Daniel Senise, or I just wanted to tell you a couple of things
Published in Quase Aqui: Daniel Senise, Associação para o Patronato Contemporâneo, São Paulo, Brazil, 2018
Preamble: doctor, I think I’m seeing things
Oftentimes, hell is other people, but in relation to vision, hell really is ourselves. The challenging aspect of the processes that enable us to see is that they far exceed the already complex optical play of light and reflections, with all their variables of luminance, color spectrum, acceleration, wavelength, atmospheric distortion and -on a cosmic scale- gravitational shift. AII this is part of physics, although sometimes its more speculative territory. The most difficult aspect to predict and control is uncertainty: viewing is always to some extent reviewing and previewing.
As we know, pupil, íris and cornea constitute the frontal part of the human eye and, together with nervous tissue, integrate a sophisticated optical system. From these parts onward, there are mysteries about this system that neuroscientists are working hard to uncover. The fact is that, when we look at something, many operations simultaneous to agile synapses enable the nervous system to form images. Memories directly or indirectly linked to the context of what we see will kick in, whether we want them to or not. At the sarne time that we see, we remember, or come to the verge of remembering, countless things that our brain believes may be relevant because they are similar or contrasting, or because they are mysteriously and irrevocably associated with the context. Worse still, we do not even fully control what our mind will take to be “the context” on each occasion.
The fact is that our desires, expectations, memories and language skills are always brought into play, acting as fast as our conscious attention is unable to restrain them, let alone control them. Due to the human tendency to form habits and repetition, of course, this is hardly likely to be a problem. Either because our mental machinery -which is our “machine of the world”- is really working very well, or because we have no choice but to adapt to it, surviving for days, weeks or years sometimes, without realizing how little control we have over its mechanisms and how incredibly adept the latter are in terms of causing confusion and error.
But this ‘naturalizing’ of the processes involved in perception is somewhat fragile, since numerous things may suddenly make us realize that what we are seeing is quite remote from whatever we actually have there in front of us. To restore this awe mitigated by habit, all we have to do is -for example- indulge in legal or illegal drugs, put up with nights of restless sleep, plunge into advanced-level puzzles, or even look at the work of Daniel Senise and its snares for vision.
One: can you explain how it works?
In this book, for example, on the first ten pages, we find 3 Caminos (1995), a unique work that is part of a small collection of images referring to the history of boomerangs. Among Senise’s works done in 1995, there are three paintings named simply Bumerangue, like the image at the beginning of this essay. One could talk about them in terms of their epidermal articulation, so to speak. These are exemplary works of the artist’s maturing relationship with indexical traces, marks of processes through which the materiais of his painting went through some early stage of their making. Traces of rust in them were not only pictorially appropriated by Senise, but produced by his arranging nails on the canvas to define curvatures that were, in turn, also lines of flight of boomerangs, thus past or future trai Is of other moving bodies. ln his subject matter and his facture, therefore, the epidermis of these paintings refers to trai Is and footprints.
But Senise has been on track for many decades, so these works could also be seen as hints of his interest in the apparatus of vision. Evidence of this boomerang-vision analogy is in the aforementioned 3 Caminos, in which at the height of the silhouetted girl’s eyes, three of the outline trajectories seem to leave and return, juxtaposed as one single entanglement. The figure relates to some incipient optical study, perhaps a medieval or pre-perspectival one, and at the sarne time is a perfect metaphor for the dilemmas mentioned above in the preamble. lnstead of a linear and geometric representation of the battened down lines of light, the gaze appears represented by a tangle of curves that come and go without distinction between subject and setting. Moreover, they are visually counterbalanced by a kind of mirrored ghost line that might allude to what the girl sees but does not perceive, or even to what she does not see but nonetheless perceives. lnterpretations aside, the emphasis on the gaze, which is also on the book’s cover-in the silhouette of a rabbit’s head facing forward, while looking at something-underlines Senise’s interest in the functioning of vision. Although not posing as a theorist of the subject, the artist emanates a curiosity that goes beyond mere dilettantism, and he is extremely dedicated to examine the question of how we see things. This implies systematically looking at the work of other artists; taking an interest in various sources that convey something about creative and cognitive processes; reflecting on the role of beliefs and faith in the way we capture reality and the world; learning as much as possible about systems and regimes of representation; scrutinize with a somewhat obsessive interest the stains, residues and traces showing accumulations of memories while not revealing them.
Among these developments of Senise’s honed curiosity, the latter comes forth more explicitly and forcefully. There are countless examples of his using surfaces that have been given a certain history, through either archaeological gestures, ar almost mystical contemplation. See, for instance, the extreme cases of his intervention in the ruins of Hospital Matarazzo (São Paulo, 2014) and his installations Branco 462 and Branco 2430(Rio de Janeiro, 2011). Nevertheless, it is the second to last of the points mentioned in the previous paragraph that involves a complex mechanism of his visual research and his oeuvre.
Two: why two, if one?
Let us look at a precedent. As suggested by the artist himself, and accepted by most art historians, Marcel Duchamp spent about two years-around 1913, when working at Bibliotheque Sainte Genevieve in Paris-avidly reading a wide range of treatises on perspective and optics.
Despite this, ar because of it, the ambitious project Duchamp was starting to conceive at the time, La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (Le Grand Verre, 1921 ), is far from being a constantly rule-governed exercise of technique for representing spatial perspective. On the contrary, what the artist had been rehearsing and applied so intensively in this famous work was the articulated sum of an endless series of model representations that, when juxtaposed, merge and rhyme to the point that they become almost indistinguishable: numerous vanishing points, indexical traits, planned out surfaces, spots, iconic representations and so on. Even Ulf Linde, who has spent many years scrutinizing and replicating La Mariée … sometimes sounds hallucinatory on attempting to describe the imbrications between different models that Duchamp used in one single work.
This entanglement of visualities, for which Duchamp coined the term “intellectual perspective”, did not occupy the center place in his discourse on the work, which thus created an unusual visual riddle that goes unnoticed for inattentive viewers and, at the sarne time, supplies dedicated researchers with plentiful material for conjecture. But, the cunning play between contrasting regimes of representation could indeed be treated as a problem in itself, thus serving to trigger other reflections and this is what is happening in much of Daniel Senise’s body of work. The paintings he started in the 2000s (such as Irving and Witchal), involving a marquetrystyle inlay of strips of fabric dyed with a kind of decai of floor textures and marks taken from places such as museums, are exemplary. The planar character of monotype floors in these images collides with spatiality suggested by the perspectival lines defined by fabric collage. Consequently, the viewer’s gaze traveis parallel to the surface of the painting and the orthogonal grid defined by the floors, while simultaneously plunging into the depth of conical perspectival space. ln other words, the eye sees surface or depth one at a time, but the brain scrambles-entangles-both those perceptions with the viewer’s atavistic memories and spatial distortion of the work set up in the exhibition space.
The imbrication becomes even denser in works Senise has dane since then. AII one needs to do is flip through this book to be confused between intricate perspectives of simple structures and the contrary; to visually stumble across trellises, shelves, racks, textures, fragments, rhythms and dissociated complementary forms. On some pages, one hesitates on seeing well-formed models of exhibition spaces. lf landing on the right page for the recent series of images titled Prodrome, there are puzzles capable of short-circuiting a reader’s perceptions, having finally imbricated representation systems to the point that they lose their perceptual verisimilitude, so to speak.
lt is only symptomatic that these somewhat Piranesian images and incongruous spaces relate to prodromes, the signs that – as in the “Prodrome” series – indicate the impending onset of a condition and yet are insufficient for a precise diagnosis. This is symptomatic because it brings to mind something that Duchamp had foreseen which Senise is showing us today: the most sophisticated understanding of the principies of vision will never abolish the inefficiency, wide range and serendipity of our contaminated perception of reality.
Conclusion: it has become a worldwide epidemic
After this stroll around the crashing gears of representation activated by Senise, we may go back to the beginning and remember that these exercises are not restricted to making a show of technical and visual refinement. They may be seen as the way in which this artist struggles with lacking ar excessive memories when defining what we are and how we understand the world. There are even times when the technical composition of images is simplified, making room for this subject to take up a leading role.
This is the case of Mundial, a site-specific Senise is developing for Oi Futuro. One at a time, visitors enter a 10-meter long room that remains dark except for its opposite end, where there is a bright image, a photograph. A predominantly white image in perspective (central point of view) shows a rather melancholy room stripped of furniture. As he/she comes closer to see more and perhaps get details that relate the room in the photograph with a certain personality, the visitor is surprised when the image gradually fades, as if avoiding the scrutiny. A slight retinal shadow lingers on, the impression left by the light image on the retina, the memory of a room the visitor was unable to identify and yet gleaned as so familiar.
The image features the room that Senise vacated when he moved out of his parents’ home.
For various reasons, it remained silent and unchanged for over two decades, and it gives physical proof that the past existed. As such, it comes forth as a mute artifact that reveals so little about the particularity of those past memories, that it ends up being a memory borrowed by anyone. Have we not all left behind a room like this one? We have all abandoned places, objects and experiences of ali sizes and formats, sometimes not knowing whether anybody will bother to occupy them and reconfigure them. Our footprints remain like ghosts and yet they will not serve the future as messages of any truth. They are innocuous and insipid and may therefore be used by anyone who wants to be reminded of that which they no longer are.
PS: The title of this last work alludes discreetly to an AM radio Senise enjoyed listening to as a young man, which pioneered the spread of rock music on the initiative of DJ Big Boy. The station broadcast on the frequency previously occupied by Mundial has since become ‘an empty shelf’. With the growth of FM music radio, AM stations have become vacant lots in media terms, just broadcasting news, pop music and horseracing. Now their slots are leased out under the slogan “The power of God’s radio.” Whether in spaces, in memory or over radio waves, the horror of emptiness prevails and wherever there is a gap, some unexpected message will soon come along to fill it.Back