Carne, Pele, Luz e Metal [Flesh, skin, light and metal]
Leandra Espírito Santo and Luiz Escañuela
Carne, Pele, Luz e Metal [Flesh, skin, light and metal]
Oct 07 – Nov 11 2023
Galeria Luis Maluf Rua Peixoto Gomide, 1887
Flesh, skin, light and metal
Speculation about the human body seems to have no end. Nor a beginning. Apparently from the very beginning – and who knows when that was? – we have lived with our enigmatic condition. Although we are palpable, tangible, carnal presences – at least that’s the impression we get from others – we are still obscure. Some ideas and conjectures have been decisive for the current status of the body, which doesn’t stop it from continuing to be more indecipherable than ever. Not to go too far back, think of the small automaton dolls made in the 18th century, think of the Writer, an automaton made up of six thousand parts, created in 1770 by the Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz. Looking, dressing and posing like a real person, sitting at a table with a pen in his hand, the Writer not only wrote but was programmed – you see, programmed – to write in different letters. His similarity to us went beyond physical form, but the differences between us, even worse, alluded to the possibility that within us dwell several others, evident in different handwritings. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, these automata were a craze that lasted throughout the 19th century. Not by chance, the century in which Mary Shelley wrote, in 1818, Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus; it was also the century in which the Frenchman Auguste Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, in his The Future Eve, 1886, less gothic and more futuristic, coined the term android.
The meeting of recent works by Luiz Escañuela and Leandra Espírito Santo suggests this quick introduction, indicative of the intricate level of issues they are both dealing with. In the first room there are two paintings by Luiz, similar in size and subject matter, particularly in the prominence of the hands. In the canvas on the left, Aquilo que aqui ficou (What remained here) (2023), the tips of the index and middle fingers of the hands of a person lying on a bed touch each other gently, on the verge of intertwining. Red is the predominant colour, a blood red, luminous. The backs of the hands are meticulously executed, above all because they contrast with the body of the woman lying down, represented diffusely; the photographic extraction of the painting leads one to think of the image as being out of focus. You can perfectly see the designs of the knuckles, the estuary of lines scratched in mismatched directions, the semi-transparencies of the nails, the ones on the left hand longer, the ones on the right with red half-moons, as if they had just been taken out of a bowl of blood.
Luiz Escañuela is aware of the public’s attraction to hyperrealism, its craving for illusions. He also knows that, made from photographs, these paintings, contrary to what they claim, are the result of distancing themselves from the physical world; the more painstakingly they advance in the manufacture of perfect visibles, the further they move away from what we call reality. Lest there be any mistake about this, and also to the possible surprise of the visiting public, opposite this canvas, opening the set presented in the last room of the exhibition, is Experimento para uma cartografia das mãos (Experiment for a cartography of the hands) (2023). While the first offers a representation that wants to pass itself off as what it isn’t, truth made visible, the second, also taking the hands as its theme, lays bare the process, reveals the image’s scaffolding, the comings and goings, the paths left behind and suppressed throughout its making.
OHHHHHHH (2023) is the name of Leandra Espírito Santo’s installation, which takes up the entire middle room. In contrast to the sensual colour of Luiz’s painting, Leandra opts for the grey of aluminium. Eight heads arranged side by side, made bright by the impact of white light bulbs, the kind that impregnate the room with blue, which is why they are also called cold light bulbs. Unlike the paintings, these heads are sculptural, more concrete and real, not least because they were moulded from the artist’s face, a process that requires the impassivity of a CT scan. The heads are divided between two of the four walls of the small cubic room. As well as separating them, the light bulbs run round every corner of the volume, guaranteeing an atmosphere between factory and hospital. The heads are expressive. They therefore correspond to the artist’s particular traits, if they weren’t stereotypical expressions, such as those available in the emoji bank, one of the most recent and effective products of an overwhelming process of homogenisation of facial expressions, clothes, gestures and ready-to-wear ideas. The question arises: what is left of us? This is one of the artist’s central questions. Leandra hits on the same theme in the installation presented in the next room: 30 gsts + (2021-current). Again her hands, this time moulded in bronze in gestures copied from the cast of gestures also offered by emojis.
One of the roots of sculpture goes back to magic, to death masks and the effort to ensure the presence of those who have gone and who were important to us. What importance is there in that which is the same as the others, what is the relevance of the undifferentiated? Returning to the beginning of the exhibition, right at the entrance, stuck to the wall, three small sculptures move frantically. Inhoim-inhoim-inhoim (2023) is made up of three silicone tongues, moulded from the artist’s tongue. They seem to be alive, or are they dead, bursting with energy and, as long as there is energy, they will continue to beat against the wall, indifferent to it?