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Sao Paulo

Excerpt from the official catalogue of the 23rd Biennale
of Sao Paolo

Carl Emanuel Wolff's sculptures and installations focus on the question of the place of the ideological and the factual in contemporary art. The modernist striving for autonomy has apparently liberated the work of art from its utilitarian function, as well as from its mediating purposes, such as those of court and Church. Since this process began, the responsibility for defining art and providing its basis of legitimation has increasingly been assumed by philosophy, aesthetic theory and criticism. However, the supposed free space of art, institutionalized by the museums and public collections, is not a space of disinterested contemplation; instead, it is becoming a kind of ghetto, a sealed-off area in which the artwork, neutralized by exhibition, is reduced to a commodity whose selection, presentation and production are entirely governed by the laws of the market. Carl Emanuel Wolff displays his works in mundane places, outside traditional exhibition contexts - not just for the sake of using alternative settings, but as a means of exploring and radically questioning the ways in which the museum, and the everyday world, allow the artwork to be seen: complementing and integrating it, or suspending its effect. The artist uses places and situations in which the individuality of the goods on display creates an aesthetic "surplus" which appears identical to that of the artwork. The cigar, for example - the product of a sophisticated culture of smoking - serves as an artificial form or an art form in which content and image coincide, but which preserves the directness of sensuous perception, instead of imposing determinate meanings and interpretations. The same applies in the use of the fairy tale or the game of snooker. Wolff's works establish open structures in which the conditions of perception depend directly on the willingness of viewers to engage with the work and complement it through personal involvement. This approach, whose origins lie in Romantic art criticism, is rendered all the more provocative and significant by the prevalent tendency to invert the perception of art and the work, placing it within a hermetic circle that provides enigmatic critical justifications for art which is in fact wholly subordinate to the logic of the market. The seemingly fictitious reality of the art work is shot through with strands of desire. Where it impinges on the reality of everyday life, or vice versa, the artificial divisions become transparent and permeable; in the work of Carl Emanuel Wolff, therefore, the arbitrary demarcations between art and life are dissolved and exactly inverted. Here, art becomes real and effective, to the extent that reality is recognized as an imaginary construction, entirely ruled by fictions. Karin Stempel

A different reading
My nomination as German commissar for the Sao Paolo Biennale came quite unexpectedly, without so much as a hint of warning, and suddenly there was a task that was both familiar and strange, an attractive opportunity that also posed a problem. Only a few weeks previously, I had written an article lambasting all Biennale exhibitions everywhere, together with their curators, and now, all of a sudden, I myself was caught up in the machine of the art world. From the outset, two thoughts were uppermost in my mind. First, I was determined to avoid conforming to false expectations imposed by the new "job" - the expectations of artists who are smart and highly articulate but have no notion that art could be more than a matter of using the right pigments and reading the right art magazines. Secondly, it was essential to move away from conventional paths. Instead of going to Sao Paolo with a big name that would only confirm what everyone expected anyway, I wanted to show something different, something that had more to do with deficiencies and failings than with perfection - at all events, to express a dissatisfaction with the general practice of the art world, but without exactly knowing or being able to say whether a solution is possible and where that solution might lie. The terms of the Biennale were clear: each country was to be represented by just one artist, who was allotted a space of around 120 square metres to show his or her works in the Biennale building. A difficult undertaking for a person who questions the wisdom of trying to represent anything these days, and a virtually impossible undertaking when the question arises of whether art can really happen within the white walls of an exhibition building - locked away in a neutralized space with 132 other productions that have only one thing in common: the fact that their contact with reality and their meaning in this specific context are entirely defined by considerations of market value and market share. My aim was different: instead of trading in display and prestige, I wanted to find another form of presence, breaking the frame and making it visible, even at the risk of causing art to dissolve and become lost in a "frameless" reality that suddenly deprives the work of all significance. What artist would be prepared to collaborate in such a risk-laden venture, on a basis of absolute trust combined with flexibility? At first, the task of finding a suitable collaborator seemed far from easy, but then the solution suddenly became obvious: Carl Emanuel Wolff, an artist whose work I had known for years, although I had never met the man himself. On both sides, many things were instantly clear, without a moment's hesitation - things we had thought about separately and done independently of one another. Art in the real world instead of exhibition art; reality as art, not art as reality - a precarious balancing act, and on territory that was entirely unknown to the artist and only partly familiar to me: Brazil, or rather Sao Paolo, a city which is in Brazil but not of it. The first attempt to engage with the problem was through a joint trip to Sao Paolo in search of places where art would be enhanced by reality, instead of the reverse - a place as a common starting point, which would also involve uncertainty on both sides as to whether the whole undertaking was anything more than a fixed idea that could never be put into practice, except in the form of an interminable conversation between artist and curator - thinking parallel thoughts but reeling off two monologues that could only ever converge in infinity. But then the first places emerged, and the problematic or seemingly impossible aspects of the plan all clarified themselves of their own accord. The "project" began to take shape. The starting point was the space allotted to us in the Biennale, which was gradually transformed from an exhibition area into an operational base - a point of departure in the literal sense, and in its specific significance for us: a place of mediation, midway between the internal and the external, with a clear awareness of liminality. The form: a travel agency, a work by Carl Emanuel Wolff that refers to other works outside the building, distributed around the city; works whose existence is only indicated here by postcards and maps, presented by students from the FAAP who make up the "staff" of the travel agency. And then: a garden, concealed inside the building, a protected zone between the inner and outer worlds, where tapirs and wild boars roam, with the randomness of a table that can also be a sculpture and a sculpture that can also be a lamp - like the travel agency that is also a work by Carl Emanuel Wolff.

Ineffable and unsayable

Art - can also mean the perception and cultivation of a single moment. Art - is also play, precision, tenderness, humility, freedom, insecure, open, vulnerable, always between failure and success, the big question-mark before the eyes and in the head, a kind of yearning... And then the feeling that something might have turned out right, amid and despite all the misunderstandings, between the cultures, and perhaps precisely because of the distance and strangeness which nevertheless leave scope for closeness - maybe, in fact, they are the only conditions under which it remains possible - in the riotous squandering of energy, unprotected, beyond all ideologies and -isms, ignoring what is permitted and what is not. This could be seen as a wilful plea for a blind activism, with nothing in mind except naked success, exploiting alternative approaches. But that would be quite mistaken. The element of subversion has always been present in this project: right from the outset, it had a single precise aim: to convey an experience of the poetry that is both art and reality.

The opening
Pinacoteca do Estado

Our opening took place a day after the official opening of the Biennale at the Pinacoteca do Estado. It was conceived as an event in which every spectator could also become an actor; his very presence made him part of the sculpture. The opening was both real and metaphorical, theatrical and pictorial, self-referential and self-reflecting. Ratinho, the reigning snooker champion of Brazil, played a match against his predecessor, Roberto Carlos, in one of the Pinacoteca's courtyards. The game was also a demonstration of the new snooker rules which came into force on August 1996. On entering the courtyard, each visitor was given a sculpture of a fish - taken from a set of about 150 such sculptures, all of them differently shaped - which he had to carry around with him for as long as he remained in the space. The sculptures had to be handed back when the visitor left, and were then packed up and stored in shelves at the entrance to the space, where they remained on display for the duration of the Biennale, together with the snooker table and the match-winner's trophy, a "snooker fish", displayed on a pedestal.

Ranieri - probably the most attractive cigar store in Sao Paulo, which also serves the best "cafezinho" - was the first site for a work that posed no questions, and the first place where negotiations were necessary. Like all the other locations we found, it was unique and irreplaceable. There was no alternative: it was the missing piece of reality that supplemented the work. We asked the owner, Beto Ranieri, whether he was willing to let us to use his premises. The conversation ended after only few minutes with the words "Let's do it!" The task of setting up the work, which at first appeared so easy, turns out to be one of the most difficult. Late one evening, several days later, the job is eventually finished. The cigar lamp with its pair of figures - a man offering a light to a woman holding a cigar - is suspended from the ceiling. A photograph, of the "Déjeuner de l'artiste", hangs like a cigar advertisement above the entrance to the store, and other photographs are hidden in the window display like secret messages smuggled into a prison cell. The game between reality and art can begin. Its outcome is uncertain.

Fernando Branco "Nova Noiva"
Driving along the Avenida Tiradentes, one's gaze is inevitably captured by Fernando Branco's shop "Nova Noiva". Imposing and elegant, it stands like a hallmark near the entrance to the Rua Sao Gaetano, the street in Luz where countless shops display the latest bridal fashions, in a selection to suit every taste and pocket. Here, in Fernando Branco's salon, the dresses are trimmed with Brussels lace and embroidered with pearls, by couturiers trained in London or Paris. Here, dreams in white take shape. At night, when only an occasional shadow flits by, the windows of "Nova Noiva" are brightly lit and the brides are radiant in the darkness, but disembodied, like paper cut-out figures - a feast for the eyes, a baroque extravaganza, a scene of secret celebration, hidden from the general gaze. In one of the central windows a lamp glows, with two inverted figures mounted back to back: a man and a woman who seem to grow straight out of the ceiling, transparent and luminescent, with light bulbs appearing to grow from the open palms of their hands. Below them is a table, with a vase of flowers standing on the floor - casually arranged, as if in anticipation of some event, perhaps a foreshadowing, perhaps a promise - a vision which here has found a residue in an ornament.

Rua Sao Gaetano / Avenida Tiradentes
A single tree at the corner of Rua Sao Gaetano and Avenida Tiradentes, just by the newspaper stand of José senior and the cigarette kiosk of José junior - an island in the traffic, which here can be murderous. At first no one can explain why, but temptation quickly leads to conviction that this is the right place, indeed the only place, for the bronze wild boar and the drinking trough - an archetypal outdoor sculpture in the nineteenth-century tradition, completely out of context and yet, perhaps for that reason, in exactly the right setting - a piece of public art whose artistic character almost fades into invisibility. All kinds of dire warnings are relayed to us, and not without reason. But the wild boar is not stolen, nor is it wrecked or sprayed with graffiti. The taxi driver, who knows nothing of all this, asks if I have seen the pig on the corner, and offers to show it to me. "Suddenly, the pig was there!" he says, and every time he passes it, he laughs, shaking his head a little, at the pig on the corner. Another time, when Mick wants to take some pictures, the woman comes out of the shop across the way. Yes, the pig, she likes it, though she doesn't quite understand what it's doing here. "Is he going to photograph it?" she asks, then she disappears, and shortly afterwards the bride appears, the girl who works in the shop, who has quickly dressed up in her finery: in Rua Sao Gaetano, the bride belongs to the pig. The bride in her white dress kneels in the road, embracing the pig, smiling and posing - afterwards, her dress is stiff with dirt, but in Rua Sao Gaetano, the bride belongs to the pig. The boar's back has grown shiny. Many people have touched it in passing; groups of schoolchildren have visited it and written essays about it. The pig has nothing to do with us now: it's simply the pig on the corner of Rua Sao Gaetano and Avenida Tiradentes.

Davina Noivas
Rua Mauá, running parallel with the railway tracks of the Estacao de Luz, is a street in which many inhabitants of Sao Paolo have never set foot and never will. Violence, crime and prostitution - such is the cliché image. This is where Davina has her shop. Near Rua Sao Gaetano, but outside the commercial enclave - off limits, so to speak - she sells her bridal fashions. Her small shop, lined with red carpeting, is slightly below street level. Here, with her seamstresses, she makes magnificent dresses which reproduce the glamour of the big established salons with an unbelievably meticulous attention to detail. This is Davina's personal dream. She makes fairy tales come true for those who are otherwise denied all access to them. Dreams have no place of their own, but they nevertheless take shape in a multitude of ways - the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is such a place like Davina Noivas, a place where dreams seeks their fulfilment. One day we find a poster, put up by Davina. A man receives us in her shop - we've never seen him before - seldom has anyone explained the work of Carl Emanuel Wolff so well.

Have you tried the sundaes
with tons of caramel dressing
and the round cherry at top flashing red
like the sun of an incredible
shrinked tribe of merry pigmees?

if you say yes, welcome to the gang
if you say no, welcome to the gang

Can you figure Andy Warhol
dancing with Leonardo in the
dome of some exquisite cathedral
built in the middle of the desert
and the music played by Mozart on the flute,
Paganini on the violin and Jerry Lee Lewis
on the piano

if you say yes, welcome to the gang
if you say no, welcome to the gang

Can you swim in rebellious time against
survival time where each moment is
eternity and each breath is poetry

if you say yes, welcome to the gang
if you say no, welcome to the gang

Can you ride a wooden horse in a merry-go-
round and turn your head and see at your right-
side Buddha, at your left side Jesus Christ and
in front of you, yourself. Can you answere me:
Who is seeing who?

if you say yes, welcome to the gang
if you say no, welcome to the gang

You meet a very beautiful woman, she smiles
at you and you try to date her, and it happens
that she´s Mike Tysons girlfriend and just
happens that he´s there and didn´t like your
move towards his woman, what you are going
to say:

a) you where kidding, by the way, you´re gay

b) that you where playing some compliments to
beauty in general, just admiring her like a greek
statue, in a very platonic way...

c) try to break the record of Carl Lewis?

if you don´t know what to do
welcome to the gang
if you do know what to do
welcome to the gang

Imagine yourself in an huge round bed, satin
sheets and heart shaped pillows, surrounded
by a bunch of naked and voracious women
like Marilyn Monroe, Mae West, Madame Pom-
padour, Messalina, Nastassia Kinski and so on,
when you pinch your flesh, it´s time to wake up
or that thing will turn into a wet dream, and
than you find out that´s no dream at all, but
plain reality, do you know what to do?

if you say yes, welcome to the gang
if you say no, welcome to the gang
Hey Man
Stop this nonsense
stop this bullshit
just tell me

What this fucking gang is?

It´s the common people´s gang
mankind´s gang
just the gang
just the gang

the gang

José Roberto Aguilar

(José Roberto Aguilar is artist, poet and director of the Museum Casa das Rosas, in São Paulo)


There is no point in even trying to tell the story of how this project was carried out - all we can do is to express our gratitude to the many people who helped us and gave us the feeling that this was a truly collective undertaking and not just the product of an artist and a curator.

Special thanks to the following:
Emanoal Araujo and the staff of the Pinacoteca do Estado - Teresinha, Lourdes, Toninho, Pedro Paolo - the members of the Biennale staff - Kerstin, Carlo, Lilian, Paolo Mendes da Rocha and crew, Peter, Nelson Aguilar - Maria Izabel Branco Ribiero and her students at the FAAP - the builders - Kinoshita, Mauro and Silvio - Beto Ranieri - Fernando Branco - Davina - Ratinho, Roberto Carlos, Jorge Kodama - our friends Tally, Celso, Claudia, Shirly, Yussara and Eudes, Marcos and Chico, Teresa, Thomas, Darlene, Marco, Sergio, Marcelo Kahns, Paolo Herkenhoff, Gilson Mesquita, Monica and Key, Marcinho, Katia, Angelica, Marcelo Reginato, Victor Nosek, and Zelda - Mick Vincenz - the staff of the Balcao - Chico and Marcelo Sinergy Labtec

Sven Drühl, Peter Maria Baton, Birgit Koob, Fabian Weinecke, Herr and Frau Kittel, Rolf Kaiser, Frank Herzog, Herr Pung, Irmin Vincenz, Hugo Vincenz, Heide Heimpel, Peter Pfefferkorn, Martin Bochynek, Karl Lang, Li Hagman Schmalenbach, Sabine and Neil Carter, Christian Zbikowski, Jaime Stuart Granger, Daniel Fusban, Knut Wilhelm and Christina Barrosso, Christian C. Wolff, Edith Wolff, Marcelo Kahns, Paulo Herkenhoff, Gilson Mesquita, Claudia, Yussara and Eudes, Marcos e Chico, Ionit, Clara, Teresa, Darlene, Lourdes, Sergio, Mônica and Key, Marcinho, Katia, Angelica, Marcelo Reginato, Victor Nossek, Zelda, José, Paula, Fabienna, Luciana, Eduardo, Edu, André, Talita Miranda, Wilma and Peter Overlack, Bartho, Tatiane, Simone, Teresinha, Celso, Deni, Evy, Claudia Peroni, Clara, Carlita, Lela, Valerie, Guilherme Dieken, John Ormrod, Carla, Lilian, Pieter, Monica, Paulo Mendez da Rocha, Jara Kerstin, Martin, Pedro, Paulo, Lourdes, Toninho, Janiqui, Arne, Ivaou, Catherine, America, Lousa Strina, Len und Malou Berg, Sergio, Adjuisso, Jitto, Nara, Adimir, Paula Perissinotto, Eduardo Longo, Virginia, Veronica, Helio, Roberto, Marcia, Christina, Adriana, Kiko and Ana, Tati, Rai, Fatima, Renata, Thomas and Teresinha Schönhauer, André Correia de Mattos, Tatiane Oliveira Ferreira Santos, Miriam, Annette, Thomas Huber and Claudia Huber, José Pedro Habib', Isabella, Martha, Rosalie, Ana Paula, Vladimir, Marina, Ralf Assmann, Kim Esteves, Marco, Gitta, Donato, Sergio Ricardo Gobbi, Elaine, Francisco Luiz Piratininga, Ana, Fabiana, Beli, Carlo, Lilian, Pedro Paulo, Lara, Teresa, Sidney, Dori, Efigenia, Hélio, James Michel Granger, Claudia, Jelina Deuter, Christiane Wolff, all the people of Bremaphot Essen

Hugo Boss
Colorstudio 27
Instituto Goethe
Stiftung Kunst und Kultur des Landes NRW

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