Riverside Museum Beijing
Interview with Néle Azevedo
São Paulo - Brazil, 19.05.2019
1. Please tell us the genesis of the work you will show in Beijing, is there any connection with the city? What do you like to express from the video?
The video installation Minimum Monument: art as emergency gathers more than ten years of the urban intervention entitled Minimum Monument that has been held in 24 cities of different countries since 2005. Having occupied open and historical spaces, the recordings and pictures of the interventions are now exhibited in the museum as a video and maps installation, presenting, in a sensitive way, the experience of ephemeral interventions in an immersive space. In addition to the record of the interventions with the Minimum Monument, will also be displayed the record of the work Composition for sculptures and one body. It is an installation/dance that brings together my work and of choreographer Marina Tenório. The installation is built out of anthropomorphic long ice sculptures, suspended and left to melt in this position. Together, the ice body and the performer’s moving body enter into a close dialogue. Having an intimate nature, Composition for sculptures and one body is thought for internal and protected spaces. It brings to light the fragile and the ephemeral and evidences a territory of the transition, of the passage, the “in between”.
2. Before you made the first melting man, you had made some iron sculpture with small head and long and slender legs. It was not so much conceptual but quite classic. In latest 1990s, what is your main idea about sculpture? And what did you want to express through these “iron man”?
Although sculpture is a definite category, after Rosalind Krauss's essay "The Sculpture in the Broad Field" (first published in 1979), its concept expands beyond these categorizing boundaries. From the sum of non- landscape with non-architecture results the sculpture. I have been interested in the human figure since the art college, although here in Brazil this is not very well seen. I created a figuration that spoke of a fragile human, but at same time, strong, as it was cast in iron. At that time I was looking for a place for these bodies / sculptures, beyond galleries and institutions. Later, I realized that the body and the city are at the center of my work - how the body inhabits the city, how the city welcomes the body.
3. You started to work on the project of Minimum Monument in 2002. What’s your own monument in your mind?
When I started this project, I’ve found in the public monument the synthesis of my uneasiness: the historical celebration away from the ordinary man. I sought reconciliation between the public and private spheres, the subjective self and the city. Therefore, I proposed an anti- monument. I subverted, one by one, the characteristics of the monument. In the place of the grand scale, widely used as ostentation of power, the minimal scale. Instead of the hero’s face, a tribute to the anonymous observer, the passerby who identifies himself with the process, in a celebration of life, the recognition of the tragic and the heroic in each human trajectory. In the place of durable materials, the ice sculptures that last about thirty minutes - they don’t crystallize memory, neither separate death from life.
But now, we live in a time where the possibility of future for humanity is threatened, global warming is a reality still denied by rulers as in the US and disastrously in Brazil. So I think of a liquid monument to liquid times, remebering the sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman.
4. Melting man is one of the most famous works for you since 2005. Is there something fresh for you when do the latest edition? How to keep curiosity when you work with the “man” you’ve been met for 14 years?
I can tell you that my experience with this work is not repetitive. The challenge of space and its context is always new, never repeated, as the Minimum Monument (“Melting men” was a nickname that my interventions received on the internet) is a piece that focuses more on process than the art object itself. The work has a fluidity that incorporates new meanings when confronting new intervening spaces. The daily production of the sculptures also brings new meanings. It has an effect on the lives of people who works in the process, those who take part in the action and this has an impact on my life, my worldview, and my relationship with time. It’s approaches the rite.
5. Some people say every work shown by the artist is himself/herself. So are you the “Melting man”?
I found my place in the dissolution of the body in the world’s body. I am also affected by the work with everyone. Each space demands a specific challenge as well. Something escapes me, it is intangible - so even though ice melts in chronological time, the experience of melting suspends linear time, and at that moment, there is only this movement of disappearance. At the end, there’s only the wet stairs. It seems like a distant dream that I need to reach again to understand. That must be why I do it again many times.
6. When talking about contemporary art, there exists a phenomenon that the concept seems to be the most important thing to an artwork. Some artists even said painting, sculpture, installations as well as video works are just the ways to show their concept. Do you think concept is surpassing painting or sculpture itself? Why?
I think that procedures, techniques and materials change according to the time in which we live. For example, the use of solid and enduring material in the Renaissance is linked to their view of the world at that time - the cities and art were built from the perspective of eternity. Our contemporary experience is different, it is partial and transitory, it is no longer eternal, and so materials and actions combine with our worldview.
7. Besides the consideration of the environmental protection, your works also show some philosophy about time, useless and life. Please share us your life philosophy.
I believe the ecological issue is an ethical one - we are together: earth, water, fire, animals, plants and humans, we should learn from each other, and live without hierarchizing what is alive.
In the Jewish / Christian culture, the supremacy of human being over nature is written in the Genesis “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So, this idea that we are somehow superior than our surroundings is rooted in the western civilization. The threat generated by climate changes finally puts the human being in a place where it belongs. Its destiny is entangled with planet’s fate; it's not the king of nature, but a constituent element of it. We are nature.