Read the conversation between Luiz Camillo Osorio, PIPA Institute’s curator, and Helô Sanvoy, one of the Awarded Artists of PIPA Prize 2023:
1 – Tell us about the beginning of your trajectory. Did it start with Grupo EmpreZa? What is the relationship like, between the collective and your individual works?
I believe the matter of how an artistic trajectory begins is quite uncertain. More and more, I have come to understand that this thing of creating art gains shape throughout life, not in a specific moment. Perhaps it relates to a desire to deal with the mysteries of the world and/or with certain internal realities. During my childhood, in Goiânia, I used to live next to Morro da Serrinha. On top of this hill stands a concrete tower. Because of its height, for those who look at it from below, it gives a feeling that the tower is swaying and that, at any moment, it will collapse. I would spend evenings in my yard staring at the tower, watching it rock from one side to the other, waiting for the moment in which the structure would collapse. This image is laden with issues addressed by the production of various artists. I believe having dedicated moments to acknowledge the swaying of the tower was already part of this trajectory. Today I understand that it was already a process of maturing my perspective and thought, despite not being in touch with any formal art institution. In a more practical sense, what we call “becoming an artist”, in my opinion, is connected to engaging with a particular sphere. It is to start engaging socially with the issues and the history of this sphere. In this sense, this engagement began, for me, in 2009, when I enrolled in the Visual Arts Teaching program in FAV/UFG. During this period, I came in touch with productions and art spaces I had no contact with before. Right from the beginning, I sought to experiment with different art forms and create works. My first feature in an exhibition happened in 2010.
The collective Grupo EmpreZa (GE) was founded in 2001, also at FAV/UFG. At first, it was formed as a group for studying and researching performance, and it was composed of both teachers and students. Soon enough, some members of the group felt the need to not only study, but also act. My first contact with the group was in 2009. I took a class offered by Paulo Veiga Jordão, who was a member of the collective. During that same period, I ended up meeting some other members, and in 2011 I was invited by GE to collaborate in their performance in the exhibition “Caos e Efeito: Contra-Pensamento Selvagem” [Chaos and Effect: Savage Counter-Thought], at Itaú Cultural. Shortly after, I was invited to become a member of the collective.
Both productions were brought up independently. After I joined the collective, I kept looking at both researches the same way, looking for periods where I’d dedicate myself to each separately. Apart from that stance, there is a contamination that arises from the processes of experience and living. With time, I came to accept this process in a less conflicting way. And with that time, in my work with the collective, I was able to acknowledge the individual presence of each member in each work, even when the authorship was diluted within GE, and even if the creative process involved collective discussions and decision-making. Individually, there is no direct collaboration between my solo work and the collective’s. They end up seeing my work when I present it in an exhibition or when someone comes to my home. Aside from this dialogue, these are two independent productions.
2 – There always seems to be a radical exhibition of the body in EmpreZa’s performances. This shows up somehow in your solo work, but it seems that the sculptural dimension gains more prominence, with materials gaining autonomy and plastic energy. Does this make sense?
Perhaps I have developed a more radical stance due to life in the 1990s, which was quite usual among people my age when faced with this period’s “dramas” and hardships. Indignation, basically. And the feeling of being constantly fighting the world for survival and dignity. In a more sensitive place in that time, using a harsher language, was rap music: Cirurgia Moral, Consciência X Atual, Álibi, Facção Central, Guind’Art 121, Racionais, Realidade Cruel, among others. These issues, in a way, only added up to that radicality. When I found GE’s work, it resonated with me. I didn’t know what performance was. It was during a class that I came to find out who were Chris Burden, Marina Abramovic, EmpreZa, Valie Export, Fluxus, all in that same day. I felt as though I was in front of artists who fully immersed themselves in their language. Of individuals who unfolded themselves, not allowing for their own limits to limit the scope of their work.
When it comes to materials, I don’t follow a single path of work. I understand every work has its own demands, which means I’m not worried about whether the next work needs to be attached to the previous. I try to deal with what the ideas demand. In this process, there is a kind of research, or a way of looking at the work, that is almost intimate. All this research is usually stored mentally as process, and the finished work becomes something else. It’s like a train of thought in which all work is connected. That’s when the ideas for materials arise, when choices are made, to use glass, leather, brazilwood, words, hair. The first work I showed in an exhibition was a drawing, “Sem Título” [Untitled], which was ink on tracing paper. The drawing was essentially a highlighting of papers I was reading for my degree. Each page was transformed into a drawing, and several pages were overlaid. The choice to work with tracing paper allowed for the viewing of the many superimposed layers of drawing, which established a relation to the time dedicated to reading, seeing several pages at once. Therefore, a work that was composed of just tracing over a surface could be seen from the perspective of the material’s characteristics, that is, as an object, not just lines on a surface, which it still was. Or even dealing with things without matter, such as the word, which could be listed among the materials in the technical information of works like “Enquanto objeto” (2017) or “Parabrigar” (2020). The title, in “Parabrigar”, in my opinion, is inseparable from the object. With it, the work has a meaning; without it, it has another. I mention this one because it is an object that refers to an action. The object, whether stored or being launched, always contains this immanence of action activated by its title. In 2022, I presented an installation made from almost 50 pieces from “Parabrigar”. By the end of the exhibition, these works were available for the public to take home with them. It was a way of turning the decision behind this action public, giving yet another layer to this work.
If I’m analyzing my trajectory chronologically, matter came before performance. My first work featuring the body was “Estão sendo tecidos”. It was conceptualized and recorded in 2013, but before it was edited, I ended up losing the hard drive with the files. I would only go back to it and redo it in 2018. Despite being an action for the video, the word and the hair are present as materials. Back in 2013, I made “Desvio para o branco”, an intervention to generate news in the media. Initially, what was at stake was this insertion into the construction of an imaginary or popular narrative. This margin, where the initial appearance of a thing pulls another one, is quite fascinating. As a process, I try to work with materials while paying attention to their symbolic possibilities, without losing touch with the material as a substantive. It is possible to approach historical and social questions with certain materials and, at the same time, work these materials’ potential as substance. The symbolical and the substantial are not mutually excluding. Allowing for the matter to be itself means establishing a dialogue with the atom, the grain of sand, the stone, the planet and the Pillars of Creation. The body is also a part of this. A braid can summon an entire history in relation to the black population, just as it can raise questions on a force present in arranging that braid, as done by Tunga. A braid is a product of human activity. Lead and wood are things that have existed since even before the language that names them. I believe that these materials lose their essence if seen from univocal perspectives. To use them is to act in order to make something present, something that is a verb and moves between possibilities.
3 – How do you see the relationship between the performative and the sculptural in your work? Do they complement each other, or do they differ?
I don’t really worry about that. I understand that, in a way, the limits between art forms are diluted, unless the artist personally chooses not to do so. I’ve been thinking that dealing with freedom is a fundamental point of making art, which is quite complicated and time-consuming, since we are constantly dealing with internal and external obligations. And the outlines that arise within research can turn into limits themselves. Not letting the set of works already done become a margin, a limit to be followed, but instead a possibility of broadening.
I try to deal with each work’s demand individually. And then deal with what turns up next, what arises from the work. This is how I can push the boundaries that show up within the research a little. The idea of what “is being” and not of what “is” feels more incendiary to me; to allow the thing to unfold under gaze and debate. In general, the static or moving body in space already invokes a sculptural relationship. The sculpture is always attached to an action, even when there is an appropriation of objects from nature.
4 – How do the artist and the researcher articulate themselves, in your experience? Does theory inhibit or liberate creation?
I have been thinking of how processes and languages that are mostly used within academic contexts have become increasingly present in artistic processes – however, I’ve only thought about that on the depth of surface dust. Making art is intrinsically linked to research processes, even in cases where the “making” relies on technical and practical issues more than theories or informal methods. When the focus is directed towards a more theoretical approach, there is a search for an extended field of references and supports, in an attempt to have a broader understanding of the production.
If one understands art as a making, an activity, an action, what directs the production of an artist is their set of accumulated experiences, along with the outline that arises with their set of finished works. Among these accumulated experiences is theory, which is added to everything else. I’m not talking about using specific concepts or authors to direct or base the work on. This, in my opinion, can stiffen the work. What I mean is to be open to converse with ideas that are out there. In this sense, I see a more promising perspective.
In daily processes, researching can also be part of the practical work. In researching brazilwood, my works were developed from reading the tree’s history. This time of reading, in my opinion, is just as practical as getting your hands dirty. This process outlined the shapes, the choices on materials to be combined, and the titles. Of course, it is not necessary for those who stand in front of these artworks to know the reading materials behind their making. And the work does not have to be viewed from this perspective. This is the sense in which some things are lost and some others arise after the work is finished.