Published in the catalog of the artist’s exhibition All Saints, Instituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo, in 2019
“In the case of ruins that which is alledgedly present and transparent whenever authenticity is claimed is present only as an absence; it is the imagined present of a past that can now only be graspe in its decay. This makes the ruin subject to nostalgia.”¹
Ruin as a metaphor and vestige of the passage of time, witness of decay and nostalgic element, is one of the recurring motifs in the work of Daniel Senise, whose artistic practice is based on painting and its facture, history and tradition. However, over his carrer and path initiated in the 1980s, the artist has migrated from traditional pictorial methods to investigate materials and techniques that extend his conceptual and formal subjects beyond the classic canvas. Thus, the is set on resignifying as canvas the different flat surfaces on which the sign of painting – its rectangular window on to the world – has basically been kept intact.
At this solo exhibition, Senise is showing work that has seldom or never been exhibited: a group of 21 pieces in which visual languages and formal interests are intertwined hailing aesthetic and philosophical ideas followed in his post-painting period. Nineteen of the pieces shown are on photographic media used analogously to tarps, smudged by footprints and dirt marks, which he has been using as canvas or frame ver since the early 2000s. This time, however, photography – which tends to be a more faithful reference of the world of objects – emerges as substratum, background or backdrop scenario to compostitions in which objects, dust, insects, fabrics, pieces of lumber and other elements are juxtaposed over a mechanically captured image.
On photographic elargements of scenes from Recôncavo Baiano, Sorocaba, São Paulo, new York and Rio de Janeiro shot by photographers Mauro Restiffe, Caetano Dias, Fernando Laszlo and Thiago Barros a number of series coordinated by Senise, elements collected from these locations were overlaid to lend surfaces depth, contrast and tridimensionality, thus producing subjective existential narrative. Senise’s investigation of physicality and disappearance, erasures, representation, temporalities, nature/culture dichotomies and virtual spatiality is exacerbated by a patent materiality conjuring reality out of art’s illusory space. A situation of temporal tension-opposition between the quick instant click and the slow organic deterioration of the photos overlapping elements.
Along with these photographic pieces, there are two more rounding off the exhibition: one canvas from the series Biógrafo [Biographer] , and a panel names Arranjo em cinza e prata – Teatro Villa-Lobos [Arrangement in grey and silver – Villa-Lobos Theater] . The former is part of an ongoing eponymous project he started in 2017: same-sized motifs of a centered retangle are reiterated in pieces on same-sized rectangular supports against differing backgrounds. The biographer in question is this window-frame opening out onto mental landcapes where existences are narrated – and invented – by others.
Finally, the piece being shown for the first time here: Arranjo em cinza e prata – Teatro Villa-Lobos [Arrangement in grey and silver – Villa-Lobos Theater]. Like all Senise’s works, this piece is structured by layers of signifiers and tautologies shuttling back-and-forth between two worlds – objects and ideas. Its title recalls the U.S. painter James Whistler (1834-1903) and Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), the composer for whom a fine state-owned theater in Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana district was named. Back in 2015, on the ve of its reopening after lengthy refurbishing, the building caught fire. The site is still closed off today – like several other symbols of the rapid degradation that has afflicted both the state and the city of Rio de Janeiro since the Olympics left town: it’s been three years, but it feels more like 30.
For this epic-scale piece, remnants of a carpet – charred before it could be trodden – were gathered from the site’s burnt debris to be juxtaposed on a huge reflective aluminum surface, making a jumbled mosaic completed with fragments from reflected real life, such as the viewer’s own body. Overlapped temporalities are evinced in a play of opacities and reflections conjuring past into present: a poeticallyforlorn ruin left by the teather’s disappearence. Just as a photographic click pertains to instance, calcinated rubble pertains to combustion, an immediacy phenomenon making for a striking contrast with all the other crumbling ruins Senise has rescued or revisited over time. Arrangement in Silver and Grey is a kind of requiem to a burned-down theater – a requiem for a doomed civilizational project. Finally, there are more All Saints pieces converging onto this panel – their materials marked by busy usage or idle neglect, all redolent of bygones never to be relived.
¹ “Nostalgia for Ruins” in Grey Room, Cambridge, Mass, The MIT Press, No. 23 (Spring, 2006), pp. 6-21.