São Paulo

Albano Afonso

Albano Afonso is one of the more interesting artists who emerged on the Brazilian scene in the early ’90s. In place of the preoccupation with the new or the original that stamped previous generations, these artists cultivated a sense of dialogue with art history, of critical inclusion within a tradition. In his work until now Afonso has constructed this dialogue in a clear manner by making art history his raw material, with photography as the physical support. A large part of his production has involved the layering of photographs of images from books—reference works on the history of art. These photos were perforated using a paper punch, their superimposition leaving different layers on view. Afonso also built installations where the layers of images were interlarded with mirrors, achieving a multiplicative effect with that multifaceted history constituted by layers of time and forms.

In his latest exhibition “A Natureza” (Nature), Afonso gave a subtler twist to his art-historical homage and his desire to control the physical aspects of artistic construction. The gallery’s ground floor was given over to images loosely grouped around the theme of “sky”; the second floor was devoted to the earth in the guise of a metaphorical forest. In both cases, the work is based on the effects of light, color, and movement in photography, eschewing preexisting images. This work is more pictorial and less directly referential to the history of art than any the artist has shown to date. The first image one saw downstairs was A Reproução (The Reproduction), 2003–2004, a photo showing the artist as seen from behind, standing beside a tripod. This was an invitation to a singular exploration of the photograph as pictorial experiment. Afonso insists on making it clear that he is not a photographer and that he has not mastered photographic technique. Hence, his entire body of work becomes a fascinating empirical game. O Retrato (The Portrait), 2003–2004, laden with alienation, seems to depict two men in a dark, turbid atmosphere through which one also sees a camera mounted on a tripod. In actuality it is the artist, who photographed himself moving in front of a mirror during a long exposure. In the lower part of the photo Afonso displays a sequence of color “flashes” constructed with the low-tech aid of multicolored cellophane.

Still on the ground floor, nine photographic panels, each containing thirty-six images, appear to reproduce a detailed display of tones running from blue to brown and passing through lilac, turquoise, and magenta. This work, Constelações (Constellations), 2004, is a study of the possibilities of the coloration taken on by the skies of São Paulo, photographed at precise intervals. Here there is no photographic artifice; Afonso appears to revisit the Impressionist act of recording landscapes at different times of day, and the diffuse tonal multiplicity that the city’s artificial lights impart to the skies is incredible. Upstairs was another homage to São Paulo, Florestas (Forests), 2003–2004, part of a series showing the eminently urban trees of Brazil’s largest city, artificially illuminated at night. Neon color, pollution, and humidity imbue the scene with an air of mystery. The photos make the city seem suspended in time, magical, the stuff of fairy tales.

Katia Canton

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.