Beauty leaving them to determine the multiple possibilities of

Beauty
in visual art is usually recognised universally, possessing an ability to
transcend national, cultural and linguistic barriers. And yet, like literary
and musical art forms, visual art in general also has identities deeply
established in community. This community can vary in size, from a small
artistic group to an entire continent. Whilst the individual artist and their
individual artistic compositions present fascinating topics to be analysed and
discussed by an audience, the legitimacy of viewer analysis somewhat depends on
the knowledge they have of the community from which the composition has
emerged. To know the community implies that the viewer has a wide historical
and cultural body of knowledge relevant to understanding the original context
of the composition. Part of the critic’s work is to isolate the relevant
community that is the source of knowledge, however, one cannot negate that such
isolation heavily shapes the critical process.

 

Apropos to this, the visual artistic movement
and its community that shall be discussed in this essay is the Neo Concrete
movement in Brazil, which was derived from the separation between two groups of
geometrical abstraction artists, one being the Grupo Ruptura (from Sao Paulo)
which was a Concrete art movement, and the other being the Grupo Frente (from
Rio de Janeiro). Ferreira Gullar, esteemed Brazilian poet, penned the:
“Neo-Concrete Manifesto” in 1959, calling for “participatory work” (Asbury, 2005).  The manifesto proposed a new relationship in
which the composition was to be concluded through the public’s interaction with
the art, thus leaving them to determine the multiple possibilities of the
object’s configurations. Grupo Frente rejected Grupo Ruptura’s scientific and
rationalist ideology, opting to use geometric forms that do not have an
objective, but instead utilising them as a vehicular language of imagination. By
transcending “the traditional relationship between artist and spectator” (Brett, 1994), and by extending
the sub textual dialogue to the artist-composition-public, the Neoconcretist
composition places itself to be “to some extent relived” by the participant (Brett, 1994). In contrast with
the attitude of the spectator being essentially a passive receiver of the
artist’s intentions, the spectator becomes an active participant, they explore
the possibilities of expression and sentiment offered up by the composition and
thus the artist. The composition and artist speak directly to the community.

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Here, the hypothesis shall be stated as
to what community Neo Concrete art belongs to and thus who is able to achieve
the most complete active viewer participation of a Neoconcretist composition.
The arguments that follow in later sections will rely on this foundational
argument: Complete active participation is only fully
feasible for the Brazilian community since Neo Concrete art is Brazilian art. Despite
its hybridity: the contributions from other Latin American artists, and
deriving arti

stic ideologies from
Europe, it is nevertheless a Brazilian art form. It is defined as such due to
these three essential characteristics: (1) Its primary contributing artists are
Brazilian; (2) Its origin is derived from a divide in artistic ideology in the
Brazilian Concrete art group (Grupo Ruptura); (3) Its artistic ideology was
presented in a manifesto written by a Brazilian poet (Cunha, 2009).
One must posit the argument that to label Neoconcretism as Brazilian is not in
disagreement with a comprehension of its hybridity, an element which shall
later be elaborated upon.

 

To establish
Neoconcretism’s Brazilian identity it shall first be necessary to discuss the
hybrid origin and nature of Brazil’s unique cultural and artistic
individualities described in the Originalism and Identity section. Within this
section, Brazilian artistic identity shall be addressed, subsequently, the
theory behind the hybridity of culture will explored, followed by the origins
of a unique Brazilian artistic identity and the limitations of Neoconcretism as
a universally participatory movement.  After
establishing identity, the subsequent Dialogue section explores the idea of a
subtextual discourse within Neo Concrete compositions and the limitations of
audience participation. Finally, the section: Home and Community concludes with
the characteristics necessary to be a participant and firmly ascertains to
which nation this community belongs to.

 

Originalism and Identity

 

There exists a
resistance in the assertion that Neoconcretism is a Brazilian art form by
scholars that emphasise its multicultural origins. The
significant European artistic contributions by Swiss Artist, Max Bill, who
promoted a form of mathematical abstraction in the early 1950s, heavily
influenced Brazil’s Concrete movement (Small, 2016).
There exists a view that Brazil has no art of its own. In the case of Brazil, a
nation rooted in the concomitance of influences from different peoples,
practices and traditions, defining what characterises national artistic
practice is an arduous task which has little benefit if done in a rigid manner.
Critics appropriately argue that one should question to what extent an artistic
composition is constituted as a national product solely by the birth country of
the artist (Rosa, 2007).
Significant foreign artistic contributions such as Debret’s watercolours
portraying quotidian slave life form an important part of Brazilian art history
(Bardi, 1975).
However, one must argue that despite the accurate assertion by critics that Brazilian
art has significant multicultural and multinational origins and artistic
contributions does not suggest that it is not Brazilian. After all, to deem
something as English rarely implies that it has no German or French influences.
Paul Gilroy, the inaugurator of Afro-Atlantic theory outlines the issue of
defining national artistic production solely by pursuing the origin of the
artistic practice or its practitioner in a country which has a colonial culture
(Barson, 2010):

 

No straight or unbroken line of descent
through either gendered line can establish plausible relations between current
forms and moods and their fixed, identifiable and authentic origins. It is
rather that the forbidding density of the process of conquest, accommodation,
mediation and interpenetration that helps to define colonial culture also
demands that we re-conceptualise the whole problematic of origins (Gates(Jr.), 1988)

 

The opposition to
labelling the Neo Concrete Art movement as solely being a Brazilian art
movement partly derives on focusing on the origins of the art form, meaning
there is a general tendency to fixate on which artist first used a specific
colour palette or first worked with collage and which country this practice
came from. Despite it being historically important to acknowledge the origins
of artistic ideas, fixating on them fails to comprehend the idea that an
artistic movement is a cultural project. One cannot refute that the
participation and contribution of non-Brazilian artists during the development
of the Neo Concrete movement was central to its conception; nevertheless, its
hybridity does not erase its distinct cultural existence. This distinct
cultural existence prevents spectators from outside the community from fully
engaging with a composition as they do not possess the cultural perspective and
thus emotional history necessary to assume the role of active participant.

 

 

The concept that art deriving from hybrid origins and yet still possesses
a Brazilian socio-cultural presence is one that effectively comprehends
Neoconcretism as existing within society as Brazilian art, however, it is also
a concept that accepts that Brazilian art is and has always been hybrid,
continuously deriving its influences from other cultures and nations. This
concept was first introduced by Brazilian poet, Oswald de Andrade, when his
then spouse, Tarsila do Amaral, presented him with the oil painting titled:
“Abaporu” on the 11th of January 1928 (Borges, 2014). “Abaporu”, was the
name chosen for the solitary, wild figure depicted on canvas which in the
Tupi-Guarani language means “anthropophagous” (Borges, 2014). Inspired by the composition, Andrade
consequently published his “Anthropophagy Manifesto”, a text which inaugurated
and celebrated the anthropophagous nature of Brazilian culture, in the sense
that there is a process of deglutition of foreign cultures, which are then
critically revised and reintegrated as part of the hybrid Brazilian culture.
Augusto de Campos, another Brazilian poet, identified the key differences
between anthropophagy and pure cannibalism:

 

Ritual
anthropophagy is a branch of anthropophagy in which the cannibal eats his enemy
not for greed or for anger but to inherit the qualities of his enemy. The
metaphorical, and also in certain aspects philosophical, idea of cultural
anthropophagy Oswald promoted was the idea of cannibalizing the high culture
from Europe, with the results that one could acquire, or could have from this
devouration, and could then construct something really new out of this
development. (Funkhouser, 2007)

 

Brazilian culture’s critical deglutition and absorption of European
Modernism in the 1950s would lead to the Neo Concrete movement in 1959. This
art movement expressed its social concerns using the language of geometric
abstraction, aspects which Neoconcretism cannibalised and critically revised
from the Constructivism movement (Hatherley, 2011). The anxious desire for Brazil to
develop economically and technologically was expressed by the Neo Concrete
movement. This desire would be best understood by someone within the Brazilian
community, who understood the conditions and underdevelopment within the
country at the time and thus would be able to fully understand the discourse
presented by the artist in the composition.

 

 

The theory that someone outside of the
Brazilian community can only assume the role of a passive spectator rather than
an active participatory role is not patriotic sentimentality. Instead, it is
the comprehension that many complex aspects of Brazilian art are derived from
the post-migratory mosaic that makes up a large part of Brazilian society,
comprising of the fragmentation of original cultures, fragments which then
reintegrate themselves within Brazilian culture and commemorate the hybrid
self.  This, alongside the interactions
within different regional and international variations of visual, literary and
musical art forms has been a part of Brazilian aesthetics since the Baroque movement, which was introduced to Brazil in
the 17th century and played a significant role in the creation of a
unique aesthetically Brazilian identity (Rosa, 2007).
Using a complex web of European influences and local adaptation, the
Portuguese, immigrants, slaves, native Amerindians and freed mulattos came
together to form a unique Brazilianisation
of Baroque style, one which was distinctly different from its European
counterpart which was: erudite, courtesan, sophisticated, much richer and above
all, white (Oliveira, 2005). Artisans with little training and
rudimentary technique gave rise to an ingenuous hybrid style, but one which was
very much original. This was the first generation of artists concerned with the
concept of revealing Brazil’s Brazility.
Brazility, albeit not always a
conscious artistic decision, is always present within Neo Concrete art.
Inspiration from objects or familial experiences present within the artists’
quotidian lives make an appearance in art work, essentially reducing the
universal quality of a composition and thus preventing spectators from outside
the community from experiencing the sensorial qualities since the spectators do
not possess the emotional or cultural histories necessary to respond to the
dialogue posed by the object.

 

 

 

For artists of each region, the culture and environment of their home
emerges in the aesthetics of their art. There exists a constant dynamic of
specificity, even as Neoconcretism attempted to create a national artistic
culture with ideological positioning with international reverberations. The
specificity of the home of the artist constitutes a critical element of
creation. It roots the art in a historical, cultural and environmental
community. Lygia Clark, a central character in the Neo Concrete movement
intended to contribute towards “the universal development of art” through the
creation of geometric sculptures in 1960 but used “the popular substratum of
Brazilian society” in her work (Brett, 1994).  Clark’s work is characterised by her abstract
investigations of popular culture of the body, politics, life and of Brazil (Osorio, 2017). The complexity and
charm of Brazility is not abandoned
in Clark’s work, instead, it inherently uses her quotidian life experiences in
Rio de Janeiro as a “substratum” to suggest an intimate and significant
relationship that her compositions maintain with the world around them. Her
work is not a political or ecological dialogue but an attempt to evoke the
human sensations which are intensified when in direct contact with the wind,
the air, the sand and other bodies, sensations very much present in her
quotidian life in Rio de Janeiro. Spectators can only experience these
sensations, which are evoked by the composition, and thus become active
participants if they are part of a community that share the same or similar
emotional and environmental histories with the same region as the artist. The
social context in which this art movement emerged is discussed next.

 

Dialogue

 

Even as national
art became further hybridised and circulated with the opening of the São Paulo
Art Biennial in 1951, the visual and cultural regional identities remained
present in the art. The establishment was to promote the inclusion of Brazil in
the international artistic production by both allowing the public to spectate
works produced internationally as well as export Brazilian art (Rosa, 2007).  However, imported Neo Concrete compositions
that international communities were exposed to were mediated through the tastes
of other international vanguards and artistic communities who to some extent
understood aspects of the cultural context from which the composition had
emerged. Simultaneously, whilst Brazilians in larger cities sometimes encountered
other Latin American and European aesthetic forms of cultural production, it
overwhelmingly occurred through the lens and mediation of those who shared
their own cultural experience: the intellectual, middle-class Brazilian
artistic vanguard. Marxist aesthetic theory presents the idea that all art to
some extent is conditioned by relations to production, positioning in
socio-economic class and so forth. However, the question that remains open is
to what extent can aesthetic qualities in art transcend specific social
conditions and be recognised universally (Marcuse, 1984). This criticism is key to
exposing the difference between producing a composition in accordance to the
ideology and aspirations of the “Neo Concrete Manifesto”, and appreciating the
composition when its removed from historical and social context and the intentions
the artist had for composition.

 

 

It
is argued that art always maintains a visual subtextual discourse. In
Neoconcretism, several levels of discourse often coexist, each level revealing
greater intimacy with the artist. Seeing an exhibition of Neo Concrete
compositions may be one level, knowing the ideology of the Neo Concrete
Manifesto might be another, knowing the artist’s home city or neighbourhood yet
another and knowing the artist as a member of one’s own community is another
again. Many spectators of visual art believe that knowing the artistic ideology
represented in the visual piece makes them fully understand the composition,
but there are always several points of reference. Frequently, a more thorough
understanding of the compositions and knowledge of the Neo Concrete vanguard
reveals a subtextual critique of Brazilian society and the duality of the
popular culture of the body, it is only when this subtext is understood does a
dialogue begin to occur (Brett, 1994).
Within these different levels of subtextual discourse, the interpretation of
discursive visual intertextuality existed within Neoconcretism, the aesthetic
and visual relationships between different artistic compositions, between
artists and between artists and audiences was a key objective of the movement (Brett, 1994).

 

One
may argue that visual intertextuality of Brazilian art is a central element of
Neoconcretism on both a visual and cultural level. Neoconcretism’s great
dependence on the Constructivism movement, which then combined with the
reconfigurations of the Gullar’s ideology and its offering back to the public,
establishes a type of dialogue with the Brazilian artistic and cultural
tradition of cultural anthropophagy. The aesthetic origins of the Neo Concrete
movement, which saw young Latin American artists seek out European art by
Mondrian, Malevich, Brancusi, and Vantongerloo in the 1950s (Brett,
1994), allows for the movement to have a
collective resonance amongst a wide range of Latin American and European
audiences. Many had no direct contact with the European modernism movement, but
to whom it exists in iconographic form refracted through the lens of a
Brazilian artistic vanguard who visited and exhibited at Biennials
internationally. Neoconcretism relies on a type of mimicry of memory: colours,
forms, and sentiments exist within the artists to be expressed in unique
practice, developing from the fragmented mosaic of memory. These memories
however, are predominantly specific to Brazilian experiences of culture and
quotidian life, therefore the ability to relive the sentiments expressed by the
composition are reduced greatly when the viewer is from outside the community,
rendering them passive spectator rather than active participant. 

 

Home
and Community

The community of visual spectators is vital
to how Neo Concrete compositions transcend the traditional relationship between
art and audience. Aesthetic communication takes place when complete contact is
made with participants’ social, cultural and emotional histories. The most complete
active participant experience requires that the individual possess the
knowledge, perceptual skills, emotional histories, and cultural perspectives
appropriate to interact with the various compositions. This community knowledge
required for an intimate relationship between participant and object is
fundamental to the Neoconcretism’s aesthetics. To distinguish what is effective
requires a sophisticated, albeit not necessarily conscious understanding of the
representational references and cultural history from which the movement
derives. Effective compositions reveal an emotional space, where exists the
sublimated perceptions, memories and conflicts of personal and group emotional
experience and the community’s relationship to them. It is from this that one
can interpret the appropriateness and effectiveness of the composition. Home,
literally, experientially and imaginatively provides the basis for interpreting
the work of art and the home of the Neo Concrete movement is Brazil.