The Null Device


This past evening, I went to the Tropicália exhibition at the Barbican. It was an exhibition of artworks from Brazil in the 1960s, associated with the scene that grew around the Tropicália movement (which is most commonly associated with a home-grown psychedelic rock and art happenings, though also involved art installations, happenings and the like).

It was fairly interesting; as well as artworks from the heady days of the late 1960s (between the rise of Tropicália and the dictatorship's crackdown on all dissent that effectively destroyed it), there were earlier works, which put things in context, and contemporary Brazilian art following the spirit and inspiration of the movement. Works from the 1950s embodied a geometric modernist minimalism, much like that in Europe and elsewhere; by the 60s, many of the artists had moved on and taken up exploring the relationship between the artworks and their observer; there were tactile pieces meant to be touched (one exhibit had a video of the artist holding a stone, played back on an old camcorder mounted on the wall and plugged into a pocket TV; in the next room was a pair of headphones playing a song about holding a stone), as well as the "penetrables", an entire section of the gallery filled with sand and various booths. To enter, one had to take one's shoes off, walk on the sand, peel back tarpaulins and explore, experiencing the scene as an interactive experience. The artist Lygia Clark explored the theme of tactile interaction quite a bit; among her works were a pair of plastic suits, looking like hazardous environment suits, with zippers in various places, joined by a plastic umbilicus like that of a gas mask. The notional use of the suits apparently involved a man and a woman wearing them and touching each other by unzipping the access points, and this had been demonstrated at various happenings in Brazil in the 1960s. Nothing of the sort was demonstrated at the Barbican in 2006, and the suits remained hanging in a glass box. Another item was a mobius strip of cloth, and a photograph of two hands bound with (or playing with) it; I seem to recall having seen that photograph in the cover artwork of a Ninetynine album (one of the first two, I think).

One more recent work consisted of a number of wooden boxes, each containing some kind of LCD video player. When the door of a box was opened, it played video on its screen and a loop of sound over the central speakers.

There was also an interesting talk titled Anos de Chumbo: The Years of Lead, about the effects of the military dictatorship's heavy-handed repression on the artists working at the time in Brazil, presented by a Brazilian academic (based in Britain) and an Amnesty International official who worked on the Brazil desk at the time. The effects of the dictatorship apparently still linger in Brazil, and some people (such as one of the members of Os Mutantes) claim that it had effectively destroyed a generation or two worth of artistic creativity.

art brazil tropicália 0