Artist Gê Orthof is one of five Brazilian artists showcasing new work at our group exhibition, Behind The Sun. To learn more about his practice, we spoke to Gê about cultural influences, winning Brazil’s largest contemporary art prize and returning to Manchester…
What can you tell us about the main themes running throughout your work?
GO: I will present a new installation “Varied Deceptions” at HOME. I’ve had a lifetime interest in books, both aspects: the object and and the power of narrative as an inducer of poetic imagination. Another important aspect of my work is chance and its ability to destabilize our comfort zone. This new project is no different: it all started when I found the homonymous book at a street bookseller. Another aspect important to my work is politics, in the sense that it affects people’s life projects, especially refugees throughout different times and places, in order to survive (my grandparents, Jews from Vienna, escaped to Brazil. My parents escaped from Brazil to Paris because the military coup in the sixties). There is a fine line between hospitality and hostility, an ambiguous feeling between enchantment and distrust by the foreigner. As a tactic to defuse a possible public resistance to strenuous themes like these, my work focuses on the sensorial pleasure of materials, composition and its elements as bright colours, miniatures, music boxes etc.
What is your opinion of the current Brazilian art scene and how do you feel your work fits into it?
GO: In my opinion the Brazilian art scene, being relatively new in terms of the international circuit, enjoys a curse and a freedom. A curse, because people still expect and maybe demand a kind of exotic, joyful and idyllic production that would take them away from their everyday landscape and culture. A freedom, because lacking centuries of tradition like many other cultures, especially in Europe, Africa or Asia, we are basically at our own risk, trying ideas and methods of working, which can be very stimulating. I believe my work is primarily linked to two aspects of Brazilian visual culture: a European modernist background (I live in Brasilia, the biggest utopian modern city project ever constructed) and a flair for anarchism that is present in Brazilian culture as a whole, and in my family in particular. On the other hand, living far away from the Rio-São Paulo arts main axis, I believe my work can easily be connected either to the wildness side of a harsh inland reality, or to the vast world out there. In fact, it’s hard to define precisely what the local, or global art scene is. I’m not just thinking about the complexity of our period, but in all the erratic and contaminated links that connect us, geo-politically and historically.
Behind The Sun focuses on the perceived image of Brazil – In your experience, what do you feel this is and how is Brazil’s art scene responding to it?
GO: Brazil, like any nation I suppose, is a very complex concept, due to its continental size and the extremely mixed cultured background of natives and all sorts of immigrants. And even now, there is a great new influx of immigrants. On top of that we are facing a battlefield between extremely reactionary groups that promoted a coup against the elected president, since they did not accept defeat at the polls by President Dilma Roussef, a left-wing woman of the Workers’ Party. In that sense, I believe, Brazil is pretty much immersed in an identity crisis, trying to map out who are its peers, enemies, inside its circles, for the country and abroad. It’s pretty much a whole new scenario and the art scene is obviously affected by all of that and tries, in its own way and within its limitations, to produce work that reflects various issues of this pressing agenda.
You’re previously won the Prêmio Marcantônio Vilaça CNI Sesi Senai – How was this experience and how has it impacted your career?
GO: First I didn’t expect it at all. I’m not into competitions, probably because of fear of losing… and for this prestigious national prize – because I was pretty much an outsider to the gallery circuit – my chances, I thought, were near zero. Luckily I was wrong and found a wonderful jury, who were careful to look at the production of the country as a whole and the quality of each candidate’s body of work. Since winning the prize, my career has changed dramatically, both in terms of amount of invitations to various exhibitions and the opportunity to meet new fellow artists, curators, gallery owners etc. I’m still getting used to this new momentum. I’m exhausted but happy to be doing what I love most.
This isn’t the first time you’ve showcased your work in Manchester – What do you think of our local art and culture scene?
GO: It’s amazing, I didn’t know Manchester and suddenly I’m here to hold two exhibitions in such a short time (noting that in the meantime, I participated in two other exhibitions in different cities in Brazil). Unfortunately I did not have much free time because I was setting up the installation at The Portico Library but I visited some cultural spaces, galleries, museums and exhibitions of students at the University. I truly loved the people here, an interesting mix of cultures without the arrogance of the major centers of arts. I was very lucky meeting incredibly generous and exciting people. I believe I would be happy living and working here. I like mature places that have gone through a lot of stuff and I think the culture of Manchester represents that.
What can audiences expect from your work you’ll be submitting to Behind The Sun?
GO: I hope they will find a clash to the mystery (in the Maiakovskian way). It’s not a work to be seen at a glance – it’s not fast, nor food. It demands involvement and availability. The work is new, it “does not know yet”, it needs time for itself and the viewer. It’s seductive and polysemic, it’s a lot of fun, deeply ironic but with a good heart. It is also about magic, deceptions, sex, revolution and perhaps none of these attributes. That’s how I see it but as every parent, I do see everything wrong and it matters little. As I recently learned from Laurie Anderson: is not about me or the work, it’s about you.
Learn more about Gê Orthof and his art by visiting his website.
Behind The Sun: Prêmio Marcantônio Vilaça CNI Sesi Senai continues in our gallery until Sun 25 Sep. Find out more about the exhibition here.