Arrow Swing Window

by Eucanaã Ferraz

The title of the exhibition is explicit, better yet, it makes the exhibition explicit. It says it all. All is synthesis. All in 1. All in 3.

The exhibition examines powerful tropes – idée fixes – in the work of Raul Mourão: arrows, swings and windows. In a sense, we are presented with a retrospective composed of new works, only 3, at the gallery’s main exhibition hall. Such is the economy proposed by the artist and the curator: to materialize in a few, in so very few, works, a universe that is numerous, complex and ample. An arrangement that is a counterpoint to saturation. Instead of narrative flow, here are combination and synthesis, the traits of poetry. The ideas may be fixed, (and, as João Cabral de Melo Neto wrote, are “good for using”) but they unfold through constant research, and through their unique paths lead, at certain points, to material formulations that meant exiting the studio: forms, volumes, powers that demand contact with the public, that demand new senses, dialogues. Here are thus investigations in their current state that also resonate with the memories of a fascinating output.

In 1989, Raul Mourão started to photograph arrows in street signs used in public works in a number of cities. In 2001, he began to paint arrows, decontextualized and free of their function, they were translated into a state of brute geometry. In 2016, however, Mourão moved the arrows “back” to the streets, when he used a long wall in front of his studio, in Lapa neighborhood, as a support for a sequential painting; form was liberated from its utilitarian origins, released from its geometric isolation, now repeating in patterns. In 2017, his work “migrated” back from the streets to his studio: Mourão photographed the entire wall he had painted, creating a total of 18 images that reconstruct the entire work, now also bearing the marks of the passage of time as well as random interventions. One of these photographs is part of the exhibition.

The swings, or kinetic sculptures, have become the protagonists of Raul Mourão’s collected works. One of them, made of corten steel, its imposing presence in the gallery´s main exhibition room, is especially eloquent of the experience we are proposing here: an unsettling play on proportions, in which the 3 works – arrow, swing, and window – seem disproportionate to the space around them. By setting aside the requirements of a faithful portrait of the urban environment, we tried to first create a certain feeling: that the city came directly into the gallery, without even obliging to shrink down to size. Although the trio – arrow, swing and window – give the impression of failing to enter into harmony with the room, just as surely, we see no clash among the elements of this group. We recognise a landscape in these fragments, not a literal one, but one that is interpreted, one that also looks back at us, and receives us in its strangeness.

The great swing “unfolds” into another 3 shown outside the gallery and in the spaces that surround the main room. Outside, to a side of the facade, there seems to be an inversion of what is at play inside the exhibition where the works seem too large for the environment. Outside, with ample space for a large piece, there is a tiny work, leaving the entire front deck free, an area that connects the street, the sidewalk, and the gallery entrance. It is doubtlessly an urbanistic choice, a simple one, that is nevertheless very suggestive, that is fully coherent with Raul Mourão’s work, always aware of the city and its spacial and symbolic uses.

The sculpture placed there, of admirable simplicity, a pile of bricks with a steel swing on top, is the result of Mourão’s recent research into materials, objects and kinetic possibilities. The work’s most immediate dialogue manifests itself with the other piece inside the gallery, a bottle that is almost floating, a development of the series shown in the In my opinion exhibition at Plutschow Gallery in Zurich (2017). In his previous work, the bottle and the steel structure comprised the two formal elements of the work, that rested on a base. Now, however, it all became structure, a single drawn object – Raul is a sculptor draftsman, as much as a draftsman sculptor – against the vertical plane of the wall.

The third swing encases a stone. But the mineral element here is not to be taken as a refusal or as aggressiveness. Held up by a pendular structure, the stone expresses an invitation, offers itself to us. Time and nature at the reach of our hands. Could anything be more generous?

The elegance of these works, minimal and expressive of their restrictive use of material resources summon the economy of a haicai; their serene and austere geometry is reminiscent of Volpi; their formally rigorous humility evokes the poetry of Manuel Bandeira. For those of us used to the large scale sculptures of Raul Mourão often shown in public spaces, and who expect his works to be yet another pointed response to the violence of contemporary urban experience, it is surprising to see that the response continues, but that now it goes in the opposite direction.

It was in 2014 that windows first emerged in the work of Raul Mourão. Although his initial process was similar to monotyping, the images he obtained did not result from the more common process of painting something on a surface and subsequently pressing it on paper. As a technique it was closer to a stamp, but did not entirely give up the traditional processes of painting, in between complete abstraction and a suggestion of figurative art. Mourão’s research took many paths, shown at different times. Now, painting takes ownership of its physical strength, and the canvas, of new scale in his trajectory, shows its material power as an efficient support and also as an object that is filled with history.

arrow swing window – photography, sculpture and painting. Long trajectories, yes, but here, as mentioned before, instead of narrative flow, a combination and synthesis that is the mark of poetry.

Eucanaã Ferraz
Eucanaã Ferraz

Poet, professor of Brazilian literature at the Literature Department of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and literature consultant of the Moreira Salles Institute, where he organizes publications, exhibitions, debates, courses and shows.