Siesta Talk by Erika Verzutti

17:15 | Published on August 4, 2014 | 460 Views

Focusing on the rich Latin American context and the notion of artistic choice, Under the Same Sun artist Erika Verzutti talks about her sculptures Painted Lady and Venus on Fire, the second of which was inspired in part by the Venus of Willendorf. She also shares her impressions on works by Federico Herrero, Mariana Castillo Deball, Damián Ortega, and Adriano Costa, and discusses various shifts within both her practice and the exhibition, including that between the local and the international.

For more information, visit the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative.

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So in my search of how could I position myself in this difficult task of being in an exhibition that tries to contextualize Latin America in the art world, I came to a quick conclusion that I’m going to stick to; that is, that what we’re talking about today is very much about making choices, and so we’re dealing with the choices of the curator, of the works he saw to bring into the collection—there is a very big move to choose something that will be a permanent part of the collection of the museum. And the choice of how to present these works in an exhibition, and the artist’s choices within their practices. I was asked to choose myself some artworks in the exhibition to talk about today, so I felt like I was curating inside the curator’s choice.

This one is called Painted Lady. I’m calling this sculpture Lady, and I’m already personifying it, and I’m maybe bringing attention to the fact that I painted this sculpture when it was ready, that is color in the surface, that is something that I enjoy doing very much, and sometimes I feel like I do all this to be able to paint, because I’m not a painter. And I started choosing fruits, not especially as a tropical thing, even if it’s inevitable that they look and feel tropical because it’s an arrangement of many fruits together. It tastes tropical probably, it brings a sense of summer and freshness and flavor. But I chose fruits as something that is known, that is a known thing, that we all know in all cultures, and is like a found object, really. So anyone who looks at the sculpture has something to start with.

And here something happened that I was happy with, that is that this object when you first see it, I would not be sure I guess, if it is contemporary, modernist, architecture-based, or organized, informed, an educated object or a primitive one. I think it shifts toward the primitive because of the color, and because it resembles a feminine figure in a primitive way, in the kind of image it forms. 

And I also thought today that shift between the educated and the primitive has some connection with some other parallels that we’re dealing with in the exhibition here today, that is like what is local, what is international, or what is more informed, what is less informed, what is close, what’s far away, what’s Western, what’s Latin.

And the deepest thought that I’m going to give you today is probably this one, something that I’m still thinking about, but I would like that, being local or international, or Latin, or Western if you call it, would not mean any disadvantage or advantage to an artist. So if I don’t have, if I’m not given any disadvantage, I’m far away—when I grew up I only had magazines, I had no Internet to look for art, so it was really like a mystery world. I felt like I was born far away from somewhere, and there was a center. And those could be pointed to as disadvantages, but I really don’t want to carry them now, not anymore, for some reason. But there will also be advantages to being local; I have something to offer that is my capacity to improvise, or some exotic touch, or some visual perception that, because of the climate or the nature where I come from, any of these could be pointed to as advantages. And I’m also ready to give those up. So that’s more or less the type of mindset that I’m starting with today; I prefer today to talk about choices in the middle of the scenario that we have now, like that the information is all shared, that we’re here in New York talking about a South America that is not far or close. Okay.

So for this one, I chose a sculpture to start with. If I chose fruits here as something known—here the known bit is a sculpture, the Venus of Willendorf, that is the pre-historical Venus that even if you’re not a very good art history student, as I was not, you remember, because you always have to start with Egypt or prehistory. So everybody has got that in mind. I think she’s small and there are many of her. But this would be a Venus upside down. So this would be the head and the body, and the feet would be here. So you can picture that. And this is the Venus finally standing by herself, without any pedestal or support or anything, because she’s doing a yogi standing pose on top of her head. And yeah, so it’s a sculpture of a sculpture.

Here, there are fruit, but after working with fruits for a while, here I felt like “Oh I need giant fruits for this composition.” But there are no giant fruits so we were translating the fruit textures into something that is made with the hands, like these are all fingers, and it would create my own invented nature for this purpose of making, of having fruits big enough to make that composition. So those would be clay balls that are used for gardening. Everything was made in clay, and there is this cut here, that is probably just a demonstration of how arbitrary a sculpture can be. Like I was following these rules, but all of a sudden, I could cut it for the sake of elegance, or of having this flat surface here in the bronze, that’s very nice to look at. And even if you’re not invited to touch the sculpture in the museum, I hope that people get a very tactile feel—I didn’t touch it now, but I feel like I did. Because you have all these marks and you can imagine these grooves were forced into the material. And so it’s a very tactile experience to be shared. Also it has a body in that interacts with the viewer, almost in a human scale.

So we can move now to Federico’s painting that is across the room please. It says on the label of the painting that we don’t have much painting because painting was denied by Latin America, as people would choose—and again we’re talking about choice—conceptual art, for their purposes. Before seeing that there were not many paintings in the show, I saw a picture of Federico standing next to his painting, and I was very happy to see this, because it’s very easy to tell that it’s a Brazilian landscape, but he’s not Brazilian, so he’s already mixing things up.

And so this is the Sugar Loaf, Pão de Açúcar, the landscape, and it’s also very sculptural, so it’s very natural that I would be attracted to it. It has this body present in the middle of the canvas, but what he’s offering us is just his gesture, like there is this painterly sensibility here that changes everything—the fact that this is not like a clean line like the rest.

And then there is this funny mark here, there is a mystery about that. It’s not conceptual really, it’s not that he thought “I’m going to make three stripes and one geometric-ish mountain in the middle.” Things were happening and he was paying attention and this probably happened and he likes it. So his experience in this painting, and his gesture, resulted in a simplicity that he was very lucky to end up with.

He says that the painting captures the soul of the mountain, and this sounds like a very romantic view. Is he trying to capture the soul of nature? But, I quite enjoy that he says it’s “the soul of the mountain” because when you say soul, you immediately connect it to religion, and there’s some faith involved, so the feeling of faith meets this thing that I want to believe in. He believes in art, and in painting, and in the art object, and in art making. So there is something between the soul, and that connected me to the idea of faith, and I was very happy to find that out too.

Now, I’d like to move to Mariana’s work. I only recently saw the work of Mariana, I think it was in Documenta if I’m not mistaken, yeah? And what I like the most in her work that I’ve seen is her choices. I like the images that she’s choosing. And I was curious, one picture is overlapping another here. I feel that probably this is not about seeing each of the pictures, it’s more about sharing the way that she’s collecting these things, and that she’s interested in these things.

These pictures reminded me of some work that I just did, like Cemeteries, ’cause I sometimes make the Cemeteries within my own studio. Like everything that doesn’t work, I keep it in a box, and then I take it to the exhibition and then I try to make something with it, and I call them Cemeteries. So there is some—and they look pretty much like this—so I was attracted to this because of this.

And, there is a small hand that keeps showing up here and here. And as you can tell by the beginning of my presentation, I like the hand’s presence very much in the art world. And there is this icon of the hand, and the way she displays this thing, it’s almost hands-free. I wouldn’t know if you’d ever touched even this, or the images, and there is this display that brings everything in. I like the fact that this is one sculpture and that is another sculpture, especially with this. I think it’s a beautiful object to look at.

It was very easy for me to choose this one. I feel it’s very similar to the procedure that we were talking about with the fruit, and organizing it, organizing them, in this case, these tortillas. We don’t have tortillas in Brazil so I hardly know how they taste, but they look tasty.

I was reading the label, and it’s very easy for me to disagree, because it ends with “and to consider larger geopolitical issues by looking beyond the formal language of abstraction.” And the beyond choice of word struck me as a bit elitist. I don’t know what the word beyond carries. And I don’t know if the geopolitical issues would be something that would enlarge the thinking around the sculpture or maybe shrink it.

There is something going on that is very pleasing here, that is, it presents itself as a pure, geometric, simple-lined, educated, form, but it brings it back to the mundane, it brings it back to breakfast—what time do you eat those? [Audience member: “Any time.”] You want to bite the sculpture, so that’s beyond tactile. You want to eat the sculpture. And, so for me that’s more human. Shifting between the dinner table and the museum is a very good shift to me. So, it’s very easy for me to relate to that one.

This is the last one I picked. This is by Adriano Costa. He’s an artist from São Paolo, the same hometown as myself. I’ve known his work since he started a couple years ago, and I’ve been following it. It’s easy for me to like it because it presents the art object in a similar way to mine. There’s so much happening with these textures, and the fact that they are found objects, that they are bath mats, couldn’t be more domestic and mundane. Again, coming from the tortillas. And for me this one is an opportunity to be mindful and aware. That is something that I’m really looking for these days, not only in art, but in life—that is, having the chance to pay attention to what’s going on in the present. And so, I guess this work keeps us in the present moment for a while, when you see these bits on the edges that are falling apart.

And there are some figures, you can see two small feet—they’re really something—in the middle of the composition. And there is some wrinkling there. This is possible because of this very simple gesture that he’s offering, painting everything gold. For me, what the gold paint does beforehand is it gives me the opportunity to pay attention to all of them at the same level, and then to these differences and these details that are very rich, and that I would have missed. 

I’m happy to end with this one, because the work doesn’t need much to exist. It exists in its context—you can tell there is something local from the materials that are collected.  Just going back to where we started with choice, as the only thing the artist has to offer. That he’s presenting his choices and being responsible for them, and responding to them, and looking back at them to continue in making more choices, and yeah. That was all I could think about. Thank you.