Precarity and delicacy are what emanate from Adriano Costa’s topical sculptures at first glance. Yet, after lingering with each work for a while, one feels an overwhelming sense of strength and presence coming from them. Behind their apparent chaos lies an internal, secret order and a subtle voice warning us to not try to apprehend them formally. Here, it seems that beyond all possible formal digressions, there is the need for an erotics of art, rather than an hermeneutics of art, as Susan Sontag would have said. It is this rather human and emotional predisposition that allows the audience to fully appreciate Costa’s works. Their vulnerability and frailty is precisely what gives them an “almost-being,” “more-than-a-thing” aura, as if the artist breathed life into them, turning each piece into more than the sum of its tiny parts. In a way, it feels like they have a soul which fills the air with warmth and perhaps the love suggested in the title of the exhibition, S Título C Amor From Me To U, at Mendes Wood.
Beyond the aesthetic and political concerns also present in Costa’s work, it is this dimension, of emotional nature, that sets his work apart. The artist has previously stated his desire to blend geometry with emotion and he seems to have attained this with the fourteen sculptures hanging precariously on the white walls of the gallery. Encompassing diverse media and techniques, they are made of ordinary materials: rubber, sticks, paperboard, flannel, and wire, and unlike the other artworks on show—an outdoor installation and two geometric floor pieces—they seem chaotic, unshapely and erratic. Looking at these quasi-sculptures, one can’t help but wonder who or what has prevailed in the creative process: the artist’s agency over the materials or the materials' agency over the artist? It seems that there was rather a strange equilibrium that took place.
These pieces also represent a deepening scope of research and inquiry into the tradition of sculpture, as Costa continues his attempts to sculpt with elements which are averse to the act of sculpting. Sorry I had to pee / Tea time, for example, consisting of embroidery on a piece of flannel, makes direct reference to the previous installation Tapetes (Carpets); in both pieces, Costa explores what he describes as the “pre-sculptoric aspect” of objects and examines the undefined moment in which something has not yet acquired the status of art. These works are not proper sculptures because they lack solidity, but in a formal dimension they present a certain level of geometric concern, which in turn opens up a conversation with Brazilian artistic avant-garde movements.
Adriano Costa, Sorry I had to pee / Tea time, 2014, embroidery on flannel, 40 x 25 cm; Courtesy of the artist & Mendes Wood DM
The two floor installations on view in the same room of the Mendes Wood gallery deepen that dialogue. To a distracted gaze they seem blatantly concrete, minimalist, geometric, but a closer look reveals the noise and interferences Costa has allowed to take place within them. In Wish these interferences appear in the form of chewing gum, paper, and cigarettes subtly placed in between the concrete bricks. It is as though the artist’s wish is not just to merge emotion and geometry, but also to integrate the noise, the chaos, the ordinary, the Brazilian “low-culture” into the geometry and structural formality of concrete and neo-concrete traditions, which were influenced by European “high culture.”
Sticks, cigarettes, flannels, rubber, plants: For Costa anything can become art if one wants it to become so. It is precisely this attitude of placing everyday objects in the center of his art that establishes a dialogue between the works inside of the gallery’s west room and the outdoor installation in the gallery’s courtyard. Entering the patio, one could easily mistake this piece as part of the gallery’s lush garden. Named japan garden pagoda, it consists of a tower-like structure filled with potted plants. While Japanese pagodas are towering structures built as houses of worship and filled with sacred artifacts, Costa’s pagoda is packed with very mundane items, notably bottles of cheap cachaça, the famous Brazilian rum, and The Sword of Saint George, a plant widely known in Brazil for its protective power against bewitchment. Saint George is one of the most revered saints in the Christian tradition and it is not uncommon to see his image adorning homes in Brazil, said to be the largest Catholic country in the world. Interestingly, Saint George is also prominently displayed in Brazil’s diverse African religions, where he is commonly associated with Ogoun, a powerful deity in the Yoruba religion, usually portrayed with a number of elements, including rum.
Adriano Costa, Installation view of S Título C Amor From Me To U; Courtesy of the artist & Mendes Wood DM
It could sound like an overly intricate interpretation, but it seems like Costa’s pagoda is trying to convey the syncretism present in Brazilian contemporary culture, which assimilates and resignifies elements of different traditions into a unique blend. Metaphorically, his pagoda installation places profane items into a sacred religious structure. This logic seems to pervade the whole body of work presented in the exhibition through the assimilation of interferences and noise into the “quasi-sacred” geometry of the concrete and neo-concrete movements, and also through the introduction of rudimentary objects into the art gallery—a contemporary place of worship, so to speak. With this attitude Costa is not only simultaneously upholding and exploding the distinction between low and high art, but also problematizing contemporary Brazilian arts production in the face of its historical legacy and its continuity. Ultimately it seems that what is at play here is a desire to recreate Brazilian aesthetics, putting to dance all its sophisticated structural geometric notions, as Costa himself once said.
(Image on top: Adriano Costa, Installation view of S Título C Amor From Me To U; Courtesy of the artist & Mendes Wood DM.)