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Interview for John K Grande by Néle Azevedo

Minimal Monument - Néle Azevedo
Published in

São Paulo, 27.02.2019

1. Néle so great to have finally met you in Burlington, Vermont (Feverish World Symposium, September 2018) where you enacted one of your phenomenal Melting Monument events. Short lived as these ice figures disappear within 45 minutes, but powerful as an expression of universal complicity in today’s ecological crisis.


It must have been quite a shift from more traditional media in sculpture to ice in 2001… How was the transition received?


Minimum Monument began as the object of my master dissertation research in 2003. ‘An aesthetic proposal of the minimum inserted as a monument in the city’. The axis of poetic discussion and reflection is the intersection between local history and public monuments. So I did a long research of materials for two years during my master degree and the ice matter has to do with the concept of this work.


Minimun Monument intervention work in urban space uses the monument concept as the reference from which it discusses the official celebration and inserts an ephemeral body in the city space. I’ve found in the public monument the synthesis of my uneasiness: the historical celebration far from the ordinary man. I searched reconciliation between the public and private spheres, the subjective self and the city. I proposed an anti- monument.


So I subverted, one by one, the characteristics of the official monument. At the place of the grand scale widely used as ostentation of power, I proposed a minimal scale. At the place of the hero's face a tribute to the anonymous observer, to the passerby, who identifies himself with the process, in a kind of celebration of life, of the recognition of the tragic, of the heroic in each human trajectory. At the place of durable materials, I proposed the ice sculptures that last about thirty minutes - they don't crystallize memory, neither separate death from life. They have fluidity and movement and rescue the original function of monuments: to remind us we die.


Besides disappearing, on opposing to the permanent public fulfillment of the traditionally static sculpture, Minimum Monument can be understood as the “presential art” – you need to be present at the time and place of the intervention. The experience of placing the ice sculptures and and their melting process is public, but at the same time, personal, presential, not transferable. The happening remains on the viewers’ memories and their pictures. The ice melts in chronological time but it emphasizes the metaphor of other time, the length of spatial time lived by the body. It proposes the length of time as an experience. That way, it carries on a poetic interruption of the daily routine of the city.


2- There must be technical challenges to enacting these events…


Yes, it was a great technical challenge over many years, but the challenges were one by one being solved.

Today I need freezers on site and volunteers to help me make the sculptures. Now it’s simple!


3- These ephemeral events are decidedly public in embracing notions of civitas and of what a public can be… I feel they fulfill the real meaning of monumental, for these events, particularly the one on Chamberlain Square Birmingham with its 5000 figures commemorating the lost soldiers of World War One. The tension you create is in drawing a collective very public experience out of the act of art while also bringing an awareness to the same participant public of issues they know of, but seldom discuss in public .


I believe that the ecological issue is an ethical issue - we are together: animals, plants and humans, we should learn from each other, and live without hierarchizing what is alive. Therefore, the Minimum Monument meets two questions:


– The threats generated by climate change are urgent. This situation finally puts the human being in his place – his destiny becomes entangled with the planet’s fate, heisn`t the king of nature, but a constituent element of it. We are nature. Furthermore, this situation reveals the interdependence among all sorts of human beings, and put us all

under the same condition and the same urgency. It demands a change in development paradigms adopted by governments of all political parties and nations to rethink another model of development.


– It also proposes another way to celebrate the public memory on historical dates. For example, in Belfast, Northern Ireland (2012), Minimum Monument was called upon to honor the victims of the Titanic; while in Birmingham, England (2014), Minimum Monument paid tribute to the centennial of the First World War, when five-thousand ice sculptures occupied the entire Chamberlain Square, to remember the anonymous victims of the war, who sacrificed their lives.


4- I saw you exhibited with 14 Artists with a Green Message for Mother Nature Network –


I did not know, I see this exhibition now, at I think this is a selection of artists from the Mother Nature Network website.


5- In Gendarmenmarkt Square in Berlin 1000 of these ice figures were placed in 2009. Is there any connection with climate change implied by these Melting Monument challenges you undertake…?


The first intervention with 300 sculptures was in April 2005 at Praça da Sé, the most central location in São Paulo, São Paulo’s Ground Zero. From there I seek the centers of the cityes, their foundations, or their politically, socially and historically relevant sites. For example, the Burgplatz, a medieval square that houses the oldest sculpture in Northern Europe, in Braunschweig; Praça Dom João I (named after the first emperor from John VI’s dynasty, who came to Brazil) in the city of Porto, in Portugal; renaissance’s Piazza Della Santissima Annunziata, in Florence, Italy and, Birmingham, UK, just to name a few.


So, the relationship between Minimum Monument and sustainability/environment grew as Minimum Monument kept intervening in the cities. Since 2009, in the intervention held in Berlin with WWF’s support, Minimum Monument has been presented as being directly linked to global warming. Its affinity with the theme is clear and I think it can also be read as a "living monument" of contemporary issues, appealing far beyond the contemporary art circuit, “a liquid monument for liquid times”


6 - Ironically public monuments often promote hierarchy, not only for the people and subjects they address, but even among the artists who make them. How disturbing and unhappy a state of being! Your anti-monument axis of creation recalls Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz’s pillar that disappeared into the ground as people’s names were added to the surface until it disappeared completely. Anti like this disappearing monument, yours is Anti-Monument, engaging us with a challenge – ultimately affirming a value in life! Lessons of history, the invisible people, more and more in the present, seldom attract any attention in the world media.What a tragedy!


Yes, the logic of the monument is the “writing of the winners” pointed out by the philosopher Walter Benjamin. Many artists from the 90’s have contested this logic of monument. I intend to bring to light the ambiguity of the monument and give a new meaning the public memory. To include what is concealed in the official celebration of history.


7- Can you tell me something more about the intervention Glory to Inglorious Fights…


In São Paulo downtown, artist and public build together the antimonument “Glory to all inglorious fights” next to the “Eternal Glory to São Paulo founders”. Over 200 boxes of fruit and lots of straw mats were positioned to create a large labyrinth based on Guarani indigenous drawings. At the end, everyone get to chill out and enjoy the fruits.


Theorical basis: The proposition of the ant monument emerged from the historical meaning of the “Pateo do Collegio”, downtown São Paulo. In this place, the Jesuits founded the school where the Christianity was taught to the indigenous people. Today, it is a square surrounded by an imponent neoclassical architecture from the Secretary of Justice and the Supreme Court buildings. In the middle of the square, there is the obelisk “Imortal Glory to the founders of São Paulo”, made by Amadeo Zanni


The ambiguity of the monument – what it reveals and what it conceals – is clear when you analyze the square’s surrounding buildings. It carries the echoes of our deads, of another possibility of spatial organization, another world vision, another culture.


It was thinking at the insufficiency of the shape to discuss the barbaric that I thought about bringing “raw state” boxes full of fruits and horizontally draw – the verticality of the monument by Zanny is there as the winner’s logic – the antimonument: “Glory to the inglorious fights”. The name is an allusion to an Aldir Blanc and João Bosco’s song and intends to celebrate what is and what is not officially celebrated. Therefore, the ones that lost in the colonization and the city’s creation.


The horizontal antimonument, built by more than 200 boxes of fruits and straw mats, formed an indigenous Guarani graphism. At the end, the fruits were offered to the people and they celebrated both taste and knowledge, the interaction of senses – the memory of the “here and now” life


I intended to bring to light the ambiguity of the monument and give a new meaning the public memory. To include what is concealed in the official celebration of history.


For a moment there was a suspension in the everyday life and together, the homeless, the artists, the young, the old and the children celebrated together all the losses.

Video in :


8- And Anhangabau: A River for the Absent Ones?


Anhangabaú (valley of the spirits), is an indigenous name given by the Guarani people which is preserved until present day. The valley and the river is located in the center of São Paulo, Brazil.

I intended to symbolically recreate the Anhangabaú river, which has been channeled and submersed under concrete deep in the valley and to writte onto the side of Viaduto do Chá (Tea Viaduct, a local construction) : in Guarani “JASY RA’Y OJOVAHÉI HINA”, and a free translation/adaptation of the same text line in Portuguese “A NOITE DE LUA NOVA NOS PEDE OS MAPAS SUBMERSOS ENTRE AS ESTRELAS” (The night of the new moon asks us for the maps submerged among the stars)

This work intended to show the historical layers present at this place, honor the Guarani people and do justice to historical memory.

The project was not authorized by the public power so in 2018 I made an artist book with this project.



9- Is art political by example or by the content it suggests?


I think every action is political. In art the choice of its action, the theme, and the materials - everything is political. You define where and how you speak to the world - this awareness of your place is completely political.


On the other hand, the artwork is not an advertisement. It is the artist perception of the world; therefore it does not aim to increase awareness of this or that subject. Of course the work may have an impact on society and it is good that it has, but it is different from targeted advertising. The artwork acts in the sensitive and can touch and transform those with have open pores to receive it...

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