“SOUND (noun, masculine)
Phys. Acoustic phenomenon: propagation of sound waves produced by a body that vibrates in an elastic material environment.
Auditory sensation created by this phenomenon; noise”
Silence | Paulo Gallina_
Music is the transformation of disorderly sound into harmonic repetition. Historical narration allows the living to notate repetition in the fields of behaviour and ideas. Music as a historical allegory is maybe a most pertinent pairing once, while the first converts noise into harmony, the second gives sense to events devoid of. History as much as music suggests the forthcoming as it throws light on the past. The series of works by artist Thiago Navas entitled Apagamentos/Encobrimentos [Erasements/Coverings] (2015) stresses life in the city of São Paulo in the 21st century by opposing it to its 19th-century mirror. As much as the musician and the historian, who give order as they work on a cut, Thiago explores the sense relations between present and past.
By choosing the photographs taken by Militão Augusto de Azevedo (1837-1905) as his medium, the artist incorporates one of the first Latin-American photographic studies on the urban environment into his reinvented city. After all, this is also a pioneer urban study. As he erases the buildings that did not resist to time, Thiago reveals the criterion of its action: continued use. The living buildings, which have been remodeled or restored, are the ones that resist in Militão's photographic reproductions. Thus the artist reveals the action of the city's history in his horizon, as he evinces how much oblivion exists in the downtown streets of a living metropolis.
In this treatment of image, the sky, the earth and a few edifications remain untouched. The option undertaken in the Erasements of drawing by erasing reiterates the perpetuity of landscape in contrast with the ephemeris of human invention. It is not by accident that the sky and the earth resist intact to the artist's sandpaper. The transition areas, which are the urbanite edifications and the ensuing intervention on urban spaces are a part of the artist's lexicon. Thiago incorporates the proportion of bodies in their daily habits and their relation to the building from the images produced by the photographer.
The streets pictured in the 19th century and reworked by the contemporary artist, many of them still walked on in the 21st century, also represent the distance between today's chaotic world, and the world before the advent of modernity. The past acquires order, a musical tonus, in a counterpoint to the present storm. In time, people acquire strength in the images, and both Erasements and Coverings operate the subtleties of photography on their inhabitants. Thiago could have produced, with his drawing technique, the same scenes and portraits, however his intention is to comment on how much invention exists in the gaze.
The series Erasements/Coverings are assembled by a plastic attitude. As he draws with sandpaper or with oil on the photographs, the artist seeks to oppose past and present. Thiago Navas sandpapers the images named Erasements as the graphite of a pencil scratches the fabric of paper, without laying any material, and thus the artist creates once more the white space on photographic paper. The whitish result of this skinning suggests oblivion. As in music, the artist has to create silences in order to stress subtle reflections on presence and disappearance.
If silence is where sound happens, then white paper is where image makes itself. The drawing performed without image forces the observer to invent. When the subject sees palaces or buildings inside the paper worked by Thiago Navas, the visitor gives sense to worn out lines or to the porosity of the gray-scaled paper. The gaze reinvents itself as it seeks image were the register is a gesture. As he appropriates and intervenes on images that are historically placed in the Brazilian photographic tradition, the artist seems to affirm that remembering is a gesture as much as doodling, exposing in such a way the subtle difference between thinking the world and living it.
The movement of the hand is ever more delicate, the intensity of each erasement reveals the candour of the forgotten volume, and, in the end, white or grey traces are seen to reproduce its new, remembered city. The works are made, line after line, drawn without colour, by the destruction of what was once a photography. The contemporary artist subverts photographic coherence, which once obeyed the rules of mimesis, as he draws by scratching. The tropical tradition, the artist seems to reiterate, also incorporates its oblivion without completely discarding it.
Although the Erasements explore plastic operations within the tradition of drawing, the Coverings are set apart from that tradition. This part of the series seeks references closer to the early 20th-century painting. In the attitude of creating the impediment of landscape with blackness, the artist restages a certain modern will of erasement. It is known that cultural or political revolutions try to break the traditions of their time: the modern proposition was to erase all tradition and the production of a new culture, free from the shackles of any tradition.
Aware of the modern manifests, or maybe himself a fruit of their failure, Thiago retables a São Paulo filled with monolithic buildings in his Coverings. The artist ultimately triggers an inverted perception of time as he contrasts two historical moments. In the city before the arrival of modernity (pictured by Militão), Thiago hinders the architectures in order to create volumes. The split between the photographic referent (buildings) and paint as pure volume (devoid of the load of representation) was a matter of debate throughout the 20th century. If observing interference requires departing from figure, then it would be wise, here, to start from an architectural reference: after all, the Erasements/Coverings series is permeated by the relationship between individuals, architectural proportions and urban dimensions.
The black volumes insinuate deconstructed architectures – a premise explored in projects as Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust-Mahnmal in Berlin. Thiago’s study relates to Eisenman’s plan of monolithic and discontinuous architectures as it searches more than an empty volume for dwelling. Both proposals elaborate, through the form of edification, the psychological and material relation between the individual and its surroundings. As he exposes the pre-modern São Paulo to the architectures that were born from the clash with the traumas built over the 20th century, Thiago also reiterates the importance of the modern plastic propositions for the contemporary world. In order to enmesh into the web woven by the artist, the visitor needs to know the present before s/he proceeds into the past.
The continuity of processes in this study has been underlined by the similar expography of the exhibition rooms. To make the first glance of the exhibit a kind of synthesis was a conceptual guide also for the setting of the Ruído installation (2016) in front of five images of the series. The monument filled with gaps is a gathering of moulds obtained from the architectural details of the area that hosts this work. It thus echoes the room that accommodates it and connects the decoration of the room to the stiff architecture of the nearly century-old building of Caixa Cultural in the Praça da Sé.
The forgotten past finds a spatial representation in the Erasements, before it is enlarged in the Coverings. These are cyclic movements, such as those of a song, commonly undertaken in big cities. In Thiago Navas’ series, these daily urbanite movements become a meditation apt to produce a narrative that does not always make sense. Along with Ruído in the hall, we find a narrative that realises itself in its details.
Something almost as a song unfolds in the white space of the scratched paper. Ruído underscores the decoration, which is most commonplace – and, some might say, unnecessary – as it withdraws matter of form. This whitish synthesis, placed close to the entrance of the building, asks for thought. The monument, created through the decal of pieces that surround it, stresses the distance between a project and a construction. A music whose encryption cannot be read, a history that has lost its sense for the living.
The candour of this monument is also the clarification of its material and, even more, the white colour is a part of the lexicon engendered by the artist. The plaster coating the building, after one confronts this piece, finally reveals the distance between the asepsis of a project and the entrails of an edification.
From the lacunar monument to the phantasmagorias of pictures reworked and back, the Apagamentos exhibit seeks to stimulate its visitors to rethink their city. As it remarks the presence of buildings before urban oblivion, the artist refuses the phantom of the old city as he gives life to that which has been condensed as image. Just as music is enjoyed by the ears, and not by the eyes, Thiago Navas’ images urge their observer to relate fully with the city of São Paulo. The exhibit, itself, elects silent and intense moments in order to explore the visitor’s imagination, and actions portrayed, and natural forgetfulness. If in order to listen to a symphony one has to understand the value of silence, in order to see Thiago Navas’ work one has to conceive, in the act of looking, a certain imaginative aspect. For the will of making music here is incarnated in the discretion of portraying the invisible.
1. FERREIRA, Aurélio Buarque de Holanda. Miniaurélio: o minidicionário da língua portuguesa. Curitiba: Posigraf, 2004.
2. Militão Augusto de Azevedo, edited by Fraya Frehse, Heloisa Barbuy and Rubens Fernandes Junior (São Paulo, Cosac Naify, 2012).
3. There is no great human invention or intervention in these areas. At least no great material intervention, anyway.
4. A pencil lays the graphite in the creases it makes on paper.
5. Not the one absent from impression, once it is the façades of buildings demolished throughout the century which separate the artist and the photographer.
6. Displayed in the reception Hall.
7. The monument’s porosity is engendered by the furniture which gives live to the building and its beating heart, the hall.