CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Since the 1940s, Brazil has been called the “country of the future.” The tag has hung on for so long, it has generated another adage: “Brazil is the country of the future – and always will be.” This position perpetually on the cusp serves in part as the inspiration for “Blind Field,” an exhibition of contemporary Brazilian art opening at Krannert Art Museum on Jan. 25 (Friday).
The title is a term coined in the 1970s by Henri Lefebvre, a French sociologist and philosopher who used it to describe the ideological gap between socio-economic production modes (agriculture, industrial, and globalization) – a space that needed to be filled. The pieces in “Blind Field” instead freeze and examine transitional moments.
Included in the exhibition is “Campo Cego,” (Portuguese for Blind Field) – a 2008 photographic series by Cao Guimarães, working in collaboration with Carolina Cordeiro, focusing on rural road signs obscured by red dust. In the exhibition catalog, Tumelo Mosaka, the curator of contemporary art at the Krannert Art Museum, describes the photos in this series as “suspended between obsolete use and possible signification,” insisting on “the tangibility of opacity as significant in and of itself.”
Irene V. Small, the guest co-curator of the exhibition, explains a blind field as “a kind of double or inversion of ideology,” a rejection of “the illusion of transparency” and an embrace of “all that is elliptical, artificial, and opaque.” Small is a professor of art history and archaeology at Princeton University, and is writing a book about the innovative Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica.
The 20 emerging and mid-career artists whose work will be presented at Krannert Art Museum all live and work in Brazil, but this exhibition can’t be pigeonholed as “Brazilian” art. Through a variety of media – photography, video, installation and painting – the artists address global transitions in contemporary society.
In Rodrigo Matheus’ installation, “Work Station,” computer terminals display landscapes cribbed from video games while nearby audio speakers, disguised as rocks, emit “nature sounds,” suggesting that the digital images are models for, rather than facsimiles of, actual life. Héctor Zamora’s “Errant,” presented in digital photos, shows trees growing implausibly in pots suspended on steel cables over the Tamanduatei River, which once marked the city limits of São Paulo. With the city’s expansion, the river now flows between concrete banks through an intensely urban, virtually treeless setting.
The photographs in Carlos Mélo’s “Eve” series look at what appears to be an office or conference space on the night before a presentation. Chairs, microphones and flowers are positioned, ready for an unknowable event. In Lais Myrrha’s video “Not Yet,” test-pattern images – familiar to viewers who recall the flickers that appeared when an analog television was switched on or off – are extended to last more than a minute, celebrating an old artifact of potentiality.
Small and Mosaka will speak at a public reception on Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. at the museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign. “Blind Field” will be on display at Krannert through March 31, and will then travel to Michigan State University where it will open at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum on June 7.
The "Blind Field" exhibition was sponsored in part by Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs; Francis P. Rohlen Visiting Artists Fund/College of Fine and Applied Arts; Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies; College of Fine and Applied Arts Creative Research Award; Fox Development Corporation; Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; School of Art + Design Visitors Fund; Jerrold Ziff Distinguished Lecture on Modern Art Fund; Consulate General of Brazil in Chicago; and Krannert Art Museum.
Three other exhibitions open at Krannert Art Museum on Jan. 25:
“Counterpoints: Moshekwa Langa, In and Out of Africa” is the result of the museum’s invitation to Langa, a South African artist, to respond to the objects and broader interpretive framework of Krannert’s newly re-installed African gallery. Langa works fluently across a broad spectrum of media, using drawing, painting, video, photography, portraiture, collage and installation to challenge the conventional understanding of “African” art. He will present an Artist Talk on Feb. 21 at 5:30 p.m. at the museum. The exhibition runs through May 12.
“Jacob Lawrence: Toussaint L’Ouverture Series,” on loan from the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, is part of the U. of I.’s celebration of the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Lawrence began this series of 41 paintings in 1937, when he was 20 years old, depicting the life of L’Ouverture, the revolutionary leader who helped former slaves establish the republic of Haiti in 1804. The exhibition will close on April 28.
“Processing the Everyday” uses pieces from Krannert Art Museum’s vast permanent collection to explore how artists navigate the changing contexts and definitions of art in the era of mass media imagery. Curated by Kathryn Koca Polite, this exhibition features works by contemporary artists including William Anastasi, Sam Jury, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol. It will close on April 28.