I started running classified ads that were basically project proposals … because whenever you’re working on something conceptual, you’re already doing it from the very moment you have the idea.
Galeria Nara Roesler is pleased to present an exhibition of works by Paulo Bruscky (b. Recife, Brazil, 1949), the artist’s first at the gallery’s New York space. The exhibition showcases the artist’s classified advertisements and documentation of historical performances, illustrating the artist’s seminal body of work across five decades, though many of his projects were never finalized due to censorship by Brazil’s military dictatorship during the first years of his career. It also serves to contextualize works by the artist that will be presented concurrent to the exhibition, at the 57th Venice Biennale, where Art Is Packaged Any Way We Like (1973/2017) will be performed from May 11 through November 26; and at the Americas Society, New York, where Bruscky will give a workshop based on his historic performance Xeroperformance (1980) on May 24.
In addition, Galeria Nara Roesler will showcase the artist’s Tribute to George Orwell: 1984/2014 (2014) and Connection (2013) as part of its selection for Frieze New York 2017, which takes place May 5–7, to highlight Bruscky’s visionary understanding of a communication society and multilayered conceptual approach, which together account for the enduring relevance enduring relevance of his work.
A multimedia artist and poet, Bruscky was a pioneer in “communication art,” a term coined by the artist himself. Like many artists of his generation, Bruscky believes that art should incorporate its surroundings and endeavor to defragment everyday life. An active proponent of the international mail art movement and a member of Fluxus, the artist performed unorthodox experiments with systems of communication such as artist books, classified ads, telegrams, telefaxes, faxes, the internet, and the Xerox machine. Driving Bruscky’s practice is a poetics of experimentation, anchored in the potentiality of media, a rejection of formalism, and a refusal to stagnate in the pursuit of recognition.
Bruscky says, “I study equipment to see how I can subvert it, pluck it from what it’s meant to do—I mean, make it our ally, right?” The artist’s early experiments with the Xerox machine manipulated light to create distortions and superimpositions, effects that only a Xerox machine could create. The subjectivity created by the process eventually led the artist to list the copy maker as a co-author in his catalogues. In fact, Bruscky’s playful engagement with the subjectivity of his authorship becomes evident when he confronts his xerographic alter ego, exploring a “photolanguage” to document the encounter (Me with Myself, 1977). From these early investigations emerged Xeroperformance (1980), in which the artist’s physicality became a component in his artwork as he began to record his bodily gestures on the glass plate of a copier.
Central to Bruscky’s investigations with imaging and reproduction techniques is a desire to transform the status quo and create the impossible. In the 1970s Bruscky began posting announcements in newspapers, or “declassified art,” that interrupted the mundanity of the paper by offering extraordinary proposals to the reader. The announcements searched for technicians capable of recording dreams (Project of a Machine of Filming Dreams, 1977), records that would disappear as the record player needle went over them (Anthropophagic Record, 1984), and meteorologists capable of coloring clouds (Air Art, 1974/1982). Says curator Clara M. Kim, “Using black humor, parody, and the situationist’s notion of detournément, Bruscky’s work operates as propositions to disrupt and transform social order as much in one’s mind as on city streets.”
In his classifieds as well as in his performances, underlying the humor and genuine desire to create a poetic expression is a political intent to undermine the oppressive regime that arrested and artistically paralyzed the artist throughout the 1960s and 70s. The artist’s Cemetery Art exhibition (1971) was meant to memorialize the death of artistic autonomy under state censorship while tacitly reflecting on the deaths of political activists. However, when the exhibition was prevented by the authorities, the artist organized a funeral procession for it, which took place in the streets of his hometown, Recife, until it was inevitably repressed. Bruscky retained this piercingly macabre sense of humor when he placed coffins bearing phrases into the river so that these would wash back to shore (Burial at Sea, 1972.) In the artist’s words, “I’d seal the whole coffin and stick some ironic phrase on it, something about the history of art or Brazilian military government. They eventually put two and two together and found that this was my work. It caused a commotion … and I kept a photo record of the whole thing.”
Beyond his political criticism, Bruscky simultaneously engages in a questioning of the parameters for art making and exhibiting, entering into frequent dialog with contemporaries who also engage in institutional criticism. For the 30o Salão Paranaense de Arte in 1973, the artist sent a telegram (Telex, 1973) relaying three proposals that constituted a performance/installation reflecting on the act of preparing an exhibition. The conceptual historicity of the salon made this a particularly suitable occasion to question the canonizing institution of art. However, although accepted by the salon, the piece was never performed—that is, until this May, when the artist will perform Art Is Packaged Any Way You Like It, a performance based on the first proposal, at the Venice Biennale as part of the exhibition “Viva Arte Viva,” curated by Christine Macel.
Press release courtesy Galeria Nara Roesler.