What separates us – a group exhibition by four crucial contemporary Brazilian artists, Tonico Lemos Auad, Adriano Costa, Rodrigo Matheus and Matheus Rocha Pitta -examines value systems and exchange mechanisms from a cultural, social and economic perspective. The exhibition explores the themes of international trade, travel and mobility, whilst examining the ‘real value’ of art and the system in which it is made and validated.
The exhibition is being shown in the Sala Brasil, the former ticket hall for the Oceanic Steamship Company, where it is said tickets for the Titanic were sold. Taking advantage of the hall’s lavish Belle Époque decoration – with abundant navigation motifs and references to the British Empire – the artists have engaged in a dialogue with the historical ties that link the room to shipping and international trade. What separates us interrogates value systems, and how we relate to commodities, products and exchange mechanisms. As part of this debate the exhibition examines the notion of art itself as a commodity, capable of being marketed, sold and collected.
Tonico Lemos Auad presents a sound installation, Desafinado/Out of Tune, 2003/2008, played on a three minutes and forty second loop which is being shown in the UK for the first time. ‘Desafinado’, by Tom Jobim and Newton Mendonça, recorded by João Gilberto and released in 1958, is one of the most renowned Brazilian songs from the Bossa Nova movement. This was the movement that first introduced modern Brazilian music to the world, and the song functioned as a Bossa Nova anthem. In his installation, Auad uses a repetitive whistled version that is both melodious and melancholic and immediately familiar to any Brazilian, but the pauses charge the empty spaces with a distinct longing. The artist was interested in mapping this emptiness through this work.
Adriano Costa is re-configuring Ayahuasca, 2015, an installation shown at the Modern Institute in Glasgow last year, in which he makes a humorous play on the commodification and distortion of indigenous cultural meaning. Ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic decoction of ritual and sacred value to various native people in the Amazon, has become popularised as a pseudo-spiritual, recreational drug. Costa’s installation of white cotton t-shirts echoes popular cultural merchandising and its commercial distribution. The work questions the distinction between the throwaway and the precious.
Costa is also showing a sculpture named after the sixth king of the First Babylonian Dynasty, Hammurabi, known for creating one of the earliest surviving codes of law in recorded history. Centring on the dialectics of modernity and tradition, Hammurabi is a marble work engraved with a joke, which is only appreciable once the viewer stands over the piece and reads the inscription. His avoidance of the pedestal and the frame highlights the vernacular aspect of the objects he uses and emphasises their deviation from art-historical tradition.
A new, site-specific work commissioned for the exhibition, is being shown by Rodrigo Matheus. It is made up of everyday objects seamlessly integrated into the track lighting system, tracing a thin borderline between fiction and functionality. The carefully selected and arranged objects create a multi-directional dialogue with the narrative contained in the ceiling’s paintings, embracing history, architecture, art and design. In the displacement and re-organisation of the hanging objects, Matheus considers their inherent qualities and the social and economic circuits they are attached to.
Matheus Rocha Pitta will show his Brazil Series for the first time in the UK, a sequence of eight photographs of red earth scattered with raw meat taken in Brazil under the midday sun in 2013. The series is based on the story of 76 tons of boxed meat that was found unfit for human consumption and disposed of by the authorities in a landfill site in Rio, and which was subsequently dug up and eaten by the local residents. There are several layers of meaning to these photographs, as the redness of meat and blood mingles with the reddish earth typical of Brazil’s most fertile soils. One is also reminded that the word ‘brasil’ originally referred to the reddish tone of the wood of a tree that was harvested intensively during colonial times. The colour further evokes the reddish dust that invades Brasilia in the dry season.
Rocha Pitta is also showing a new work commissioned for the exhibition that relates to his Brazil Series. Stela is created by pouring concrete onto found objects and newspaper cuttings laid into a shuttered mould. This hybrid of cast and collage is based on the common and inexpensive method of manufacturing grave markers for the poor. In order to prevent the poured concrete from sticking to the wooden mould, the mould is lined with newspaper to enable the slab to be easily turned out. The underside of each concrete gravestone is lined with newspaper, which has given rise to a joke about giving the dead something to read. Rocha Pitta inverts this joke literally and metaphorically by turning the slab over to reveal the work.
Embassy of Brazil in London
14-16 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5BL
For further information on What separates us, please contact: Francesca Field-Johnson
T: +44 20 7183 3577