Welcome to PIPA 2023 Awarded Artists Takeover! Until October 28th, the artists “open the doors of their studios” to the virtual audience of PIPA Prize, with videos, photos, and texts exclusively prepared for the takeover. Each week, one artist presents their work. From October 23rd to 28th, Luana Vitra talks about her trajectory in the artistic world, what she has produced, in addition to presenting recent works.
In this 14th edition, PIPA Prize continues a format iniciated last year. It is aimed to gather artists who had their first exhibition no more than fifteen years ago. The focus of PIPA 2023 is to encourage artists at the beginning of their careers who develop a differentiated production. The material below is available in a reduced version also on the Prize’s social networks. Keep an eye out and follow us on the Instagram, Twitter and Facebook platforms.
And remember that the Awarded Artists are also exhibiting works at Paço Imperial, in Rio de Janeiro. The exhibition is open until November 12th. It will be a pleasure to receive you there!
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 1995
Lives and works in Contagem, Brazil
Represented by Mitre gallery, Brazil
Luana grew up in Contagem, an industrial city that made her body live through iron and soot. Raised by a carpenter (father) and a wordsmith (mother), she moves as she prays, searching for the survival and the healing of the landscapes she inhabits. Luana understands the body itself as a trap, and her actions as micropolitics that deal with the spatiality that her work evokes, confronts and confuses.
Video produced by Do Rio Filmes exclusively for PIPA 2023:
On the second day of Takeover, we selected the work “fio desencapado, isca de confusão“, by Luana Vitra, a series that has works exhibited at the PIPA Prize 2023 Awarded Artists Exhibition, open until November 12th at Paço Imperial.
Every year, Luiz Camillo Osorio, curator of PIPA Institute, talks to
1 – Luana, you began your artistic journey in dance. How did your training come about, and how did you transition into the field of visual arts?
I began dancing jazz at 12 years old, then started contemporary dance when I was 15, then classic ballet, modern dance, ballroom, then urban dances. At 16 I began taking lessons on fashion design, since I wanted to learn how to sew, and at this course there were also illustration classes. That is where I first encountered drawing, which I hadn’t done since I was a child, and in this contact, I rekindled a pleasure I didn’t recall clearly before, that had existed in my childhood. Being in touch with this pleasure of drawing made me shift from the trajectory I had been projecting for myself. I was planning on going for a Dance degree, but I changed to Visual Arts at the last moment. So I took the admission exam for UEMG-Escola Guignard, I passed, and began taking the course when I was 17, almost 18 years old. Getting into university took away all the time I had for dancing, so I began dropping my dance lessons. After a year in university, however, I was able to get back to dancing, but this time around I focused on studying somatic education and choreographic composition. I dedicated myself, during most of my time in university, to studying drawing; however, right around the time when I had to decide which specialization I would pursue in the Visual Arts course, I took my first sculpture class, and in this moment, I realized sculptural work connected the thinking processes of drawing and dancing. Sculpture was a body made of lines and gestures moving matter, the exact space for the type of action I was interested in imprinting on the world.
2 – There is something quite poetic in the titles of your works, just as there is an almost mystic relationship within your creative process, where you talk about prayers, miracles etc. I find this very interesting, since it is accompanied by a very strong materiality of your poetic. Can you say a few words about it?
I have always been somewhat obsessed with words; it has always been something very important to me. When I was a kid, I recall spending hours reading the dictionary, because I wanted to refer to what I was feeling in a precise way, I had this desire of learning as many words as I could. I see communication as a blade which needs to be always sharp, and the word is this precise cut which delineates the spell of things. To cast a spell, you can’t use the wrong herb or the wrong word, because, if you do, your intention goes off the rails. To me, repetition is a spiritual gesture: when you create a prayer, you are picking words to cast a spell through repetition. The titles of my works are litanies that people often chant, and sometimes it’s more challenging for me to pick the title than to create the work, because the prayer of the gesture is led by the body, it’s a trance. But the word comes prior to the trance, and a wrong junction leads the sentence not to become a spirit. Only things which have spirit are eternal and may dance to the light of meaning, because meaning becomes an immanence suspended in itself.
3 – You talk of iron both as a structuring matter and as a mineral element that goes through constant transformation – powder iron, iron bars, the iron in our bodies etc. These two aspects combine something of the relationship between sculpture (structuring) and dance (movement). What do you make of this?
All architectural structures need to be calculated in order to allow movement, because if movement can’t happen, the structure will break. In the same manner, I believe everything that exists brings, within itself, the conscience that moving is necessary to maintain life. The way I see it, the attempt to strip movement from a living thing is one of the most violent gestures we can imprint over another body. My contact with dance was a gift, for it made me sensitive to perceive movement in all things, and perhaps that’s why what attracts me the most in iron is oxidation, because this is one of the processes through which this matter is allowed to dance. The appreciation of dance is the ability to look at a body taking and losing shape in space and time, and that’s exactly what iron does when it oxidizes: it offers us the life within its movement.
4 – You point out the oxidation of iron as a form of liberation for iron, and affirm that this would lead to ruin, being the culmination of the process and negation of form. However, looking at your work, it seems, to me, more interesting to think of it as a metamorphosis instead of ruin, that which is constantly transforming into something else, not decaying. Your poetics seem to be about the decanting of materials, not their dissolution. What are your thoughts on that?
A few years back, a friend of mine dreamt of an aerial view of a ruin. The image was slowly getting closer, and she saw me there, organizing the body of that ruin, taking bits of it from one side to another, pondering where each fragment would fit. There was also this dream I had, where I was hugging a friend, and then I entered inside her, and within her was a fertile and damp forest, of a very bright green. Then I’d come back from inside her and go into myself to find her. When I was inside myself, I realized that within me was a very beautiful sunlit ruin, and then I smiled very deeply because that was my own internal image.
To me, the ruin is an ancestor to metamorphosis. And, when considering the metamorphosis of iron, it is clear that the transformations of this matter tend towards the earth. It is an European inheritance to give a positive meaning to the sky and a negative one to the ground. If we turn to bantu cosmology, for instance, that which is most elevated is related to the ground. The gestures of capoeira angola are also movements that aim to listen to the spirituality that lays on the ground. So, in my view, ruin isn’t a movement that decays; it is, instead, a body that elevates itself downwards, in a gesture of deliverance, a state in which the matter is old enough not to fear gravity. I was born with this oldness inside of me, that’s why I perceive myself as ruin. I learned this from iron, and I know this is also my form of liberation.
Exclusively to the Takeover, Luana Vitra developed this video in which she talks about works currently on display:
Another work by Luana Vitra on display at the moment is the installation “Pulmão de mina”, developed for the 35th São Paulo Biennial. The artist recalls stories from the extractive period in Brazil and represents a fact narrated by enslaved people who used to take canaries to gold mines. The bird was used as a compass, as its lungs reacted in moments to the presence of toxic gases emanated by mineral extraction, and the cessation of singing, the silence, was the warning for the miners to open paths to escape those galleries, avoiding the dangers of lethal poisoning.
The survival of those people also meant the death of the birds, showing how slavery extended its terror to other species.
“The installation’s main element is a series of arrow-amulets intended for unblocking paths. Made of iron, a paradigmatic material and of recurrent use in her works, they act as conductors, pointing to places of prosperity where “possibility prevails.” At the center of the installation, one notices that some of them are grouped and positioned diagonally towards each other. For Vitra, this composition creates a path that spatializes the meanings and possibilities that each grouping carries. Added to the composition of the work are copper gourds, birds bathed in silver and copper, metals of a highly conductive nature, and indigo powder, a substance often used for energy cleansing”, explains Thiago de Paula Souza on the Biennale website.
See the work in detail below. Photos by Victor Galvão.
To this year’s catalog, Luana Vitra invited abigail Campos Leal to write a critical text about her work. Read the full text below:
In the depths of the earth; dancing to infinity
these compositions are forests
the iron is fertile, which is why we bury our roots in the depths of the earth
thus our leaves are volatile metals
Oxidus (treaty on all things, 4550 B.C., p. 8)
Luana Vitra’s work is not just presented before our eyes, but takes us to many places. this presenting & taking merely attest to the magnetism it bears in its flesh. we’re attracted by her work like busy bees buzzing in search of that juicy honey whose scent we caught on the wind. we’re attracted by her work because her work is awesome! during six years of study at Escola Guignard (State University of Minas Gerais), Luana Vitra quietly, furtively nourished the cosmic force of her creation, like a patient Volcano awaiting the precise time to come to life. her works’ magnetism emanates from this geographical memory, which is also a kind of astrophysical poetry. Luana Vitra is entangled in the depths of the earth, and therefore in outer space. she is in permanent contact with the Infinite, & this connection is also the magma of her honey. don’t be fooled, Vitra is also attracted: by the earth, by rusted iron, by the dance of electrolysis, by blue flames, by roots, by the flight of fishes, by the swirling of falling leaves. composition is not just her exercise in lifeart, but her destiny. the tile spacer, a cross-shaped device often used in civil construction to keep tiles evenly spaced and positioned, which appears in many of Vitra’s works, could serve as a pointer on this magnetic road. that’s why I experience her works like a cluster of additions, where we can see, touch and sense countless plus signs (“+”). & this is what Vitra makes: a great, instinctive & planned-out, orchestra of the composition of things. blue spacer + brown rusted cogs + silver fishhook + brown arrow + white chequered background. which could also be: joyful connection + exhausted exploitative labour + healthy food + imposed flow + squalid housing. this is one of the ways I delight in fio desencapado, isca de confusão [exposed wire, bait for confusion] (Vitra, 2022). it’s not so much the formal description of a work as a poetic formulation of our fascination. it’s a beguiling way not just of combining things, but also for ancestral art to interweave in infinity
Luana Vitra also builds herself from the living matter of the World. there is iron in my blood & a 1 cm stone in my gallbladder, so I’m also mineral. but what about Luana Vitra? well, dearest, that’s a whole other story. Vitra is bronze reliving its favourite dance. she told me that when she’s going through emotional strife, she looks for answers in the mineral world: how would iron respond to this racist violence? how would lead write this love letter? it’s not so much thinking like a mineral as reminding yourself you’re iron to be able to unthink your Humanness. it’s about feeling iron vibrating inside yourself. and that’s also what Vitra’s work mysteriously communicates. and that’s also where its magnetism lies. despite the apparent hardness & durability contained in minerals due to their composition, in her art we can feel how this matter can actually dance. so her works, which largely tend to be classified as installations or sculptures, can also be apprehended as spoken poetry or short film. stuck on a wall, hung from a ceiling or emerging from the floor, it’s the earth that clamours, it’s the sea that frolics
it’s not only a matter of Luana Vitra paying homage to the earth, but the earth, through its carcass, bearing witness to its own greatness & wisdom. its matter dazzles in her work, arising before our eyes like a stubborn old woman, impatient, keen to be acknowledged in all her glory, but you have to sniff out what the spirit whispers. perhaps a better word, following the paths of the Yoruba people, would be Èmi, a polysemic word which, among many other meanings, can be translated just as well as spirit or as heart. or else Ba, a Kemetic word which can be translated as soul or spirit. between heart & spirit is the heat of the cosmic matter which whispers its secrets through Vitra’s flesh. this whispering is a prayer. because in order to create it has to dance. dance does not lend its name here only because we know that in this incarnation Luana Vitra studied dance since childhood and danced most of her life, but because choreography is the greatest & oldest Law of Infinity
& in this incarnation Vitra has come to remake History. I don’t mean this just in the sense of the History of Art, for example, which is undergoing a seismic shift now with her arrival & the great many dark forces rising up like vast angry mountain ranges, but also the History of Things, the History of Matter. Luana Vitra was born in Contagem (Minas Gerais), a land ravaged by the environmental racism of mining & fertilised by the dogged resistance of the diaspora from africa & the first peoples, who, between dances & tears, are quietly plotting the time of resumption. so her work interweaves all these forces; it’s iron & black red flesh colluding to remake not just the History of Art, but, through art, the History of Mining. it’s not she who initiates this remaking, but earth itself. her great-grandfather, Domingos Zacarias, was a figure who took on iron to pass down a legacy of love of forms & who, even buried by colonial History, lives on in her art
Èmi & Ba of the earth, which breathe alive in Vitra, are not only remaking the History of Art or even the History of Matter, but are undoing History itself, because her cosmic work recognises the passage that exists before Time. her work pays homage to what goes by the name of matter, & in so doing it also reveres ruination. in the eurowhite tradition, ruination is still imbued with a negative connotation, but in her work ruin emerges as a space of flight, that is, of warfare & of respite, like a space of encounter. her work embraces ruin, because she knows it’s also our mother, that mysterious old woman. that’s why we’re also attracted by its magnetism, because making art out of showing care for ruin is also a way of making an offering of care. some artworks seem to me to be the creation of Worlds in their most latent state. but some of her works, like desejo-ruína [ruin-desire] (Vitra, 2001-2020), are the genesis of something yet to be born & the ruin of something that is still alive, straddling the before & after of these latent Worlds
perhaps ruin is actually, as Luana Vitra says, an ancestor of metamorphosis. taking this phrase not as a maxim but as a prayer, we can turn to ruins the colonial fiction of presence & its legacy of violence & destruction. we can also hazard exercises in the impossible: transition from the animal kingdom to the celestial kingdom; learn about a different carcass from being in contact with the ground; have a more volatile geology than the geology of Capital; warm our feet until they are hot enough to smelt the Dollar. the cosmic infinity of everything that exists, has existed and will exist possesses Luana Vitra’s rust-encrusted flesh, & through her art it offers us these different ways to breathe forever
“I have come here to put an end to everything!” said Wind, raising its hairy paws, palms skyward, and, with a broad smile, showing its Drucaryum teeth, sharp & misshapen like shark teeth. in the background, under the rubble, lush trees made of blue metal & crystal rocks began to grow.
Zanzado V. Nascimento (I was Ruin, 2053, p. 210).