top of page
  • Writer's pictureC-print

Have You Seen What Happens to Broken Objects When They Are Glued?

Portrait of Laercio Redondo. Photo: Anna Mas

Laercio Redondo picks out two books from a very crowded bookshelf, both of which carry his own name on the cover. He would like to show me some of his, according to himself, most important projects. Common to Laercio Redondo’s installations is that they have a beautiful surface, appearing at first glance as harmonious and tranquil. His interests in architecture and design are commonly more or less evident in the sober compositions. But if one looks closely or approach them from different angles, things will surely begin to emerge from behind the surface. It is kind of like peeling an onion, I think to myself as Laercio Redondo shows me the images from one of his exhibitions. Layers upon layers of stories unfold; possibly very different depending on who is looking. Universal truths are questioned and the complexity of the past reveals itself.

“History always extinguishes perspectives that go beyond the will of whoever writes it.”

“Contos sem Reis/Tales with no Kings”, Casa França-Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil 2013: “Blind spot”, general view, sound installation and wood sculpture. Photo: Sergio Araújo

The quote is extracted from a sound piece in Laercio Redondo's mixed-media installation Blind spot, part of the exhibition Contos sem Reis (Tales with no Kings) at Casa França Brasil, Rio de Janeiro in 2013. Although it is now used as an exhibition space, the building has a complicated history linked to the colonial past of Brazil. It used to function as the nineteenth-century market square where, among other goods, titles of enslaved people were traded. The history of the building and the city itself consequently became the focal point when Laercio Redondo was invited to exhibit in the palatial venue. The sound piece was accompanied by a large wooden structure that stretched out across the room. As the visitors circulated around it, they could distinguish letters in the sculpture, forming the word “REVOLVER”. The word – just like most of Laercio Redondo's artistic practice – carries a duality, since it also means “to turn over” or “return” in Portuguese. What Laercio Redondo did was indeed to return, to a city that had changed a lot in recent years. Yet, its past – although only a few seemed to speak of it – still seemed very much present.

“Contos sem Reis/Tales with no Kings”, Casa França-Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil 2013: “Blind spot”, detail view, sound installation and wood sculpture. Photo: Sergio Araújo

­­– Rio was booming at this time, the city was changing. It was perceived as a paradise for tourists, a fantastic place. But, fantastic to whom? I asked myself. So many people were still stuck in a very difficult living situation. And it seemed like there was a lack of interest to speak about the complicated history of the city and how much it actually influenced our present.

A central figure in the exhibition was Jean-Baptiste Debret (1768-1848), a French artist who produced a vast number of paintings depicting life in Brazil during the Portuguese colonization.

– Debret’s descriptions of everyday life in Rio de Janeiro is a very important document for us to understand colonization and its exploitation. That is also why I created a series of works related to him.

The work Venda (Sale – faulty memory game) sheds light not only on the history of slavery, but of contemporary working conditions for the vendors on the beaches of Rio. On each wooden panel, two different pictures are embedded – one with Debret's depictions of enslaved people selling goods in the 1900th century, and one that shows contemporary street vendors on the beaches of Rio. The viewer is faced with an unpleasant realization upon noticing that the pictures are bizarrely similar. However, to see both images, the visitor must pick up the panel and turn it around. A symbolical act, in the sense that you need to actively engage with the work in order to understand – you have to be willing to see it.

“Contos sem Reis/Tales with no Kings”, Casa França-Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil 2013: “Venda/Sale – faulty memory game”, detail, double sided silkscreen on plywood. Photo: Sergio Araújo

– Questions of labour are central to this work. What we are seeing today has relations to what Debret saw. In other words, not much has changed and the problem hasn’t been addressed properly – many people are still working under really difficult conditions.

Taking on an old building such as Casa França Brasil, is for Laercio Redondo a way to shed light on the architecture and the layers of history embedded within it. The installations seem not to be designed to take over the room but rather to expose it, to encourage the visitor to circulate and perceive its dimensions from other points of view. This profound interest in architecture and spatiality is shared by his long-time life-partner and collaborator Birger Lipinski. Laercio Redondo describes their collaboration process as fundamental for his installations, many of which are co-signed with both of their names.

“Contos sem Reis/Tales with no Kings”, Casa França-Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil 2013: “Venda/Sale – faulty memory game”, detail, double sided silkscreen on plywood. Photo: Sergio Araújo

– I’m very interested in how space, or spatiality, and displays coexist in my practice. Those are very important elements from the very beginning of my projects, and Birger is always involved in this process. Besides being a very talented exhibition designer, he is also trained as a furniture designer. I would say that conceptually and formally, our collaboration helps us to better understand where we want to go. This juxtaposition blurs the boundaries of our practices as an artist and a furniture/exhibition designer. It’s always an enriching experience, and futurewise I believe that we will sign more and more projects together.

Laercio Redondo’s most recent exhibition project The simplest thing is the hardest to do (2020) at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona (perhaps better known as the Barcelona Pavilion) took on similar approaches as Contos sem Reis; in yet another intervention of a building and its history. Like all of his projects, it was based on an extensive amount of archival research. Laercio Redondo tells me that in his artistic research practice, he usually starts from a specific point of departure: an artist, a city, a building or an “official” historical fact, that the research builds on from. Then, as he is digging into archives, other layers reveal themselves – facts that are often omitted in the official historical narrative.

– Important to remember though, is that I’m not writing a thesis and that I’m not an art historian. I’m a visual artist working with history as my point of departure. Mostly, I look for where the cracks are and try to make them visible for an audience, and for myself as well.

What Laercio Redondo found particularly intriguing about the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion is that it is in fact a reconstruction from 1986. The original building existed only for nine months in 1929, as a part of the German participation at the International Exhibition in Barcelona, before being dismantled.

“The simplest thing is the hardest to do”, Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona, Spain 2020: “Untitled (Morning by Georg Kolbe)”, detail, monochrome silkscreen on plywood and travertine. Photo: Anna Mas

– Nowadays, when we look at the pavilion simply as an architectural landmark, we hardly know much about its background, reconstruction and historical repercussions. In that sense, it’s important to understand that the building isn’t just a monument of Modern Architecture. Originally, it was made as a ceremonial space to receive the Spanish royalties at the opening of the International Exhibition in 1929, but it has so many more layers of historical, economic and political implications that I wanted to learn more about. I don’t see the pavilion just as a monument but more as a document.

One of the many layers catching his attention was the fact that the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) appears to have silenced his close partner and collaborator Lilly Reich (1885-1947). The pavilion in Barcelona is one example of many projects carried out in collaboration between the two of them – yet, up until recently, Reich has received very little credit; in fact, her legacy has been largely ignored.

– Lilly Reich was a furniture and fashion designer, and she produced numerous projects for fairs of this kind. In addition to lecturing at the Bauhaus, where she led the workshops on interior architecture, she was the first woman elected to the board of the Deutscher Werkbund. It was important for me to bring these facts and her name back into the building.

Laercio Redondo brought forth the presence of Lily Reich in the pavilion through delicate silk works inside the building (a homage to her expertise with textiles) and a sound piece installed in the garden outside it, in which Reich served as one of the protagonists. Altogether, the visitors would see the physical works inside the pavilion, and then listen to the history of the pavilion outside of it. Furthermore, the intervention takes on the sculpture made by German artist George Kolbe (1877-1947), a figure that became very controversial in the years leading up to world war II. The sculpture was placed in the pavilion in 1929, and an edition of the same sculpture also exists in Berlin, placed in relation to another sculpture made by the same artist in a public park there.

“The simplest thing is the hardest to do”, Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona, Spain 2020: “Untitled (Morning by Georg Kolbe)”, detail, monochrome silkscreen on plywood and travertine. Photo: Anna Mas

– This fact becomes one of the important points of my intervention in the pavilion, when I bring the two sculptures together in the same space.

The pavilion was also a silent testimony of a crucial historical fact, namely the stock market crash in New York in 1929.

– With the following economic crisis, the world would never be the same again. The political turmoil foretells the beginning of World War II. Personally, what I find really interesting is how similar our present times are, considering the pandemic and its global effects in the years to come.

Essential to the interventions of Laercio Redondo is their empathetic, rather restrained nature. As such, they do not attempt to completely overthrow the “true” history we are familiar with, nor to replace it with another absolute truth – instead they intervene subtly, adding and exposing hidden layers by creating a “performative opacity”, as art historian and curator Cecilia Fajardo-Hill puts it in the exhibition text for The simplest thing is the hardest to do. It is not a question of correcting the writing of history or producing a transparency of clear and separable stories, but to invite the spectator to participate, question and interpret the site for themselves. The recurring use of screenprinted, black monochromes on plywood troughout the space is perhaps the most evident manifestation of the opaqueness that Fajardo-Hill refers to. She writes: “The monochrome may be a ‘perfect’ embodiment of the complex layers of memory; an opaque surface where we may see ourselves reflected in it, or that it may activate different forms of awareness, and knowledge.”

“The simplest thing is the hardest to do”, Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona, Spain 2020: “Untitled (Morning and Evening by Georg Kolbe)”, general view, silk prints and wooden display. Photo: Anna Mas

Common to both Contos sem Reis and The simplest thing is the hardest to do is their attempt to understand the problems and erasures of the Modern movement, questioning the conception of the modern as transparent and solely progressive. However, the locations of these two interventions are very different, and I come to think of Laercio Redondo’s personal relationship with these sites. Several of his bigger projects have been carried out in Brazil, the country in which he grew up. Consequently, I wonder whether he thinks his personal background makes an imprint on the outcome of his site-specific projects. Is it relevant to talk about the background of the artist at all, when working in such a research-based manner?

– It’s partly true, that in Brazil I might have another entrance to understand and to read my background and what I ultimately want to say in that specific context. But I also think that in this case, with the intervention at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion as well as in other projects, it still worked out quite well – even if my only relation to Spain is my dad’s family that emigrated to Brazil a hundred years ago. Evidently, what I want to say is that personal background isn’t the decisive factor in my artistic practice and in my research – not at all.

Your question, I think, also has a lot to do with how cultural institutions decides their programs and invitations to certain artists, based on the way that they want to be perceived by the public. What I find fundamental in these kinds of research based projects that takes time, is an amount of trust between the artist and the institution, and the commitment to work together to find the right temperature to understand our time.

Having touched upon the power of the institutions, we go on to talk about the difficulties in “entering” the Swedish art scene. Laercio Redondo has lived in Sweden for a long time, and graduated from a Swedish art school. Yet, his most extensive projects seem to have been carried out abroad. I ask him why he think that is.

– Firstly, I just want to clarify that any art scene can be challenging to access, and I’m only referring to my own personal experiences and impressions here. I have a master in fine arts from Konstfack (2001) and ever since, I’ve been exhibiting in different countries and major institution in Europe, USA and, as you mentioned, in Brazil. In Sweden however, I’ve been mostly showing or participating in collaborative projects over the years. Definitely something I’m interested in and like doing, but I really don’t think that people in Sweden know much about my other research based projects that spans over several years, often related to collective memory and its erasure in society.

“The simplest thing is the hardest to do”, Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona, Spain 2020: General view of monochromes, silkscreen on plywood and travertine. Photo: Anna Mas

Laercio Redondo stresses that the main focus of his works lies in interpreting specific events in relation to the city, architecture and historical representation. However, things that happened in Brazil, Spain, Germany or any other place, is not necessarily only related to that location without any further consequences.

– We still inhabit the same globe – even if we live in Sweden, so what I’m trying to say is that everything is interconnected, and exactly because of this, it’s important to be aware of different ways of reading history and its implications in our current days.

On that note, we wrap up our conversation. As I am leaving the apartment of Laercio Redondo and Birger Lipinski, I notice two identical clocks hanging next to each other on their kitchen wall. It is a reconstruction of the iconic work Untitled (Perfect Lovers) (1991) by Felix Gonzales Torres, consisting of two synchronized clocks that will, eventually, fall out of synch. Indeed, one clock appears to be one minute ahead of the other.

Link to a video documentation of the exhibition The simplest thing is the hardest to do at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona, September 16 – October 12, 2020: Click here.


bottom of page