For this exhibition, titled “The Last Day,” Brazilian artist Luiz Roque showed three films and two photographs that he created while at artists’ residencies in Brazil and abroad. The show began with a grainy, enigmatic still, The Golden Tower (2012), from Super 8 footage Roque shot of the soaring 63 Building in Seoul. Exhibited in an adjacent gallery, and also made in Seoul, was a 3-minute color video, The Triumph (2011)—a mock commercial for the 2076 Olympics, somewhat humorously imagining that North and South Korea have reconciled as the United Korea, and that the country is hosting the games. Themes involving national power, community, and public and artistic monuments ran throughout the show, but the works spoke less to an overarching curatorial premise than to the artist’s engagement with, and experimentation in, various cities.
The show’s central, standout piece was O Novo Monumento (The New Monuments), 2012. Shot in Belo Horizonte, in southern Brazil, the 5-minute, black-and-white 16mm film opens with a quote on-screen from a 1943 essay written collaboratively by architecture historian Sigfried Giedion, artist Fernand Léger and architect José Lluís Sert. In the quote, the writers declare that monuments are possible only in places of unified culture and consciousness. The film then cuts to two young men dressed in coats ornamented with golden flourishes and bits of mirror. To a soundtrack (composed by musician Márcio Biriato) of percussion, tribal chants and tropical birds, the men perform a dance routine reminiscent of voguing. In the next scene, three figures in motocross gear ride dirt bikes alongside a flatbed truck carrying a large sculpture. Made of wood covered in aluminum foil, the sculpture is a square form bisected along a curved cut, with one portion angled away from the other. Night arrives, and a pair of human eyes, each the size of a moon, rises above a mountain range, creating a bewitching half-man, half-mountain image.
The sculpture Roque made for the film is an interpretation of a work by Amílcar de Castro and is a monument to that artist. Along with Lygia Clark, de Castro was a leading figure in Brazil’s mid-20th-century Neo-Concrete movement, which sought to oppose rationalist Concrete tendencies by advocating invention and subjective expression. De Castro made many of his iron sculptures in Belo Horizonte, which, along with São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, is part of Brazil’s “golden triangle”—the country’s wealthiest industrial nexus. Now a burgeoning technological epicenter, Belo Horizonte is also an iron-ore mining region that owes its prosperity, in part, to the labor of its miners.
The film’s final sequence shows the two costumed men from the beginning dancing on the streets of Belo Horizonte. Local residents join them, the scene suggesting a miniature Carnival and illustrating, rather didactically, the artist’s belief in unity. Alongside the plainly dressed, working-class people of Belo Horizonte, the embellished dancers in Roque’s film appear almost like symbolic sculptures themselves. The juxtaposition reminds the viewer that monuments require not only artists’ visions but the combined efforts of many types of workers.