Regina Silveira: The Lesson
Regina Silveira’s installation A Lição (The Lesson) is one more development of the poetic and semantic meaning that has prevailed in her work over the last 20 years: a development that takes roots in criticism of the classical repertoires of Western art’s light and shadow representations. At the same time that these repertoires recur in different ways in the artist’s oeuvre, Silveira works them against themselves. In so doing, she takes conventional aspects of art that common sense has instated as perception, and gives them back to us viewers in distorted manners and disconcerting scales, as indicators of non-existent or merely suggested icons.
Yet, it is crucially important that we emphasize that the explicit demonstration, through discourse, of the criticism that permeates a considerable portion of Silveira’s work does not ensure or replace the poetic meaning of an oeuvre. The contiguity of ethic and aesthetic experiments that characterizes contemporaneity prompts, now more than ever, the mediation of words. Even so, when faced with the work, this mediation sounds incomplete and out of place for being incapable of retaining art’s essential elements1.
The critical character of Regina Silveira’s works may bring to mind, by analogy, the discussion on art’s status and its institutions proposed by Dada and above all, by the reverberations of conceptual art, for example. Notwithstanding their significant differences, these two movements challenged the conventional artistic repertoires by taking a stand against appreciating the work’s materiality and formalization so dear to the hegemonic modernism of the historical vanguards.
However, even if the interrogation of artistic repertoires approximate Silveira’s works and the conceptual issue, when viewed only from the standpoint of their imagery, the artist’s works radically conflict with the dematerializing proposal of this contemporary strain. In the seventies, when the artist assimilated the work’s concept as a poetic-critic element, she assumed the graphic-spatial legacy of Concrete poetry and its theoretical affinity with semiotic thought. Thus, Regina Silveira has always rendered – through predominantly visual media in detriment of narrative discourse – her critical view on art as an institution.
Regina Silveira’s oeuvre derived, therefore, from the poetic encounter of two parallel lineages of contemporary art: one rooted in dematerialization intrinsic to concept, and the other, in objectiveness propounded by Concrete art. This tension produced by the coming together of antithetic traditions creates a sort of parody in which Silveira’s polysemous oeuvre is propped. Although some of these meanings pervade her production of the last few decades, they are particularly manifest in A Lição. This work may be explicated by a historical and an aesthetic retrospection to the Renaissance.
Beginning in the 15th century, a system was built for the visual representation of light and shadow that allowed the artist to render on the pictorial plane an illusion of volume. The representation of the world in naturalist manner (the standard in optics) established a distinction between the inventive role of the painter, who created an illusion of solid, and the sculptor, whose solid renditions derived from the real bulk of the sculptural material taken from nature.
According to Leonardo da Vinci, “In the first place, sculpture is dependent on certain lights, namely those from above, while a picture carries everywhere with its own light and shade. Light and shade therefore are essential to sculpture. In this respect the sculptor is aided by the nature of the relief, which produces these of its own accord, but the painter artificially creates them by this art in places where nature would normally do the like.” 2
Naturalist in tone, the comment evinces not only the strict disconnection then in force among the arts, but also the possibility to hierarchize them into a new order. The sculptural process was to be viewed as less complex than painting because it resulted from a less intellectual type of work. This notion was to be further supported by the Leonardian belief in the dominance of physical exertion, in sculpture, in detriment of the intense experimental restlessness resulting from intellectual activity applied to painting. According to Da Vinci, the painter was to create, with colors, an array of lights and shadows that sculpture, as a result of the transformation of naturally bulky materials, never called for. It is as if painting, while recreating light and shadow through ingeniousness and artistry, demanded more from the mind than sculpture, because the latter steals them directly from nature.
Leonardo understood, and so did Maurice Merleau-Ponty centuries later, that light and shadow are deep-rooted conditions of visibility and, for this reason, of vital importance not only to sculpture but mainly to painting.
In Eye and Mind, Ponty wrote: “From out there the mountain makes itself seen by the painter, the painter interrogates it with the gaze. What exactly does he interrogate? He interrogates by what means the mountain makes itself visible before our eyes. Light, lighting, shadows, reflections, color… not real objects but ghosts that have only visual existence. They are not, indeed, except in the threshold of profane vision, and ordinarily they are not seen. (...) This play of shadows, or other similar things, has been witnessed someday by men who have eyes. It was this very thing (the play of shadows) 3 that has made things and a space visible to them. Yet it operated without them and disguised itself to show the thing. To see it, it was not necessary to see him. The visible in the sense of the profane overlooks its hypotheses...” 4
Looking in retrospect, we can discern two strains in Regina Silveira’s work that investigate the poetic possibilities of the graphic shadow (one that Goeldi tried out in a different direction): one strain that explores the planar (non-solid) character of a shadow cast in space; and the other, considerably more recent, that works the role of shadow in the construction and perception of a volume.
The first strain may be related to the quotation by Merleau-Ponty. Inaugurated with the insertion of the silhouette in A Arte de Desenhar (The Art of Drawing), of 1982, it has informed Anamorfoses (Anamorphosis) and also a few installations such as Solombra (1990). Reversing physical reality (optics), Regina Silveira causes light to derive from representations of high-contrast shadows she creates. By means of this graphic operation, walls, floors and any other supports, including conventional ones onto which shadows are directly cast, become luminous areas. Furthermore, we cannot keep from mentioning the mysterious absence of representation of objects supposed to project them. The poetic strategy of these works forces us to focus our perception on that which according to Ponty is overlooked by the profane meaning: light and shadow are key prerequisites for visibility.
The second strain that Silveira explores has a landmark in the installation Equinócio (Equinox)5 and a more comprehensive version in A Lição. In these works the artist reaches beyond the differences that Da Vinci established between representation of light and shadow, in painting, and their real incidence in sculpture. Just as the artist managed to overthrow the vested opposition between idea (subject/concept) and work (the work made up by the physical, institutional, symbolical and perceptive spaces) represented herein by conceptualism and Concrete art, her current production has also been tumbling the conventional borders between painting and sculpture.
The representation of shadow in association with the real volume of solid figures such as the cylinder, the sphere, the cone and the cube6 – the anti-naturalist character of which has key importance for the meaning of A Lição – yields a space that is not only visually solid or pictorial, but also graphic. If we observe the artist’s treatment of light and shadow in the past 20 years or so, we will conclude that it flows over the limits of color and volume, as well as those of drawing and engraving.
In Silveira, the representation of these essential elements of visibility shares a few technical, industrial and aesthetic standards with graphic design and advertising. Ultimately, the public character of these visual languages bordering on art language is imprinted into the grandiose architectural and urban scale of a large part of the artist’s spatial interventions.
Side by side with these significant layers that send us back to the ontological status of light and shadow, dissolve the borderline separating materiality and representation, and bridge the gap between painting and sculpture, A Lição also boasts a specific semantic dimension.
The giant-sized geometric-abstract solids that make up Silveira’s installation have been arranged in a composition of monumental scale. They evoke models used in conventional painting and drawing composition classes. They refer to the legacy of repertoires that classicism ordinarily associated with the everlasting values of a supposed nature of art.
Yet, as regards the logic of the system that ushered them as an exercise, these solids have never had any intrinsic poetic value. Besides explicitly alluding to conventional art teaching through the work title (A Lição / The Lesson), the artist avails herself only of the resources inherent to the formalization of the work itself to emphasize her ironical criticism.
On presenting structural models used in teaching composition as a work of art, and on emphasizing this functional deviation of solids through their excessive enlargement, Regina Silveira has replaced the lesson in which they had been confined with an aesthetic experience that can hardly be captured in textual criticism.
1. Valéry, Paul: Carta a Leo Ferrero/ Leonardo e os Filósofos, in Introdução ao método de Leonardo da Vinci, São Paulo, Editora 34, 1998.
2. Leonardo da Vinci: Notes from the Master. Website: http://www.artcafe.net/artcenter/artfocus/leonardo.htm
3. Our italics.
4. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice: Eye and Spirit (English title). Excerpt translated from Portuguese into English taken from “O Olho e o Espírito”, in Textos escolhidos (col. Os Pensadores), São Paulo, Abril Cultural, 1980, p. 91 and 92.
5. Installation shown in September 2000 at the central gallery of the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage mews, in Rio de Janeiro.
6. In a sense that was deliberately similar to sense to Cézanne’s, from the point of view of Regina Silveira’s intentions. In a letter to Émile Bernard, Cézanne stated that nature should be regarded through the cylinder, the sphere and the cone.
12.08.2002 to 26.09.2002
tuesday - friday, from 10 AM to 7 PM
saturday, from 11 AM to 5 PM