São Fidélis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1976.
Lives and works in São Fidélis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
PIPA 2016 nominee.
By dedicating himself to both the recreation of pre existent works as well as to representations with no fixed references of figures from within the cultural imaginary – Mury’s work, whilst narrow and hugely free, opens up a dialogue around the history of art – Taking control over the entire creative process: from costume and set design up to the camera angle, he obtains a unique place in the contemporary scene among artists who use their own image as the strongest element of creation. It is part of important collections, as Gilberto Chateaubriand and Joaquim Paiva.
Video produced by Matrioska Filmes exclusively for PIPA 2016:
“Lisa”, 2013. Duration: 4’05”
Photography/ Script / Director: Alexandre Mury
Editing: João Henrique Costa
Acknowledgments: Filipe Rasta
Text: Giorgio Vasari in “The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, from Cimabue to Our Times”
Music: Antonio Vivaldi – “La Stravaganza” – Concerto No. 2 RV279
“A matter of chance”
Afonso Henrique Costa
Early in the last decade, somewhere in 2002 or 2003, I firstly gave heed to the self-portraits of Alexandre Mury.
An artist, which I do not seem to recollect the name, has told me of a website — sort of a blog — where I could get acquainted with the works he had posted. this artist’s oeuvre was not to my interest and has failed to strike a chord with me; but as that was a collective website, it was a sheer play of chanciness that I could catch sight of Mury’s work for the first time — a photograph of his own face partly immersed in water, where the reflection stared him back — an effort of rereading “Narcissus,” which did something to my taste.
Some time afterwards, I re accessed this blog, and saw the works of Alexandre Mury, always with different self-portraits, all of them displaying a unique and chiselled aesthetics of language, and distinctly vernacular contents. Nonetheless, ever since, I found myself leaving a flattering remark and a message, asserting that I wanted to establish communication with him.
I have never been replied, but in the following year, I googled and found out that he had another internet address where he posted his pictures, a blog enti- tled “multiply.” On that occasion, I sent word to him that I had a gallery in Rio de Janeiro, called “arte 21,” and that I would like to be properly introduced to his work, essaying to be his agent, and even to deliberate on a future exhibit.
He has gotten back to me this time, and was thankful and elated with my comments and interest to exhibit his oeuvre. He claimed not to be an artist, only a dilettante who enjoyed making his self-portraits, with no strings attached. But also that he was a man with no airs, of humble origin; who lived in a small town called São Fidélis, in a region called Norte Fluminense, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, and struggled to attend college. He then told me he was the son of a bricklayer and a seamstress who barely had a photographic camera, and that the pictures I had seen were taken using cameras of friends of him and that he even did not have a telephone and personal computer of his own, chatted from LaN gamming centers or from college; that the works which aroused my interest were his means of creating something, that these études were not works of art, but the outlet he needed to express and practice his creative skills and, thus, carry on living. I continued to visit his blog to keep an eye on his creation, with the new pictures posted. Bewildered, I was wont to leave comments stressing my desire to know him and be his agent from the gallery.
Times went by and, late in 2008, summoned by my old friend Ronaldo Barbosa, the headman of Museum Vale, I went to Vitória, in Espírito Santo, to grace the opening of an exhibition celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Museum. Over the opening’s cocktail party — a Saturday afternoon — I can recollect that I was talking to Ronaldo and the secretary of culture of Espírito Santo, to whom I had just been introduced, when I first saw the artist, and I could recognize him as the object of his countless self-portraitures. I excused myself, claiming I should talk to someone, or else I could lose sight of him; and went for Mury, accosted him and introduced myself — to his awe. I told him I was supposed to stay in Vitória for that single day only, returning to Rio de Janeiro in the morning after, and that I was looking forward to meeting him later on that day, and invited him for a conversation in the same evening, so that i could bounce some ideas off him. in that evening, he told me he had graduated in advertising in the city of campos, and that he had moved away to Vitória, aiming to work as an art director in a small advertising agency there. He kept on claiming not to be an artist, and that he had no interest in marketing his pieces, which he considered solely as a creative outlet, and not ever as a work of art. But this encounter, a new play of chanciness — since this was also the first visit he paid to Museum Vale, taken by a friend —, served the purpose to get his telephone number and email, to keep our contact going.
In the following year, he said that he would come to the state of Rio de Janeiro to visit his mother in São Fidélis, for a few days’ sojourn during vacation, and let me know he had purchased a laptop, which would help him organize, edit and present his works. I invited him to come to the city of Rio de Janeiro, and after much hammering home, I managed to make him entertain my call.
When he arrived, I requested him to show the works he had preselected in his laptop. I picked some of them, which were immediately sent to a photography lab for copies, and advised him I would show them to certain people. He was startled, and pointed out that he could not afford the printings, but I told him I was not concerned about that.
Then I decided to throw him to the lions. The first person to whom I introduced his oeuvre was Joaquim Paiva, which was sheerly unknown to Mury, who has gotten quite anxious when I informed him Joaquim was the most important photography collector in Brazil. Joaquim was the first collector to acquire his pieces, namely a series of 16 photographs entitled “the sound of music.” in the morning after, we headed for the house of Gilberto chateaubriand, who procured more seven pieces. On that same day, in the evening, I introduced his work to Vera Pedrosa, who bought one more picture. Thus, on the other day, he has gotten back home amassing 24 printings sold, and pocketing a sum amounting to some months’ salary, and, better than that, acknowledged by much celebrated collectors.
And how much have I been taken aback when, about two months after that, I was contacted by Luiz camillo Osório, asking for the contacts of Alexandre Mury, as some of his pieces would be showcased in the exhibition “Novas aquisições 2007/2010 — coleção Gilberto Chateaubriand,” at MAM-RJ (Museum of Modern art of Rio de Janeiro), curated by Osório. I have immediately called Alexandre up to tell him the good tidings, and I can cast my mind back to how thrilled he seemed through the telephone.
I sent him air tickets, so that he could grace at the opening at MAM-RJ and, as surprising as it may seem, in the first visit of Alexandre Mury to a museum… he was having his debut! Besides, I remember, in this opening, Luiz Camillo told him: “… now you are exhibiting in a renowned museum and is part of its collection … there is no way back!”
Well, the rest is a whole new history…
Afonso Costa works as producer, curator, art dealer and consultant in the art market, and has already been associated with several galleries, organizing remarkable exhibitions. along his career, he participated and still is an executive Officer and member of Boards of Directors of several museums and cultural institutions. Costa was responsible for the compilation of important collections, including João Sattamini collection, loaned for use by Mac (Museum of Contemporary Art, in the city of Niterói, state of Rio de Janeiro), chiefly spearheading the organization of its fabulous concrete art collection. He produced a number of exhibitions in Brazil and overseas, launching several renowned artists. He was born and resides in Rio de Janeiro.
“I am the Painting”
Painting is the action. The body is the surface on which the artist slaps on paint, makes collages, superimposes fabrics and ornaments. He is the work’s subject and object. Photography is part of the construction and the making of the instant, the pose, the ephemeral dressing up of nature into something tangible. The ambiguous and transgressive images make use of wordplay, fantasies and features of the body that embody feelings, desires and dreams, supposedly not theirs.
Alexandre Mury’s tableaux vivants use parody and pastiche to stage another story, another art form, based on renowned references from famous paintings and culture in general. They result from a process to which the artist dedicates himself during days of painstaking and meticulous preparation of sets, costumes and makeup to create the fanciful simulacrum into which he immerses himself body and soul.
The original does not exist. It vanished a long time ago in the world of virtual images with which the artist coexists in his travels through the web, where time and place are mixed in a bewildering simultaneity. Navigating this infinite source, Mury elects iconic images with which to establish a dialogue, a relationship that includes the viewer’s gaze in a triangular game.
Upon articulating his own language, he brings into closer proximity the cultivated and trivial, sacred and profane, sublime and banal images that overlap different worlds and beseech the memory of the viewer/participant to make sense of it. Art speaks to art, the present slides into the past and vice versa. It is in this dialogical nature of the work where the artist writes his own time and identity.
Mury nurtures the discussion of the traditional notions of feminine and masculine in the images that test the limits of visual androgyny. The coverings further test the artist’s body with regard to his identity of gender, race, sex; bearded-woman, man-cactus, living-dead, black representation of white figures. He undertakes a carnivalized reading – in the sense of a topsy-turvy world, defined by Mikhail Bakhtin – of the icons of culture and the great characters of literature, history, religion, mythology, prepared from clothing, wigs, hairpieces. The result is a double identity, fragmented and multiplied through pseudo-self-portraits that each and every time give us a different face, another person, another story, another color.
For the new series of works, Mury decides to seek more color as the common thread to his experiences. But ultimately, what color is it? Is it light or matter? Thing or painting? Optical vibration or a chromatic spiritual scale, as Kandinsky desired? In Hippocratic medicine, the theory of humors pointed to black bile as the root of melancholy and yellow bile as that of cholera. To the blood type, reddish in its features, were attributed characteristics of optimism and joy.
Besides the luminous vibrations and sensory experience, colors can bring with them a philosophical history, politics, marked by constant changes throughout history and opposite
meanings depending on the culture, proposing another universe of ambiguity. Is red an ecclesiastical, or carnal passion, color? Is it the emblem of royalty or revolutions? In his research, Mury rigorously delivers himself to monochromatic limitations, even knowing beforehand that for a “live model” the experience will never be complete. He seeks references in Whistler, Klimt, Kupka, Kokoschka, Picasso, Djanira, choosing pieces in which color is worked in a particularly significant way.
The adoption of monochrome inhibits the coloristic exuberance of his previous work, forcing him into a more analytical approach, the question of the primary defining characteristics of visual form and volume, the secrets of chiaroscuro and chromatic ranges. He submits to the subtraction of a spontaneous vitality in favor of reflection and constriction of the limitations of each color, the requirements of each so that the shape and contours are perceived.
In just a few years Mury achieved for himself a unique and distinctive place in the arts panorama, playing with the transgression of social codes and challenging the repressive solemnity of cultural canons. His work adopted a lexicon of everyday, prosaic and humorous elements with which he composed his own language, which flirts with kitsch, abuses the identity nomadism that characterized Pop culture and bets on the fertile freedom and regenerating capacity of art.
Elisa Byington is a ociologist, art critic, curator and doctorate in art history, author of the books Galleria Borghese (2000), Palazzo Pamphilj a Piazza Navona (2001), O projeto do Renascimento (2009), Giorgio Vasari, A Invenção do Artista Moderno (2011), Antonio Dias: Arquivo Íntimo – Trabalhos em Papelão (2013). Collaborated with the magazines Isto É, Bravo!, Republica, Carta Capital, Iberian Art, Icon, Il Giornale dell’arte, Flash Art.
“Mury through the times”
it goes without saying, the fundamental questions are inexorable.1
What alexandre Mury sees when he looks on the oeuvres which innervate his own works? What can we experience in the presence of his creative power, which makes his works swing back and forth from originals?
What Mury sees — from inside his pictures — within the regard of those who stare down on him from the shoulders of giants?
Now, with the differential repetition of questions – somewhat like a symptom in new clothes –, a new effect is brought about: the sands of time lay on his images. Nevertheless, they do not decant any dust or mold but history. and, in a given wrinkle in time, they allude to the artist’s relationship with those preceding him, with the works forerunning him, or even with the works that – in the near or re- mote future – are betoken by his oeuvre and with which, in turn, the artist will be summoned to enter into a dialog.
and Mury is quite industrious in this process: he researches, assembles, disassembles, finds, pursues, represents, molds, sews, exchanges, poses, gives and takes, chafed in a friction with art history and, needless to say, impelled by his own motifs and urgencies, the very itching of his own story. He resembles, repeats and elaborates (wouldn’t this be the duty of every artist?).
He undergoes the painstaking anxiety of influence2 and the smooth leavening entailed by experience – necessarily fugacious – of vanquishing it for a while. Let us resort to the reference of “Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote,” by Jorge Luis Borges,3 which perhaps ushers in a time of more fluid authorships. as matters stand, Mury sort of samples classics.
But how is the subversion implicit in his references created? initially, the canon should be discerned – the minimal elements distinguishing the reference – and then the artist goes in for interfering with the original. in this untiring pro- cess, a new original is devised, taking in the former’s originality, with which he converses, at times unearthing it or rescuing it.
￼Let us refer to the case of the poet, by chagall; we have the tilted bottle, the cat and the meticulous movement of leading the cup up to the face, which is green and upside down… the underlying presence of the original is realizable, but filled with uneasiness and with an unavoidable naïve smile. at times, already with an open smile, since all his wits fiercely cry out sarcasm, mockery, triteness and burlesque, which the serious scene would rather left unsaid.
regardless of the effect produced, although ingeniously preconceived, there is still room for surprise, and Mury himself gives an account of how weird he has felt when he was producing his Lucifer and, especially, Mona Lisa. types of weirdness (it should be said!) which are different from one another: fear and fright, respectively.
Do all roads lead to rome?
as geographical metaphors for the relationship between an artist and his pre- decessor, we may point to all movements in the dialectic between center and periphery. the conception of carlo Ginzburg in his studies on the history of italian art may be spotted as the essential idea: “if the center is by definition the loca- tion of artistic creation and periphery simply means distance from the center, then one cannot but consider periphery synonymous with artistic belatedness. Of course, this is a tautological scheme.”4
in the case of italy, we will see that rome, after the second decade of the 1500s, will take the forefront which belonged to Florence previously and, also ac- cording to Ginzburg, Giorgio Vasari should be seen as the one that has cemented the point of view that periphery was the belated artistic runner-up. according to Ginzburg, Vasari has maintained that “the only solution for an artist born and raised in the province is to establish contact with the center: only then he will be able to take part in the game of innovation and progress.”
Hence, a group of artists from other italian cities pilgrim to rome – the canon’s center – in the pursuit of the precious roman treasury and, principally, willing to be freed from scarcity or the state of being bereft of artistic relevance, which is necessarily supposed in the provincial life. But even Vasari admitted that in this game of domination “wonderful works” will be concocted in the pe- riphery, by the chance of the challenge of emulation. Ginzburg seeks to unveil the strong sense of these alternative creations in the word scarto, signifying “‘a sudden lateral displacement from a given trajectory,’ used, for instance, for certain movements of horses: scarto is, in sum, a sort of ‘horse movement’.”
this takes us to the city of são Fidélis, in the state of rio de Janeiro, where Mury gave birth to his work, upon soft and sudden horse movements. We may descry both the stillness of a small town and the inborn restlessness of Mury, which harshly explodes in the fierce lateral displacement in his piece anjo do lar, staged on the open fields of rio de Janeiro; a movement toward the creation of a work – his own oeuvre. We understand well the anguish of living in a periphery territory compared to the greater cities in Brazil. Likewise, we can discern a national tropism relating to the great metropolises in the world. it is the same anxious influence – the agent of inspiration and innovation – which disembogues in the beautiful heavenwards fall of the Mury’s Ganymede, taken by the american eagle in the skies of New York.
His work bears a familial similitude with the works of Yasumasa Morimura and cindy sherman, but is not their aftermath; is en route for them, in spite of specific differences. regarding its relationships with the art system, we hold our breath when we know that his first visit to a museum happened when he premiered in art exhibits. this could make of him a naïve artist – like the so-called primitive, the children or madmen – capable of a raw creative venture which, not paradoxically, repeats and inaugurates itself. But his vivaciousness and wit help him depart from the virginal innocence, furnishing him with the anthropophagic possibility of incor- porating and spelling a transformed form, not inadvertently present in his abaporu.
all of this could set in motion a feeling of freedom similar to the first im- pressions that Mury has had when he first read Freud: his interest in the concept of polymorphous perverse5 and the possibility of having pleasure on the body’s entire surface, the paint on the skin, without the restrictive demarcations of the erogenous zones. Or even the pleasure from outside the body: the objects to which he acts alongside, a look on the other which anticipates the latter and the onlooker’s perception about him in his work.
the color fetish
On one occasion, his mother asked him: “Why do you do that?”
this is surely a fundamental and unfathomable question to anyone doing anything, principally when the thing being dealt is art. One answer that has come
to me was derived from one of his reflections on his creative process: “i think in colors a lot.”
Oftentimes, these colors verge on volumes, as shapes in an interesting syn- esthesia. Observe the shades of red and blue in his Madonna surrounded by cherubim and seraphim or the lurid colors of the studies that are being posted on the scenography of his Vendedor de frutas (the Fruit Vendor). in his work, color is hypostatized in an object. and when the sentence “i think in colors a lot” conjoins other reflections: “Blue is my fetish,” the finding that colors in his work are not only an object, but a special object, is revealed ad libitum.
as already said, Mury is a hard worker and one may maintain that, in this purportedly new key to understand his work, he endeavors to construct this spe- cial object. this makes the question about the nature of the relationships of the new object with the preceding originary and original one comes into view once more. When Mury mimics in deviation what he veils in the image, he also implies what he unveils. in his piece criação de adão (the creation of adam) – the only of his works to expose him in frontal nudity –, his penis, this part of the masculine anatomy in which Freudian anecdote would recognize the materialization of the phallus, appears playfully concealed by clay.
the scene prepared by Mury seems to be toing and froing, in a friction be- tween presences and absences; with the possibility of making something appear or concealing something. He quells and makes the original work relive; gives birth to his own creation from the venter of the creation anteceding it and, in this transit, may be lost and found again amidst the blue.6
there is fear of absence, the possibility of losing, of having already lost or, perhaps, of not having had at all, and, then, there is astonishment – pleasure and fright – upon the transformed appearance of the thing.7 the original work, already lost in repetition and in the sands of time, reappears materialized, per- sonified in colors right in front of you!
But it does not reappear at will, Mury unearths it where the thing had previous- ly disappeared. Having a certain representation of the thing on hand, Mury works industriously – manually and in thoughts – to carve “his thing” into the real world. in this vein, his work entails a dual creative act, whereby he disavows the disap- pearance of the original and simultaneously substitutes it for the elements staged.8
But he is not alone. Who would withstand life without the belief that not ev- erything has been done and, for this reason, that adding something new to the
world is possible? the possibility of this creative act, which is intertwined with attaining the sense of being in the world,9 is deeply ingrained in Mury. such as his front – self-assured – blended to the multitude of false faces and vizards in his James ensor.
Making our way into his work is also believing, once more, in reasons to carry on living, to reclaim novelty in the world and – if possible – be overwhelmed.
1. GUtMaN, Guilherme. “Mury através do espelho”. santa art Magazine, 8:86-9, junho de 2012. 2. BLOOM, Harold. a angústia da influência: uma teoria da poesia. rio de Janeiro: imago, 1991. 3. BOrGes, Jorge Luis. Ficciones. Buenos aires: emecé, 2004.
4. GiNZBUrG, carlo. a micro-história e outros ensaios. Lisboa: Difel, 1991.
5. FreUD, sigmund. tres ensayos de teoría sexual (1905). Buenos aires: amorrortu, 1993.
6. FreUD, sigmund. el malestar en la cultura (1930). Buenos aires: amorrortu, 1994.
7. LacaN, Jacques. O seminário, livro 8: a transferência (1960-1961). rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1992. 8. FreUD, sigmund. Fetichismo (1927). Buenos aires: amorrortu, 1994.
9. WiNNicOtt, Donald. O brincar e a realidade. rio de Janeiro: imago, 1975.
Guilherme Gutman was born, resides and lives in the city of rio de Janeiro. He holds a Bachelor of Medical sciences from UFF (Federal Fluminense University), was a Psychiatry resident physician, meanwhile started his studies of psychoanalysis. He holds a Master’s and a Ph.D. degree from the institute of social Medicine, UerJ (state University of rio de Janeiro). Gutman worked in many psychiatric institutions, where he managed to deepen his insights on the relationships between art and madness. He is an associate lecturer of the Psychology Department of PUC-Rio (Pontifical catholic University of rio de Janeiro), psychoanalyst and author of several articles and book chapters. He was born, resides and lives in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
“Mury Through The Looking Glass”
What Alexandre Mury sees when he looks on one of his works?
What is the experience from seeing Mury depicted in one of his works?
What Mury sees — from inside his pictures — in the eye of the beholder?
It is safe to say that one cannot remain impervious to one of the photographs of Alexandre Mury; or, rather; traverse it without being immediately bound to awe, awkwardness or enthrallment, or else led to unhurriedly accommodate it, pondering on it until the experience reaches its ultimate synthesis.
This is not to say that his pieces could be taken in gently, although there is an indelible subtleness to it; especially in his nudity, which is strong and ubiquitous but not obnoxious, prone to be eroticized albeit not gaudy, and which has been acutely defined by the very artist as a nudity “that a child could see.”
Perhaps as a natural effect of its inherent pungency, each of his photographs urges the viewer to take a stand with respect to the characters on stage. Connection and detachment entailed by one of the traits of his oeuvre: the reference to prior works — some of them icons of art history and literature — or to local or universal imaginary characters —, like scarecrows, the saci or mermaids, bringing on the invaluable effect of familiarity from which one should keep a certain distance, in an intriguing game.
Needless to say that there is an easily discernible relationship with a predecessor in this game, which alludes to the topography of a mirror. Which would be the nature of this relationship? Certainly not a relationship of fidelity, though conveyed through another language. Quite on the contrary, teeming with inventive characterizations, enlightening, and theatricality, his allusions to elements present in the original works — his “makeshifts” — are representative, ludic, tropistic and witty. They are somehow strikingly Brazilian, be it for its “nimbly extemporaneous” nature (meticulously assembled and rehearsed after hours, days or months of industrious work, which ultimately seems spontaneous), or owing to the materials used, resembling, in a way, Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica.
Amidst dissimilar characters and farfetched scenarios — the whole of which yields an unprecedented cosmorama —, there is comfort in the presence of the artist’s countenance. He is there to host the viewers, meanwhile looking defiant and askant at them. From inside the oeuvre, he is akin to his camera, which opens and closes its shutter to get an inverted image, put up for the beholders.
Mury through the looking glass (and what he found there)
Alexandre Mury is in each of his photographs: one may spot his features beneath the paints, colors and innumerable artifacts; his composition is not skimpy at all.
On stage, Mury plays the main part not alongside the other characters surrounding him: he bears an essential relationship not with the horizontal thread in the weaving of his composition, rather; he is vertically driven to the other end of the thread, which is the viewer. In point of fact, he unremittingly chooses not to be twice on the same scene — some of his works sort of replicate his own image, which he attains by resorting to something else: the application of a mirror to double or triple his image, with the photograph unfolded in a series of images, or even by inserting another picture of himself.
Broadly speaking, he also hits the target when he refuses any interpretative fixity, making the image represented go off on a tangent from the frame: when he dislocates the features from one’s expectancy, Mury upholds the atopia of his characters. Take the case of the Ugly Duchess; which blends and overlaps the masculine and feminine entities. Likewise, in spite of her blatant ugliness, one may be allured by the insidious eroticism of her astoundingly false breasts.
In fact, Mury dialogs with those willing to look at him veraciously and — why not? — voraciously. The other elements on stage — for instance, the dolls in Salvador Dali — will always be supporting artistes or extras; and, I must underline, the main parts are played by the following to actors: Mury and the look from the other. Conceivably, from a certain point on, those who look on the works of Mury may feel in solitude, as if the artist subtly retreated, leaving viewers with their own ghosts down an imaginary thread until the time when — surprise! — Mury is not there any longer.
At this juncture, it is up to each of them to tell their own stories, building their narrative out of the effects exerted by the work, outraged and moved by the threads which have been bent to devise, each of them, once at a time, what is on the other side of the looking glass.
“A World Reinvented”
On view for the first time at Galeria Laura Marsiaj, Alexandre Mury’s photographs are bound to cause disparate reactions ranging from admiration for his virtuoso readings of works from the history of art and of scenes that are dear to the collective imagination to possible reticence with regard to the way he flirts with the element of kitsch that may be found in part of his work.
When we examine the recent history of Brazilian art – as wrought during the transition from the 1950s to the 1960s – we see a visuality that is almost always marked by sobriety. In Brazil, the contemporary carries with it a strong trace of the modern and it infrequently suffers the influence of sunny tropical life reflected in the artistic outputs of other Latin countries.
From Concretism and Neo-concretism to the contemporary, and in works that graze the Baroque – in all such instances there is a simultaneousness of excess and clean lines that give the whole a look we are able to identify as the modern, sober appearance so characteristic of “Brazilian” work. Such an appearance does not include flirtation with kitsch, fondness for Baroque excess, or parody that deals with humor and irony and induces the viewer to revise the meaning of what he has already seen. All of these aspects are included in Mury’s work.
Thus, to move beyond the corrupted gaze that is typical of those who grow up with a “local” visuality would be a first step towards entering the universe produced by such a poetics. Let us begin at the beginning. In Mury’s case, one must know something of his biography in order to better understand his work.
The artist has always lived in his birthplace of São Fidélis, a town located in the interior of the state of Rio de Janeiro. This context is crucial for comprehending the trajectory that leads to the images we see today. With no direct access to works of art– a problem in Brazil even for those who live in its capital cities – his bridge to the world of art was provided by the Internet and by books.
In his voracious relationship with the web, the artist had already evinced an interest in photography when he became aware of the Fotolog album phenomenon in which people used to publish photographs of their everyday lives; this app from the mid-2000s is currently redolent of internet pre-history. To an engineer at Google, six years are millennia; to a historian they are but a single thread in the fabric of time.
In an act permeated by sarcasm of sorts – and intrigued by the narcissistic exercise of people exhibiting themselves on the internet on a daily basis – Mury began to do the same thing. Only in his case the operation was more complex from the outset. He always took care to show himself disguised as an Other. It was always him, but he was always different.
The knowledge of art history that he gleaned from virtual museums and books was added to his skills in carpentry, sewing, costuming and make-up – crafts that are akin to the art of the theater and a layer that is present in his work. Thus, the artist came to appropriate works of art – from Picasso to Cindy Sherman– and to reconstruct, by himself, the entirety of their original “scenes”. It should be noted that the image of the human body is always present in his work. Their presence is key in an oeuvre that encompasses fundamental elements of performance, theater and film, and is steeped in an atmosphere that seems to exude sexuality. Mury has always kept one eye on the Internet and another on the books of Georges Bataille and the studies of Michel Foucault.
This prelude is important because it signals one part of the work’s genesis. If works of art establish a canonic relationship that engenders respect and distance, Mury establishes a conversation that approximates them to the “originals” through parodistic readings.
If the whole of his work until now has been shaped by photography, it is nonetheless profoundly indebted to painting, as may be seen in the always richly detailed construction of each one of his images. Present, also, are the classical lessons of composition, light and shadow, color, framing and structure that are so dear to painting.
One of the features that impart a special uniqueness to this work is the fact that it is at once powerful and precarious. These new readings are not of the impeccable sort that exudes the air of unreality that is so typical of advertising. Such is not the case. His need to execute his work with the precious few resources he had at hand enhanced its extreme inventiveness, leading the work to “happen” in a powerful manner precisely because he had the very minimum at his disposal.
Let us examine the case in which it is not a work of art that is being reinterpreted but a photograph of the Brazilian Indian tribal chief Juruna who was elected to congress during the 1980s. Here is the omnipresent tape recorder which the chief always carried with him, and the sign of Brasília, his workplace. Congress is rendered simply yet acutely and with good humor by Mury. Two white jars, one of them upended, the other right side up, two books between them, only their spines appearing, and there you are – all one needs for an association with the work of Oscar Niemeyer to be established.
In another work, “Abaporu”, the artist “remakes” Tarsila do Amaral’s most well-known work using little more than his own body. Seated upon the floor with a cactus in the background off to the right and the correct choice of sunset as the moment in which to shoot the picture – this is all it takes for “Abaporu” reinterpreted “Abaporu”, stripped of distance, right before our eyes.
Whereas in the case of Tarsila the entire “scene” is revealed, in another (“Study for Seurat”), the artist’s painting “Standing Model, Study for Les Poseuses” is quite economically translated. Setting aside a series of details of the “real” work, the artist enhances what may be the most well-known aspect of the painter’s work – his use of the technique of pointillism. Mury appears naked against a greenish background, under a “shower” of multicolored confetti. The ability to bring to mind the core of Seurat’s work with so little is as impressive as it is playful, economical and rich in visual potency for the imagination.
Francis Bacon, Cindy Sherman, Marcel Duchamp, Quentin Massy, Picasso and so many others. From contemporary art to the Renaissance, passing through antiquity and modernity along the way, Mury undertakes a nonlinear study of the history of art. Those familiar with the “original” work will, obviously, enjoy more layers of meaning. But one need not know everything in order to enjoy work that is, essentially, extremely contemporary.
When he re-reads a Cindy Sherman, the artist is “remaking” a work by the name best known in contemporary art for investigations into the idea of the simulacrum. Many of the layers of “reality” that were forged in the contemporary make this idea a focal point for understanding our own relationship to the real in the “postmodern” age. We inhabit a world in which reproductions and copies are often more “real” than the originals, the first ones that are so often lost or forgotten. Thus, even as he elaborates the idea of the copy, of the dilution of authorship, of representation, interpretation, fantasy – ultimately, of simulacrum – Mury operates powerfully within the register of memory.
Just as we find ourselves before a new, previously nonexistent image, and – who knows? – in light of new meaning cast by it upon another work of art or image, we are referred to the first one, the one that gave rise to what we are seeing today. It is in this passage, in this intervention, in this effort of translation, that the poetics of Mury’s work comes about.
The reinvention wrought by these photographs calls upon memory and unleashes a critical, interpretive gaze. If the whole of Mury’s work is a constant reinvention of the world, each glance at his work affords us an opportunity to reinvent our own gaze upon a universe that seemed staunch, given, catalogued, already seen and established.
Whether it be to review that which is already known to us from another angle, whether it be to get to know that which we did not know heretofore, the world recreated by Alexandre Mury reminds us that all creation is something that constantly elicits the task of interpretation; in other words, to look at his work also represents a chance for each one of us to recreate the world in which we live and with which we deal in our own ways. In the end, this signifies the index of a possible freedom.
“The Collector in the Forest of Signs”
A dynamic at the same time centripetal and centrifugal constitutes Alexandre Mury’s works. He makes himself omnipresent to represent others, to be many others. Now, he lends his body to Exu, Ogum, Xangô, Iansã, Oxumaré, Oxum, Oxóssi, Ossanha, Obaluaê, Nanã, Iemanjá and Oxalá.
At first, the new series – Orixás – may suggest a rupture from his previous work. However, it’s possible to note how he unfolds his previous work, encouraging us to see them again in the light of his current moment. It’s no surprise the focus on deities, considering, for example, his São Sebastião, Shiva and Zeus Amon. Surprising is the way that they’re represented.
Formerly secondary, a hierocracy sometimes sober, sometimes dramatic or lyric acquires prominence. But the sacredness inherent to the religious theme doesn’t preclude the somewhat heretic humor that has characterized his images. Not so much for making explicit his masculinity in representations of female orixás, because the relativisation of genders is something experienced in the terreiros with the fusion of differences in conjunctions of natural and divine bodies. What can cause more uneasiness is his naked body, without visible marks of initiation and at first classifiable as white in the complex pallet formed by the ethnical-racial relations in Brazil. If nudity goes against religious dictations and habits, for many it can be bold for someone who isn’t Afro-descendant or initiated to present himself not only as one but as twelve orixás.
If Mury usually explored diversity to give life to his enactments, in his prior solo exhibition, Eu sou a Pintura, he focused on monochromes. Although green prevails in his most recent series, the color is of less interest and the self-limitation of the artist to the flora is of more interest. Kosi Ewè Kosi Òrìsà; simple, direct, deep, revealing is this Ioruba saying – without leaves there is no Orixá. Paraphrasing this expression essential to Candomblé and other religions of African origin in Brazil: without leaves there aren’t Orixás. To represent the dieties of the Afro-Brazilian pantheon, he took this law as principle for action and used only leaves, flowers, fruit, roots and other botanical elements.
Orixás’ patron is Ossanha, the Lord of the Leaves, who rules their liturgical and medicinal use. A choice that allows us to think about other political dimensions in Mury’s work. These images are linked to ecology. Without leaves there’s no Orixá, nor photosynthesis and, therefore, oxygen, life in the planet. The experimentation with matters in natura guides also the series Os Quatro Elementos, with representations of fire, air, earth and water. Elements that, as the foundations of the Orixás, determine the structuring of the images in the exhibition space and in the catalogue. Subtly, these series refer to the global crisis caused by deforestation, lack of water resources, warming. They talk about how water, air, earth and the Earth deteriorate.
Orixás is also political when propagating new images of Afro-Brazilian deities. It reiterates Candomblé’s vitality, the up-to-dateness of its worldview and of its sacred imaginary. And it restates the need to divulge them in a social conjecture marked by restrictions and persecutions of African religions in Brazil. Another differential of these series is the fact that Mury created his own representations. Without starting from pre-existent works, he avoids explicit references to exponential icons of art history and visual culture. His images are his own because the artist gives them flesh, surrounds himself and dresses with matters that are essential to the beings represented: the elements of nature and the leaves specific to each Orixá. They’re his own also because they’re his creations and nobody else’s. Before, beyond his presence, his subjectivity was outlined as he collected images and conjugated additions and subtractions in the rereading. Now, it takes other risks, manifesting itself from the guiding scheme to the details of each mise en scène.
Even if the imagination carries more weight now than the memory, the dialogue with the History of Art remains, announced since the first hour of his trajectory. Besides revisiting the four elements theme, relations between sights and artistic fields, between objects of vision and ways to see reverberate. While the Orixás have vertical framing that is more associated to portraits and self-portraits, the images of nature elements have a predominantly horizontal shape – a novelty in Mury’s work – which is traditionally used in landscaping representations. In this sense, the last series leaves a question: do horizontality, landscaping and minimized self-image announce a new path in his work, less centered in the human figure, less self-referent?
The confrontation with the History of Art also persists in the dialogue that Orixás maintain with some series of representations of Afro-Brazilian deities. Without quotations, these images align with other interpretations of this pantheon. Specially, with the photos published by Pierre Verger in his book Orixás, the representations made by Carybé in different media and, more recently, the compound Bori by Ayrson Heráclito. While the drawings, paintings, sculptures and prints by Carybé are graphic re-elaborations of his experiences with religious life in Bahia, inside or out the terreiros, Verger and Heráclito’s series are more immediate registers: in the first case, of religious rituals; in the second, of an artistic performance. The performance of a rite is also fundamental for Mury’s images to come to light. Multiple, unmistakably artistic, his enactments were less public and more mediatized, deriving from actions that, although, took place many times in collective use spaces, converged to spaces restricted to the acting of the artist and his few collaborators. En passant, note that: situations that aren’t exempt of magical glimmers. Characteristics that approach his series to the poses photographed in studio, in black and white, by Mário Cravo Neto, some also representing Orixás.
Having in view the power of Candomblé and the art dedicated to the relations between Brazil and Africa in Bahia, Mury considered it necessary to go there to carry out Orixás. Little wonder, he understands this series as fruit of an artistic residency. A residency in transit, I would say, through territories consecrated to deities: São Salvador and São Fidélis, among others. It can be said that this series was initiated a long time ago, in the artist’s hometown, in the north of Rio de Janeiro, with the garden formed by eatable and medicinal plants, therefore of a more useful than aesthetic nature, cultivated by his mother, Hilda de Carvalho Mury. In fact, to make Orixás, it was necessary to collect leaves. Literally, pick them in gardens, yards, herb shops, woods, forests. Metaphorically too. In Candomblé, they say that someone collects a leaf when they learn something. In fact, Mury acquired knowledge, collected leaves in Candomblé, in art and beyond.
The productive process of the images and the interlocution with the works of Verger, Heráclito and Cravo Neto make us think if photography is the fulcrum of Mury’s work. On one hand, it is. As his previous work, this series exists because photography exists. In the case of Orixás, the speed of the photographic process is essential to preserve the fugacious existence of these tableaux vivants, sometimes with very brief temporality due to the short life of some leaves and flowers. In parentheses we may ask: is there contemporary art without photography? On the other hand, it’s not. Mury is less interested in photography itself and more in the event, its momentary performance, almost like an ephemeral sculpture, in a live scene captured by light, processed and filed electronically, printed on paper.
In this sense, it’s necessary to point out how the re-reading made by Mury of an image of Ossanha created by Carybé is the exception that confirms another way of meaning, even though not entirely new, or understood as rule. Like Ossanha, he inhabits the forest. But his forest is made of another matter. Its leaves are the signs, also rich in their variety: icons, indexes, symbols; mixed up signs, because he knows that, as it occurs with the leaves in Candomblé, the magic results from the mixture. The indicial quality is the one that stands out the most in these images composed by luminous traces of happenings. However, if they don’t echo pre-existent images, they maintain the iconicity in the figuration of the botanical elements and the artist, already instituted as icon, in his work and beyond it. And potentiate the symbolic dimension, either because, more than finishing lines, the Orixás open multiple meanings, or because with them, as seen, Mury says much more.
Mury enters the woods, the forest of signs, to collect the leaves and improve the mixture. And knows that it requires sacrifice, it’s necessary to offer the body for the sacred to be installed. Sacred in art, of course. Like the ethnography that precedes it, in these images the incorporation is artistic. Centripetal incorporation, but little self-referent, because it aims at the corporeity of art – to the body of the work and, centrifugally, to the bodies connected to it. The image is embodied, acquires body when it’s luminously printed on paper. But it’s up to its body, minimum as it may be, to connect the bodies of the artist and the public. What would allow us to open other parentheses and question if there’s contemporary art without body. However, these series and Mury’s previous work give rise to something deeper, though obvious – without body there’s no art.
“Alexandre Mury: Historial Frictions”
The ineffaceable poetic alchemy of the works of Alexandre Mury manages to en- kindle pondering, fret, irking and even the intractable discomfort entailed by the ambiguousness of libidinous pleasure. the unfoldment and depersonalization whereby the artist’s own self is dawned amidst his every work, by dint of a dis- continuous and fragmentary procedure, put forth by constantly transforming his very image and introducing his own being as the delver into historical investigations; this is the chain of events which vests in him the custody of a quite exquisite artistic experience.
Arthur rimbaud, in his correspondence entitled Du voyant, addressed to Georges izambard (charleville, May 13, 1871), makes a pungent assertion on the contemporary identity, viz: Je est un autre . this means that the being may only exist through the motion that generates the difference from oneself. We discern this dispersal of the self or multiplication of characters in the work of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa and his heteronyms, in his own words, “a relentless, organic tendency toward depersonalization and simulation.” in so unique, intricate and controversial characters, such as Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro Campos or Bernardo Soares, we have plurality as the gist of his oeuvre, “‘to feel everything in every way,” or, videlicet, “i am not them.”
This constellation of senses, this plethora of meanings, points to a path that closes in on the unstable territory of reflecting on several painting modalities and interpreting art history, which are interfused and serve as the elements of an endless twirl of readings that go with the threads commingling in the pictorial thought of Mury.
His multiplicity is geared towards the pursuit of plural contents. Mury iconizes, riddles and dislocates the art imagery to develop a system in which his body transfigures into the engine of the picture itself. in this process of desacralization, he shifts the apex of history to a hybrid process, of referring to himself, in a sort of amorous fusion to devise something unexpected in fictitious territories, targeted at carving them into the world.
His body engenders its own language, acts as a linking agent in its recurrent torsions and contortions in the pursuit of the alter idem, the exercise of plasticity and unfoldings of his existence personified in other characters. Everything speaks through or by dint of concrete contents, on one side, and fictional contents, on the other, where nothing bears a relationship with the original reality, but, rather; with a different, garbled and ambivalent reality. Plato has formulated the concept of mimesis, of art as imitation, as simulacrum of the real. Mury applies the constant procedure of de constructing and adulterating art history by way of an ironic — and even enigmatic — approach, dislocating the historical position of art works to dialogue with a sort of vol de parole [speech lifting], a denied truth, by rereading the classic iconography.
Mury resorts to his own self as the centre of ordainment and to manifest his aesthetic experiences, his self acts as the artistic player which converts into his own work, as if engaged in a sculpting act, a conveyance of meanings, always confronting other characters. this connectedness of himself to the others through historical appropriations and a process of constant denudation or travestying is a rhetoric tool that bridges the distance and aura of inaccessibility of the works of ancient masters, a sort of blurring of our memory relating to works to which we are acquainted, a paradox similar to looking and not seeing. experimenting, sup- pressing the distance and inaccessibility, a conflictive magnetism between what could be and could not be, as an archaeological reconstruction.
His fictional deeds are connected to the contemporary practices by means of the photographic record, verging on a pictorial act. they yield provocative, far- fetched and mostly ironic alternatives. Multiple and many-hued views where rel- ativized subjective questions are broadened, summoning the thought by which i is another who thinks of me. a sort of disorder of all senses, a constant transformation, an eccentricity.
Pictorial media forays into painting, sculpture, installation art or performance, with boundlessly open and inconclusive readings that are diffused amid his array of images by the right of free artistic movement, bid by a historical, classic, modern or contemporary interest. Literary, mythological and religious motifs also underlie his repertoire and open up new realms for his visual concerns. This punning between differences and similarities, equivalences or dissociations alludes to the conceptions of René Magritte, found in a letter to Michel Foucault (May 23, 1966), where he makes averments on what is false or genuine, and appraises the pun between the words visible and invisible: “things do not have resemblances. they do or do not have similitude.” 1
His unceasing process of appropriating and realigning art history icons and inseminating them in another discursive strategy may be a strategy of denial, since he is supposed to instil them in paced oppositions. He problematizes, triggers off new meanings for artistic conception, dislocating its historical locus, burning the reception frontiers which we have established for these icons, setting in motion the emergency of this image, and innervating the representational surface behind diverse procedures, in an unexampled vitality.
In this vein, Marcel Duchamp has affirmed that “the observer gives the picture more than he takes from it.” Mury is concurrently the producer and observer of his own work. There is loss of identity when he places on hold his own self and represents an alter idem, which is fancied and seen through the lens of an actual construct, though untied to the former reality. Looking at himself, creating intimacy through two-way mirrors or constant denudations, as if playing different roles at the same time, he reveals the fictional character and structure of invention, of a plurality of possible worlds, of internet workings within his own work, sometimes with ironic leaning, and others, with lurid colours.
The appropriation of existing forms or the concoction of imaginary scenes stands as the structure of his work and acting organization, with which this universe is effectuated by the photographic camera recording. Resorting to trivial objects found in quotidian profusion, Mury manages to ascribe new meanings and rearrange the order in his artistic conception. He develops scenic and allegorical anima to accentuate the aesthetic reach of his works and, in the arrangement of this discourse, assembles several procedures, such as the choice of stage, material and the set of fragments that will compose the scene and found a work derived from his imagination. The apparent chaos is a rearrangement, so that a new artistic intervention may emerge. Anarchical and inconsonant at first, it then becomes perspicacious and intricate when substantiated in the photographic surface.
The cornerstone is to portray his own self and, from this nodal point, perform subtraction or addition operations that, although referring to certain historical works, attain different nuances by a system of simulation and dissimulation of his physical body, which is part of the scene set. In the destitution of the original image, the work’s conception and physical execution part ways, and a self-construction process is conveyed by the symbolic and sensorial overstatement of appearing in the world. At times he establishes a fusion of artistic languages, where the elements of performance and photography are interweaved.
In the process pervading his work, there are sceneries that oft vanish in the act of performing. Fragments, diverse objects and feed-in components produce true allegories, a mosaic of elements managing to utter different voices and sens- es. His body, the main character and part of the work, such as Cindy Sherman, sometimes is doubled or tripled by a play of mirrors. in these exercises of deprival or accumulation in ambiguous situations, Mury delves into the art through the transformation of our view, by reinterpretation and rereading. Meanwhile, he poses a challenge which seems to play its own life by unremittingly discussing its riddles. Thinking of art grounded on an interpretation, aggregating new entities and significations, be them decipherable or not, all of this takes me to these sentences of Clarice Lispector: “Decipher me but do not finish. I can still surprise you.”
On the heels of the safe route of artistic icons composed by the great masters, Mury proposes his own challenges and aesthetic exercises, reactivates scenes or representations, depriving them of their original territories, aligning his ideas in convincing scenic symphonies, coming up with metaphors and strange but meaningful links, supplying us with another identity, transitive and edgy, for historical questions.
As an artist engendering and mediating multiple senses, in his perverse, ironic and provocative rationale, Mury outlines a new framework for reading pieces of art. He sets his own stage for inexhaustible aesthetic experimentations and pro- poses a new and wide-ranging discussion on the parameters of contemporary art. As Ortega y Gasset has averred, “God has placed beauty in the world to be stolen.” in point of fact, Mury has advanced and comprehended that lesson very well.
1. em FOUcaULt, Michel. isto não é um cachimbo. 5a ed. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e terra, 1988, p. 82.
Vanda Klabin is an art historian, curator of several art exhibits and author of essays and articles on contemporary art. she holds a Bachelor of arts in Political and social sciences from PUc-Rio (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio)
– “O Catador na Floresta de Signos”, Roberto Alban Gallery, Salvador, Brazil
– “Fricções Históricas”, Cultural Centre SESC Glória, Vitória, Brazil
– “Eu sou a pintura”.Athena Contemporânea Art Gallery- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Fricções Históricas”, Caixa Cultural, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Auto-retratos”, Laura Marsiaj Gallery, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Selected Group Exhibitions
-“Ao Amor do Público I”, Museum of Art of Rio (MAR), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Novos Talentos: Fotografia Contemporânea no Brasil”, Caixa Cultural, Brasília, Brazil
– “Aproximações Pictóricas”, Athena Contemporânea Art Gallery- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “África Aqui Agora”, SESC Quitandinha, Petrópolis, Brazil
– “Novos Talentos: Fotografia Contemporânea no Brasil”, Caixa Cultural, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Ver e ser visto”, Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro, MAM-RJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Novas Aquisições 2012/2014 — Coleção Gilberto Chateaubriand”, Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro, MAM-RJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Virei Viral”, CCBB – Cultural Centre Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Rio de Imagens: Mostra Cristo Redentor”, Museum of Art of Rio (MAR), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Entrecruzamentos”, Athena Contemporânea, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
– “Aproximações Contemporâneas”, Roberto Alban Gallery, Salvador, Brazil
– “Espelho Refletido – O Surrealismo e a Arte Contemporânea Brasileira”, Municipal Art Centre Hélio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Foto Síntese 2012”, Athena Art Gallery, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Novas Aquisições 2010/2012 – Coleção Gilberto Chateaubriand”, Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro, MAM-RJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Genealogias do Contemporâneo” – Coleção Gilberto Chateaubriand”, Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro, MAM-RJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Retratos Performáticos”, SESC Vila Mariana – São Paulo, Brazil
– “Foto Síntese”, Athena Art Gallery, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
– “Novas aquisições da Coleção Gilberto Chateaubriand – 2007/2010”, Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro, MAM-RJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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