São Paulo

Jac Leirner

Galeria Camargo Vilaça

Jac Leirner’s new series, Nice to Meet You, 1997, formed entirely of business cards, is her most incisive and delicate work to date. The art of this thirty-five-year-old Brazilian typically involves the obsessive repetition of prosaic objects. Its effectiveness generally depends on the degree to which it dignifies and transforms mundane materials by liberating them from their links to a specific function. Nice to Meet You, for example, attributes a morphological significance to the business cards that Leirner gathers in a systematic, even ritualistic manner. After collecting them, she often allows them to sit for years, as if subjecting them to a process of maturation, or attempting to purge them of their previous histories. Finally, she organizes the cards into series through rigorous formal operations.

The completed work is a wry nod to the networking involved both in the art world and the larger community. Over a period of ten years, Leirner gathered the hundreds of business cards in Nice to Meet You from artists, curators, gallerists, and art institutions. She eventually arranged them into long horizontal lines, grouping them according to formal characteristics such as color, font, composition, and graphic markings. The result is a celebration of ambiguity; the work’s title is also humorously ironic, foregrounding the emptiness of the clichéd phrase that usually accompanies the ritual of distributing and accumulating business cards. An extension of the artist’s personal experience as much as a formal arrangement, the long sequences of cards, placed side by side, suggest a narrative—at once silent and polysemous—that is left to the viewer to interpret.

On another level, the work’s minimalist qualities give it the imprimatur of a great conceptual work within the history of contemporary Brazilian art. Not coincidentally, Leirner cites the work of Mira Schendel as an inspiration for the series, and Nice to Meet You echoes Schendel’s delicate arrangements of repeated elements, as well as her investigations of space and form. In 1987, Leirner created Os Cem (The one hundreds), a series comprising 80,000 outdated 100-cruzeiros banknotes (cruzeiro, the currency in Brazil before the real, was rendered worthless through hyperinflation). Later, she presented Pulmão (Lung, 1985–87), in which she displayed the packets from all the cigarettes she smoked over a period of three years, and with Nomes (Names), presented at the São Paulo Bienal in 1989, she covered a wall with bags from art-museum gift shops all over the world. With Corpus Delicti, 1992, she gathered together stolen pieces of airline paraphernalia, such as blankets, ashtrays, napkins, and toiletry kits. Nice to Meet You thus marks the continuing evolution of Leirner’s project. It proposes the construction of a new poetics, challenging preconceived notions of time, space, and meaning.

Katia Canton