Some artists can’t help making beautiful things, even when the subject of their work is profoundly ugly.
Siron Franco’s “Carvão e Ouro,” 2019-2023 (The Coal and the Gold) installation at BBM USP is an epic rectangular field of coal-black tree trunks, burnt to such a crisp I could swear I still smelled the smoke, with rivulets of gold accenting the field of black like fine jewelry on a lush ebony evening gown. Up close, those rivers are filled with what looks like fallen trees turned to gold. It’s one of those works that make your jaw drop when you pass through the outer walls of the library and find this beauty of despair filling a large courtyard. A few mirrors inserted into the work—its subject being the destruction of the Amazon and the naked capitalism spilling into its dead pores—leave no doubt who’s to blame for all of this. Set against the striking concrete modernist architecture, it’s a breathtaking sight.
It’s tempting to suggest that Siron, a successful painter now in his late seventies, is turning to more urgent matters in his twilight years. But the artist has always mixed his more purely artistic pursuits with the political, as evidenced by his series “Césio” from 1987 commenting on a nuclear accident in his native Goiânia. The name of this exhibition, “Garimpo,” translates simply as “mining,” an activity that converts the planet’s natural resources into private wealth, and is a principal business activity of Siron’s home region in the center of the country.
Inside the library, another sculpture, “Ponte Vertical: Braços e Mãos,” 2023 (Vertical Bridge: Arms and Hands), runs from the lower level up through a couple of floors to the building’s ceiling, like a still-vibrant tree. Vibrant, that is, until you notice its skeletal quality, made up of both black and white human limbs—mannequin arms and hands, actually—signifying the self-destructive tendencies of our species. The “severed” arms, normally invisible to the public when a mannequin is assembled, are finished with gold.
That word “bridge” in the title—is this a note of hope or irony? Are we reaching to the sky when our real concern should be the planet below us? What good is a bridge tinged with gold, if it’s just a pile of human remains?
A few concrete tables, “Vestiges,” 2019/2023, with similar narratives about the consequences of humanity’s disregard for nature, fill much of the lower-level space, almost like dioramas of destruction. Though disturbing, these pieces serve more like footnotes to the terrible grandeur out in the courtyard.
Through November 3 at Biblioteca Brasiliana Guita e José Mindlin Rua da Biblioteca, 21 – Cidade Universitária.