Have you ever asked yourself “what is art and what is it for?”? Paulo Roberto Barbosa Bruscky, one of the exponents of conceptual art in Brazil, too. On the occasion of the newest retrospective that the artist from Recife receives in his hometown, at Galeria Marco Zero, we invite you to delve into his creations to understand their meaning in the history of Brazilian art. The exhibition brings together more than 100 works, including some made especially for the occasion and others never before shown, such as the unpublished work HighPortrait which lends its name to the show.
Bruscky has already commented in several interviews about his irreverent and audacious process: “I do what I want”. A pioneer in the use of new media in contemporary Brazilian art, Bruscky incorporates stamps, postage stamps, photocopying and whatever else is close to his routine. Despite producing since the end of the 1960s, even today, the artist remains with a bubbly and open mind to new media, which allowed him to experiment with digital art. “I don’t have the slightest working methodology. Nobody follows me because I’m not a soap opera”.
Thinking about the symbology of more than five decades of active production by the artist, we have separated five key elements for you to understand more about his life and work.
1. Body and machine
Bruscky has always been a civil servant and worked in a hospital in Recife where he was responsible for the xerox machine. The job aroused his interest in several experiments with the equipment that surrounded him. It’s the case of video art Xeroperformance (1980) created from a sequence of over 1000 copies made with the artist’s face pressed against the machine.
In fact, it was precisely because of his research with xerox art that Bruscky received a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, in 1982, and lived in New York where he had contact with the Fluxus group, of which he was a member.
Other works that derived from his relationship with the hospital environment investigate possible poetic expressions coming from his organs. Thus, with the electroencephalogram device, the series Records (My brain draws like this) and an electrocardiogram exam was named Feelings: a poem made with the heart.
2. Anti-bourgeoisie and anti-system
Even before graduating in journalism, still in his teens, Bruscky was already publishing cartoons in newspapers. But it was in the 1970s, alongside Daniel Santiago, that he launched “Arte Desclassificado”, a series of interventions in newspapers, through paid advertisements, which defended absurd or impossible situations. artearonimbo (1974), for example, published in the Brazilian newspaper Diário de Pernambuco, summons “a chemist, a meteorologist or anyone capable of coloring a cloud”.
Through irony, the artist who has already been arrested three times, subverted the media control mechanisms that were under a dictatorial context, creating a mode of circulation of marginal poetry. It was also under these circumstances that the artist inaugurated “Arte Correio” in Brazil, a proposal to consider the postcard itself as an art object and make it circulate freely outside the restricted art circuit.
His pioneering spirit was also responsible for putting Recife on the contemporary art map. In 1975 he organized the first Correio do Brasil art exhibition, in his hometown. The following year, the second edition of the show was accused of promoting subversive ideas and ended up being censored by the police.
Still in 1976, the artist wrote about the medium: “Art Mail emerged at a time when communication, despite the multiplicity of media, became more difficult, while official art, increasingly, finds itself compromised by the speculation of the capitalist market, running away from a whole reality to benefit a few: bourgeois, dealers, critics and most of the galleries that exploit artists insatiably. At Arte Correio, art resumes its main functions: information, protest and denunciation.”
3. Questioning art itself
On one of the occasions when he was detained, a federal agent asked him, “If I rip off a piece of this floor and put it on a wall, is that art?” Bruscky promptly replies, “If you put it on, no. If I put it on, it’s art.”
Considering that the artist himself takes a stand against the bourgeoisie and against the system, it is clear that he is also in a critical position of the system of art itself. In one of his most famous works, the born protester walked through the streets of Recife with a sign around his neck that reads the questions that entitle the performance: “What is art? What is it for?”.
On Italian soil, at the 57th Venice Biennale, the artist led a line of 30 porters who arrived by boat and silently stacked dozens of boxes in front of the central pavilion. The pieces had postage stamps and labels with the words “fragile”, “this side up” and “Arte Se Embala Como Se Quer”. But inside? Anything. The performance sought to criticize the way in which contemporary works of art emptied of meaning circulate as trophies and status symbols, more in the service of an industry than the advancement of aesthetic thinking.
Other examples of works that question the concept and value of art are Today, art is this communication and Confirmed: it’s artwhere Bruscky satirizes the system and the professionals who dictate what can and cannot be inserted into the circuit.
4. Everyday poetry
In addition to incorporating the banal materialities of his daily life into the poetic investigation, it is important to understand the intervention that the artist proposes in the routines of the common population. Since his works in the newspapers, this characteristic demonstrates a fluidity between art and life that explores the context of urban routine. Many of his works consist of interventions on the streets of Recife and other global cities, including Amsterdam, New York and Paris. It is the case of the work stop art (1973), a “reinauguration” of the Boa Vista Bridge, built in 1633. The artist placed a huge pink ribbon across the street from one end to the other, so that downtown traffic was congested for a long time.
5. Word as an element
Whether in the games of puns to compose the titles of the works – an inseparable key to understanding them –, whether in the phrases stamped on posters and objects, or even as a visual element, the word itself is an intrinsic element of Bruscky’s production.
In collaborative performance living poetry, from 1977, the artist, who is immersed in the creation of visual poetry, expanded the language beyond paper, literally giving body and life so that the word could circulate through space. As the original document of the time, authored by the artist and Unhandeijara Lisboa, says, the proposal was established “so that poetry does not suffer in literary courses, nor does it die in literary supplements”.
In 2008, when the artist was in Rio de Janeiro with a friend, he went to the subway station where he came across the notice on the floor that inspired the work. Beware of the gap between the train and the word. The installation is based on the concept of non-place, or even the power that the word has to bring something inconceivable into existence. According to the artist himself, the idea comes from his constant exercise of miseducation: “I learned very early to deeducate myself aesthetically, to think about art”.
And still in wordan emblematic work from 1992 composed of a box, magazine strips and a stone egg, Bruscky plays with the idea of the birth of language.
Location: Marco Zero Gallery
Address: Avenida Domingos Ferreira, 3393, Boa Viagem – Recife
Date: Until December 10, 2022
Opening hours: Monday to Friday, from 10 am to 7 pm. On Saturdays, from 10 am to 6 pm.