São Paulo

Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain

In 2003, Paris-based Brazilian artists Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain, in collaboration with Czech artist Jirí Skála, transformed the familiar Helvetica typeface into a new font they called Helvetica Concentrated, turning it into a series of dots; the size of each dot corresponds to the area of the original individual character. Now, for the series “Star Names,” 2007–, the Brazilian artists have used their invention to write the names of 287 stars listed in the Yale University Observatory’s Bright Star Catalogue. By overlaying the dot shaped letters (each individual dot has a brightness of 25 percent white), Detanico and Lain create images of the stars. Each has a different saturation of light because of the different combination of characters in a given name; the brightest star is the one with the longest name (Tacularis Septentrionalis) and the darkest the one with the shortest (Cursa). The series follows the chronology of celestial discoveries, presenting it as a record of illumination, in terms of both our growing knowledge of the universe and the actual brightness of the sky. This exhibition, “Ano Zero (Year Zero),” included twenty-two works from the series, each jet-printed on cotton paper. Their linear arrangement alluded to the list-like character of the Bright Star Catalogue. The exhibition display stressed the series’ underlying logic: It is an analogue, a copy of the original in a new visual form, rather than an invented metadiscourse endowed with scientific or poetic significance.

A video also featured in the show, The Waves, 2005, takes its title from Virginia Woolf’s novel, which drew the artists’ interest because of its descriptive rather than narrative structure. As the video camera rapidly scans the book, it also gradually produces a sentence by attracting our attention to one word, then another and another (six in total), which through repetition in a number of consecutive pages becomes “fixed” and visible for a while, allowing us to distinguish it from other words in motion. The emphasized words form the sentence “What if suddenly nothing else moves?” layering the book with new visual significance that alludes to the acts of watching and deciphering. Using technology in this basic fashion, the piece comments on how time can be perceived and visualized in art.

Connecting their interest in linguistics to kinds of databases and certain optical sensations specific to technology, Detanico and Lain nevertheless allow imagination to flow freely and produce playful associative links. That freedom led them, for example, to put their own spin on Samuel F. B. Morse’s double career as the inventor of the telegraph and a painter. In Broken Morse, 2006, they analyzed his painting Gallery of the Louvre, 1831–33, by separating the colors in the work and projecting them individually in an abstract video sequence; they reconfigured the image into a collection of color data that looks like an accretion of paint samples, occasionally resembling strokes that one might see on an artist’s palette. Interestingly enough, for the “reductionists” Detanico and Lain, Gallery of the Louvre—which was Morse’s final, failed attempt to establish himself as a serious painter—stands for a critical moment in life when one decides to abandon traditional art practice for other modes of communication.

Marek Bartelik