23 May 2022
By Laura Vallés Vílchez
‘Brazil, o país do futuro’ (‘Brazil, land of the future’), perhaps unavoidably, was an epithet that arose early in my conversation with Delfina Foundation artist-in-residence Talles Lopes on a sunny Friday morning in London.
I met Talles in the foundation’s library and being surrounded by bookshelves our conversation quickly arrived at something we had in common: making books. A recent graduate of architecture from Goias State University, in his artistic practice Talles engages with archival materials (documents, photographs, maps and artefacts), as well as expositions and other modes of presentation, through which an official version of visual history is built. Talles’s work immediately brought to mind the book by acclaimed Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, Brazil, Land of the Future (1941). Driven into exile by the rise of the Nazis (with his books at first denounced, then later banned), Zweig spent several years in England and then, in 1940, emigrated to Brazil, where enchanted by the country he wrote this influential and laudatory text shortly before taking his life the following year.
As the second world war was wreaking devastation across Europe and beyond, Zweig once said that one of his motivation for writing this book was that Brazil’s only desire was for “pacific development”, and in which, Zweig believed, lay the “greatest hopes for future civilization and piece in our world, which has been destroyed by hatred and madness”. Zweig’s search for a better world led him to situate construction in the centre of his discourse, because “Brazil builds”, as Talles’s own 2018 publication of the same name illuminates: Construção Brasileira: Arquitetura moderna e antiga. In his pages however, Talles seeks to reinvent iconic references of Brazil’s construction in the collective imagination: mixing official history with other stories, and suspicious of the relations between modern architecture and the remnants of colonialism.
Talles’s publication in turn takes its title, Brazil Builds, from a seminal 1943 MoMA exhibition and catalogue, which presented a survey of Brazilian architecture from 1652 to 1942. In performing such an act of appropriation, the book mimics its subject, which, following an introduction to the iconic column of the Alvorada Palace (designed by Brazil’s preeminent modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer in the 1950s), documents examples of how this column has been constantly replicated, distorted, reproduced, and domesticated in the country’s popular culture and vernacular construction ever since – imbuing these symbols with new meanings and narratives.
In addition to this book, Talles’s five-year research into Brazil’s modernist project has also produced a number of installation works by the artist. These includes an untitled work he presented as part of the 2019 exhibition Vaivém (To-and-fro), which laid a replica of the Alvoreda Palace column on a touristic hammock, and Monumental Surplus (2020), which reproduces five of these columns in real scale, but plays with their assumed weight and materials.
Moreover, Talles’s fundamental interest in the ways in which visual narratives are produced, recently led him to take up a residency at El Despacho studio in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands, just prior to his coming to London. There, he explored how historically standardised and replicated stories about the new world were reproduced and updated in different parts of the world. At the end of his residency Talles presented Ni siquiera he ido a Río (I haven’t even been to Rio) (2021) around the tourism industry’s fabrication of stereotypes of tropicality, a phenomenon common to Brazil and the Canary Islands.
Indeed, there is comfort in repetition because it takes us closer to our senses. This is another epithet to which my conversation at Delfina subscribed. From Benjamin to Warburg, the mimetic faculty that emerges from bodily experiences, and that is strengthened in childhood through play and other activities, is often used to explain the ability to establish emotional bonds. Affect is what emanates from ‘affection’, which is ultimately a perception or a representation. In my eyes mimesis – but also repetition, reproduction, recreation, appropriation and, certainly, editing – ultimately leads to multiple manifestations, not of the same, but of the negotiation, collection, and capacities of circulation. Circulation and affection towards the discourses and symbols that critically shape and challenge the geography from which Brazil has historically drawn emanated from our session.
Eighty years after the MoMA’s landmark exhibition, the subject of Brazil’s modernist architectural legacy is still ripe for investigation and one which Talles takes on in his practice with a playful, somewhat rebellious touch. After all, Talles roots us back into a possible future. His approach to the subject matter reveals an ethical generative territory of differences under the shadow of regimes of representation and representability, shedding light on the affective capacities of inheritance and of a history yet to come.
– Laura Vallés Vílchez is an in(ter)dependent curator, visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art and director at Concreta publishing house.