Newspeak II: Juliana Cerqueira Leite


02 Tuesday 02nd November 2010


The second installment of the Saatchi Gallery’s Newspeak exhibition showcasing the latest generation of emerging British artists opened last week. Don’t Panic round up the best in show and introduce the talents of Brazilian sculptor Juliana Cerqueira Leite.
Much has been made about the problems of painting today, with the medium challenged by the rapid development of technology and dissemination of high-definition cameras and video into the entire population’s pockets. Too often contemporary painting smacks of an A-level college show, with very few artists seeming capable of breathing fresh life and vision into the medium. Whilst Saatchi’s paintings are full of a vibrant, juvenile energy, giving off a positive and free spirit through copious and bold use of neon and bright colours, very little offers more than a spectre of promise. Exceptions included Mustapha Hulusi’s incredible and oddly hypnotizing diptych Exstacy Almond Blossom and James Howard’s posters of transliterated new age insantities.
Overall, Newspeak II is about sculpture and new ideas of physicality being explored by artists today. One of the standout pieces is Tessa Farmer’s Swarm, a sparse latrine with tiny wire frame skeletons riding lacquered winged insects, while the pair of taxidermied sculptures by Steven Bishop, Christian Dior – j’adore (Mountain Goat) and his horse with a fur coat over its head standing on a plinth, It’s hard to make a stand, while instantly communicative and highly comic don’t really offer more with repeated viewings. Mention should also be made of Dick Evan’s Black Grape, a wave of sparkling black sand rising up from the floor as if to crash violently through the viewer for some mysterious and unexplained reason; the only clues being a couple of fag butts and a beverage can discarded by the artist.
Some of the most striking works on display were Juliana Cerqueira Leite’s three sculptures Up, Down and Oh. Raised in Brazil before studying in the UK at Chelsea, the Slade and Camberwell, and now living in New York City, Leite’s sculptures are a form of process art. The artist burrows through huge blocks of clay with her naked body, producing distended traces of her movements through it. Elongated fingers and toes veer out of the plaster and acrylic polymer sides of Up and Down’s bulbous forms, in a sense petrifying the struggle to force oneself through the mud while also invoking claustrophobia at the idea of being the one locked inside this shape. Don’t Panic grabbed a coffee with Leite to uncover her love of burrowing insects and hear about her new project, The Physical Center.
It strikes me that your work is all about the body, it’s very bodily.
I think my work was always about the body, even the painting I was doing in my BA was very aggressive. Very literal, political and very illustrative of ideas that I had. I feel that still at the core of that there was this idea of using the body for this representation and idea or for a political situation. My work has broken away from those contexts that are coextensive with the time we live in now. I’ve tried to break away from that and produce something that’s a little more to the core of those interests. Really simplified it is literally how I am in terms of relating to space, relating to being embodied
Do you think that these are things that on the whole we overlook, that we’re not aware of most of the time? Through producing sculptures you’re not only discovering this awareness of your own body and the space you live in, but finding a way of communicating to other people?
Yeah, well I think first of all I never really know what a sculpture is going to look like when I start. I set out with an intention and then doing the process creates a form through which I can solidify that intention. I was always producing a surprising form; for instance, I am always surprised at the space that my body can fit into. I always think that I am a lot bigger than I am and when I do these sculptures I’m like, “I was in there!” It seems surreal to me that I took up that little amount of space. It’s the unconscious processes that give you self image; not just ‘I am fat’, ‘I am skinny’, but just pure being that dictates how you interact with other people.
It strikes me that a lot of the situations and experiences you put your body through in producing your work are both extreme and potentially dangerous. Is that part of your intention, that there’s a certain endurance element of pushing your body through a solid block of clay?
I’m really into Houdini for instance. I’ve thought a lot about why I’m so into Houdini and think it’s because he was doing something that challenged people’s perceptions of what they were capable of doing. I like to do that as well, especially as a woman. I like it when I produce something that even I’m like, “Oh my god! I can’t believe that that was possible!” But it is, it just takes a long time to shift five tons of clay, you need to take your time to learn that things that seem supreme are actually very easy and simple to do. So I always try and keep simplicity as a rule.
It strikes me that a recurring theme is the idea of chrysalises or even rebirthing.
I’d say that rebirthing isn’t necessarily a thought that I carry with me when I make my work. I think they end up being like a chrysalis, an encasement or a shell in a way because of the way they’re made. A lot of the works are inspired by the forms of shells and the burrows that insects make. I try putting the human form into that microscopic dimension and then looking at our homes and the way we build the world around us. It’s like turning the body down into a very primal essence, like we burrow, we build, we start shells.
I think the idea of you squirming your way through clay or other materials has a very Beckettian image to it.
Oh definitely. Yes, his work really interests me.
His notion of us just being worms crawling through mud.
Yeah totally. I don’t feel like there’s a nihilism in my work but there is definitely a sense of this struggle against something that’s just so much grander than you are.
Tell us about the Physical Centre.
The Physical Centre came about from wanting to work with all the people I met in London while I was living here and am meeting in New York now, that are pushing the envelope or presenting not just the human body but the way you relate to the material world in the broadest sense through their artwork. I pulled together a bunch of really great curators and other artists and we’re collaborating on curating this two month event. There’s going to be science lectures because I’m this big science nerd, so I’ve been able to contact all these great scientist and be like, “Hello I’m a fan of your work”. I’m surprised at how many other artists that I’ve never met before and admire have said yes. Everybody seems to be really up for it and its grown into this massive two month show.
It’s to present new concepts if physicality, through science, through art, through film and also performance art.
Do you feel that those ideas that link you are something new to contemporary art?
I feel so, within more contemporary issues like the excess of junk that is around. The way of relating to objects becomes different because there is an over abundance of stuff. Works that show people interacting with socially restrictive things like fences, gates, alarms, security lights in sort of novel and comical ways. Works that take the fads about dance, which is huge now like in the celebrity dance shows, and use dance in a novel way. Using all these element that are popular in terms of how we behave physically and are interested in and use our own bodies, and turning them into artworks. In that way there are some interesting new things coming around. That’s why it seemed important to put them all together. I don’t feel that there one proposition being made by all these artists. It’s more just a feeling that there’s a lot of people discussing these different things and putting them together.
For more information on the Physical Centre visit their website. The Physical Centre is a crowdfunded project, to help keep it free please visit here.


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