The skin as witness of a history common to everyone

Paulo Reis, Lisbon, September 2006


I want to stay on your body

Like a tattoo / So I can encourage you / to voyage along / when the night comes…[1]

Tatuagem (Tattoo), Chico Buarque



When we empathize with someone, or are madly in love, we say that it is “a skin thing”. This statement holds more significances than existence itself shows, for it is only in death that the body is separated from the spirit and taking with it the memories it had imprinted. The skin as a synonym of body – and of soul – has produced works of great significance for the history of recent arte, besides becoming symbol and space of life and death, as well as a metaphor for self-knowledge. In actions previous to the birth of Body Art, Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni used the skin as a space for creation. Klein created his Anthropometries, paintings that resulted from actions in which he covered with blue ink the body of the models. Manzoni, in his Living Sculptures, wrote a certificate of authenticity on the skin of whoever wanted to become a work of art.


On the end of the 1960s, the artists regarded body as a place and means of true artistic expression, taking in account everything that had been done until that moment. The spirit of time (zeitgeist) of the 60s was the practice of body as art (Body Art). A whole generation of artists, such as Robert Morris, Hélio Oiticica, Alberto Carneiro, Jannis Kounnelis, among others, took up as a rule not to separate art and life, transforming the body into a physical support for art. By means of performances, happenings, actions, living sculptures, objects, these artists proposed limit situations between animal and human, sensual and stoic, heroic and banal. In the USA, Dennis Oppenheim lies in the sun, bearing na open book on his chest, exposing himself to a second degree burn (Reading position for second degree burn), that leaves on the skin the area protected by the book. Vito Acconti shuts himself off in a tiny space on a gallery where he masturbates for eight hours (Seed bed). Bruce Naumann models parts of his body, modifying its shapes by pulling, stretching or compressing the mouth, arm, leg or paints his skins with several colour tones (From Hand to MounthPulling mouth e Art Make-up); Chris Burden would not avoid aggressions to his own body with shots and electroshocks (Shoot Prelude to 220 or 110, 1976), among other actions. And Hanna Wilke and Carolee Schneemann also promoted actions on their own bodies, akin to feminine rituals of primitive societies.


In Europe, Hermann Nitsch, Günter Brus, Otto Muehl e Rudolf Schwarzkogler (Wiener Aktionsgruppe) used relentlessly their own bodies, degrading them, aging them, torturing them almost to death; Gina Pane, Valie Export, Peter Weibel, Michel Journiac, Urs Lüthi e Gilbert & George promoted actions in which the body was always exposed to ordeals close to torture. In Brasil, Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark e Lygia Pape searched unique corporeal experiences. Hélio in his Parangolés blends the hedonism of the hills of Rio with the constructivism of Piet Mondrian; Lygia Pape with Ovos (Eggs) and Divisor provided an organic body to art in opposition to the extreme intelectualism of the conceptual artists and Lygia Clark researched the limits of the sensations of the body, of the skin, in Nostalgia do corpo(Longing for the Body), actions made with organic materials as seeds, water, clay, honey, etc….


After thirty years, the art of the body still finds echoes on the art of the present. A whole generation of artists still proposes the creation of objects whose function is to mobilize the senses of the body towards self-knowledge, as Isaque Pinheiro e Rute Rosas. They research the limits of sensation, of knowledge, of a priori form, Estes investigam os limites da sensação, do conhecimento, da forma a priori, creating Works in diferent médium such as sculptures, objects, performances, vídeos, photographs, having the skin as witness of their stories and aesthetical search. It is not by chance that Pele de Embrulho (Wrapping Skin), a co-authorship work, opens the exhibition entitled Água de ColôniaPele de Embrulho is a set of five photographs taken in five different moments of a homonymous sculpture, made of leather, lamb’s fur, silve rand stainless steel. On this photographic sequence of Pele de Embrulho, the artists present five different movements of the sculpture. (…)


Rute Rosas presents Mala que voa Mala do meu corpo…(Flying suitcase  Suitcase of my body), a piece in which the artist operates a blending of references, as in Duchamp’s Boite en valise, or Louise Bourgeois’ bodily mould-sculptures. In this portable museum, the artist carries a navel, the lips with the shape of a kiss, a finger, a nipple. According to the artist, this suitcase is a treasure, a “body” that carries fragments of her own body. They are «fragments/compartments – other fragmented bodies – that hold within the little treasures of me, gifts of a woman: fragments to share. Each of them is unique in the way it is made, in the process, in the sense, in the symbolism they acquire. They are a woman’s donations: they are thimbles of seamstresses, navels of mothers, mouths that kiss and nourish, nipples that nourish and are kissed, sucked and licked for mutual pleasure, little fingers that button up their lover’s shirt»[2].


Her second piece is a video, Talvez eu seja daqui… (Perhaps I am from here), made in Rio de Janeiro, where the artist goes through an aesthetical baptism. This video, as well as the bathing, expresses the sense of identity and communion that she keeps with Brazil. «The “mythical, anthropophagic Brazil”, evoked as a common and paradoxical patrimony»[3]. In this work, Rute Rosas shows her naked body on a deserted beach of Rio de Janeiro. This body still primitive, non christianized, receives its baptism – this one, symbolic – adding to the aesthetic content. «“Talvez eu seja daqui” may be taken as an evocation of the Brazilian neoconcret avant-garde, indicating the importance of the anthropophagical reference on the artistic work of Rute Rosas, namely through the work of Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark e Lygia Pape, with whom she shares the multisensory and participatory intent»[4]. As a complement to “Talvez eu seja daqui”, the artist presents the piece Baptismo/viagem/nostalgia (Baptism/voyage/nostalgia), a piece that includes sound, composed by a shower device, surrounded by curtains where images of yoga are displayed.


Pele de embrulho (Wrapping skin), wrapping paper, is a signed multiple, on the form of wall or wrapping paper, depending on each user, in which the artist reminds the act of donating. «For the artist, giving a gift to someone is symbolically hugging that person. The act of wrapping/protecting the present is in itself an embrace. The constant transit between the affective dimension (hugging) and the functional dimension (the wrapping paper) places the artist’s intervention, has we have said, within a plane that tries to short-circuit the way in which we conventionally separate the spheres of love and of work, of pleasure and of productivity…  The artist seems to indicate the space of affection as a vital space for levelling the contradictions that pace the rhythm of our actions. Hence, it is through small gestures and small pleasures that positive alternatives to what seems to us like inevitably fatally determined are built.  And it is by welcoming and confronting with every kind of event (…),that we are better prepared to value the simplicity and energy of the moments of happiness from which we are so irrationally astrayed»[5]Pele de embrulho na TV shop (Wrapping paper on TVshop), a video-performance, Works as a model of presentation and diffusion of Pele de embrulho, teaching us show to wrap and unwrap gifts.


The interest on the use of body practices, be it sculptures, vídeo, photography or performance, makes the work of Isaque Pinheiro and Rute Rosas a reflection on the present artistic practices, in which the essential is the communion between art and life, having the skin as witness of a history common to everyone.


Paulo Reis

Lisbon, September of 2006




[1]Quero ficar no seu corpo feito tatuagem /que é para te dar coragem / para seguir viagem / quando a noite vem...Tatuagem , Chico Buarque


[2] In interview at the artist’s place, September 2006.

[3] Suzana Vaz, in Íman – Talvez eu seja daqui. Rute Rosas, Casa das Artes, Famalicão, Abril/Maio 2005.

[4] Idem.

[5] Miguel von Hafe Pérez, in Da afectividade enquanto processo, Setembro de 2005.