In an exclusive interview, Luiz Camillo Osorio, Curator of PIPA Institute, spoke to Gustavo Speridião, PIPA 2016 finalist, about his educational background, creative process, the role of painting in his work, and challenges that arise regarding the insertion of political work into the art market.
Read below the exclusive interview here on PIPA’s website:
Gustavo Speridião in conversation with Luiz Camillo Osorio
1 – Gustavo, tell us a bit about your educational background. I know that you studied at EBA-UFRJ (Fine Arts School of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), one of the more traditional colleges, that has undergone some changes in recent years. How was that period and your interaction with the students that were there at the same time as you, given that an important aspect of what you take away from an art school are the relationships that you form there.
In 1997 I started studying History of Art at UERJ (State University of Rio de Janeiro / bachelor’s degree) and for three years I studied at both universities at the same time. They were different courses that complemented each other in terms of practice and theory. At UERJ some teachers were very important to my education: Gustavo Schnoor, Cristina Salgado, Roberto Conduru and Vera Beatriz. But it was at EBA-UFRJ that I graduated and also took a Master’s Degree in Visual Arts (PPGAV – Post-Graduate Course in Visual Arts – UFRJ) and where I spent more time because of the studio (Pamplonão).
When I started at UFRJ, there was a national university strike taking place (1998). At UFRJ there was also a struggle to remove the rector imposed by FHC (the former Brazilian president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso): Vilhena. The rectory was occupied. I saw the shock troops from outside and the students inside the rectory holding an assembly to decide “what to do”. It was an important image for me. Soon after that, I decided to organize as a militant and I became a Trotskyist and began to fight for the global socialist revolution.
Pamplonão was a really run-down place. Bits of the ceiling were falling down, it was always flooding and there were fleas, mice and vultures living in the place. There were no bathrooms or water. The facilities of the Painting/Engraving/Sculpting courses were really sub-standard. It was in this basement that the university ‘forgot’ about the Fine Arts School (EBA), which trained so many artists such as Pedro Varella, Carlos Contente, Carolina Dalmeida, Rosa Antunes, Julia Cseko, Risoflora and Lara Lima; the key members of the academic centre “Da Lama ao Caos” (“From Mud to Chaos”). We produced political / Dadaist posters and our struggles were not just about more funding, reforms or the university refectory. We all, each in his different way, also fought for changes regarding the conception of courses for training artists, for modernization, and also against reactionary artistic ideologies (which still exist there) that support the notion of a kind of Imperial Academy of Fine Arts.
It was at the EBA that I saw artists producing different kinds of work during different periods. Pedro Sanchez, Andrei Muller, Flávio Vasconcellos, Karina Toulois, Carlos Contente and Thiago Pitta, Pontogor, Vijai Patchineelam, André Amaral, Guga Ferraz, Alexandre Vogler and Bruno Miguel, each on their quests in their different groups, with various organized experimental projects and different results involving scrap metal, institutional waste, prints, guitars, sounds, stickers, stencils, street posters, woodcuts, lithographs, sprays, canvasses, large paintings, graffiti, aesthetic vandalism, screens stretched directly onto the wall; and that’s where I learnt many things. It was a kind of “occupation” environment and for that reason it was more “free”, with ideological disagreements which made everything more fun and where we could explore many more possibilities in terms of the artistic process. I had great teachers at this time: Julio Sekiguchi, Suzi Coralli, Chang Chi Chai and Carlos Zilio.
2 – You were Zilio’s assistant. He was a painter whose career was shaped by political confrontation during the dictatorship, by academic research initiated in France during his exile and, principally, by his dedication to pictorial work, the daily struggle with the canvas, the paints, the history of art and the expressive imperative. What did it mean to share a studio with this artist during your training?
It was an honour to live and work with a militant and a revolutionary artist whom I deeply admire.
In 2002, when I was an intern at the MNBA (Brazilian Museum of Fine Arts), I read Zilio’s book “Arte e Política” (“Art and Politics”) and I thought the interview with him was very impressive, due to the radical political position he took regarding art and the class struggle. I didn’t know that he was a teacher at EBA. One day, during the first class with Julio Sekiguchi, he asked for a list of our favourite Brazilian artists and I wrote Goeldi, Iberê, Zilio, Guignard and Amilcar de Castro. Some time later I was invited to work as his assistant in the studio on the Rua das Palmeiras street. On the first day of work, I was with Felipe Barbosa and Carlos Zilio removing some heavy tram seats and Iberê Camargo’s painting easels which were still there. He said that the work in the studio would be hard and one of the first phrases I heard was, “The only creature to free itself in the industrial revolution was the horse”.
We talked a lot about painting. We talked about politics even more. I learnt about the dark years. About the days of the DCE (Central Students Directorate) and Mario Prata, about the underground movement and prison. I told him I was a Trotskyist. He laughed and said that, despite everything, the person who defeated Nazism was Stalin. I said that the USSR defeated Nazism despite Stalin and the conversations went on like this… This was how my education took place under Zilio. He often questioned my political opinions and activities, and compared the issue of artistic freedom to Bolshevik methods. We discussed guerrilla warfare and mass movements. Marx and Wittgenstein. I heard about the discussions he had with Ferreira Gullar and, above all, what the end of the Soviet Union meant. In the midst of all this, I learnt something about Barnett Newman and Cézanne, but what I really wanted to know about was the revolution, what it was like and how it would be, perhaps.
I also learnt about changes in tactics and strategy, of his “Bauhaus” militancy through artistic education on the courses here in Rio. I heard a lot of stories of conversations with Mário Pedrosa and classes with Iberê Camargo.
Zilio has a caustic, ironic way of analysing reality. I recognize a lot of this attitude in my own artistic work.
3 – Your painting possesses an urgency and urban noisiness that, in some way, contrasts with the conventional rhythm of pictorial experience. The studio versus the street. How do you view the role of painting in your work and to what extent is it important to your artistic philosophy and to the politics inherit to it.
In principle, I work with the production of images. Images in movement and printed, appropriated, painted, written and drawn images. Painting – paint on canvass – is the approach most often used in this work with the image due to several practical factors concerning the production of two-dimensional images, but it is in its historical and conceptual weight that its importance is to be found, since it embodies centuries of debate about the power of the image to humanity. On top of this conventional approach, I create my poetic games of ideas and forms. But the reason for the focus on painting is not merely theoretical.
I seek, in painting, the essence of where everything began: drawing, the abstraction of an idea. It is the doodle on a piece of paper. It is the painting in the cave. It is a form of “existence”.
4 – What drives you in your productive process? Who does your work speak to?
These questions are so important and I don’t know how to answer either of them.
5 – How do you deal with a political ambition that wants to change everything today and an artistic commitment that goes beyond the here and now, resisting the present itself? How do you speak to your own time without reducing your expressive power to the illustration of momentary causes? Do you experience such a dilemma in your everyday work?
This is a very interesting question. There really is a dilemma between propagandist work and broader work in my process. I prefer the propagandist type. Sometimes, when it is extremely specific, illustrative and of the moment, a mechanism can arise that makes it interesting. All the momentary struggles in our everyday lives contain profound dramas of human existence.
But there are also dreamlike, poetic and frivolous aspects of life that interest me as much as a new socialist society.
The important thing in this regard is that, in my view, the ambition to change the world, to destroy capitalism and build a socialist world, will be achieved not through any artistic philosophy but through direct, raw and brutal class struggle, through strikes, occupations, achieving rights, self-defence, the overthrow of governments and the seizing of power.
Furthermore, I don’t believe in this temporal dilemma. We all live in our time and the idea of a timeless artistic creation is a modern fantasy. This determination to go beyond the here and now is an invention. I don’t believe it is true that art has to go beyond the present. I do believe that it is possible to express more urgently the needs of our current time. Every generation has its artistic philosophy, its aesthetic, which is somehow shaped by the everyday.
6 – What are the challenges that arise regarding the insertion of political work into the art market?
It doesn’t matter if it is a political, anti-capitalist, revolutionary or reformist work of art: they all have a historically-observed tendency to be absorbed by capitalism, which is sufficiently flexible to be able assimilate everything that is superficially antagonistic to it.
Artists protest, they adopt political positions through their artistic work. These are symptoms of a growing political crisis in the world. It is an effective means of protest in the field of ideas, in the sphere of subjectivity, but not that of objective action, since it will be diluted in the corrosive sea of mass culture.
What is difficult for capitalism is to absorb activities such as general strikes, dual powers and revolutionary movements, for example.
7– Do you agree with the oft-repeated sentence, in recent times, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism?
I disagree. What I agree with is the old saying: socialism or barbarity.
Capitalism is not an eternal, natural system. It is simply what will put an end to our species if it is not destroyed now.
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About the author
Luiz Camillo Osorio is the Curator of PIPA Institute, PIPA’s founder and Board Member. He is a Professor and current Director of the Philosophy Department at PUC-Rio. Camillo was the Curator of MAM-Rio between 2009 and 2015.