Sentido Legacy - Tash Kahn

Artist Tash Kahn's reflections

Rio de Janiero was a totally different story – not nearly as hectic as Mumbai but just as beautiful. We landed at night and drove to a colonial guesthouse up a steep cobbled street. There was graffiti everywhere and what seemed like music on every corner.

Our first meeting was with artist Daniel Murgel, who offered to cook us pizza at his studio. Daniel makes installations or ‘think paintings’ using small models, ad-hoc architecture and thoughts of Malevich as starting points. He is exasperated by the state of the politics in Brazil and wants to bring people together with food – the result was a pizza oven he made while on a residency. This socially engaging project serves to build a creative infrastructure within the local community, and building fire in order to break bread and exchange conversation is something that humans have been doing for a long time. Daniel likens the oven to a smoking painting and as the pizzas cook, smoke is literally painting the sculpture.

That same evening we also met Thelma Vilas Boas who runs Bar Delas, a local bar that acts as a community hub. To her the space is ‘Giving Art’, and she views it as a place where people can congregate in the same way they do at a church. There are artists in the same building and Thelma is keen to find ways to support them through workshops and other activating projects.

I was drawn to Daniel and Thelma’s socially engaging practices and the notion of artists as activists. As creative members of a society in flux there is much to say and artists are at the forefront. By exploring new concepts of what art is or what it can be we can (hopefully) help make an impact.

On Thursday Charlie and I travelled to São Paulo, a bigger, busier city full of beautiful Modernist architecture. En route to meet representatives from the São Paulo Bienal, we walked around Ibirapuera Park taking in the lines of Oscar Niemeyer’s architecture dotted around its landscape. The park is home to the Bienal Foundation, as well as Niemeyer’s pavilion for the fair. We met Mariana Sesma and Flavia Abbud to discuss the Bienal’s history and talk through future projects. They very kindly gave us a private tour of the pavilion – an expansive aircraft hanger of a space with huge curving ramps and polished concrete floors. My brain spun with artistic possibilities.

Tash Kahn

Later we met curator Bruno de Almeida and artist João Loureiro at Galeria Jaqueline Martins. Bruno is interested in the public/private space, and the differences between the two. He shows work in both a gallery environment and in the community, so the audience and engagement level change at every turn. Bruno tries to create projects that exist outside the box. “My projects invite the audience to think critically about the city and the processes that shape it.” He wants to engage people but is aware that even if you place art in the public arena, the public still may not look at it. It is only defined as art because there is an artist involved.

João Loureiro talked about his grey ice cream project and the challenges of getting it shown in a museum setting. This grey art needs to be shown in an art gallery but bureaucracy gets in the way; outside the gallery it is just ice cream and not art. The context in which it is shown is important – inside/outside vs public/private. João’s work with Bruno as part of the latter’s 1:1 project was straddled across two spaces – a replica of an Umberto Boccioni piece in polystyrene studded with dead flies at the gallery was juxtaposed with a Henry Moore sculpture made from raw meat in an apocalyptic supermarket a few streets away. João’s work really spoke to me, especially when he talked about Nugget, a gold dental piece placed permanently in the mouth of a monk.

On Saturday artist Flora Leite questioned if artists were still allowed to say what they wanted to say without fear of reproach. She felt that there is no such thing and there will always be some form of negotiation. Flora’s work tackles serious issues but is speckled with humour. It is site specific in nature and heavily politicised. She looks for the ‘odd spaces’ in buildings, and harks back to historical stories in order to re-tell them. A recent project meant she taught herself how to make crystals via YouTube; another one saw her making the Southern Cross constellation in fireworks. Beautiful, thought-provoking work.

All the people we met in Brazil talked about the country’s political climate – past and present – and all were keen to incorporate it into their practice in some way. Thelma and Daniel both give back to the community using their practice as a vehicle. João wanted to give gold back to a church that had been ransacked years before. His solution was putting it into the mouth of a monk. Flora wondered if there was still freedom in art – something we had grappled with in India on finding out that a director of an art college had been sacked as a result of a student’s ‘inappropriate’ work.


Read curator and commissioner Charlie Levine's article here