ARMANDO ANDRADE TUDELA
In the opening chapter of The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904), G. K. Hesterton describes a game called “Heat The Prophet.” The aim of the game is to question what the author considers as one of the prevailing predicaments of the modernity: How do we survive the phantasmagoria of progress without physical or spiritual exhaustion? The answer is buried in the game: let the old prophet tell his prophecy, then wait until he dies and, like a modern man, promote oblivion and disregard of the prophecy. Armando Andrade Tudela examines this double movement of envisaging and de-investing prophecies and historical legacies in his work. Elements of distortion and refraction both in the realm of the formal and the social are combined with a relentless search for a (possibly mythical) sign of origin for these initially progressive ideas.
FRANCESCO MANACORDA When we were both students at the Royal College of Art, we kept talking about our intention of issuing a manifesto of “Tropical Abstraction.” I think there is still room for that combination of words, especially if one does not necessarily anchor them in contemporary art jargon. For example, the notion of abstraction etymologically entails a violent act: The latin abstrahere means “to detach from somewhere.” in this sense, one could see your work as a movement of taking something from one geographical or semantic location and positioning it somewhere else, an operation that has something to do with the metaphorical and material conditions of exile.
ARMANDO ANDRADE TUDELA I remember that we had many entries for our manifesto, but hardly any of them was art-related. I have a hypothesis about why that happened (which is related to the reason we still believe that “Tropical Abstraction” can be recuperated as an idea―albeit with another title!): it was because what we were talking about back then and what we were searching for was an “environment to work,” something that would shake up the terrain. We took elements of what we thought were the “tropics,” but even then we knew that it was impossible to have a faultless image of what the “tropics” were really about, because we were not referring to them as a real demographic but inevitably as a topography of “detachment.”
FM I think the environment you talk about is a sort of pliable space where the combination of words or territories opens up the potential for ambiguous signification. At the time, we were both looking at the misuse of language in translation, in particular in the different conjugations of modernity and modernism from canonic use to vernacular distortions. We used to compare this set of conditions to the tropics as a cipher of exuberance and entropy. In his book on Raymond Roussel, Death and the Labyrinth, Michel Foucault mentions a useful definition that he borrows from classical grammar: The concept of tropology, the possibility for language to have words that, through their everyday use, distance themselves from their original meaning, creating a space (perhaps another environment) for double meanings―and in Roussel, ultimately creating the possibility for the dissolution of language. i think you have done quite a bit of work tracing the tropology of modernity towards tropicality and vice versa. I’m thinking here of Camion or Transa as examples of two mirrored or inverted movements of this sort.
AAT Yes, they are, but even works that do not directly illustrate this tracing, this kind of inverted “mirroring,” as in Camion and Transa, are still evidence of this pliable space we are talking about. As with many artists who have moved incessantly from place to place, for me the organization and formation of an idea do not match any single language. As such, my ideas need to be based on a sequence of different procedural operations―cuts, progressions, loops―that invest the process with “grammar.” In the work, there is something Foucault also identified in his book on Roussel: a “slow rotation which prevents the return of meaning from coinciding with the return of language.” This “prevention of the return of meaning,” this discrepancy between language and object is, above all things, emancipatory, transforming the sphere of tropes into a troposphere (that is, an environment). For me, different conjugations, or better, the possibility of different conjugations is an organizational device only made possible by the aligeramiento of language; as language gets less dense, other systems appear to order the work. Take, for instance, The Laughing Artisan, a work that could also exemplify how the inverted mirroring you mention can be performed without directly referencing something. The work is a diptych made from two images of Eddie Murphy from the film Coming To America. I wasn’t interested in the actor/film-as-reference but rather in the fact that one image showed him playing a prince and the other one playing a McDonald’s employee, characters with two different social “values.” By cutting both images exactly the same way and transferring the elements of one image into the other (inverting the mirror, if you wish), I thought I could dissolve the values implicit in each representation into an invisible and immaterial network webbed outside the images or, if not to dissolve, at least to diffuse these values into the surroundings.
FM Architecture and energy are recurrent elements in your work. If we continue in our linguistic metaphor, we could look at those two areas as the semantic content of your art production, considered as a form of speech. In this hypothesis, architecture and energy are the words that get pushed beyond their initial position or received meaning in what we just called the troposphere. What is the relation between the subject matter of your work and its formal organization? Are you more interested in the tropes―for example, Niemeyer’s architecture in Paris, lumps of pure asphalt, woven rattan leaves―or their combination in infinity loops, double projections and convolutions of incongruous materials in your sculptures?
AAT Why not in both, as if they were two different sections of a wave? Double projections, loops and progressions are modulations of an idea; they are the way ideas are laid out and covered. But they could also stand for systems of transference, contact and filtering respectively, circling inside an invisible web that unifies the natural diversity of the work. I try more and more to avoid making distinctions between the operation that enables a work to be produced and the operation that allows me to place the work in relation to other works (the sistemas museograficos) or to viewers (which, for some strange reason, I always imagine in transit). For example, the first time I had to install films next to other groups of work, I was quite uncomfortable with the fact that all the other works shared a trajectory but, to me, it felt like the films did not. Of course, light is always an issue in relation to projections, but it wasn’t that; it was the compression of the room that felt problematic. That compression implied a sudden relapse into sequential thinking: “This is one, this is the other.” Now, I’m not aiming for equivalence, i.e. “This one is the other,” but rather for preserving an active sense of the other while looking at the films and vice versa. So I started using panels of pegboard as screens. They allowed me to “air” the room and keep on view what was behind the screens, even if it was not fully visible, because full visibility is not what is important; what is important is weaving a trajectory. This solution came during the time I started doing the second set of rattan works, the diamond ones, which pursued the idea of compression and expansion by juxtaposing two different kinds of weaving techniques. For better or worse, I’m starting to see my work as modular, which means that, once a resource is found, it becomes a variable to be used again in new frequencies and sequences.
FM The transparency and weaving of separate elements, as well as multiple layers that function like a set of filters, reminds me of another ghost in this conversation, the italian architect Lina Bo Bardi. after relocating to Brazil, Bo Bardi constantly worked on issues of visibility and gravitational suspension. A good example of her investigations is her glass house. Another is the famous display she devised for the São Paulo Museum of Art (designed by Bo Bardi as a suspended glass box and directed by her exuberant husband Pietro Maria Bardi) in which paintings were hung on sheets of transparent glass inserted into a block of concrete. It is a great installation that encourages you to see through the layers of meaning; it forces you to give up the traditional way of looking at the exhibition as a sequential, chronological or thematic story. It allows for oblique readings that jump from one row of paintings to another, ruling out the possibility of a single linear path. As you mentioned about your work, the exhibits here are woven together like an elaborate fabric.
AAT Yes, I know the image. Can you imagine showing Duchamp’s Sixteen Miles of String in there? What I like about this picture is how suddenly a horizontal three-dimensional bloc―the gallery―becomes a frantic sequence of facets by multiplying the gravitational centers, each work generating a new center point. Following some of the ideas mentioned above, one of the matters I have been trying to tackle lately is gravity. If trajectories in space are important, then the “gravity of space” is, too; you naturally cross a room through its center of gravity, figuratively speaking―unless you like to “raser les murs” (slide along the walls) like a spy. Therefore you distribute objects according to notions of balance, and sometime use: the size of the object in relation to the room, viewpoints and optimal visibility, trajectory, etc. I have not been experimenting with this to a great extent yet, but I have been trying to dislodge the natural center of gravity of the space by simply moving the works after they have fallen into their natural exhibiting place. Not much, but enough to unearth a sense of spatial pressure and perhaps even create slight discomfort, evoking that obliqueness you were talking about. I wish I could have a set of references to illustrate this idea, but I don’t. I think it just springs from my disjointed relationship to object-making and by extension, object-placing, and to the idea that certain operations can expand from the purely material to the immaterial (in this case, to the space between the walls and the object and consequently from object to object).
FM It seems that the building of the trajectories in the work and in the exhibition space is a generative act that drives the organization of the work. How important for you is the concept of structure? Do you see yourself as arranging possibilities on a combinatory level within a work, similar to composing a piece of music?
AAT No, not really, I never thought of it in musical terms. I emphasize trajectories and structural organizations because both enable me to search for a kind of fitting environment that does not require any orchestration. It is, as you say, generative, but also somehow ambivalent because it deals equally with the materiality of an idea as with the space investing that materiality. By “space” I mean physical space but also social space, which, naturally, is always in flux. Like with other artists of my generation, my work has shifted from being fundamentally two-dimensional to three-dimensional. This has proven to be liberating because it brought to the foreground the problem of scale in the work―physical, material, sculptural scales but also and more abstractly, the immaterial scale of an idea with regard to its exchange value. Lina Bo Bardi exemplifies this quite clearly with her chairs. Comparing chairs like Bo Bardi’s Bowl and Espreguicadeira, which she made almost upon her arrival in Brazil, to Cadeira de Beira de Estrada, made in the late 1960s, you can clearly see how her interpretation and absorption of the social and geographical environment of Brazil allowed her to decrease the material value and increase the immaterial value of her work. For me, Cadeira de Beira de Estrada, with its three wood trunks simply bundled together to support the suspended seat, has an extraordinary scale because the precariousness of its materiality is inversely proportional to the possibilities brought about by the chair in social terms, as a kind of social articulation or rehearsal. Moreover, Cadeira is perfectly positioned inside the formal evolution of her design. At its core, I see an exchange, a transposition that places potential over matter. It is inside this constant scaling, contained by the ambivalence between the presence of matter and what invests (the presence of) matter with potentiality, where I imagine any organizational system in my work.
FM One of the ways Roussel generated ultra-meaning poetic possibilities through superabundance of meaning was what he called “rencontres à trésors” (meetings of gems): The meeting of two words which both have more than one meaning, linked by the french preposition “à” (for example, métier à aubes, which means both “work at dawn” and “paddlewheelloom”). This is a way to use chance, on one hand, to generate multiple meanings, and on the other hand, to create a different platform for poetry in which rhyme takes place in a different dimension than the phonetic. Do you also use similar deliberate but explosive techniques when you combine one or more elements (materials, contents, images, colors, shapes, trajectories, histories, looping patterns, etc.), or do you rather follow your intuition when you put a work together and then work around elective affinities?
AAT I really don’t know how explosive they are, but I usually think that these meeting points in my work are quite considered. Firstly, because it usually takes me a while to trust an idea enough to turn it into a work, so I don’t have a great cast of combinatory possibilities. And secondly, because I usually think that most of the works themselves, via their materiality, form, scale and spectrum of references, are already meeting points or gravity centers. So affinities have to be considered at length in order to maintain a certain clarity in movement (as opposed to clear movement).
One of the interesting things about the writing of Roussel is that words never have one center of gravity but several, divagating centers. Once he “locates” the place for a word, one of these many centers drops into place until you reach the end of the line, where the placing of its complementary word―the one that sounds just like it but means something else―implodes the first meaning. This incessant looping is very studied but ambivalent at heart, so every time one word falls into place, another gets disarranged. Ideally, I try to apply this model to the making and placement of objects and images, sometimes by flipping them until a possible center appears or is forced to appear. This is the case with Concreto y overtura, where by juxtaposing two or more concrete blocs and weaving an emergency foil blanket between the junctions, the formation is disarranged but also expanded. Other times, I apply it by recognizing a kind of cross-cultural blind spot between two cultural legacies where a mirroring, looping or reverse transposition can be inserted, as in Camion or in that manifesto we never completed.