An inner space within an inner space within an inner space, in Rio – works of art as the flip side of things
markus gabriel

WORKS OF ART are surprises in an imminent sense. What they reveal to us is that objects appearing to be ordinarily familiar have a sinister, strange flip side. It is only the flip side of objects, invisible to our lives, that in normal conditions fulfills the ordinarily repressed aspects of the strange, the other and the startling. Without their flip side, objects would hardly be any more real or alive than humans with only the front half of their bodies.

In 2015, when I offered a short course on Realism at puc (Pontifical Catholic University) in Rio de Janeiro, amidst the university’s gardens, I spoke uninterruptedly about the green of the forest we could see from the classroom. Generally speaking, Brazil has a very unique green, that was imprinted in me from my very first visits, ten years ago. But the forest is as ambivalent as its symbol. The forest gives life but also kills: as one can say in Portuguese, “a mata mata” (the forest kills – mata meaning both “forest, woods” and “kills”), a play on words which occurred to me while lecturing. Words can surprise us, because we never fully master their meanings. Because others can always understand us differently. What one understands of the meaning of words or statements is something others can understand differently. Meaning can shift.

This is what happens with objects that emerge as works of art.

In 2015, Paulo César Duque-Estrada “unguided” me to the wonderful apartment that is home to the Calmon-Stock Collection, by invitation of the collectors themselves. I knew they were art connoisseurs but had no idea they housed such a representative collection. Step by step, it became clear to me, amidst a profusion of food and wine – more and more inebriated and engulfed in conversations about Rio, art and philosophy – that each and every corner of the apartment featured a surprise, an event.

I already knew Fernando de La Rocque, so I was all the more happy to see some of his works that night. His art can always teach us new things about colors and lines. His plastic straw coral, for example, transpires the eco-political message that not only our ocean will soon be composed with more plastic than natural material, but also that we are permanently destroying the earth’s corals. The aesthetic quality of the piece is also evident in how the plastic straws can be understood as tridimensional brush strokes, which de La Rocque’s arrangement variates in an infinite vectorial space. Works of art always offer more to think of than what has been thought; this is presented in a particularly paradoxical way in Omar Salmão’s Notebook, which contains things that will still be thought of, even – and taken precisely as a work of art – if the notebook contains absolutely no clearly formed, determined idea, therefore doubly scratching its own message.

That night was the first time I paid attention to Camila Soato’s pieces. Take, for instance, The hound’s horse, as well as her Sorceresses 8 and Sorceresses 10. One would normally think that a dog could not own a horse, as indicated by the grammar of the title. But the piece surpasses yet another boundary; for the horse mentioned in the title is not a normal horse, but rather a wooden horse, with wheels for hoofs. The hound is also not a normal dog, but instead a painted one. Painted dogs have no flip side. Thus, there isn’t really an answer to the question regarding the aspect of the painted dog on its flip side. Any other perspective of the dog will be in the eyes of the beholder. So as to avoid falling into any sort of illusion in this respect, the painting shows clear traces of being a painting: the horse’s mane, as well as the more realistic shadows of the creases in the dog’s skin, reveal beyond any doubt the use of a paintbrush and paint. The piece’s surprising nature cannot be distinctly reduced to the fact that a hound rides a wooden horse. This would be a mitigating interpretation, that leaves aside the fact that an uncommon hound is seated on an uncommon horse. Both Sorceresses also depict the magical strength of the paintbrush that identifies the artist as a magician, who can extract new life out of nothing, to which no sexual boundaries of any kind are imposed.

MY EYES WERE ALSO TOUCHED by the rewritten Francis Bacon update in Gabriel Centurion’s work. The strangeness imposed by Francis Bacon’s schizo-painting is here complemented with carnavalesque masks, which becomes explicit in a piece like Playground gang.

Monica Piloni’s Portrait seduces the spectator through the elegance of the face only apparently absent. An acute look will reveal that nothing is missing from it. For every face encountered in a work of art is like velvet arranged over an empty inner space, its folds becoming the theme of the investigation.

The body of a work of art is always empty, because it relies on bodies that are accustomed only at first sight. One’s own body appears, to each subject, especially intimate and familiar. But the pieces in the Colmon-Stock collection show us that this is an illusion.

An illusion is a distortion of any given reality. Illusions play with something that is not an illusion: for example, one’s own body, to which we are linked for as long as we exist as living beings. We are constitutively embodied. But we fail to see the flip side of our body, because we know it only from an inner perspective. That’s why it feels uncomfortable to hear our own voice, to see an image of our body or to unexpectedly catch a glimpse of our reflection in a mirror. We don’t know ourselves like others do. That means that we are essentially concealed from ourselves, because others always get to know a lot more of ourselves than we do. We need to meet others and let them surprise us.

such a surprise happened to me when I had the opportunity of enjoying the hospitality of my new Brazilian friends. For they granted me access to an inner view of Rio and about Rio, well beyond the Lagoa and Ipanema. This inner view with a terrace had, in turn, its own inner views. For it contains within its premises the works of art in the Collection, which this catalogue makes accessible to the audience. Works of art, in turn, have their own inner spaces. They are mutual commentators of each other. Thus the exhibition space, added to the hospitality and truth, features an infinite base structure: the deeper we dive into a truth, the clearer it becomes to us that there is another way of observing objects whose surface we regard as familiar. But the truth is that nothing is truly as familiar to us as it seems. And this truth is put to work in a work of art.

MARKUS GABRIEL is a German philosopher and teacher. He teaches at the University of Bonn, is the director of the International Center for Philosophy and author of the international best-seller Why the World does not Exist, published by Vozes in Brazil in 2016. An international lecturer, he also published in Brazil, together with Slavoj Zizek, Mythology, Madness and Laughter. Subjectivity in German Idealism (Civilização Brasileira, 2014) and Fields of Sense: A new realist ontology (Civilização Brasileira, 2016).