The strategic presence


A conversation with artist Maurício Ianês

Introduction and interview by Ulisses Carrilho
Photographs by Victor Takayama, Victor Nomoto and Hick Duarte
Monday, March 30 - 2015

An artist’s mere presence in a gallery for the entirety of an exhibition can become a statement in itself: the presence of the artist isn't any more important than that of the public.

Even though the presence of artist Maurício Ianês in SECS Pompeia’s exhibition area can be translated as the potential to ignite something bigger, it's within the role reversal between audience and performer that his work actually takes place, without any predefined direction.

“I'm the performance artist and you're the public of the exhibition. What if you were me? Not [me] the artist, but me, the human being?” In O Vínculo [The Bond], the artist will occupy the MAI Presents exhibition space as long as the exhibition is open to the public, every day for eight hours a day.

Writer and curator Ulisses Carrilho discusses this performance with Ianês in this space, where The Bond develops new ways of connecting with the public every day:

I'd like to start by asking about the idea of making your personal experience accessible to the public. This is something that isn't only part of this project, but it's also present in some of your other projects. Where does it come from?

This idea of making myself available to the public is about an exchange of roles. I've always believed that, for you to see a work of art, you must be available to the work of art. You have to be open. I began to think that, to make a performance, I also have to be available. This is research that I started a long ago, and that is not yet resolved. In fact, it's an issue that is resolved each time I perform. There's a desire to create a situation with the public, a situation of personal interaction and collective creation. A situation where there's no hierarchy between the artist and the audience. I don't impose anything on the public. I'm available there, like a spark [waiting] for something to happen.

It's a strategic presence. If people arrived in the exhibition area without me being here, they'd come in and wouldn't know what to do. I propose this "being here" as the ignition spark for the development of a social situation and a creative practice thread. I try not to make it like an aura. I also try to break the hierarchy of the artistic situation. I try and make sure the situation here doesn't leave the real, but rather remains aligned with it.

About inhabiting this exhibition area within this time frame: What are the similarities with your other projects? I see a direct link with the project you presented at the São Paulo Biennial and Transperformance. Do you believe it's part of a series?

Yes, I believe that this work begins, I mean, it's a division of the project I presented at the 28th São Paulo Biennial. However, I understand that there, it still carried a very large aura. It was a relationship with the public in which they saw me almost like a guru. It was the first performance where I put this research into practice. And I'm making progress in [my] research through these works. Each work is always a risky game. Leaving the work open to the public as I try to do - and I want it more and more - means never knowing what may happen. This is was what happened in 2008 [with In Living Contact at the 28th São Paulo Biennial, curated by Ivo Mesquita], or what happened last year in Rio de Janeiro [with Transperformance 3 - Corpo Estranho, curated by Luísa Duarte and Gabriel Bogossian], for example.

In Rio de Janeiro, I wanted to perform outside the exhibition area. I decided to use Largo do Machado as the site for my piece in this performance festival. My proposition was a picnic where there would be food, but also books that discussed question of relations, social relations, and the very concept of ‘public.’ There were also pamphlets that I wrote about Largo do Machado, which used to be a lake fed by the Carioca river, and the main source of drinking water in Rio de Janeiro until it was covered and turned into a sewer. I explained the story and first wanted to get people out of the buildings and bring them back outdoors. Since I'm not originally from Rio, it was also new to me. I was among locals, discovering the place together with them. In Largo do Machado, there are many homeless people. I'd been warned about their massive presence after 6pm; but they'd arrive earlier and appropriate the work as their own, their appropriation became political. And some very interesting social situations were going on because passers by began to keep away. It was common to have 15 homeless people lying with me, making meals, drinking cachaça and wine with me. There were soups, fruits, books we would read together and we would talk about Largo do Machado. Visitors to the festival were avoiding this performance. It became a great feast for homeless people. And that had several implications because I was in a social situation and calling it art.

Even considering that it happened organically?

It happened organically, that's true. But a different situation would've been me ‘evicting’ them from the artwork. That would've been even worse. I'd created the initial trigger - and now I had to deal with it. Reflecting as the process unfolded, I understood that the work had developed in the wrong way.

Here [with The Bond], I'm going a step further. We're more protected because we're housed in a cultural institution, but it’s a rather peculiar cultural institution. Here, there's everything: swimming pools, a gym, people from the neighborhood. This performance was especially designed for SESC because I wanted to bring these people into the work. The idea was that I'd live here, sleep here, there would be a kitchen here. People would sleep in here with me. We'd live in a great alternative community. This will no longer happen.

But I really hope - though I'd rather not expect anything when I'm doing a work that is open to interaction with the public - that at the least, they'll come back. I hope people will attend the performance. This happened at the São Paulo Biennial. I want it to become a familiar space, known and occupied by the public.

The work that you presented at the Biennial included an important factor, which was the exchange. Do you think it would be too strong to state that the relationship was one of dependence?

I depended on the public, on what they bring. Another important factor is that here I talk to people, I don't remain silent. The work begins when people arrive and I introduce myself. “Nice to meet you, my name's Maurício. What's your name? What do you do for a living?” Informal, everyday conversations. If someone wants to come back later, for example... for me it would be amazing if a student from the neighborhood decided to bring his books to study with me. Studying every day with him. Let him keep his books here in the exhibition room. Then another person comes and creates a different situation.

A recurring question in Marina Abramovic’s work is one of immateriality. I've been asking artists if their research is also informed by the materials they use. Even when speaking of the immaterial, your performance employs a formal artistic practice, right?

That's right. As my work is open to the public, I don't know what it will become. What I can say is that I see it as somewhat neutral. I can also say that I believe all of this will turn into a big mess. I want to preserve traces of each person who visits the exhibition. But there is also the fact that objects and their material nature, they act as drivers of a dialogue. [The audience and I], we only gaze into each other's eyes, and their eyes show a lot about what I was thinking at that very moment, and how they would've felt if they were in my position.

Is this important for you? When the public is interested in thinking about your place, the place of the artist?

The exchange that interests me the most is not when someone puts themselves in the artist's place, but when they put themselves in another human being's place. Maybe just the person in front of them. Here, the importance of the object is using it as a relationship builder. Beyond language and gesture, we have the object. This is a way that the material interests me in my performance work.

You're an artist who also produces art objects. However, instead of exhibiting these objects, you choose to expose yourself, putting yourself on display. Does it bother you when your work is read as a metaphor about overexposure in contemporary art?

What bothers me here is the idea of a metaphor. A metaphor is far from what I’m talking about. I don't want to be far from what I'm talking about, which happens during the process. The process builds the voice of my work. I don’t bother to talk about the contemporary, but surely this process does exist in contemporary times.

My last question is about simplicity. The process of simply “being,” is it truly simple? Or is in in fact complicated, difficult?

This requires a lot from me, because I have to be available eight hours a day for the work to happen and I never know what actually will happen. And [what] if someone decides to take my clothes off? The public is always unpredictable, there's anxiety in me. And yet I have to be here, within limits I have set for myself. And I set them in such a way that they don't always exist.

Terra Comunal - MAI is free and open to the public until May 10, 2015 @SESC Pompeia, São Paulo - Brazil.