How many dimensions, how much weight can words have? How big are the obstacles that they can cross? “ISSOÉOSSODISSO,” the new exhibition by the artist and poet Lenora de Barros, focuses on the verbal language associated with performance and brings together more than twenty works produced between 1979 and 2016 (one previously unseen).
Its occurrence coincides not only with a time of enormous political turmoil which many consider Brazil’s third coup, but also with the sixty-year anniversary of Concrete Poetry, one of the most important movements in the history of Brazilian culture that directly influenced the practice of Lenora de Barros, the São Paulo-based artist born in 1953. The “verbivocovisual” aspect—a term coined by the Irish writer James Joyce that highlights the materiality of the poem in all its dimensions; not just semantics, but also sonorous and visual—is fully present in her poetic constructions.
In this exhibition, curated by Priscila Arantes, the work “Língua Vertebral” (Vertebral Language), 1998, takes up the “Manifesto Antropofágico” (Cannibalist Manifesto), crafted by Oswald de Andrade in 1928, which aimed to rethink the Brazilian culture, influenced by European colonization, and rescue its primitive roots. Eliane Brum, the El País Brasil newspaper columnist, seems to have updated, on April 25, 2016, the power of this manifesto to comment on European and North American newspapers’ analytical depth and quality, in relation to Brazilian media, to approach such complex social and political moments: “the other, whoever he or what is, can and should talk about us but the question here is another one: it is why we delegate them the word that we are not able to find—or create and respect our own sense of identity/de-identification essential to building a person—and also a country.”
Many of the works presented—”nósnãotemosnadaadizer,”2013, “Procuro-me” (Looking for myself), 2003, “Procura-se linguagem” (Language wanted), 2007, among others—seem to touch upon Oswald de Andrade and Brum’s ideas along with the anguish experienced by Brazilians mainly due to the word “impossibility,” representing the lack of new narratives emerging from the polarization that blinds current thinking. Almost ninety years have passed since Oswald’s manifesto and Brazil still does not know how to speak for itself, or to create its own words and concepts. In this sense, the power of concrete poetry, updated through this show, seems to reemerge stronger to remind us that it is still possible to expand words possibilities and meanings.
My visit ends with the “Pregação” (Preaching) opening performance, a reinterpretation of the “Calaboca” (Shut up) and “Silêncio”(Silence) works (1990/2006). In the audience, I see eighty-five-year-old Augusto de Campos, poet and co-creator of concrete poetry, still fully intellectually active and opening his biggest solo show the following week. Beyond him, the musician and artist Arnaldo Antunes, with whom Lenora created the poem in 1996 that christens the show. All of us were watching Lenora’s performance as she, along with some friends, hammered the letters of the word “silence” one by one against the building lobby wall.
Beside them, I contemplated the noise of the silence that hovers over our country. Just as Lenora artworks are always unfolding, always looking for something, so the many voices that inhabit this vast territory also continue in their search for the words that represent them, the words to penetrate walls and create paths while still always embracing the contradictions, so the words can be spread and reach others. With affection.
Lenora de Barros
Curated by Priscila Arantes
Oficina Cultural Oswald de Andrade, São Paulo
Through July 20, 2016