In Praise of Instability (Prelude to a likely collision)

by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti

Art is what makes life more interesting than art…

Roberto Filliou

Strolling around Raul Mourão s works feels a bit like wandering the streets: one can hear the voice of the city, feel its presence, touch its metal railings, its houses, its suffocated nature; admire its soccer, its carnivals and its artists; get to know its dogs, trees, politicians, and all its colors. The artist’s studio (very much like that of any artist, but especially Raul Mourão s) is where this city stops, and the encounters that take place there suggest that, perhaps, it is also a studio for the city. Deliberately random encounters, like that of the sewing machine and the umbrella on the dissection table, alongside an eyeball doing sit-ups.1 Raul Mourão s surrealism is almost indiscernible, masked by the impeccable finish of the works and the ironic seriousness with which his BALANÇOS [Swings], for example, once triggered, are set in an apparently perpetual motion. But, there is clearly a latent surrealism in the story of the dog that becomes a reality TV star, or in the cockroach-like movements of the seven artists hanging on the wall: a cinematic surrealism, in the manner of The Exterminating Angel,2 a submerged and perhaps arbitrary, but nonetheless plausible, reference to the metal railings that are present everywhere but go unseen, to the imperceptible imprisonment that was only made explicit in the installation at the Museu Vale do Rio Doce, in which an almost invisible door suddenly closed, locking in the visitor, exactly like the imaginary, inexplicable and insurmountable threshold which, in Buñuel’s film, keeps the aristocrats prisoner of the mansion.

Most of Raul Mourão s work arises from the clash between forms and ideas, from the friction between apparently incompatible materials and concepts. Even pieces that are for mally almost minimalist spring from this work of accumulation. Small sculptures, added to a large one, form a set or another sculpture,3 the artist said a few years ago, virtually describing, or presaging, PASSAGEM [Passage], produced in 2010, in which small swing-like sculptures are added to a large framework of metal railings, which envelops them, suggesting new interpretations for each of the elements. The silhouettes of the swings are echoed by gaps and protrusions in the framework, thereby highlighting the relationship between the works, while other openings, which allow entry to visitors, practically annul the distinction between people and things. Other pieces, like SURDO-MUDO [Deaf-Mute], or even the character in Cartoon, crushed by an enormous block of wood, belong to the same universe, in which things almost never quite meet or merge; but merely approach one another, or else collide. And the works that arise from this clash are practically a kind of visual poetry, in which the title is an integral part of the work… as is the chosen material, size or technique.4 From that very same clash, ideas may be born, like that of Cego Só Bengala [Blind Man Reduced to a Cane], in which it would seem that the blind man is like the knife and the walking stick like the blade in the poem by João Cabral de Melo Neto,5 but whose raison d’être is not just (or, at least, not directly) the poetic universe, but rather an unpredictable collision in the city: these characters are chosen because they bump into us all the time.6 And this “us refers to us all: visitors, onlookers, citizens, artists – “I understand that every artist is a citizen,7 says Raul Mourão, or perhaps every citizen is an artist, as Beuys would say.

The precision of the shapes that make up Mourão’s works seems to indicate a concretist pedigree, which is particularly evident in the series of works that explore and expose the geometry of the soccer pitch, but also appears, for example, in the paintings which replicate road signs and traffic lights, or in SEM BRAÇOS E SEM CABEÇA [Armless and Headless], whose characters could be two of Willys de Castro’s pluriobjetos, which, fed up with being immobile, have decided to climb down from the wall and set off to see the world. Where this ancestry is most evident, however, is, in fact, in the GRADES [Railings] series, and in the BALANÇOS [Swings], which constitute an almost natural development: the inevitable animation of objects so full of life, so close to life. Each time someone pushes one of them into action, the Swings re-enact the transition from concretism to neo-concretism, the appearance of movement and of interaction, the corruption of the straight line, to paraphrase Cabral de Melo once again.8 At first sight, it may seem that this corruption and the apparent impossibility of bringing the movement to a halt lie in stark contradiction to the neatness of the finish, the inflexible lines and dead straight angles of Raul Mourão’s work. But the truth is that there is no such contradiction: everything overlaps. Hence it is also impossible to talk about one 1 This expression appears work without mentioning all the others and, even so, remain fully aware that this view is merely partial. One would need also to discuss what the artist is doing rather than the art that results from his work.9

And, since he can’t have it any other way, like the very city of which he builds up, one piece at a time, the most ungraspable (and hence most faithful) portrait, Raul Mourão never stands still: he writes scripts, keeps up his blog, organizes meetings and exchanges, publishes magazines, opens and closes exhibition venues, studios and galleries, composes deceptively unpretentious poems and produces texts about artists. Sometimes he even pens surprising words of praise, genuine declarations of love for art that follows the path of the impermanent, the ephemeral, the near invisible:10 all features apparently foreign or even opposed to his own work, but which, deep down, do no more than reveal, once again, the desire to see everything, to understand everything, to live every thing. In light of this, one can imagine that the very untiring motion of the Swings points, among other things, to Raul Mourão’s preference for the potential, suggesting an open, deliberately ambiguous attitude, in constant disequilibrium. The Swings would appear to be a warm-up for something bigger,11 although there is no reason to think, equally, that they might not be a warm-up for something smaller: the prelude to a full-blown opening or maybe even a final melting back into the world.

1 in the artist’s text published in the leaflet for the exhibition Cego Só Bengala, at the Centro Universitário Maria Antonia – USP, São Paulo, 2003.
2 Luís Buñuel, 1962.

3 MOURÃO, Raul. Untitled. Text published in the Rio Artes e Literatura, # 2, Rio de Janeiro, 1992.
4 Interview with Felipe Scovino, in SCOVINO Felipe (Ed.). Arquivo contemporâneo. Rio de Janeiro: Editora 7Letras, 2009. p. 286.
5 João Cabral de Melo Neto, in “Uma faca só lâmina (ou: Serventia das ideias fixas)” [A knife with no handle (or: the service of fixed ideas)], 1955.
6 Interview with Felipe Scovino. Op. cit., p. 286.
7 Idem, p. 280.

8 João Cabral de Melo Neto, in Coisas de cabeceira, Sevilha (a poem featured in “A educação pela pedra”, 1962/1965), speaks of the incorruptibility of the straight line.
9 Roy Ascott apud LIPPARD, Lucy. Six years: the dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972. New York: Praeger, 1973. p. 3.
10 See, for example, the texts on Fernanda Gomes (“Visita à camarada” F. , 2001) and João Modé (“Novo de novo , 2002), in MOURÃO, Raul. ARTE BRA. Rio de Janeiro: Casa da Palavra, 2007.
11 See Felipe Scovino’s text, “Do ferro ao afeto”, published at the time of the Balanço Geral exhibition, at the Atelier Subterrânea, Porto Alegre, 2010.

Jacopo Crivelli Visconti
Jacopo Crivelli Visconti

Jacopo Crivelli Visconti is an art critic and independent curator with a PhD in Architecture earned at the Architecture and Urbanism College of University of São Paulo. As a curator at the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo (2007-2009), he was responsible for the Brazilian presence at the 52nd International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennial (2007).