Conversation between Guy Mackinnon-Little and Adriano Amaral
Adriano Amaral is a Brazilian artist whose alchemical sculptural installations forge inhuman worlds from ordinary objects. Amaral works with sporting equipment, soil, silicone, spirulina and an assortment of other materials to create mutant assemblages in which the gallery-space is transformed into a living environment.
On the occasion of his showing at Rodeo gallery as part of Condo 2019, TANK spoke to the artist about cryogenics, ASMR and the blurring of the synthetic and the organic.
I’m interested in the process of making these sculptural installations. Where do you begin? What are some of the procedures involved?
When I’m invited for a solo show I normally start with the space. I spend a lot of time looking at pictures and thinking about the room that is given to me for a certain period. I try to get as much understanding as possible of its context and physical qualities. I also make an outline of the entire space in my studio so I can have a daily relation with this potential space. It is through the development of those perceptions that I decide how to respond to the environment.
Simultaneously, I engage in ongoing research with materials in the studio. I could say this investigation feels more like a continuation from previous projects rather than a new beginning each time, as some approaches and materials are recurrent. However, there is always the necessity of changing directions and exploring new elements and procedures.
To what extent is this process experimental? Have there been moments where an object has responded to your treatment in a way you didn’t anticipate.
Yes, for sure. I actually try to encourage those unpredictable moments because that’s when something really interesting can happen. While sometimes the process is more calculated and predictable, there are others where intuition and chance plays a big role in my practice. To allow myself to lose control and keep things open is really important. Of course it can result in a lot of waste and failures, but it’s also exciting.
All of the works are untitled, instead there are just these wonderful litanies of the materials they contain – spirulina, tree bark, prosthetics or burnt football shoes. What’s the thinking behind this?
I just find it too imposed and artificial to put titles in the pieces I make. I tried before but it doesn’t work for me. I prefer to leave the work open for the viewer to create their own narrative and relations based on what is in front of them. I know this sounds a bit radical, but by titling the piece it feels that I’m forcing the audience to view it in a certain way. This probably has to do with my resistance to how texts in exhibitions have become more meaningful than the work itself; I believe aesthetic experience requires involvement.
The material list is like the DNA of each work. It reveals a little bit of my process and interests and it feels relevant to put all of them as it can affect the way viewers perceive the works.
Is there a special significance to the choice of materials in your sculptures? On the one hand, they are totally decontextualised, altered beyond recognition. On the other, there is something fascinating about their quotidian origins.
Probably what is more significant to me is the mix of all of them rather than their individual meaning. However, despite being removed from their context, each material still carries its symbolism and suggestive properties. And even though some pieces are more eerie than others, in all cases you will find something familiar, something mundane and relatable. This is important to me since I aim for this ambiguity in every work. It’s a thin line of opposite forces that I try to balance; to attract the viewer in and repulse them out and vice versa.
The human body also plays a big role in those choice, there are many elements referring to it. As an example, in this show in particular I used sports gear as a starting point in a few sculptures and prosthetic rubber is a material that I have been using for several years now. Above all, the materials reflect my daily experiences.
Your work combines synthetic and organic elements. Is this a meaningful distinction for you?
Yes, because it is through this merge between a diverse range of materials that something new comes up. I refuse any hierarchy when it comes to material selection. Basically I bring in anything that for some reason I feel attracted to. These days this distinction between what is natural and what is artificial is becoming blurry on many levels. It is fascinating and terrifying at the same time, and I try to react to that.
Moving through the space, I kept thinking of cryogenics and the desire to preserve the past, even though the sculptures themselves are often quite mutable. How do time and transformation figure into your work?
I like your association with cryogenics and this idea of exposing materials to extremely cold temperatures. However in reality it was quite the opposite since most of the works of this show were subjected to heat during their making.
I try to incorporate time in different ways. While some materials are transformed in the studio, others are presented in a more vulnerable state and changes are expected to occur during the exhibition period. You could notice this transformation happening, for example in the peat compost with flour placed on the carpet in the edges of the room. While humidifiers were nursing the soil and allowing mould to grow, other parts were drying and shrinking.
Another way that time was embraced was through the footsteps of the visitors in the white carpet placed on the floor. The room is getting more dirty everyday. I like this idea of the space been contaminated by this anonymous crowd in a such an effortless way. And there is also this other time behind the translucent plastic walls where one of the video screens and a few works where placed. It’s an area that you could sense but couldn’t physically access. For me it was a way to present memory as a physical space and explore the bond between material and cognitive operations.
You arrange your installations in such a way that the space becomes somewhat awkward to navigate. The viewer experiences the work as an intrusion, or even an obstacle course. Is this unstable relationship between embodiment and environment something that interests you?
Yes, I consider this path and how the body will travel along the space a lot. It’s part of my approach to shift the logic of the room and transform it.
For instance, in this installation there were many interventions that were done before the install of the sculptures. We took down the fake walls and window covers, we built those new plastic walls, we covered the entire floor with a carpet and so on. All that was done to promote a dynamic experience in which the visitor activates the environment.
The other environment present in the exhibition is your grandfather’s farm, which we are shown drone footage of in a central display. Could you tell me a bit about this space and your relationship to it?
It’s a place very familiar to me since I spent a lot of my childhood there. It contains several warehouses and open storage fields. There is this abundance of materials, animals, machines and empty spaces that I find very inspiring and has influenced me a lot.
But the farm is changing, the city is taking over and all the workers, including my grandparents, are getting older. So some things are already abandoned. The whole system is obsolete and will disappear soon. I wanted to depict that place, which is extremely personal to me, without been nostalgic. So I thought about this film as a dynamic, fluid journey with no beginning or end where you have this subjective point of view navigating through the spaces, constantly moving and searching, like a nocturnal animal in chase.
And could you say a little about the conversation between this warehouse and the gallery space? The gliding movement of the drone is at odds with the viscous materiality of the rest of the work.
I feel like the smooth path from the drone through the spaces, materials and textures and the seamless cuts from one scene to the other is in line with how the sculptures were made, where the materials and objects are all merged without clear transitions between them. The fact that the film is all shot with a drone and the two main sculptures are floating is to me another link between them.
It was important to display the film in TV screens since I wanted to reinforce the domestic feeling that the gallery space already carries, almost like a big living room with a cozy carpet. On the other hand I wanted this familiar space to coexist with something like an enclosed conservatory, with sealed plastic walls, humidifiers and soil, more like a greenhouse and the environment that the TVs were depicting through the drone. I also used bits of different ASMR from the internet in the film. I’m interested in how those sounds made from daily activities can affect our body physically and psychologically. I wanted to bring a certain anachronism to the video by depicting a post-human scenario with mundane background sounds such as cooking or whispering.
This engagement with the space and the ambivalence that is proposed is very close to the way the sculptures operate. I look for this connectedness among everything that is in the room, like a total environment.