Daniel Senise

Territories of infinitude

María A. Iovino

Published in the catalog of the artist’s exhibition Go, We’ll Bring The Parts You Leave Behind: Daniel Senise, Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, São Paulo, 2011

To access a work as private as that of Daniel Senise presupposes penetrating the chain of investigations and consequences that guided his admirable findings and, beyond that, understanding the path that this proposal, despite being developed in the domain of the two dimensional and of that which is understood as painting, is unclassifiable in a certain medium.

In the work of this artist, painting, prints, drawing and spatial construction live together in such a precise balance that it does not allow the demarcation of technical frontiers between the different resources. In this measure, locating the work processes in some of these spaces, besides limiting the diversity of possibilities of reflection that the work offers, denies the very essence of any medium that wants to be understood as the principal medium.

Daniel Senise generates his images starting with a question that establishes a dialog between impressions, taken directly from different realities and conceptions of image and space that are the product of his reflection. However, there are many innovative aspects in this work. The first is the very nature of the pictorial matter which the artist works. He makes paintings with the information he extracts from the most different places and, naturally, in different and uneven times. His procedure consists of gluing to floors, marked by the passage of time, traditional canvases, using a mixture of wood glue and water, that he spreads over the canvases. When he separates the fabrics, after a drying period, they bring with them matter from the location, of the essential facts of the structure and history in which they were inserted.

This means that, in Daniel Senise’s painting, color and gesture come from traces of memory or of vestiges of the occupation of spaces that accumulate on the single plane of the floors on which he develops parts of his creative process; that is why, at first view, his work is a record. After this monotypical capture of reality, the artist fragments and combines the cuts from the different layers according with the shapes projected in the drawing he conceives – as an architectural plan – for every specific work and according to the necessities of luminosity required by the image that corresponds to every drawing.

As a consequence, at the moment of installing the fragments of different prints on a support prepared for this effect, he brings together, besides the print and the constructive conception, a sum of times and spaces – in a real manner as well as metaphorically. He also adds to this exercise a game of supports on which he conjugates: the surface on which he creates the work, the canvas that carries the print – which is originally a support for painting – and the matter he brings from other places, taken from the floors on which they have passed.

From this comes one of the philosophical and interpreting complexities of this work, for, not being the exact definition of a support, that traditionally is taken as the stable theme of an argument, the content of the work opens itself to uncertainty and to the variable of simultaneity. In Daniel Senise’s work, a multiplicity of supports and stories live together on the same image and surface, but, beyond that, these supports represent spaces that are alien to those that belong. There is no correspondence between the place of origin of the monotype and the represented space. This is one of the material estrangements produced by the artist, to which is added the fact that the construction is a symphony of memories.

This presupposes that, beyond the illusion of perspective generated by the images of Daniel Senise in his body of work, there are other multiple internal perspectives that are combined in every work. These two-dimensional spaces of three-dimensional appearance are, basically, flat constructions that contain an incalculable number of dimensions, manifested in the memories brought by every fragment of print that gives them shape.

Sometimes, the image obtained, worked on the supports, in one more print. And so, in this work, the conversion of times and realities, added to the seductive monumentality of the format and of the image itself, breaks the limitation of the plane and leads the spectator to a space that is different of the merely frontal, even thought this also happens in cases in which the format is not even monumental. Besides, sometimes these supports are the foundation of structures that are launched or are buried in emptiness; this is another way the artist uses to break the quality of the surface of the plane to convert it into a universe in which the immersion has no end.

In the plane, and starting with the plane, the constructions and spatial projections of Daniel Senise provoke in the spectator an awareness of the speed that surrounds him. The metaphor would then be that of an uncontrollable mobility, for every issue in time and space is the cement and support for others; it is one of the forms of infinite circulation that this work offers between the notions of beginning and end. This indicates that every element in space is the support and, at the same time, the surface. The two functions are merged and also differentiated. The prints of the floors continue to allude to the supports of memory, but change their nature in drawing over another plane on which the artist speaks of depth.

For the same reasons, humanity and sentiment populate every minimal fragment of the rational, desolate and abyssal spaces of Daniel Senise. In them, emotionality is not printed just through the richness of the gesture of the raw material and of the excitement that incites the precision of the calculation of the spatial projections, but also the voyage that leads to every one of its constituent elements. This contrast between the power of the gesture and the constructive control allows us, in the imposing silence of Daniel Senise’s painting, understand the minimal and indispensable voice of every particle of the living world.

Therefore, despite its geometric and rational structure, it is impossible to read a work as the one by this artist on the basis of the precepts of modernism, despite the repercussion it had in art and architecture in Brazil. Nor would it be possible to access this work based on the parameters of any other discourse or rational tendency. No aspect of the work of this artist is surrounded by discourses. The intellectual proposals are forces with which the work evidently has a connection, but they must be de-internalized in the specific manners in which the artist structured his thinking and fed his research as an autodidact.

On the other hand, it is understandable that the organizational resources of Daniel Senise’s images reveal in an important manner his education as an engineer, though in his career as an artist it survives in already distant and indefinable spaces. In the same manner, the sensory and rational dialogs he establishes with Brazilian artistic tradition, as with the history of art in general, are undeniable. But, even son, the personality of this work continues to keep itself distant from theoretical milestones or established references. There are no quotes from Western tradition, not even Latin American tradition, which can be read widely and sufficiently. If, by conceptual necessity, these are imposed, the reach of a body of work so rich in contents may be reduced to the cliché, which implies losing a contribution of great value to the philosophical and cultural construction of Latin America and of Brazil, in particular.

The paths that can lead to a more complete and complex appreciation of works like that of Daniel Senise, which is grounded in many territories without belonging to any of them, are yet to be built or are being bult. For these same reasons, a work like this, which does not appeal to political and social rhetoric, but is constructed in the circumstances of a continent stigmatized by this vision, may be seen as an atypical Latin American behavior and, consequently, a vague and imprecise place.

In Latin America, the geometric proposal in art was seen, essentially, as a rebuttal to the abstract geometric proposal formulated in Europe, not as its own rationalization or as an independent product. Always in communication to deny or to show independence towards some parameters that it is impossible to embrace or that one avoids favoring. Anyway, it is logical that it was understood in this manner, since the history of the continent, as well as in that of Western culture, the abstract terms developed in difficult setting, in which the adoptions and impositions of cultures of greater economic power became hybrid. Although this always took place amid notable efforts to make adaptations that offered interpretations of place, these adaptations, by the very political condition in which they were broached, usually were politicized, romanticized or, also, were exoticized as versions of underdevelopment.

However, it is important to recognize today that the 21st century inherited from the 20th century intellectual attitudes and artistic proposals that aren’t thrown in the resistance, despite being generated or strengthened in places traditionally understood, as much from themselves as from the outside, in this condition of political contradiction.

In the union that happened between the maturing of the political processes of Latin America, the expansion of communication, the acceleration in the coverage and capacity of the spaces on the Internet, as well as the popularization and democratization of transportation and connections between different places in the world, the feeling of growing in a universal culture grew very naturally together with the idea of free mobility through any kind of informative, educational, cultural, and also geographical and spatial spaces.

However, even when one considers that a new reality was assimilated in which the new frontiers of thought are ever more dissolved, there persists the permanence of corrupt discourses of identity, a fact that presupposes the need of maturing a different understanding in which communication with the place is assumed in an unforced and natural manner, in a competition between dominators and the dominated.

It is impossible to recognize for over a century and specially at present, the very territory outside of a dialog between many cultures, spaces, and interests. The error of the discourse that opposes itself to the discourse of identity was to have canceled the importance of place to favor a vague setting in which there apparently would be no more supports of any kind for the different conceptions. The support can be disconcerting, multiple, variable and, also, an unknown subject, as Daniel Senise’s works warns, but it exists.

Though the flow of the exchange with other realities brings constant new information, the place where one lives or from which one looks out at the world as a landscape as a field in which is produced and heard a certain sonorousness cannot help but exert a decisive influence in the process of the construction of the gaze. Therefore, the place may be re-semanticized, but not eliminated. The issue is that it is no longer a question of identification, which is a restrictive concept tied to discursive precepts, but of belonging, which is a flexible position and, however, amenable to changes of circumstances and, also, to the very change of place. In this manner, one can understand that a place can be at the same time be itself and many more.

In the specific case of art produced in Latin America or as Latin American, the reflection about place is connected to that of memory, even though this does not appear as the express objective of a specific creative project.

Taking into account that at the base of every poetic structure memory is the ingredient in the background, on the continent this was, for decades, the great topic of artistic and intellectual production, as issue that is explained by its historical condition. In Latin America, the reflection about what the past means in the present arises from the need – and this in a spontaneous manner, starting in different occasions, and not only by means of a rigorous dialog with the social narrative or the difficulty of its political “coming to be”. The contact with the labyrinth created by the merger – many times inarticulate – of realities forces the understanding of the origin as much as the complicated sequence of events.

As all the countries that struggle to free themselves from the several processes of colonization, for the Latin Americans, the central trauma was the loss and the lack of control of memory that led to the cultural negation and destruction of their traditions and beliefs, through an intense and urgent task of silencing and ideas imposed in all the fields that allow the interpretation of the world and the universe. Among the multiple denials are not only the cultural constructs, but also the very landscape and the closest surrounding. This explains the fact that artistic creation tried to extract, in several manners, its own atmosphere through several mechanisms, despite the fact that there is no program to do so.

It is not out of context, then, that among the central motives for Daniel Senise’s reflection are memory, the expansion of time and space, that in his work force one to feel the infinite. In the same manner, it is understandable that the artist thinks of these themes in a personal manner in which evaluations of social, historical or political order do not count. There is no format capable of defining sufficiently what are the domains of memory, for this is, in the end, the matter that composes every vital sensation, perception, reflection, and conception. There are innumerable ways of approaching and expressing it.

In the case of the work of Daniel Senise, the artist thought of matter as an autonomous voice and as an expression per se since the first works in which he investigated images and processes allowed him to reveal his way of perceiving the world and its issues.

The clearest example of this way of operating is constructed by traces of infinite movements done with the oxidation of nails, a more direct exercise of this thought. The drawing that the artist places in a certain path on the canvas made of him the very element with its own oxidation. After the occurrence of this phenomenon of time and life, reality as matter was removed from the work so that it would make of itself its evocation.

Absence, then, is a key concept in the work of the artist, with which he constructs a game of access to different layers of memory. In this work, the nails make themselves present as traces, not as a body, and its vestiges carry out and infinite wandering, not just through the movement it proposes as a drawing, but thought the same activity of the printed trace, whose oxidation is not deterred. It is the same as saying that in this work memory is treated as something current and not as a witness of a time past. In the work of Daniel Senise, time is conceived as an issue in action, and in multiple action. That is why the works created from an interconnection of prints made in layers are the denial of an ecstasy of recording, as is also, the conversion of different supports in structures or in building totally alien to the nature of their origin.

For the same reason, Daniel Senise’s disquiet since he did the first monotype on the floor of his studio was to alter the distinction monolithic situation, referred to another place. This is another form of infinite circulation that Daniel Senise’s work adopts. In it, the past is always present.

In fact, the first print was not the consequence of a question of a record, but an accident that presented new possibilities of representing the material, when the work of the artist could still be defined more rigidly as painting. A canvas he prepared to use on a work adhered with great strength to the floor of the studio due to an excess of application of acrylic paint. The paint went through the thin canvas, provoking the adherence. The separation of the canvas then brought with it layers of the history of the space where it was and the more visible ones were the vestiges of the work that Daniel Senise was developing then. At that moment, his experimentation consisted of overlaying surfaces of material, on which he later made extractions to leave, in this manner, vestiges of a different activity over the painting. However, this first printed canvas, that collected the residue that had fallen to the ground during the elaboration of several exercises, also looked like one of his pieces, as the artist declared in several interviews.

You can only find something when you are looking for it and, in this sense, it was that this chance discovery led to reflections and conceptions about memory, image, and the space of growing complexity.

While he experimented with the oxidation of nails and other metallic solids, Daniel Senise also studied, with his paintings, iconic images from the history of art and of illustration as representation and absence, as forms of inhabiting the space and of expressing in it in different orders. To these series are works like Portrait of the artist’s mother (1992), Despacho (1993), and Wedding (1994), inspired in the known painting by American artist James Whistler; Mountain, and Cliff (1994) inspire on the works of German painter Caspar David Friedrich, as well as Ela que não está, inspired in the scheme of the restoration for the loss of material of one of the frescos of Italian painter Giotto, at the Barci chapel of the Church of the Holy Cross in Florence. The artist knew the image from the books where he studied art history and later directly during atrip to that Italian city in 1994. The fact of having studied it first on a printed image in which was manifest the deterioration and the restoration process of the work generated the emphasis and reflection that Daniel Senise made of the absent in it.

Especially in this last work, the observation of the artist is concentrated on that which had disappeared, a vital issue that contains an explanation of the world and without which it is impossible to decipher a content or a message. It is a very similar reflection to that of French artist Marcel Duchamp in the work Tu manque qui (1918), the final mark of his work in painting and the start of the development of his reflection on the world of objects. In Tu manque qui, Duchamp represented only the shadow of the clothes hanger and with the title pointed to its absence, to refer, with this act, to a failure of pictorial and even photographic representation, that consist in providing an expression about the real to the portrait of a flattened fragment, while it maintains absent the objectification and the live and mutable reality of the material.

With this logic, in works like those mentioned here, Daniel Senise’s project had already entered a metaphysical time and space, a perception that soon he bolsters greatly by means of an austere construction of spaces and structures making use of the prints made of the floors and the total disappearance in his images of any scheme of the human body.

Though at first, they represented real constructions, these spaces led the artist’s work to pass radically to the terrain of abstract reflection and this in an entirely personal solution. What isn’t in them are many things: the place and reality from which they come, the beings that inhabit them and the unending surroundings in which they project themselves, and the call to the infinity that sustains them. With these mechanisms, Daniel Senise takes the sonorousness and the importance of the wide world, that by necessity distances itself from any proposal of representation, to an instance of greater metaphorical and poetic power.

I interpreted insistently in other studies and texts that this appeal to infinity and to a circular, unstable, and complex time—space of art and thought that matured under the schemes of the modern and the contemporary in Latin America – or in the field of Latin-America action — has a direct relationship with the freeing of the unique, flat and static space-time of photography. And it also with the discursive imports of different orders: political, economic, social, artistic and intellectual in general, that subjected the Latin American states, in their nascent history, to a rigid, central, monocular order in which seem to have resolved in many ways the problem of the interpretation of reality, based on understanding of time, space, and history, comparable to those of the photographic plane.

In the first place, I conceived it in this manner because I remembered that, on the continent, in most cases, the art academies were founded after an ample experimentation with photography. This fact presupposes that from the beginning they counted on its support for the training in rigid standards of the correct representation of the real, nurtured by a neo-classicism and a romanticism that would be adapted.

This implied the flattening and the simplification of the very difficult apprehension of the real that had been worked on for centuries in the historical academies and also, as a consequence, the destruction of the philosophical exercise and of observation in which reality is understood as impossible of being encompassed and understood as a whole and, for this reason, is subject to interpretation through codes and symbols like the horizon, the vanishing point or the geometric structure, etc.

On the contrary, photography arrives with this resolute abstraction in the interior of an apparatus constructed on Cartesian logic, in which the world is ordered according to a symmetrical mathematical axis. The reality that was observed then was that of the camera, a which captures an exclusively frontal record, but also fragmented and compacted on a single plane, in which the horizon is transformed into a straight finite line, erasing in this manner the idea of circularity of the same and, therefore, that of space-time.

Mexico, Brazil, and Cuba had the luck of founding the first academies in Latin America in the years: 1783 [Mexico], 1818 [Cuba], and 1826 [Brazil]. This fact, despite having propitiated an advantage in the exercise of the direct observation of reality as refers to what happened in other countries, took place, in any way by means of the neo-classical patterns studied in the New World, especially based on prints from the European schools. This means that, besides not prioritizing in the study of the image the free exercise of observation and understanding of the surroundings, the first developments of the art schools [except in Mexico] took place in parallel to the first experiments that gave way to the tests of fixation of the photographic image in France. And also a few years after appearance of photography [1839], a medium that came surprisingly quickly to the continent, to be integrated with the same speed to the study of images in the painting and sculpture studios.

As a complement to this situation of confusion about the implications of the apprehension of the real, is added the later appearance of cinema, being incorporated to the same flat and fragmented understanding, but now in movement, a few years after its first steps in Europe.

As a consequence of this process, it is not surprising that when the assimilation of the avant-garde works in Latin America began — while in Europe, through the images of Cubism and Surrealism one could understand the rupture a single time and a philosophy of simultaneity was being developed — this product was embraced in the New World in a flat and frontal manner and within the structural logic of linear and static time of photography. It was not possible to conceive on the continent the transcendence of a single time refuted since Impressionism without some speculation about the instability of the real and when, on the contrary, the advances of photography, that was worked on as the main support of the understanding of the image in the academy, affirmed the possibility of freezing the moment and, with it, of the image.

During the 20th century, photography became a text that documents and witnesses the real in an irrefutable manner, and for this, countries such as the Latin American could not refute the discourses that were imposed on them from the outside without carrying out the philosophical review that art has carried out about the truth and documentability of reality in the photographic record. The philosophical emancipation in all fields must have been, for the same reason, a simultaneous work in which each one fed off the advances and progress of the other to create something truly unique.

ln this manner, it was not possible to understand from the start what was this Tu manque qui of which Marcel Duchamp spoke, nor which simultaneity of time that the Cubists brought together in a single pictorial scene, nor what were the paths of two-dimensional expansion which led painting to leave their frame until it addressed the space-time of the installation, of the design of a space, and of performance. The first adoptions are, for this very reason, more an exercise of modernization of the image based on a superficial formalism. This exercise was carried out, in most cases, from in reproductions of works from art history that, besides perverting issues of format, quality, color, technique, and depth, reinforced the relationship with the frame and the photographic ordering.

It was during the practical manipulation of the more innovative discourses it was understood little by little — at the same time in which the integrity of European patterns was let go — that time and space, as well as what inhabits them, are infinite subjects that no support or conception can contain in any other manner except through poetic means. This happened, as it is logical to understand, with the concern for understanding and contributing to the themes of the context.

Of this expansive understanding of the form and of the supports were born works and processes that no longer are adapted, but generated in different thought structures, like those of Armando Reverón, Lygia Clark, and Hélio Oiticica, for example. Armando Reverón dissolved the image in light and transparency and later erected a private world of objects, in which the simultaneity and speed are understood by their own laws. By their turn, Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica insisted on the importance of the structural language until it dissolves the matter in behavior or in the atmosphere of the environment.

There are a wealth of examples that can be mentioned about the projects that break with the limits of the angular support and the centralist structure of the symmetrical axis. Those mentioned previously can be simply some of the most notable among the pioneers. The truth is that the work strengthened by Latin American artists in this sense is formed currently by a body of very important works which, like that of Daniel Senise, are no longer conceived by contradiction and opposition to the concepts of others, but in the integration of cultures and more plural proposals, without being decontextualized by this procedure. Therefore, these postures must also be read based on much wider and more diverse frontiers of perception than those of the literality of the political and social reading to which they were forced on the first steps.

In the poetics of Daniel Senise, it is understood that what is absent in the representation of reality is the world that is outside the finite horizon, the life that cannot be formatted inside it, which is ineffable, and from which, however, the artist manages to give an astonishing warning. What is interesting and innovative in his case was taking on the challenge of including this understanding in the format of the painting, demonstrating therefore the vitality of a medium considered surpassed in innumerable debates during the 20th century.

During the first half of the 20th century, painting had already enriched itself with a large quantity of experimentation, like collage and assemblages with the design and administration of a metaphysical space, so it wasn’t through this communication of media that Daniel Senise generated other possibilities. It was through what he made with image and time in these media and with time and the manner how he made them express a different simultaneity, which is the current one.

Currently the representation of the world has reached distances that would have been unimaginable to reach in cosmic space: it also reached subatomic dimensions that assert, every time with more elements, an infinity that extends outside and inside every particle of existence and, that in its constant movement generates an incalculable quantity of connections of every kind. The word to define this multiple event is “connection”, and a connection between an unimaginable quantity of dimensions, of which there was no news when the avant-gardes took on the simultaneity of space and time, in a parallel manner to the formulation of the theory of relativity.

It is for these reasons that the simultaneity to which the work of Daniel Senise refers to is another one. And it is also because the geometric elaboration with which he could approach it is born of different conclusions.

The geometric construction that modernity brought to Latin America, in different fields, is the result of an investigative continuum to which were added discoveries and answers about the dimensions of man and his universe. From these dimensions were born progressively abstractions that yielded many of the physical and conceptual apparatuses that Latin America had to deconstruct to understand them and reconstruct them in other ways, according to their circumstances and needs. For the same reason, and also in many cases, with other functions. This because the deconstruction was done in an empirical manner, without knowledge of the internal logic of the systems it analyzes, a fact that deviated the studies to different routes, which always add other gazes and objects of investigation.

In the work of Daniel Senise, for example, in the self-taught questioning the artist does about the image and its geometry, there was a rediscovery of perspective, at a moment of history in which it is not possible to organize a composition in any field according to the central or simple perspectives and in which, for a long time, figurative representation in painting had been made a problem. This is why in his abstract work the projections lead the spectator towards all the angles, including the one he himself occupies, inserting him, suddenly, into a great and accelerated emptiness.

The versatility with which the artist offered different conceptions to one same repertoire of resources proves not only that no manner or technique is exhausted when it is rediscovered constantly in another territory, but the same can be done with the base of knowledge inherited from the classics. These bases feed the drama of the spaces of Daniel Senise, which have no resonance with the conflicts of Latin America, and as a consequence are sensitive to them, but yes to the unlimited depth of poetry.

In his unceasing dialog with the history of art, Daniel Senise managed to offer contemporary readings of structures that stopped being so and therefore transported in time their essential information. A pictorial quality and of drawing like that of the works created with papers oxidized by the passage of time is the result of the transcendental gaze of the artist upon the support and of matter as memory, but also it is the constancy of a fine sensibility and culture about the possibilities of painting ang drawing. In this manner it can be understood that, in the insistence on a same argument observed from many different angles, Daniel Senise achieved a diamond clear clarity about the meaning of time. Consequently, he could use his voice for artistic expression, understanding the burden that it leaves on different bodies, without being literal or simplistic about it.

The oxidized papers came out of the same books in which the artist studied images from the history of art. The texts that at limes he leaves visible are identifications of works whose pictures were glued on and that he took on to use the paper. This allows us to understand the multiple gaze with which the artist reads the same information. While he studies the history of art (essentially of painting) he also does it as a support on which it is printed and with the possibilities that this support has of being a surface for another argument about art, through painting. It is another way of connecting the beginning and the end, of creating infinite circulations with time and matter.

With this logic, the artist submits to cuts — now reticular — the hyperrealist painting he creates based on the colors of the floor of his room and that later he recomposes in chromatic games, to trace, in a natural scale, the corridor he walks through daily, connecting the different rooms of his own space. In this case, the time of painting combines to speak of what is most intimate in memory, which is also imprecise and inapprehensible, though the measures and material scales are transcribed. The place that one owns absolutely does not exist, in it many others are inevitable found, from the closest to those that we could say that have already been erased the memory. 

 The names that the subsidies that were structured in these processes could receive are different from those with which were baptized naturally the different creative tendencies of the 20th century, but about these new names there is no new proposal yet. Latin American art is confronted, then, with a problem of nominalist that consequently has repercussions in a single name that receives the huge repertoire of processes that it includes. 

The landscape as well as the performance and the interpretations and accommodations of low tech in Latin America are called “Latin American art”. In this manner, in this very vast ocean of gazes and interpretations, what has been favored traditionally is what can be linked more easily to a reductionist understanding of Latin America, with the resulting interpretative and philosophical loss that presupposes not understanding among these processes results so original as those to which lead the work of Daniel Senise. Though his creative dialog was strengthened with German painting, especially with the works of Markus Lupertz and Sigmar Polke, as well as American production during the years when he lived in New York, it is a simplification to not understand the decisive dialog that his gaze establishes with light, with the landscape, and with the intellectual and creative processes of his place of origin. 

 Works like those of Daniel Senise, that do not draw the limits of the considerations from which they nurture themselves, not just because they are multiple, but because it is submitted to the rhythm of the observations of his time in a wider sense, reach a universality that make the place from where they come different, an issue that, in general, marks the beginning of new narratives and of other forms of recognition.