very long rope coming from the street and into the old stables of the School of Visual Arts of Parque Lage
passing through the stables and into the floresta
Para o silêncio das Plantas
de João Modé
De 17 dez 2011 a 01 abr 2012
Cavalariças, EAV Parque Lage
Através de um grande "Extensor" formado por duas cordas que estarão presas em duas palmeiras logo na entrada do parque, o público é convidado a percorrer toda a alameda que leva às Cavalariças, adentrar este espaço e sair por uma plataforma de madeira em direção à floresta. Na floresta, caminhos construídos acima do nível do solo. Serão reproduzidos músicas e sons diversos, intercalados com momentos de silêncio.
João Modé, Resende, RJ, 1961
Vive e trabalha no Rio de Janeiro
Artista com diversas exposições no Brasil e no exterior entre elas: Invisíveis [Eva], individual na Fundação Eva Klabin, Rio de Janeiro, 7ª Bienal do Mercosul, Porto Alegre, ambas em 2009; 28ª Bienal de São Paulo em 2008, A Cabeça, individual na galeria A Gentil Carioca, RJ; Panorama da Arte Brasileira, MAC São Paulo em 2007; Stopover, Kunsthalle Fribourg, Suíça; Abrigo Poético – Diálogos com Lygia Clark, MAC Niterói, RJ, ambas em 2006; Bienal de Praga, National Gallery, Praga, República Tcheca, e Rede, MAM do Rio de Janeiro, em 2003. Seu trabalho articula-se por uma noção plural de linguagens e espaços de atuação. Alguns projetos envolvem a participação direta do público.
For the Silence of Plants
“A very clever fellow, you understand, sir: he could untie any knot.”
In any upmarket respectful Candomblé house, there is always a prominent Iroko tree—a large tree that represents the African god of the same name and before which all the children ask for his blessing. When you approach Iroko, you rest your back against his trunk, as if you were trying to align yourself with him, as if you were thereby able to effect some physical and operational restructuring of the human body and soul. Next we embrace the tree so that we can exchange our energy, to calm the electricity of the everyday and receive the power of an existence that never turns its back on us. Iroko is a very specific entity, who, kept in the right proportions, represents maturity, the passing of time, all the transformations (visible and invisible) that we go through, longevity, the changes of the seasons, and the unimaginable twists and turns of fate. He is the lord of time and space and, according to some legends, was the first tree to be planted. This enabled the African gods and goddesses to descend to Earth.
In fact, to stray a little from the roots with which we began this text (and which generate what we write) we can find countless analogies, such as Chronos or his son, Kairos (in Greco-Roman mythology) or Viracocha (the Lord of the Beginning and the End of the Mayas). And any similarity to the Bodhi tree, where Sidarta Gautama received enlightenment, is likewise no mere coincidence. Anyway, what interests us here is not the specificity of the reference, but the awareness of the extent to which nature and time are contained in the very simplicity of the myth and are capable of populating the collective and universal imagination. In any culture, trees, plants and all kinds of flora are accorded special attention, because, apart from all the fundamental characteristics that we know or suppose, they ultimately serve as a metaphor for another time, for another kind of relation that is established in a more candid, less metrical and openly natural fashion, however clichéd it may seem.
The time that emanates from them is paradoxically another time (Could it be Time itself? Could it be the possibility of an encounter or re-encounter with Time?). A time that may clearly follow its own functional logic and which is capable of becoming entangled without losing itself in its fragmented measurement; a measure that is so conscious of itself that it is even capable of divesting itself of its own measure. The time of the plants that we see, that we plant, that we hear speak, or even those that we invent, constructs its own space, as if it were forever generating this ill-defined space where life occurs. There is no hurry. There is no anxiety. There is no pain. Life emerges there as an intimate and infinitesimal movement that creates space for itself at the most various levels, including within its own time, as if it were possible (and it may well be) to join two creative and creating powers in an absolute equilibrium that sustains the arrival of the self. As if time and space could be completely attached and in love with one another, coming together in a single force, a single vector, a poetic amalgam that fuels the naturalness of nature.
And when I refer to plants, I am obviously not concerned with a specific species or family or any particular reality. I am thinking in terms of the collective, the paradox of the particularity of the collective that is the forest. Of that single one that is dissolved in and spreads through all things, without giving up anything that is left of itself. That can expand and explode in such a way that it is left only with the possibility of self-recognition—in the other, in the circumstances that surround it, in its neighbors, in that which is close to it, in that which is different, and even in that which is as distant as can be. I am clearly not naively saying that there is no individuality in nature, but that, in some sense, the idea of uniqueness can only venture forth as a mental hunt, if we understand the unvarying plurality of possible targets that surround the tree as subject. And it is here, in this profusion of dilutions of the one and the other, the smooth and the grooved, form and content, time and space that a bundle is opened, a hole, a “pseudo-portal that has nothing magical about it” into which the artist can dive.
When I first saw João Modé’s exhibition project for the Cavalariças space at the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, I sensed that it would be an extremely audacious work, of a complexity that would have to overcome countless (natural and human) obstacles, that would obviously require a large-scale operation to ensure its functioning and conservation, and that none of this would be visible when it was on show. That, in fact, this “non-revelation” would be brought about not by any intrinsic and omnipotent desire in the work itself, or, in other words, that such concealment of the operational structure would not occur in an autocratic fashion, but would be an indirect consequence of the power that is engendered in it, throwing all these preceding elements into a certain very specific silence, and where the whole logic of construction, the whole real and poetic engineering would ultimately fade away into distant murmurs of the original (and, perhaps, most superficial) proposal to provide music for the plants.
I dare say that this is the first layer of meaning of the work, because this may be the primary point of access. An artist who decides to reinvent, revisit and remember part of the theory (in the same way that he assumes the position) of Érico Bony and Dorothy Retallack. It is worth recalling that the latter published a book that became a key reference called The sound of music and plants (which is also available for consultation at the exhibition), in which she tells the story of the unbelievable changes she observed when she played a series of pieces of music and rhythms to some species of plant. All of this is part of the game and, believe it or not, there is some serious research on the subject and many defend such ideas and practices and are absolutely certain that you would not feel so bad, if, from time to time, you tried the same thing (even if you kept it a deep secret).
But in this installation by João Modé, this is just the beginning, the epigraph, the valve that opens to reveal an elegant combination of familiar elements that were and are present in its development: the simplicity, the rhythm, the attachment to and reverence for nature, the logic of poetic construction that seeks a certain organic whole in the simplest of things, the poetry that blossoms forth in everyday life, the natural flow of the universe, the possibility of understanding the contemporary subject as someone who reaps a daily poetic harvest, the world as a storehouse of delights, the inevitable man-machine that, in a flash, sees other ways of understanding his surroundings, the state of the flâneur who turns his back on anxiety... And first of all, and above all: the artist who is so full of sea and air that he is capable of dissolving and dissipating in an atmospheric fashion (communing with the love between time and space) and giving rise to a work that appears as perfume, vapor, clouds, wind and rain. And it is precisely this that simultaneously slakes the thirst and blunts the enthusiasm of the audience. Man becomes tree and beast. Art is the vehicle; the chosen vessel; or rather, the inevitable justification for a creative process that oversteps some of the limits of the classifiable and that cleverly points to all places, to itself, and to nowhere; before returning to its original state of reflection and self-presence.
No, I know... I am not saying that the music is a mere addendum. On the contrary. Everything is perfectly calculated, composed, balanced in such a way that the sound makes its presence unquestionably felt. It is a true delight not to know where the waves of sound that flow through the small hidden forest are coming from (including our own). However, the music is not played without interruption. There is a silence in the intervals that can, at times, sound terrifying and we, the audience, in our desire to see/hear the work (or part of it, or that which parts from it) begin to find the silence slightly discomfiting and then, when we perceive it as such, we really perceive (albeit in reverse). The silence vests itself in a crashing din. In other words, as part of a negative strategy, the music brings the bombastic silence of the plants that we may not have noticed until then. And if, in an egocentric exercise, we were to find that the plants needed our speech and our music to grow more beautifully and more abundantly, it is in that moment of suspension between the tracks that we are aware that they all speak a language that is theirs alone at every moment in time. And maybe we, in the schizophrenia of our everyday lives, do not have time to notice. Then the silence disintegrates before us, in an almost tangible way. The matter of the silence places us naked before ourselves and then, perhaps we are left with no other alternative than to dive deep into one of the emptinesses of the wooden bird that sustains us lest we forget the violently genetic illusion of the first person singular.
e t c...]
The first object that we come across on entering the Park is an “Expander” (a recurrent element in the work of the artist that plays with distances and the infinite possibilities of the loss of the visual field). Here, this expander is created by joining together two ropes that unite at a certain point to continue their trajectory together and mark out the route around the show. The rope invades the space of the Cavalariças where one can interact with various musical instruments (and play them if you like), some books on a table (books on the subject or catalogues from the artist’s exhibitions), a sofa, three lampshades, insect parts and two raincoats. In another room, with fairly soft lighting, there is another forest of graffiti painted by Modé, at a leisurely pace, in a procedural fashion, in accordance with the exhibition, whenever he finds the time. It is here that he draws, dreams, builds up his very own forest, with no journalistic responsibility, full of species that have never been seen, trees that have never been imagined and shapes that are still being formed. It is as if that space were the shadow of a familiar forest (the one that awaits us outside), where the artist has chosen to live for a while, walking around a little, disappearing for a while. The forest is there, his own, invented, projected, designed and completely fictional; like a double, like an antagonist that knows the ineluctable power of the main character. However, this drawing exercise is not full of cupidity or fraught with competition; it is just a beautiful exercise in humility, where one admits errors, imperfections, evanescence, movement, the passing of time, loss and death (since the work will inevitably be rubbed off at the end of the show). The artist accepts his humanity and asks for blessing. We too.
If this text felt a responsibility for mapping, pseudo-archiving and problematizing the exhibition, it would inevitably delve into the possibility of entering into dialogue with Land Art (although the work is clearly in operational terms far removed from this), the legacy of the 1960s and the possibility of dematerializing the work and so forth. Perhaps we would include some doses of the Nicolas Bourriaud’s already well-known and outworn theory of Relational Aesthetics. It would look for like words, establish some parallels, go deeper into some specific feature, like one who removes the cuticle and ends in a just and elegant fashion, with the calming certainty of having accomplished his task. As I may have intended to do when I sat down in this chair a few minutes ago (or when I decided to write this text many long days ago). The feeling of constriction and injustice in the face of such liberating strength seemed powerful enough to convince me to abandon any such project. I decided that I wanted to follow a different path. It was practically an exercise in being true to myself as a subject-tree and true to the work, as a work and as a monument. An anti-monumental monument. An artistic exercise in setting up an experience, managing it, directing it, masterfully orchestrating its constituent parts in order to find oneself and to help (the) nature (of the entity) find itself.
The unpretentious monumentality, concave, deliberately invisible and capable of creating an artistic container that ends up sucking in, absorbing and even regurgitating the audience in another way, throwing it into a new space of recognition and perception of reality and of the surroundings; it is a fairly powerful vehicle in the work of João Modé. But, in this specific case, in this already historic exhibition, the artist succeeds in going beyond the simple and expected objective of realizing the defining potential of his work (be it because of the scale, the intended venue, or even his supposed responsibility as an artist) to, in a movement as precise as a blow, reprocess the legacy of earlier years and reveal another possible layer of meaning, which, although it shows us the practices of the past, points us towards yet another veil that shrouds our access to the poetry: the reverberating breath and poetic scope of the work (in the unquestionable presentification and assumption of the persona of the artist as a proponent) which now envelops and builds up the space using the time he has gathered (rather than making the relic of work explicit by way of distension of space in situ and the relation between the different scales). This veil, this new very fine curtain, this voile also provides access to some forgotten room in the body-house of the artist and allows us to be so bold as to approach the box of gifts that he carries in his breast; and, without gravitas or megalomania, he still insists in a silent and absolutely individual manner (like a sweet psychosis, like a mute and intermittent buzzing), that the work can still change some world (whatever the size, however much it weights, wherever it comes from).
In fact, this text would only be possible if it were as powerful as the silence of the plants the artwork deals with. And it was in this cruel act of writing that I had my personal and schizophrenic whispering voice that insisted on reminding me how imperfect words are, how they serve as a cure (or perhaps a poison, according to Plato) to bring us within reach of something that will always elude us. These were days of joy, martyrdom and absolute certainty that one cannot do justice to a work that needs to be experienced, and, even when experienced, is betrayed by words. So, I ask you to forget these words, to disregard the meanderings that lie between the lines printed here, which play at drawing over the pages, that insist in a Utopian fashion on physically erasing the printed text, which are always thinking that the best thing now would be for a huge gust of wind to sweep the pages away to some place where they can find their roots again. All that is left is memories and fireflies.