O menor carnaval do mundo and other reductions by Raul Mourão

by Clarissa Diniz

The passionate uproar of a carnival that took place in 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, has ignited this exhibition. However, the impact of the few and intense days on Raul Mourão’s affective memory has not encouraged him to turn this exhibition into a space-time of nostalgia. Being the sculptor that he is, the carnival experience shared with a small group of friends, at home and almost clandestinely, captivated him by confirming – through friendship, solidarity and passion – one of the aesthetic-political principles of his work: reduction as power.

His research has long been marked by investigations of scale. In an eternal game of ping pong, his works constantly ricochet, elaborating versions of themselves that vary in height, amplitude and materiality. With these operations, Mourão seems to pursue the desire to occupy other perspectives, repositioning and shifting our points of view, calling us to participate in different movements, inhabiting different peaks.

Despite the sculpture’s tradition of monumentalizing itself, turning the expansion of scales into one of its greatest fetishes, Raul’s work also focuses on reduction as a strategy of perception and spatial occupation. Moving his works between the minimum and the maximum and back again points to the practice of reduction as a model of intelligibility. Reducing the world with its things and forces becomes a way of circumscribing it, assigning meaning to it, understanding it.

As shown to us by several of his previous works, such as the Boxer series sculptures (2003), in order to reduce, one can first fractionate. It is not by chance that, in spite of the almost libidinous attraction of the constructivist matrix to the grid, when Mourão approaches it, he does so in order to direct us to that which escapes him.

Ramifications of an infinity of works around the grid, his Janelas are a relevant statement about his interest in the grid, not as a form of totalitarian apprehension, but as an eminently reduced version of what surrounds us. In this set of markedly graphic works – nourished by everyday experimentation (with ordinary materials such as cardboard and E.V.A.) of the engraving tradition and, in particular, the monotype system -, the formal structure of the grid is the starting point for cutting out and highlighting precisely what does not fit in it, does not conform to it.

When reducing the experience of the world to small pieces of space-time with the intention of touching it in order to think about it, Raul curiously manages to exacerbate it. When looking through his Janelas, it is no longer possible to give in to the illusion of a total reality: the artist’s philosophically reductionist operation ultimately multiplies what we see by breaking it up.

From his windows we do not look at a single landscape, but many: if we pay attention, we realize that we are not facing a landscape cut up by a grid, but hundreds of small images that, juxtaposed, warn us that apprehension attempts – from mathematical models to grids – are ultimately always spectral, positioned, partial, fictional.

This is an example of the complex relationship between multiplicity and unity in his work. As an artist whose research engages with the sociohistorical dimensions of forms, in addition to possible thematic approaches, it is precisely within the scope of formal operations that Raul Mourão politicizes his work. Reducing, fractioning and multiplying – recurring gestures in this exhibition, including the Bang bang video and The new Brazilian flag #11(dedicated to Baianasystem).

Just like the landscapes that we fictionalize in the artist’s Janelas, the idea of ??”Work” is also the reduced approximation of many creative fractions. Perhaps because in the midst of a pandemic that distanced and isolated us, this exhibition reveals the artist’s desire to project this operation over his own trajectory, bringing together, at Roberto Alban Galeria, reduced versions of different moments in his research.

In a programmatically amnesic country, perversely capable of burning its museums, forests and peoples, Raul’s gesture insists on the political character of memory production. By presenting, at the beginning of the exhibition, a kind of “summary” of it – tiny versions of the works that, in the gallery space, are performed in other dimensions – and, at the end, again reducing them so that they fit in a box, it becomes evident that the artist is not only interested in the “aesthetic experience” of the meeting of audiences with his works, but also in understanding the potentialities of their different forms of circulation and access.

In this same horizon, with a long trajectory of collective and collaborative actions (with partnerships that span decades), Mourão habitually turns his exhibitions into an opportunity for movements that go beyond the traditional narcissism of an individual exhibition. Thus, while he invests in the production of memory and access to his work, he does not do it alone, but as an invitation to establish relationships with other artists, his interlocutors.

This is the case of the vibrant video Relixo, created in collaboration with Thiago Tambellini, whose initial motto of re-appropriating Raul’s image archives becomes, at the same time, an exercise in memory and collectivization.

Relixo, like the carnival that inspired this exhibition, is not a nostalgic video. Although it brings together excerpts from the past decade of his life, his intoxicating montage does not sacralize the artist’s archive, but, on the contrary, carnivalizes it.

Disobeying chronologies, ignoring geographic contextualizations, going without authorizations for the use of images and, above all, cultivating unsuspected approximations, mediated by rhythms and music that treat the images as moving bodies, Relixo performs the carnivalization that, in fact, acts on the entire exhibition.

If we now live in a world that extrapolates us more than ever, given that it apprehends us into grids and distances, it seems that, by inviting us to participate in Menor carnaval do mundo, Raul Mourão is whispering to us about the transforming force of that which, reduced, can face the giants without calling their attention to what is happening.

Clarissa Diniz
Clarissa Diniz

Curator, researcher and art critic. She carries out her research focused on contemporary art, mainly questioning and expanding notions of criticism, curatorship, circulation and what Brazilian art is. The social issue is a theme present in her productions.