Interview with Xico Chaves
by Zalinda Catarxo, 2013 (Xico Chaves, F10 Publisher)
Zalinda Cartaxo: Xico, your orbit (career) is marked by political actions. Do you consider such actions a vehicle for art or something different? Daniel Buren affirms that art is politics. What are your thoughts about that?
Xico Chaves: Before discovering the political universe, I already worked with poetry and inventions. During my adolescence, I discovered things that had already been discovered, like the destruction of lexical structure and rhyme. The fact that I discovered them encouraged me to go further, to keep on making experiments. Painting, art, and education, and the use of materials were an influence from my family; they were my first support to think politically. My first artworks dealt with political issues, due to social awareness about Brazilian social reality. I was not interested in making traditional pamphleteering politics. I thought it was too obvious to be able to express what I had to say, what I saw in the world or in the forms of language. Thus, still in this period, when I joined student politics, I already wrote song lyrics, and published my first experimental poems. I was only 15, but already thought political manifestations had to be done through language. When I wrote a pamphlet or a manifesto, I wrote them in the form of poems; if I had to make an illustration for an action, I made it more or less abstract.
Zalinda: After you discovered the political universe and started to connect it with aesthetics, did you change your way of thinking about art? Do you believe that artists have to act politically?
Xico: I thought like that from the start. Because of my works with language, I sought new ways of expression to modify standard traditional politics, in student politics. Hence my first performances appeared. They were not called “performances” at that time; they were creative actions raising the same questions of a conventional pamphlet. Then, instead of a pamphlet denouncing the dictatorship, I went to a street intersection and burned a particular object representing the dictatorship.
Zalinda: Was this political action and art for you?
Xico: It was political action and art.
Zalinda: When do you consider that you made your first artwork, in which year? Even as a student …
Xico: I think my first artwork were the poems published in a newspaper in 1967 and then in 1968 again. They were published in the central page, forming an image.
Zalinda: They were already visual poems …
Xico: Yes, they were already visual poems, because they combined visuality and text.
Zalinda: Your production is wide, involving poetry, music, visual art, theatre, carnival, radio, television, press, teaching, participation in cultural institutions, and research. Do you consider some of those practices more important than others in your career or in your process as an artist? How would you define yourself as an artist?
Xico: There is a simultaneity in my work. I never regarded any of these practices as better than the others. However, there are two aspects that I consider fundamental: visual arts and poetry. Both unfold into a series of other works, like music, carnival, even science, theatre, which I have also worked with, radio, as a system and vehicle for communication. All of them happen simultaneously, to the point I end up working on two, three, four things at the same time.
Zalinda: At that time, was this simultaneity of actions something complicated? The critics, the public, the people who were involved with art somehow, did they feel it was difficult to interact with artists who worked with several media?
Xico: I had difficulty with the public, because certain works, especially those considered more political, dealt with aspects that were taboo in society itself, particularly in the elites. Those were things crystallized in social behaviour. They disturbed because they interfered with established ways of thinking, transgressed absolute values that were imposed on us. This created many problems for me, and caused a few clashes, but, on the other hand, those clashes established a dynamics of thought that led me to re-propose and retake other proposals. They served as an encouragement more than repression.
Zalinda: Were you influenced by the 1950s or, especially, the 1960s generation, in relation to Concretism, Concrete poetry, after Neoconcretism? Do you consider yourself an heir or agent of that generation? What did Concretism mean to you? I think that, in you poetry, there is some kind of influence, but what about the rest?
Xico: Even having discovered those structures by myself, I cannot help considering that I was influenced, because later I went further, I became interested. I think a poet influenced me, at some point, maybe until this day, because what is in the origin is certainly in the consequences, in the development of this origin. The poet was Cassiano Ricardo, whom I consider a pre-Concretist. He wrote an interesting poem in 1951 which caught my attention towards this thing of written language forming figures or creating spiral shapes: “a espera esfera a espera a esfera a espera a esfera a espera esfera...” [“the waiting sphere waiting the sphere the waiting the sphere the waiting sphere...”] I only got to know the Concretist movement later, but I was interested in it; I was interested in the poetic forms of the experiments I came across.
Zalinda: And when you became aware of these experiments, this production, did it change anything?
Xico: I felt like going beyond those influences, to other forms. I thought: Cassiano Ricardo found this form, now I have to find another. I managed to do it and, at some point, I combined fragments and diluted those fragments to create another fragment.
Zalinda: Did you start to be more aware of your own work?
Xico: I felt that, as I discovered things, I believed more in the development of the work, in its unfolding, so to speak. In painting, initially, I was influenced by my aunt, who painted in oil, but in terms of education and materials it was my mother who influenced me. She was an art teacher who worked with several materials, creating schools around the country. I only became aware of these influences later on, when I started to paint with natural pigments, which are a kind of family heirloom, from my grandmother, a pioneer in education. Photography is also strongly present in my life, because of a great-uncle who also had this characteristic of being at the same time a photographer, band conductor, instrumentalist, musician, prospector, beekeeper, owner of a bakery, etc.
Zalinda: He was a humanist spirit.
Xico: He had a humanist and experimental spirit. From what I heard, he left more or less 4 thousand glass negatives and photographs, but almost everything has been broken. I saw him often when I was 4, 5, 6 years old. I lived in that kind of environment, with black and white movies, in a distant town, seeing a lot of effort from educators, for example, in finding materials, because conventional ones did not exist there. Making paint, for example, is something I saw since I was a child, because my grandmother’s and my mother’s students had no money to buy paint or paper, so they used corn husks and old rags.
Zalinda: Your education happened in this environment of experimentation and coincided with a decade very focussed on that too.
Xico: I loved music band rehearsals because it had no logic. I liked the rehearsals better than the concerts because the rehearsals were perhaps like an experimental music concert.
Zalinda: What aesthetic references do you consider essential in the development of your artistic production in your several fields of action? As you become aware of some of the things that are already being practiced and with which you have affinity, in each one of those areas, or perhaps just one of them... What were your references?
Xico: Until I joined the University of Brasília, a university with a revolutionary model in Brazil, I had random influences, like every teenager has. But I also had political influences, which formed the artistic productions of CPC [Centre for Popular Culture] of UNE [National Student Union], both in Brasília and Minas Gerais. I watched several theatre plays, like Morte e vida severina [Death and Life of Severina], with experimental stagings and stage settings; woodcut as a popular language, dealing with objective issues of Brazilian reality; the whole influence from Modernism that existed there. I kept on practicing, but without being aware that it might lead me to develop some artistic knowledge. So my education was multiple, very random, with no main interest. In literature in was the same thing: in my adolescence I read Kafka, Joyce, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Françoise Sagan, dirty books, of decrepit literature, like for example, cassandra Rios, comic books, lots of comic books, Zéfiro too, which were dirty comic books, that is, everything an adolescent, a young man reads …
Zalinda: Before starting your studies at the university of Brasília, where did you live?
Xico: I lived in several cities in Minas. My family moved a lot due to the educational work and also because my father was a federal clerk.
Zalinda: You got in contact with many cultures …
Xico: Many different cultures, even popular culture had a strong influence in my life. When I was born, the Folia de Reis was already knocking on my door. The Folia de Reis, congada, caterê, catira, objects made of simple materials like calabash and bird nests. I also saw the arrival of plastic materials almost at the same time. It was as if people lived in a suburb in Rio de Janeiro, which is undergoing a process, absorbing things from the countryside and, at the same time, were inside the city, inside the great urban mass. The same thing happened to me. I saw bossa nova emerging at the same time as rock ‘n’ roll. At the same time there were experiments with hybrid corn, there were also popular demonstrations that were part of that. And at the same time there was the introduction of smoked glass, Formica, Simca Chambord, The Beetle, the washing machine, the first divorces, the Brazilian development industry, the Juscelinistas, American industry in full swing, Coca-Cola introducing new products every day and absorbing other companies. There was also political passion, which was very strong in the older generations. My father and my grandparents had great, even radical political arguments, of hatred and approximation. All this resulted in a very dynamic soup.
Zalinda: Don’t you thing that the fact that you got to know very well the culture not only of the city, but also of the countryside, made things more clear politically in regard to class differences?
Xico: Absolutely, because I went a lot of poor areas in the suburbs, due to the educational activities of my family, and saw the poverty of the country. I saw paus-de-arara [poor people from the Brazilian northeast who usually migrates to southeastern Brazil traveling in unconfortable truck] arriving, covered with dust from head to toe, really thirsty, drinking water from any mug, any bowl. I saw them dragging their sandals on the hot asphalt, the poverty of old people and children. I saw Portinari, the real, not the painted one, but a Portinari in movement, the migrants, and so on. But I also saw the wealth of these people, while making kites, balloons and so many other things typical of the Brazilian folklore, the indians too, and the whole process of distortion and acculturation.
Zalinda: It is very clear, then, that this experience with common people, with practice, fostered a desire to create things, unlike when you are in town and buy them ready. Would you say that it is a kind of human formation very different from the city?
Xico: Yes, this helped me see the reality. I did not live in a world apart, in a middle class world. I lived urbanity and the world’s people, either in the suburbs or in the countryside.
Zalinda: In your work Meteoro cúbico poético [Meteor Poetic Cube], we can see clearly the combinations of languages we are talking about. It is a three-dimensional work, an object; but its essence is poetry. Opposed to its apparent materiality, the work is an ephemeral object, as it disintegrates at a certain temperature, isn’t it? The clash between materiality and immateriality or materiality and cosmology is recurrent in you work. Is it a theme pursued by you or something that came naturally during this process?
Xico: I have plenty to say about that, it will be a long answer. I will return to what I said before, that I experimented with poetic languages, discovered them and felt the need to go beyond them. It was the same thing with Meteoro cúbico poético [Meteor Poetic Cube], which appeared at a moment when my painting with natural pigments was practically consolidated. I had already had my first exhibition, developed a research and, in poetry, I had also kept making experiments. This is important: I never left traditional forms of poetry, at the same time as I made experiments. I kept them as exercises, even writing sonnets. I did not eliminate, I did not exclude as I was discovering; I included more and more elements, in a process of permanent inclusion. I saw that, for example, in the history of contemporary poetry, there was a break with rhymes and lexical structure, which appeared with the Futurist movement, and then Dadaism fragmented, tore up, threw words. All that was reorganized when Structuralism gave way to Constructivism. Soon after, I came in contact with the poem-process, in which all matter is poetry, that is, every support is also poetry and every language practically becomes poetry. I felt a huge need to do something that blended the cosmic way I have always regarded art, as something in permanent expansion, going in every direction at the same time, that is, without a centre, as if it was a sphere with infinite radius whose centre could be anywhere. The centre normally is where you are, or where you find it and, all of a sudden, you move in time and space and find the centre elsewhere. You abstract, become part of the periphery too, because you are in a whole and aware of being in a whole. Then I thought: To me, poetry too needs another moment. Since the works with minerals had already drawn their path – for I knew they would go out from the cosmic space, come to Earth and go further towards a discovery of the very universe where we live –, I fell the need to find something that represented that in poetry, that meant, at the same time, permanence and ephemerality. So this work, Meteoro cúbico poético [Meteor Poetic Cube], is a synthesis. I was writing a lot at that time, I painted and wrote at the same time, almost obsessively, and also worked on television, founded a carnival group, and wrote lyrics. It was everything at the same time, all there, very concentrated. Then I thought: what can I do with so many new poems? I look into my works with minerals which are solid, I saw they represented material weight because they are basically iron ore, and realized I had to do something that pulverized, that was dust, that became dust, that rejected fragmentation or simply organization of fragments or specific languages, like, in a certain way, poetry-process, and created an object that helped to understand this ephemerality, this permanence and this presence in the world. Then I decided to make a cube with polyurethane foam, knowing that polyurethane evaporates, disappears at seventy degrees. I took all my new poems, around one thousand, and read them aloud one by one, for the last time on the balcony of my apartment. Another important thing in order to understand this work is global warming. If the temperature of the Earth reaches seventy degrees centigrade, the work will vanish, and there will be nobody left to see it, because at seventy degrees humanity will have already disappeared.
Zalinda: Is there any version or copy left?
Xico: No, not from those poems, I had to burn them. I lit the fire, read them for the last time and burned them one by one, throwing them inside a container. Then I took the ashes and put them inside the cube, closed it hermetically and painted it with minerals so that it seemed to be heavy. However, when you lift it, it gives the impression of “ah!”, a scare, like when you pass in front of a mirror without knowing there is a mirror there, when you go down the stairs expecting a tread where there is none. That cube has a surprise element.
Zalinda: In what decade did you make this work?
Xico: In the 1980s; probably 1986.
Zalinda: Were you aware that you were making conceptual art?
Xico: I was perfectly aware that the work was that...
Zalinda: Were you following the experiments, mainly outside Brazil, of dematerialization of art?
Xico: I already worked at Funarte, where I always worked in several departments at the same time, so I started to follow the developments of conceptual art. But I was sure that the work was conceptual, that poetry needed a moment like that, especially due to the fact that it evaporated, that an object disappeared, since the poem had been pulverized. For me it represented an edition, as if I were editing a book through its carbonization. From then on it would only exist in my unconscious.
Zalinda: You do not think this need to pulverize a thousand poems, combine, dissolve, etc., is an intuition that what remained, actually, was the essence of those poems, which would not need to be verbalized or written, since they existed, they were concentrated in there. You were literally working on the essence, giving up the formal aspects.
Xico: It was the essence of poetry that was there. It was there because after all I had read the poems one last time, I mean, they were in my memory.
Zalinda: Did you already do performances then?
Xico: I had already done many performances at the time of the student movement.
Zalinda: Because this work (Meteoro cúbico poético / Meteor poetic cube) also has a performative element, which is not visible, but it is part of it.
Xico: It is part of it and it touches another aspect: a performance done for oneself. At some point I said that an artwork does not need an audience, because it already exists by itself.
Zalinda: That is, it is in a state of immanence. There is something in it, we can relate to it, but we will never experience it.
Xico: It has a meaning that is subjected to various different interpretations at the same time. It is in cosmic space, that is, we are a tiny dot, in outer space, let alone a box of incinerated poetry which will disappear …
Zalinda: Especially because it is matter.
Xico: Yes, although it apparently does not look like it, it is fragile matter that will disappear at seventy degrees. I will not exist either, so there would be no public anymore. That is, if this is the issue, there is no longer public, or anything, it exists by itself. Later, with the need to go beyond this work, let’s say, pulverization, meteorization, there was another work I call Poesia volátil [Volatile Poetry], where things evaporate, where the text evaporates and words too, like an improvisation.
Zalinda: From what decade is that work?
Xico: It is from 1992, and the title is Evaporarte. Instead of pulverizing, which is still matter, evaporarte [evaporart] left no permanent matter: matter evaporated at the moment it was created.
Zalinda: That is, you reached the limit of the event, what remained has gone...
Xico: It is performative, totally performative.
Zalinda: In recent decades, we see artists moving from one field to the other, that is, musicians experimenting with visual arts, filmmakers with music, actors with literature, etc. Today it is considered that the ideal artist is someone who experiments in several fields, without restricting themselves to one specific area of knowledge, that is, “I am an artist and I can experiment with all media.” Today there is a generation that gives up the mastery of a specific knowledge, for considering that everything is experimentation, so they are not able to reach any conclusion at all... What do you think of experimentation today, after four decades?
Xico: I think it is of paramount importance, because I do not see it as experimentation any longer. Once you materialize a work, it is not an experiment anymore. As you practice with a certain language, you transform it into an object or an action. At that point, it ceases to be an experiment and starts to exist; it is a genesis. Now, whether it has many origins is another question, because there are many origins but only one genesis.
Zalinda: If we consider, roughly, that the poetics of contemporary art is based on the experience of the being in the world, perhaps this need of the artist to experiment and to offer to the public this experiment is the result from the will to be well regarded and interact with them... Is this related to the cosmological aspects of your work?
Xico: It is, because I think everything is related to everything. However, tin poetry I also “experiment”with improvisation. Improvisation is important, because it can also be found in performance.
Zalinda: And also in painting...
Xico: But improvisation has to have some knowledge behind, a preparation, integrity, it is not something established superficially, it requires knowledge and practice. Of course an extemporary speaker has the gift to make perfect combinations, in accordance with metrics, rhyme, etc., but this does not mean that I have to work with metrics. I can destroy metrics and, in visual arts, destroy logic. When one works on a painting, for example, it can result in a series of other objects, even with the same materials, that I classify as interpolated objects, because they are in between two things; but if you look closer, they are intrinsically connected, related.
Zalinda: In addition to your political, aesthetic and conceptual actions, you have developed a long research with minerals, as we discussed earlier. Unlike some of your works in which the conceptual factor prevails, in these experimental works the material, paradoxically, suggests quasi-cosmological and immaterial images. How did you become interested, not in the topic you talked about earlier; how did you become interested in those substances? Does it have anything to do with your childhood?
Xico: I guess it has to do with my childhood; I usually went to iron mines and saw dust in the air. It also has to do with the fact that my family used materials. Until a certain point, before I started to paint with minerals and to use those materials, I thought they were part of a way of teaching, where I saw them being used. I realized that suddenly they had taken over, filling the whole wall where I previously had many of my older paintings. I had never exhibited any paintings, because there were abstractions, landscapes, images, even figurative ones. I made them out of dilettantism, perhaps. When I started to go further with those experiments, for conceptual reasons, I realized that light is colour and matter, and that reflection, refraction and diffraction reproduce the outside world, since they translate this world into light and colour, so a luminous dot can contain all possible colours and images.
Zalinda: Did the minerals bring you to that?
Xico: Yes, they did, because the first works... The story is very long; but it goes like this: at first I painted with pure coal from the burnt cerrado of Brasília (Cerrado is a typical vegetation of Brazil’s middle-western) and, during a trip, after the death of my mother, I took from the ground a shiny stone called specularite. When I cleaned my hands on a coal painting, which I called “invisible painting,” galaxies took shape and as I looked at it from different angles, each of those dots changed colour, because the angle of refraction changed and diffraction too. Each dot was a hole through which I would penetrate another world behind it, a world of light, luminosity, and colour. But it was another kind of colour different from paints; it was a physical colour, it was not chemical. So, every time I get inside there, I come back, as if I had entered this cosmic space and come back to know where I came from. That is, towards earth to find in it the elements that were part of my everyday life. The minerals, due to their energetic, material, spiritual, and associative strength, seduced me to the point of making me return to the iron mines and see that that universe was very large and that I could perhaps find there the origins of everything I was looking for, of being at the same time in the world, on the surface of the Earth and in cosmic space.
Zalinda: Your works are, in a way, a metaphor of this larger universe, a possibility for experimenting with it, right?
Xico: Yes, especially when I start to research. Then I continued and applied for a scholarship from CNPq...
Zalinda: Did anything change when you started to research?
Xico: Yes, because I started to do scientific research on the behaviour of matter, for example.
Zalinda: So everything is done consciously, without relying on chance.
Xico: No. I use raw material without refining it, I think raw material has the energy I need for my work. It is not manipulated with the intention to purify it; it does not go through any industrial process. The only industrial product I use is acrylic resin and other resins to aggregate this material and make paint or media for applications, because it crystallizes on other supports, not only on canvas; it can be applied on any support, even on the body or in the air. When in the air, it glistens, in the daylight, each fragment is like a micro-mirror reflecting a tiny portion of the world. There are silky, reflective, and opaque materials with different properties. If you look at it under a microscope, other associations can be made. So the research with minerals, in addition to taking me to places where they can be found, reveals the rough way they interact with nature, its malleability, toxicity, versatility, among other discoveries. Iron ore was the material that intrigued me most, because it is found in most meteorites that fall to Earth: 80%, 90% of them have iron and nickel. Iron ore produces red, ochre, yellow, purple, and so on. It is hematite, our red blood cells, the red colour of our blood. Iron gives us life, it is universal. With it, I really think I am flying in space. We are made of the same stuff as the universe, after all.
Zalinda: Have you studied the properties of meteorites?
Xico: I already licked a meteorite.
Zalinda: Have you used any meteorite in one of your works?
Xico: I call many of my works meteorites.
Zalinda: Have worked with meteorites as a material?
Xico: No, because I would feel very sorry for having to pulverize or to steal a meteorite from Quinta da Boa Vista.
Zalinda: Have you ever thought that your works on those surfaces make explicit the reciprocal relationship between the physical world, in which we live, and the nonphysical one?
Xico: No doubt. When I talk about light reflection, I am already talking about reflection itself, of thoughts.
Zalinda: Do you relate your work with a concept of space that belongs only to knowledge?
Xico: Space is only in our knowledge and produces more and more associations. It is a if it was in another issue we discussed, of being in an infinite world, of infinite relations. But this does not take me away from the everyday, because I think the everyday is part of all that, of ordinary, mundane, profane relationships, in relation to religiosity itself. What sometimes, leads one to something mythical, and if one are not careful enough one remains in that universe. One has be in one’s own reality too.
Zalinda: In painting, specifically, the fact that you choose the most essential material – historically, minerals are the basis for pigments – ends up bringing conceptual complexities, a kind of critical discussion about painting as a medium. What are the issues permeating the development of your painting? When you paint, are you dealing with the issue of painting as a medium?
Xico: No, I deal with the painting itself, and not only with painting, I deal with how to cook a fish that is there, defrosting, that is...
Zalinda: Again, the concept of orbit. Everything goes together...
Xico: Everything happens there, but in relation to painting itself. To some extent, I am a “destructuralist,” because I think a lot while I am painting, I observe the material settling, forming bubbles, producing certain gases, melting on the surface, consolidating in order to crystallize. Those are physical phenomena that occur and in which one sees how the material behaves which one’s spirit is following. You want it to dry, and your wish impregnates the material. You feel like a kind of geographic agent; I wouldn’t say a God, because human beings at best become a “Carió,” as some ethnic groups from northern Pará call the people who get close to that. They will not get there, but they feel they are at the last stage, that they can transform nature. They are geographic agents, almost an alchemist. These states influence you personally, philosophically, make you think …
Zalinda: It is not something just palpable.
Xico: No, you think about everyday things, because we live simultaneously at different times. I am talking to you here while I see that material drying there in my studio. I also see that at Funarte there is a committee gathered to select projects. It’s all happening simultaneously, depending on a connection to be created with these issues at some point, at a specific second, whose moment unfolds towards the infinite. So, when you work with matter, you do not work purely with the material being manipulated, you work with matter and materials. Matter is the subject, materials are the things forming that subject; so there is a difference between matter and materiality, material and matter.
Zalinda: You made me remember your recent paintings, Marès [Tides], which, in turn, remind me of Leonardo’s paintings, his desire to depict nature, its functioning... Your work Marès [Tides] is literally this, except nature manifests itself literally, it is not depicted. It is inside the painting, inside the medium, the medium became nature. Do you consider these last paintings – whose technique, that you will explain better later, consists of exposing them to the weather, to the sea, etc. – go beyond the field of representation, in spite of paradoxically representing the ocean and nature?
Xico: I painted Marès [Tides] outdoors. They are works that propose a reflection on the observation of the ocean, of the cosmic space of the desert. Disparate environments, but able to move matter away, a reason for existence. When you paint, you use your head, your body, your own thoughts. So, when you are immersed in a certain universe, in a theme, you have to be steeped in that theme, you incorporate all that and, due to the fact that you incorporate that and due to the knowledge you have about the development of the material used as a form, as a medium for self-expression, it ends up incorporating that world. My dark canvases are the night, because I fish at night; I spend hours and hours watching the ocean wetting my feet. I see the ocean, I see the fishing line going into the the water, the dark skyline far away, and the tides, the white waves, near the shore. This gets into you, after so many years fishing …
Zalinda: There is a paradox in those paintings. There is an element of chance, which is nature with its movement, but there is an intellectual mastery of the work on because of the total awareness of what can happen.
Xico: I was avoiding to represent nature as it is, because I am not interested in that. My interest is materiality, not representation. However, these marès [Tides] also look like deserts, because the deserts of the ocean are called marès, they are landscapes but when you look closely they cease to be landscapes, they become abstract, you see the porous material, reflections, and accidents.
Zalinda: What about layers, do they give the work its whole time dimension?
Xico: This is matter of mastering verticality in the creation, because one thing is to work horizontally, on the surface, on the support; another thing is to work with depth, which I would call verticality: you enter, so the layers are actually all backgrounds. As you add another plane, no matter how delicate, heavy, coarse, or dense, it represents a background, it is a background and consequently a plane. So it is as if you had several planes pointing towards infinity. You see that infinity returns, that the skyline is the perspective of infinity.
Zalinda: Yes, it its the best way for you to represent nature, because it is itself made of layers. We were talking of rocks, of the layers that are also a representation of time, of a time period. Nature is formed by layers.
Xico: In a layer of five centimetres one can find today many millennia, depending on the geographic location, excavations, or erosion. Those periods that I call series, form a narrative. I need this narrative to avoid being dispersed within simultaneity. The poems too. They refer a lot to the cosmos, and sometimes they are jokes, like my objetos intercalares [interpolated objects]. Some of them are real jokes: a fossilized mobile phone, a little doll on a turtle. Things that happen over and over in everyday life: plastic things, urban objects and waste, which are also matter and material.
Zalinda: Your work Bólido espacial [Spatial Bolide] is based on materiality, organicity and technology, to the extent that there is a kind of lens resembling an almost spacial shape, a meteorite. At the same time it is palpable matter, it has an organicity which causes strangeness and distance by seeming to suggest it is not something that refers to nature, as if it had fallen from space, a kind of meteorite. There seems to be a general interest in your work in the clash between materiality and cosmology. Do you see any link between this subject and your interest in the study of myths?
Xico: Yes, because I think myths are connected to the past; near, distant and future past: the past-present-future.
Zalinda: Time as a dynamics, which we still do not know very well.
Xico: Exactly. I will use a term that is not appropriate: intuition, or the near-confirmation that there are other forms of life in the world, in outer space; it makes me think there is an archeology of cosmic space; of other lives, of other beings …
Zalinda: It is not exactly intuition, it is knowledge. Science offers elements that contribute to our understanding of where we can go and that there is a cosmic reality.
Xico: There is, but this question is a very difficult one to be objective about, because one needs another way of thinking, perhaps another dimension, but it is possible to see that this kind of archaeology exists, that we are not the only producers of waste, objects and other beings... In the same way we produce waste, it came from beings that... this waste was part of machines, appliances, UFOs, objects.
Zalinda: Inside this alleged meteorite you have built with a lens, there seems to be an interiority, a content.
Xico: These objects always have something within, sometimes hidden, that no one can see.
Zalinda: But the suggestion of content is necessary.
Xico: There is a suggestion of content, that inside there is information or a material carrying this information: “Look, this information exists, this exists, however, you cannot decipher or decode this information yet, but it does exist.” Perhaps you would need some form of knowledge before having access to this information.
Zalinda: It is about myths, which reconcile stories and metaphysics, simultaneously, indigenous culture, etc.
Xico: Mythology is more obvious in some of my poems, because I study, not professionally though, this question of Brazilian mythology, for example, indigenous. It is in our background in a very strong way, we are totally infused with this history and tradition, which we have lost and forgotten over time. A symbol which appears in a painting, is a universal, cosmic symbol and, at the same time, a mythic symbol of an extinct civilization. So this possibility that it accesses many places at the same time is the proof to me that it is part, an inherent part, of perception and its way of living and relating to the world, communicating with it.
Zalinda: Does your concept of orbit encompass all that, including the many dimensions of time?
Xico: Exactly. For example, the work I am developing now and which I have always wanted to develop is a bit rupestrian, but I thought that I was making a mockery of something rupestrian, a fake rupestrian work. Now I have found a form thanks to Pajé Sapain Walatitu, who went to my studio this weekend, he looked at the work with all his simplicity and said: “This is a headdress, this is a canoe, that is the moon and that is a house.” Understand? It was nothing like I imagined it was: a spaceship approaching, a clock. It was all that he said, I realized: a house, a headdress, the moon.
Zalinda: Is this a recurrent subject in your work, the natural emergence of figuration?
Xico: They seem like figures, but I wonder why they emerge. When I painted in iron mines, while working on the Limites [Limits] series, I tried to incorporate the surface of the ground, as if it was a skin on the floor, and oddly enough you see people in those works, that is, they include people. This can happen.
Zalinda: Does the unconscious also appear by chance?
Xico: I think it does, I think I get so much into the painting that I feel thrilled, totally alive. When I was working on this series, there were people around me; there was a photographer who documented the process and a female videographer, naked, filming. I was really painting, without feeling distracted, I wanted to reach that concept of mine, of the floor being also a canvas, and I felt detached from my surroundings, not really paying attention to the presence of a naked woman, for example. However, she is part of the painting, I mean, her body is practically there. There was no distraction, one thing did not take my attention from another, both formed the same content.
Zalinda: Your poems have a visual quality. They are visual poems that sometimes form images referring to nature, fishes, people, and sometimes abstract shapes. Why do you feel this need to combine poetry and images?
Xico: Besides the work, let’s say of writing, which consists of poems going from cordel to sonnets, there are also visual poems, with images, words, or both at the same time. There are also poem-objects that belong to a level in-between, that is, between two things, emerging in-between creative processes, whatever they may be. As I said earlier, this is because I have two main references. Sometimes words are inexistent or there is only one word inside an object, a mass, mortar, or a meteorite. The word can be unreadable, cut in half, sometimes half burned, or totally burned, as is the case with Meteoro cúbico poético [Meteor Poetic Cube]. There are other works in which a whole page was incinerated, burned to ashes, but it is inside an object, inside a lamp, for example. So the words, anyway, are also an object. They are an object, a subject, a topic included in a certain form, in another materiality, another interpretation or many interpretations. Because I can interpret things in some way, but someone else will do it otherwise.
Zalinda: Would it be a desire to multiply the ways in which the work can be interpreted?
Xico: It is, to expand its field of significance and reach a wider universe of signs to be interpreted.
Zalinda: You also combine words and poetry in Carnival songs. Do your carnival activities have any political connotation? Do you think they are a vehicle that can provoke a kind of social activation through music and lyrics? Or, rather, when you compose carnival songs, do they work as something independent, or only when there is a group, a kind of collective body, participating?
Xico: Whether it is a march, a samba, a frevo, it is an aspect of the creative process. Now, in the case of Carnival, it is part of a much larger and complex event, which is at the same time political protest and expression of total freedom, whatever it may be: physical, visual, representation, performance. It is part of a context, because one thing is part of the other. I cannot regard Carnival as something isolated, for example. Perhaps to avoid being criticised, the elites or the powers that be consider Carnival a festival of flesh, an orgy, annulling its critical potential. Many times in history, Carnival was repressed, discriminated and even prohibited. The military dictatorship, for instance, put an end to street carnival. Obviously, the military would never let a public art form, such as carnival, express itself in a satirical way; after all, they would be the ideal target. This also happened in other periods. Getúlio Vargas established a theme for the carnival parade that was nationalist and patriotic in character, speaking about the great achievements of the motherland. I think that this way of seeing carnival as something profane, orgastic, superficial and alienated is way to change its content, which is highly free and satirical. Everyone can exercise their critical view on the system, society, conventional behaviours, family, property, and the State.
Zalinda: Would carnival then be a vehicle for activating the link between art and politics?
Xico: Yes. I am part of a “generation” in quotes, because I think that we have no generation, we are generators. Decades ago we organized political demonstrations against the dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s; now, we organize carnival groups. I mean, and I think this is evident, carnival is a possibility for transgression and free expression that makes it possible to denounce a series of issues that the ones in power would not like very much. The hidden forces still exist, although they are now evident. So, carnival is at the same time performance, political demonstration, allegory and joy; just take the “o” from alegoria and you have alegria [allegory / joy] But carnival is also dramatic, sad, it also works with sorrowful symbols, it represents the desires and fantasies of all participants. Carnival is not created by a generation, and this is clear when the groups are leaving, when you see children in strollers, mothers, fathers, cousins, aunts, grandmothers. Carnival is also a family celebration, a complete form of public art which belongs to everybody.
Zalinda: Miwon Kwon talks about a concept of site-specific work, that he calls site-oriented work, in which the work is precisely the activation or comment of a local culture. In that aspect, are you developing a kind of site-specific artwork through your work with carnival?
Xico: Yes. But carnival is more comprehensive than the the expression of a local culture. It is a universal manifestation, because it has very primitive origins. If you dig deeper, especially in Brazil, you will realize that here carnival is so strong because Brazil is the country of diversity, multiplicity, with an absolutely fantastic history, with several aspects and contents. So carnival is the ideal space for the development of a free manifestation.
Zalinda: When you compose a carnival song, does its completion depend on popular performance?
Xico: No. The lyrics can either be previously written, written on the spot or even later.
Zalinda: But, as an artwork, when does get to its final result? When it is being performed on the streets, in real life?
Xico: When it is being sung, when it is given to people and they can relate to it. Because sometimes people cannot relate to a song. That is why there are carnival songs and artistic expressions that become popular, that last forever. Because they have achieved a higher degree of identification. All of them are social chronicles of a certain time in history. If you analyse all manifestations, like carnival marches, sambas and frevos, you will see there are some that are timeless. They talk about one version of a time period and represent that collective unconscious that manifests itself, where each one has their own right. I mean, there is a difference between pure manifestation and representation, where representation and manifestation in carnival are practically the same thing, but there is a moment of representation there, when you, for example, is going to take a picture and a person remains still, posing. When you come out of that trance of stopping the film, stopping an image, you come out of that moment and back into revelry, performance, connecting people. I mean, performances happen by themselves. When a carnival group is on the street it becomes anarchic but totally organized in a way. It’s amazing how it becomes harmonized and each one, with their own individuality, forms a collective. This is fantastic, the group becomes homogeneous, in spite of individual appearances. It’s crazy.
Zalinda: In a way, it is a contemporary ritual.
Xico: It is a contemporary and very important ritual in this sense of freedom of expression.
Zalinda: How would you define your production in the last forty years?
Xico: I think I am starting over every day. I am in orbit, always, in one or several orbits at the same time, and I am starting everything over, with no arrogance, without regarding myself as someone who can change society. I think that, as an artist, I am contributing to change society, Everybody has a culture, their own history, a way of being, but art is inherent in people who intervene in society, who are aware that they are intervening or even intervening without being aware; acting in the field of absolute freedom of expression.