RIO DE JANEIRO - The overgrown trees and vines dripped from the morning’s rain as the taxi drove up the cobblestone street in the historic Gloria area of Rio de Janeiro. I was on my way for a studio visit with Iole de Freitas, the Brazilian artist whose Untitled installation captivated much acclaim at documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany. Accompanying me were Catherine Ruggles, co-founder of Artslant, and Jaime Patxot, our host in Rio de Janeiro.
We spent some time with Iole in her studio, asking questions, listening, talking about upcoming shows and previous work. Iole de Freitas is articulate and fascinating. Here are a few notes from our afternoon.
Freitas studio, Rio; Courtesy of the artist
Georgia Fee: Your work has been compared with that of Eva Hesse’s. How do you feel about this comparison?
Iole de Freitas: "Yes, absolutely," acknowledges Iole. "I have been influenced by Eva Hesse." Iole goes on to say that she believes all contemporary art has been informed and influenced by the work of Eva Hesse. Hesse’s experimentation with materials, her focus on transience and transparency, her wit and apparent ease in renouncing the tradition of perfection and permanence that infused artistic practice prior to Hesse’s time have paved the way for a wholly new approach to art making. Iole demands of her students that they study Hesse’s work. Iole says that even when her students are totally unaware of this seminal figure, the influence radiates through anyway.
GF: You built an art career while living in Europe and then you returned to Brazil. What impact, if any, did moving back to Rio de Janeiro have on your work?
IF: “It was difficult. In essence I had to start all over,” Iole responds. In looking back, she now thinks that this move was key in her development, but it was a very hard transition. She doubts she would have become involved in large-scale sculptural installation had she stayed in Europe, and she is very pleased that her work took this course.
Upon returning to Rio de Janeiro, Iole revisited earlier interests in industrial design and architecture. This helped bring about a different kind of practice. Her focus on the body seemed to give way to a concern for gesture and movement, and a desire to explore the deconstruction of space. Light, transparency and reflection - issues that were central to her work in photography and film - expanded into sculptural concerns. Along with these, new themes of gravity, mass and weight were added to her repertoire.
When asked why she thought Rio de Janeiro had this impact on her work, she smiled and said it was an interesting thing to consider. We talked about the size and expanse of Brazil as well as the continuous movement between land and water in the Rio environs. And certainly the indoor/outdoor lifestyle afforded by the climate may have influenced the development of interior and exterior components to her work. But, whatever the deep, underlying motivations, this physical move from Europe to Brazil was accompanied by a profound mental shift that allowed Iole to incorporate new ideas, materials and techniques into her artistic vision.
GF: Can you talk a little about your relationship to architecture?
IF: Iole’s work, although not about architecture per se, does need to exist in harmony with its location. Some buildings are just not appropriate. In developing a piece, she first explores the proposed site to see if she can find a vision of her work within the site. This is essential before she will agree to begin production. From there, she creates small models and drawings to work out her vision. Along with her team of architects and engineers, she designs the structure. Then she does mocks up of the work in her studio in preparation for installation.
Iole de Freitas, Installation shots at Documenta; Courtesy of the artist and ArtSlant.
Iole says that she has become more and more involved with large-scale work in the last decade. As this has happened, she has found that smaller spaces have now become very challenging to work within. It is hard for her to grasp the space in the same way. Of course, with large-scale work the demands of producing such a piece necessitate the desire for finding permanent sites for her installations.
As far as the exterior components of her pieces, the impact of temporal and seasonal changes must be carefully considered in the engineering phase. Her work with outside spaces has become increasingly complex as she continues to take bigger risks in this area. Her installation at the Helio Oiticica Cultural Center in Rio in 2000 was the first time she floated pieces of polycarbonate in mid-air. This technique, on a larger scale, was also employed at documenta 12.
Because her work is so intimately involved with space everything within a given environment becomes co-opted: light, sound, architecture, perspectives, closings and openings. Iole uses everything at her disposal to enliven the viewer’s experience of moving through and existing within her spaces.
In thinking about this, I realize that one of the absolute mysteries and intriguing complexities of Iole’s work is the way in which it both negates and converses with the environment in which it exists. The fluid trajectory of her steel and glass structures coursing through a building defies logic and yet appears absolutely natural. It is as if a great bird has swept through the room and left a tracing of its powerful movement as a memento to us poor earth-bound creatures.
Iole de Freitas, Installation shots at Documenta; Courtesy of the artist and ArtSlant.
GF: Your installation at documenta 12 was so captivating. What went into developing it?
IF: After being chosen to participate in documenta 12, the curators, Roger Buergel and Ruth Noack, invited Iole to Kassel to view the exhibition halls, choose a space and submit a proposal. She made this trip in November, 2006. Iole was given free rein to develop her proposal without any curatorial restraints.
Her choice of the second floor gallery of the Museum Fridericianum allowed her the opportunity to develop a large-scale sculptural installation that had both interior and exterior stages. Because of the number and size of the windows in this space, Iole could develop a dialogue with light and reflection within this space and incorporate the panoramic vista outside into her vision.
GF: How was the piece fabricated and installed?
IF: Iole was provided with a team of about 15 people to work with in Kassel, all of whom she found were incredibly dedicated and supportive, as was the curatorial staff. All fabrication was done on site in Germany, and as is usual with producing work in other countries, some challenges arose due to language barriers and differences in materials and techniques. However, production went well and all elements were fabricated according to the exacting specifications required by the organic movement of her work. Iole went to Kassel a couple of times during the production phase to oversee the fabrication, and then she and her Brazilian team arrived for the final installation. The final weeks were arduous and demanding. Iole recalls returning to her hotel after a particularly hard day during this installation. She sat down for a short rest and immediately fell fast asleep. Upon awakening, she realized with a start that she had slept through to morning and showered and dressed for a new day. Going down to the hotel lobby, she noticed that the morning light had a reddish quality that she was not used to seeing. Downstairs she was confounded by the fact that the usual breakfast buffet was not available and went to inquire about its absence. To her astonishment and embarrassment, the hotel staff informed her that it was 7 pm, not 7 am, and breakfast would not be served for another 12 hours!
Certainly, this piece was a tremendous undertaking and Iole was very pleased with the documenta team and the final outcome. Without the tremendous support of all of these people this project would have been impossible to accomplish.
GF: Installation must have been interesting. Were there enjoyable moments during this process?
IF: Upon arriving in Kassel to begin work on her piece, Iole was delighted to find that Trisha Brown’s piece was going to be housed in the room next door. Iole is an admirer of Trisha Brown’s work and the proximity of their two pieces was exciting. Iole had occasion to talk with Trisha a few times during installation and they enjoyed a nice exchange about ideas and concerns within each other's work.
Iole mentions the intriguing curatorial juxtapositions that were created throughout the exhibit. She hopes to further explore the depth of these interplays that the documenta curators fostered through their approach.
GF: What are you currently working on?
IF: Walking around her studio, Iole showed me the round “plugs” or “anchors” that were being incorporated into her new piece at the Laura Marsiaj gallery in Ipanema, opening on August 14, 2007.
These plugs were cut from the exterior of the Museum Fridericianum in order to install anchors to hold up the outdoor segments of her documenta installation. In Kassel, Iole noticed these plugs sitting on the lawn, ready for disposal, and just knew she had to have them shipped to her Rio studio to be used in new work. After completing her piece for Laura Marsiaj, Iole has exhibitions slated for Sao Paulo and a number of other possibilities to consider for the coming year.
GF: Your work appears very demanding, both technically and materially. How do you keep up with it?
IF: Iole laughs. Years ago, she was the one producing her own sculpture (she shows me photos of the large, "baroque" sculptures she was producing in those years.). At that time, her work was physically demanding. She was laborer and executioner. Now she works with a team of architects, engineers, fabricators and installers. The demands have shifted as her work has matured. Her challenge has become one of communication - how to drive her vision through the efforts of others. As her work belies, I am certain that she does this with incredible focus, strength of will and a natural grace.
ArtSlant would like to thank Iole de Freitas for her assistance in making this interview possible.