Read the conversation between Luiz Camillo Osorio, PIPA Institute’s curator, and Luana Vitra, one of the Awarded Artists of PIPA Prize 2023:
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.