In the latter half of the 20th century, Brazilian art has turbulently transformed from being persecuted to being fascinating. After the cultural destruction brought about by World War Two, there rose a new global art community, one that looked further than the rigid European art tradition for inspiration.
After centuries of political and economic disruption, 1950s Brazil was defined by prosperity and stability, giving birth to a new generation of artists who focused on the objectivity rather than subjectivity of art. Unlike the ongoing American and European surrealist movements, Brazilian artists such as Luis Sacilotto began exploring art outside of the canvas and deconstructing artistic norms of colour and form.
The exhibition itself is comprised of two large rooms of abstract installation, curated by art history lecturer Paulo Venancio Filho of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The pieces exhibited mostly belong to the movement of Neo-Concretism that emerged in the 1960s.
What is immediately clear upon entering is the gallery’s connection with the artworks. The closed-off and cubic installations, typical of New Concrete, are perfectly complimented and counteracted by the Fruitmarket Gallery’s sparse, minimalist décor. The main room that the exhibition occupies is a featureless loft, flooded in light and large enough to accommodate at least triple the amount of art on display. Indeed at first it seems too vast, the distance between the artworks creating a thematic disconnect. However its coherence as a fluid and linear exhibition is irrelevant to what Paulo Venancio Filho was trying to achieve. This collection is about detachment and isolation and how these artworks counteract these two forces. The oppression that attempted to censor and marginalise Brazil’s evolving culture was the inspiration for most of this art. They were not created to be observed in a gallery but were rather made to be experienced; ‘you are a not a viewer in this context, you are a participant’, stated Professor Briony Fer of UCL, ‘the artwork was created by and for collaborative experience’.
Paradoxically, the inclusive manner in which the art is to be experienced is in opposition to what the art is trying to say. Born out of an oppressive military coup, much of the art (particularly the older pieces) represent the unavailability of information in Brazil in the 70s. This theme is embodied in pieces such Barrio’s stockings, which are filled with ball bearings. In this piece, the obscurity of the object within represents the lack of information that was available in Brazil in the 70s. Furthermore, the cubic form that many of the pieces take is suggestive of enclosure and imprisonment, perhaps not necessarily of people but of movement and expression.
The exhibition brings Edinburgh a fragment of an artistic rebellion to an authoritarian regime, which has plagued Brazil since the 1970s. It explores the way in which abstract art can act as a polemical art form, aiming itself at an audience beyond Brazil.