© Claudio Galeno
From September 30, São Paulo will be hosting Your body of work, the first Olafur Eliasson solo exhibition in South America. Conceived by the Danish/Icelandic artist especially for, and in response to, the Brazilian city, the exhibition features ten site-specific installations that invite the public to experience the perception of colour, spatial orientation and other forms of engagement with reality. The exhibition is part of the program for the 17th SESC_VIDEOBRASIL International Contemporary Art Festival, under the general curatorship of Solange Farkas.
Through to January 2012, Eliasson's work will fill three venues in São Paulo: the SESC cultural centers in Pompeia and Belenzinho, in the west and east of the city, and the Pinacoteca do Estado, a hundred year old state-run museum downtown. "The exhibition proposes a grid of experiences based on a temporary geography for São Paulo, creating a series of narratives that converge in the viewer's experience", says Jochen Volz, the artistic director of the Inhotim Institute in Minas Gerais and curator of Your body of work.
According to the artist, the title Your body of work touches upon the vital role of the viewer in creating the meanings of the work, at the same time as it underscores the wide-ranging character of the content. "You work your whole life, and everything you do and learn is etched into your body. You are a viewer/producer of history itself, seen as you contribute, or give, more than you receive," explains Eliasson.
Olafur Eliasson is known for interventions that draw the interest of a wider public beyond the circuits of contemporary art, such as his New York City Waterfalls (2008) in Manhattan, New York. He has experimented with propositions that imply increasingly more direct contact with their urban settings. The starting point for the conception of the Brazilian exhibition was the artist's impressions and curiosities about the different spaces he saw in São Paulo.
"São Paulo is vibrant, it has a very strong physical presence", says Eliasson. "Though the private sphere remains inaccessible, everything you think and do is perceivable in the streets. In other cities, the public spaces tend to separate very clearly from daily life." In consonance with the artist's sensations, the project is drafted as an experience of the city, in dialogue with the architecture of the spaces it occupies.
At SESC Pompeia, a former drum factory transformed into a cultural center in the 1980s, Eliasson's conceptions are met with the generous spaces the Italo-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi designed for the fruition of the local population. The exhibition, which is spread throughout internal and external areas, was devised to dialogue with the various uses of the venue as a spot for reflection, learning, leisure and entertainment.
A set of works involving colour, light and smoke transforms this 1,500 meter-squared center into a labyrinth of sensorial experiences. In the contiguous exhibition area, configured as a cinema theater, Eliasson plays with the concept of the after image—the counter-image that lingers on the retina when exposed to light—and scenes of São Paulo taken by the Brazilian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz.
At the recently inaugurated SESC Belenzinho, which caters to a region of the city far less privileged in terms of leisure and cultural equipment, the artist shows a rotating device that projects light stripes onto the surrounding space. At the Pinacoteca, the work focuses on experiments with one of art's most classic tools—the mirror¬—to dialogue with the building's architecture, originally classical but reworked a decade ago by the award-winning architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha.
The Eliasson exhibition will result in a book edited by the artist himself, scheduled for publication through SESC Editions in November. In addition to a photo record of all the works installed and photographic series produced by Eliasson during his field work in São Paulo, the book will also feature essays by Brazilian theorists, establishing relations between different aspects of his work and local production in such fields as art, science and architecture.
The Eliasson exhibition underlines Videobrasil's transformation into the only contemporary art festival of its kind in Brazil. In addition to Your body of work, the Festival includes a competitive show dedicated to the production of artists from Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania, creating an unprecedented forum in São Paulo for the observation of, and reflection on, contemporary artistic output in the geopolitical south.
The 17th SESC_Videobrasil International Contemporary Art Festival is a SESC (www.sescsp.org.br) and Associação Cultural Videobrasil (www.videobrasil.org.br) production.