The Magificent Seven: Capp Street: Renata Lucas
The Magnificent Seven artist Renata Lucas is the Capp Street artist in residence at the Wattis Institute for the spring semester. The Brazilian artist is best known for her interventions in architecture and the urban landscape. Her work investigates the social and behavioral possibilities of spatial constructions; how the built environment, and even a gallery's architecture, might impact relations between people in particular and within society in general.
Working with quite basic materials such as plywood, bricks and concrete, and influenced by the makeshift nature of Brazilian construction, Lucas by necessity operates site-specifically. For Quick Mathematics (2007), Lucas effectively duplicated a city block, installing a new pavement, curb and streetlights where it already existed. Drawing attention to the existing physical fabric of the urban environment, Lucas's project also examined how individuals, and groups, adapt to the physical conditions and possibilities of space, in this instance a cafe was integrated into the project. Similarly, for Cruzamento (Crossing, 2003) Lucas overlaid the asphalt of a typical road junction, with plywood, creating a plaza of sorts. For a commission at London's Tate Modern, titled The Visitor (2007) Lucas disrupted the formal gardens outside the museum with an ad hoc forest of firs, holly, ferns and undergrowth, conflating ideas of inside and outside, but also cultural expectations of nature. Her work engages in a critical interpretation of how our built environment determines actions, behavior and social relationships, and by extension, society's dependence on prescribed definitions of space, property and order.
Lucas had her first US solo exhibition at REDCAT, Los Angeles (2007), which followed a number of projects in Brazil including the 27th Bienal de SÃ£o Paulo (2006) and Museu de Arte da Pampulha (2002). She will present a new site-specific work informed by her Capp Street residency in Fall 2011.
by Jens Hoffmann
Formulating a strong social and critical attitude that descends, in its deconstructive political-spatial aspect, more from the legacy of artists such as Gordon Matta-Clark and Michael Asher than from the psycho-physical terrain explored by fellow Brazilian artists like HÃ©lio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, and Ernesto Neto, Renata Lucas' work represents a new direction in the orientation of Brazilian art. Her matier is to subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) intervene in a given landscape or space, whether it is a commercial gallery, an urban street, or a non-space in between the officially recognized terrain of a gallery or museum. Her interventions at times reflect a specific response to the location and its social and physical characteristics; on other occasions they are more like occupations, or importations of something foreign, or viral.
In addition to the clear architectural influence of Matta-Clark and Asher, and an interest in the fluidity of movement as in the work of Clark and Oiticica, in Lucas's work the built environment is entirely negotiated and navigated by the human body. Lucas never experiences a space solely via description or image; rather, she creates physical surroundings that are closely oriented to the senses at the same time that they are critical exercises in social studies. She embraces her Brazilian heritage in a fascinating manner, bringing Latin American and traditional Western concerns together in an act of cultural cannibalism. She is continually concerned with conjoining, adding, duplicating, hybridizing, fusing, confusing.
For one of her early works in Rio de Janeiro, Cruzamento (Crossing, 2003), an installation that took place on the street at a public crossing, Lucas created a new "layer" that added meaning to the site. Overlaying the asphalt with sheets of common yellowish plywood, she filled out a cross shape where previously this space had existed only as a projected notional vision of the pedestrian attempting to navigate. Lucas's addition was not simply a visual statement, although, as pictures attest, it did recall the unforgettable black-and-white tile designs of Roberto Burle Marx for the sidewalks of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, ”it also had an auditory aspect. Each time a car traversed it, the plywood would thump and clap slightly against the asphalt beneath. Indeed the work was ultimately destroyed and removed because neighbors complained excessively about the clamor. Cruzamento suggested a temporary stage where both pedestrians and cars were actors. Also among Lucas's early works was the installation Gentileza (Kindness, 2005), created at the gallery A Gentil Carioca in Rio de Janeiro, which is situated in a busy commercial neighborhood. For this piece the artist literally removed the walls between the gallery's interior space and the (occupied) house next door, a music recording studio. Her act of cutting recalled the work of Matta-Clark, and the manipulation of space to create a confusion between interior/exterior and private/public recalled the work of Oiticica, specifically installations such as Magic Square (1978) and works by Clark such as the smaller-scale Bichos (1960-66), which also questioned the limits of structural form, folding and manipulating space via interactive, moveable planes.
Perhaps to test the limits of her gallerists' commitment Lucas then made the work Atlas (2006) in Sao Paulo, at Galeria Millan. Playing on existing tensions between the gallery and its immediate residential neighbor, Lucas extended the neighbor's fence from the back of the building through the gallery space, effectively carving off a potion of the galleryâ€”including the front deskâ€”and turning it into part of the neighbor's property. Lucas transformed the remaining square footage of the gallery, which consisted largely of exhibition space, into a public parking garage, echoing the other businesses in the neighborhood, which are mainly garages and mechanic shops. Her gesture was intimately connected to the notion of drawing. It also recalled the interventions of Gabriel Orozco, whose work Garage (1995) for Galerie Micheline Szwajcer in Antwerp had quite simply transformed the space into its titular purpose. But Lucas's work was also an exaggeration of, and a reflection on, an unhappy dispute between neighbors the sometimes-arbitrariness of delineations of property, and notions of ownership and occupation. By confusing official, legal boundaries, the artist made apparent their fluctuating, transitory, arbitrary nature.
Lucas made physical interaction, taken to a fairly extreme degree, the focus of her work Falha (2003-2007), first shown at REDCAT in Los Angeles. Reminiscent of Clark's piece Bichos and her own earlier work Cruzmento, the installation consisted of massive, hinged sheets of plywood. Public participation required collaboration, as the panels were so heavy that a single spectator could not manipulate them alone. Lucas thus set up an impromptu choreography among visitors, who worked together to alter the landscape. The occasional sound of a crashing panel created an aural cacophony further recalling Cruzamento. While related yet taking an opposite tack, Lucas investigated the potential of "disappearing" artworks in her contribution to the 2007 group exhibition The World Is a Stage at Tate Modern in 2007. The Visitor, located in the garden on the water-side entrance to the museum, was only visible to those negotiating the public park. Lucas infiltrated the orderly lines of trees and immaculate lawn with a mini forest that appeared to be growing explosively, unchecked. The artist went to great lengths to replicate a forest floor using moss, pinecones, and other natural vegetation convincingly creating a rural passage in the manicured garden. Lucas's interest in works that are disappearing or, as Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles put it, have a "explicit discretion," was also apparent in her contribution to the 27th Sao Paulo Biennial, How to Live Together (2006), where she used duplication to draw attention to the artificiality of art and the constructed nature of reality. MatemÃ¡tica rÃ¡pida (Quick Mathematics, 2006) was situated not in the famous Niemeyer pavilion but on Rua Brigadeiro Galvao in the outlying Barra Funda neighborhood. Lucas constructed a new sidewalk partially covering the existing one, duplicating lampposts, trees, and flowerbeds, and achieving, as the curator of the Biennial, Lisette Lagnado, described "The subtle evidence of an 'artistic' presence [that] could be gleaned in the superimposing of new pavement over old, the former deliberately demarcated at an oblique angle."
Undoubtedly one of Lucas's greatest works to date was an intervention that, one would think, should have been anything but invisible. As part of the 53rd Venice Biennial, Making Worlds, Fari Mondi (2009), she cleared a section of the pale gravel that normally covers the wide public promenade of the Giardini, laid down tarmac, and painted white dividing lines to resemble an asphalted road. Situated directly in front of what was once known as the Italian Pavilion (Palazzo de Esposizione), it was clogged with visitors, all looking straight ahead, determined to reach the next stop on their mini world tour and otherwise focused on the social whirl of the art world's biggest international event. Only gradually did a few pedestrians register the existence of Lucas's artworkâ€”at first through the aural and sensual change underfoot (for those in sandals the small gravel stones are a constant nuisance; their dust is a quick way to recognize the shoes of any Biennial-goer). Lucas's asphalt road, once recognized, suggested both the intrusion of mundane reality into the realm of art and also a stage on which visitors found themselves temporary actors, outlined starkly on the dark surface. Bringing the physical act of traversing to their conscious attention, Lucas made apparent their participation in the creation of space and the frequent ways in which we experience discrepancies and lapses, overlooking "folds" in our surroundings that actually contain the potential for boundless meaning.