Daniel Senise

Before the Word, Landscapes and Actions

Daniela Labra

Published in the catalog of the exhibition Antes da Palavra, Fundação Iberê Camargo, Porto Alegre, 2019

Despite the absence of trees, rock formations, marinas or meadows, we can consider this to be an exhibition of landscapes — one of the major themes of painting and art history. Landscape in the work of Daniel Senise is, however, a non-naturalistic image, volatile in appearance, to be decoded by the system of thought and signifiers of an era in which art has moved away from representation to present the real world, taking as its motif the very manner in which it is inserted within the plane we call reality.

Working since the 1980s, Senise refined the figurative element of his first piece to the point of erasure, following a path of conceptual constructions about the world of painting, its academic tradition and the nature/culture dichotomy in art. At the same time, he carried out ever deeper investigations into techniques, materials and supports that go beyond the canvas, renewing and rearticulating the interests that have always shaped his discursive-visual basis, and achieving results that in practical terms, led to the obliteration of illustration in his work. Thus, the references and appropriations of Western art history, experiments with volumetric stress, the juxtaposition of materials, the evocations of voids, the creation of mental landscapes, architectures and conjectural memories are presented in compositions which increasingly reformulate ideas of spatiality, temporality, presence, memory and erasure.

Absence within a presence is a paradox that the artist has explored throughout his work, a theme that refers to the idea of Vanitas, closely associated with the still life genre in 15th-century European painting, especially the Flemish, and baroque poetry. The Vanitas motif is configured by vanity, futility, and opulence, contrasted with the ephemerality of life. Although in Senise the figuration is on a subjective plane, the limited chromatic palette and the empty spatial planes are linked to questions such as the transience of existence and how time constructs, yet simultaneously devours, everything.

The importance of temporal details in Daniel Senise’s visual discourse is evident. They are not only present as a theme but also as part of his method for generating images and pigmentations; the visible marks and stains on the surfaces of the works are evidence of elapsed time, taking the role of protagonist. In this space, the representation of time passing – as in a still life – is replaced by actual, palpable temporality, which exacerbates a second paradox, that of the representation/real, contained in contemporary artwork.

The canvas-painting-window form is omnipresent in the artist’s work, and the pictorial two-dimensionality becomes tautological in the square or rectangular sections, empty of images, which lead to the elaboration of individual mental landscapes. At the same time, however, the perception of those viewing the work is contingent on the here and now of the real, in the style of minimalism, as the philosopher Hal Foster has described. Thus, the individual who does the looking is confronted less with possibilities of dreamlike elucubrations than with the nihilism of works whose discussions revolve around their own materials, scarred by periods of use, or of being forgotten. In this movement, the landscapes referred to herein have nothing to do with representations of nature itself, but are activators of memories tied to non-artistic everyday life, transformed into a melancholic poetry. Meanwhile, there is still a dreamlike breath, somewhat phantasmagorical, that saves us from the enormous burden of materiality which evokes the hard, unavoidable reality in the art of Daniel Senise.

This exhibition brings together 23 works by the Rio de Janeiro artist, including both paintings and objects, established around the monumental installation 1,587, which consists of two large screens suspended in the atrium of the Foundation, placed to face each other, the canvases of which are sheets used in a Rio de Janeiro sex motel and in the National Cancer Institute, or lNCA, also in Rio de Janeiro. The title of the work derives from a calculation of the number of people who “passed through” these sheets in both establishments over a six month period. The numbers of presences/absences impregnated into the fabrics were achieved with the help of a mathematician, and provide the name for each side of the installation: “White 237” refers to the activity at the hospital, while “White 1350′ refers to the motel. Together, these figures amount to 1,587 traumas and ecstasies of unknown individuals brought together in this solemn, dizzying work. in Porto Alegre, meanwhile, however, for reasons of space, there is a reduced version of the original work, entitled 2,892, created in the late 1990s and exhibited only in 2011, at the Casa França-Brasil, in downtown Rio.

In dialogue with the questions present in the works of Daniel Senise, a program of sound interventions was created, bringing the work of six artists – Marcelo Armani, Ricardo Carioba, Raquel Stolf, Pontogor, Tom Nóbrega and Felipe Vaz – who think about sound spatially, materially and conceptually, or in other words, beyond a melodic structure, to the Iberê Camargo Foundation. In this way, we evoke the ancient philosophy of the Stoics, for whom action took priority over the verbalization of ideas, and combine act and thought to transform the interior of the institution into a large reverb box, filled with silences and rumors, in propositions that indicate temporal displacements, absences, virtual spatialities, interruptions of flow, asynchrony, soundscapes and other themes integrated with the noisy, primordial ideas contained in the post-paintings that make up this exhibition: Before the Word.


Translator: James Young