Text: Dominic van den Boogerd - 2020
In the rooms of Witte de With, Brazilian artist Adriano Amaral created a dingy environment that - like the enigmatic Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker - appears to obey secret laws, and reacts unpredictably to anyone who enters it. The visitor is only part of an awe- inspiring as well as an inscrutable force field.
The eye-catchers in the first two rooms are three kinetic assemblies that hang from the ceiling to just above the ground. The sculptures are composed of metal rods, power cables, found garments, computer parts and thick, rubber hoses, in which ants and twigs can be seen. Halfway through, mussel shells have settled, and at the base is something that resembles a tree root torn from the ground. They are fragile, hybrid images: half synthetic, half organic. Under the first sculpture are remnants of an aluminum mackerel, on the second there is a chicken leg of soft pink rubber and the last one has a sheepskin. When you approach the sculptures, the root unexpectedly starts to move and the branches turn away from you. The action is initiated via sensors, but because there is no pattern in it, it is as if the tree root is acting on its own. And why not? That trees can communicate, that they recognize insects, remember temperature fluctuations and share nutrients is an insight shared by scientists.
On the walls hang panels, loose or in series, in a color reminiscent of a pink, blue veined skin. They are constructed from silicone rubber, a material often used for prostheses because it has the smooth firmness of human tissue. Behind the glossy surface are scraps of calls to track down lost pets - a phone number, a row of heart-shaped emoticons. Other panels have a texture reminiscent of lichen or cracked, dried-out earth. A single panel is set with the shards of a shell.
The white carpet, tainted by the footsteps of visitors, extends into the corridor where it is partly covered with a layer of black earth. The corridor is screened with transparent agricultural plastic. In front of that screen is something resembling a voodoo-like totem, made of headrests and encircled by blue-green chicken legs and pigeon pins. Opposite, high on the wall, is a similar figure, with a cross of aluminum fish, an idol from an unknown religion.
The last and largest room is arranged as a kind of greenhouse. The light is dimmed. Shiny solar panels form a raised floor, deep purple in color. In that platform a rectangular piece of earth has been cut out containing an octagonal basin. Humidifiers spread a white mist that settles on the surrounding earth. In various places fungi proliferate and fresh green blades sprout. The installation is an ecosystem that continuously transmutes during the exhibition period. A sort of chainmail hangs above the misty basin. It is a fishing net full of mackerels and sardines, cast in aluminum. It recalls the curious history of Colonel Aureliano Buendi?a in Gabriel Garci?a Ma?rquez A Hundred Years of Solitude. After Buendi?a miraculously survived his suicide, the Colonel devoted the rest of his life to recycling precious metal fish.
Three video monitors hanging close to the ceiling show events that rise and fall like tides, a sort of parable of eternal return. Color has almost completely disappeared from the images and the image has faded along the edges. The scene of action is a rugged coast at night, which takes the lead role. The camera skims over foamy waves, chasing through dark bushes, along tree trunks, shiny with resin. We see a helmeted driver racing his bike on dusty trails and dragging a school of fish behind him. We hear rustling and crackling, so- called ASMR sounds that can generate both psychological and physical sensations. When Alphaville's Forever Young suddenly rings out, we see a man hanging out of a moving van, his head hidden under the aluminum fishing net, chased by mackerels, bass and sardines.
Amaral's wondrous images arise from intuitive experiments with ordinary and unusual materials that, while retaining their intrinsic properties and symbolic value, conjure up a new, fantasy-magical reality in their mutual interaction. The artist is thus in the company of Matthew Barney and other artistic obscurantists: masters of dreamlike worlds in which the banal becomes supernatural and the spiritual concrete. The work also involuntarily recalls the temporary installations of the arte povera from the 1970s, which changed shape under the influence of environmental factors such as light, humidity and temperature.
More important than the historical embedding, however, is the current urgency of this exhibition. Amaral's bizarre biotope of infections, mutations and resurrections touches on developments in artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and biotechnology. Amaral shares the allusions to self-thinking systems beyond human control with, for example, Anicka Yi and Pierre Huyghe. The blurring of the boundaries between the natural and the artificial is not a reason for the Brazilian artist to be apodictic gloom, but an incentive to rethink the material and spiritual nature of the world. Continuous mutation and cyclical movement are part of that. Amaral has staged that in a sensitive and intelligent way.