“Writing was terrifying. How could you expect to write better than Joyce or Rilke?” This phrase attributed to filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard could be something of an epigraph for the exhibition of the Filé de Peixe Collective at Paço Imperial, in Rio de Janeiro. After all, by occupying a room in the grandiose building, the artists collective interposes original works with a series of appropriations and re-readings of iconic works of contemporary art, such as Piero Manzoni’s “Merde d’artiste” and Joseph Kosuth’s “One and three chairs.”
In doing so, the artists, along with curator Juliana Gontijo, remind us that to quote—that is, to remove something from its original context and to insert it in another place—may be a legitimate act of expression itself. Remembering these works is a way of loving them too; it is a recognition of the achievements that have shaken concepts and practices that have guided art-making for centuries.
In a certain sense, the PIPA Prize-nominated collective has already shown, in previous projects, a concern with the dichotomous “original/copy” that guided for a long time the conception of art. Consider, for example, their well-known project with piracy. In a time when technology-enabled reproduction is the norm—for example, Walter Benjamin’s seminal concept appears in one of the works, with words scratched and replaced by the artists, in a process that somewhat resembles Kosuth’s work “Zero & not”—is it still necessary to adhere to a canonical notion of artistic creation?
To reproduce something, to bring it to light in a time other than the production of the work, though technically a repetition, might be not a repetition of what is the same but a repetition for the differences, as a way to give it another interpretation.
In this case, it is in recalling works by Barbara Kruger, John Baldessari, Paulo Brusky and Ana Bella Geiger, by citing them, that the collective seeks to comment on the new directions of conceptual art—about what is still possible, since citation can be understood as an act of language, which comes to the fore in a type of art whose focus is the force of the word—as well as on the notion of authorship, in which the collective organism registers in a new way.
Thus, in a world where one of the most potent artistic gestures remains the assignment of a manufactured product to the status of a work of art and in which the artist who makes this gesture refuses the category of creator, perhaps we can think of the proposal of the collective Filé de Peixe just as Benjamin understood the figure of Baudelaire’s chiffonier.
The artist of this century may be like a street scavenger, collecting from the consumer society—and from the art itself—the remains and wastes. It might be foreordained that he is a fallen hero, that he will never win. But with this, he undertakes a kind of glorious attitude: he invents the critical power of the culture of his time. This is the kind of attitude that is at stake in “The Conceptual Collective.”
“The Conceptual Collective,” by Filé de Peixe Collective
Curated by Juliana Gontijo
Paço Imperial, Praça XV, 48, Downtown, Rio de Janeiro
March 16 – May 21