace of a sort typically made in Brazil, but reproduced based on more ordinary plastic versions manufactured industrially on a large scale. And last but not least, this group involving traumas and experiences from his memory also includes the frottage of the work Rita (2023): the representation of a dishcloth made by the artist’s own mother. As the Portuguese poet Herberto Helder wrote in verse in the middle of the poem “Narração de um homem em maio” [Narration of a Man in May]:
 These are things that are no more
but in the maturity of age.
I engaged in commerce. Industry. Pain. [1]
The exhibition is titled Clarão [Effulgence] for various reasons that shed light on the conceptual core of the artist’s work. In everyday Portuguese, the word clarão can be used with the sense of an important insight or epiphany. It can also mean the experience or effect of a bright light that dazzles us, catches our attention, or distracts our gaze. A clarão gives rise to synopses and makes us develop our senses, enhancing our perception with increased intelligibility and sensitive acuity: it is, in some way, a moment of breakthrough and change.
Ironically, it is something analogous to the artistic gesture itself – that which emanates from a creative myth. To be clear, I don’t want to say that this artist subscribes to this idea. Nevertheless, Cais has a keen perception of how Western art is deeply informed by the Christian values narrated in the biblical saga. In our long talks, he referred to the memory of Christ’s resurrection, and how it was immediately preceded by a blinding light, before the reembodiment of the crucified Son of God.
While it is temporarily blinding, the clarão is also a sign of opening and transformation: an intrinsic quality of art. When artists are thinking clearly about their creative aim, they can give image and/or form to their works. An example of such clarity in Nino Cais’s case is the chair object that is lent the quality of a ready-made. Twelve of them, made of wood and with different shapes, are suspended and tied with white shirts, and have a stack of white dinner plates on their seats.
Chairs found in secondhand shops, plates bought in housewares stores, and white shirts structure the sculptural pieces that compose his Santa Ceia [Last Supper] (2023). And, among two groups of six (an objective allusion to the 12 biblical apostles), there is a mirror that constantly reproduces the image of who is standing in front of the installation. It is a reproduction of the other, the one who is sharing the space of existence, which reverberates through the mirroring in the exhibition room. While Nino Cais’s poetics conveys a scholastic instruction, it also bears a Duchampian affiliation, which can be seen in the incisive and permanent reevaluation of the concept of the ready-made, an element present in art history since the second decade of the 20th century.
We can say that Cais’s action recalls dada operations involving ordinary series of everyday objects, especially the notion of the assisted ready-made, which Marcel Duchamp defined as an appropriated object on which the artist makes some change or intervention.[2] And after that procedure, the artist goes on to a second moment described as assemblage: a rich recombination of materials and objects imbue his work with countless meanings. An outstanding example of this is the sculptural piece in which a shovel – a par excellent symbol of labor – is “wearing” a shirt, whose sleeves are filled with wheat flour. That sculpture, titled Escavador [Digger] (2023), is a direct reference to Van Gogh’s lithograph depicting the simple, hard-working fieldhand.
The work Sebastião (2023) presents the same compositional dynamics: three sculptural pieces leaning against the wall composed of three speargun harpoons and three different dress shirts: one white, one black, and one red. In their extremely violent gesture, they very incisively imply the notion of presence, indicating paths which they also open. In his art, the use and meanings of tools, weapons and household utensils undergo a game of semantics. Certainly, this century-old practice – from the generative ready-made to the compositional assemblage – is the core of the enigma and refinement of Nino Cais’s artistic operations: a continuous operational exercise for subtly unveiling our presence in life.
From Dust to Body, from Body to Earth
In the context of this new exhibition, the artist’s body, or his image, appears in a less literal, less explicit way. Outside of the classical image where the artist places himself into sculptural balance, all the other works evoke the presence of the body mainly through their phatic transmutation into objects – which are now the representation of his body, of his presence. Here, far from his previous self-portraits and collages, the artist brings his physical self into the memory of the objects – utensils, articles of clothing, pieces of furniture – that he arranges and rearranges in his compositions.
This condition is reinforced by the voice that subtly reverberates around the space, based on a video, filmed in a single long take, in which the artist utters the names of objects in an exercise of free association. It is as though he wanted to construct a sort of constellation of signs that could comment on himself or about the existence of the other, to whom he is speaking. The looping video and its soundtrack give rise to a cyclical movement, analogous to the timeline of one’s life: from dust to body, from body to earth. And, then, the rebeginning.
Meanwhile, the yearning to “become present” is announced in an artwork: by writing the word corporificar [embody] at floor level, forming a long arc, the artist also stakes out a territory of action. A set of soup plates filled with white wheat flour, on whose tops the letters of the word are embossed, construct a possible presence, through the movement of reading the word, which is a verb. One of the most immediate associations we make is to the memory of the communion wafer – a food used in the liturgical ritual to represent Christ’s body.
Near this installation, there is a large circle marked out by the presence of another group of plates, filled with powders of a wide range of foods and spices found in Brazil. The compacting of this material in the plates, bearing the outline of the map of Brazil in relief on their surface, brings to mind the political notion of place. This large circle, similar to Lygia Pape’s Roda dos Prazeres [Wheel of Pleasures] (1968), creates the conditions for a ritualistic environment where the formulation of our social body is shared in communion. This is, therefore, the exhibition’s epicenter, and is intentionally titled Querência (2023). Here, the term querência might be used in reference to this word’s two most well-known meanings: pastureland (the natural habitat of cattle), or a person’s origin or place of reference, insofar as one was born or raised there, or has resided there for a long time. The work’s aim therefore includes a profound desire for a link to the land in the sense of origin and destiny.
Based on these works with the soup plates, the artist represents and triangulates three different concepts/signs that are important to him: body, territory, and Brazil. They ultimately construct a form and idea of origin. We therefore see that in this gathering of seemingly very dissimilar works – and yet all very near to Nino Cais’s repertoire and experience – the artist invites us to partake in a fourfold action: remember and reconstruct, clarify and embody.
 Diego Matos

[1] HELDER, Herberto. Poemas Completos. Rio de Janeiro: Tinta-da-china Brasil, 2016, p. 91.

[2] In his most recent publication, North American art critic Hal Foster reassesses this Duchampian concept for commenting on the latest appropriation operations in the art field. In that observation he begins by mentioning Jeff Koons’s artistic practice and that of a tradition inherited from pop art. Despite the differences, this reappropriation of ordinary objects in art is a political gesture also seen in the work by Nino Cais. It is a response to the plutocracy that defines the behavior of the art market, which is also anchored in Christian values. To delve deeper into this issue, see: FOSTER, Hal. O que vem depois da farsa? São Paulo: Ubu Editora, 2021, pp. 65–69.


Translation John Norman