Daniel de Paula’s work intersects art, architecture and politics, being in close dialogue with notions of geography, migration and dislocation. His production is not necessarily about making objects, but about moving objects around, defying the normativity of the separation between public and private spheres, which gives his work a political dimension.
It is precisely this operation that was employed to conceive the work ‘Crux’ (2014), the first of his tree pieces on exhibition at the White Cube Gallery, in which he transfers a public structure to a private space. By entering the room we find the public lamppost lying across the gallery floor as a fallen tree. Removed from the urban context where it belongs, its light is now controlled by a photosensitive cell that makes it fade as natural light disappears. This interference subverts its original function, and in a symbolic inversion suggests that the installation and object posses animate qualities – such as being sensitive to the cycle of day and night.
Light is also the resource used to seduce in his second piece, a sentence written in neon, which gives title to the exhibition: ‘objetos de mobilidade, ações de permanência’ (‘objects of mobility, actions of permanence’). Installed beside the lamppost, it draws viewers in to get closer but when they do so the light vanishes. The piece is also equipped with a photosensitive cell, a motion sensor which responds to any detectable movement, turning off with it and just coming alive again when the movement has ceased completely. Intervening in the neon’s original function, which is commonly used in advertising, de Paula’s manoeuvre causes estrangement in the viewers, who take a while to realise that his neon requires them to remain static in order to be activated. The metaphor implicit in this play of light is that artworks demand the spectator’s silent and prolonged contemplation in order to be physically illuminated and symbolically enlightened.
Enlightenment is also denoted on other wall, not through the physicality of light, but through the illumination brought forward by literature and knowledge. Described by the artist as ‘readings’, the piece is a series of nine triptychs, each constituted of a book or magazine, a single photograph of the artist reading that publication, and a short explanatory text typewritten on graph paper. The first action took place in February 2013, when walking through the streets of Paris he read Hélio Oiticica’s ‘Aspiro ao Grande Labirinto’ (“I aspire to the great labyrinth”) from cover to cover. The triptychs chosen for this exhibition include ‘Towards dialogue, through fire’ (2014), which accounts his reading of ‘Letters 1964-74’ by Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, and ‘Towards Dematerialization’ (2014), in which de Paula read ‘Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object’ by Lucy Lippard. The series also includes other triptychs with extremely suggestive titles such as ‘towards other perception’, ‘towards other urbanization’ and ‘towards another political geography’. To make them, de Paula wandered around urban and non-urban landscapes drifting along with readings whose contents don’t seem to have been chosen at random, but are rather clues to understand his artistic practice. In ‘Aspiro ao Grande Labirinto’ Oiticica states his view about what an object would be, reaffirming his belief that “the most important proposition of the object makers, would be to achieve a new perceptual behaviour, created through the increasing participation of the viewer, culminating with the overcoming of the object as the end of the aesthetic expression.”
This proposition seems to resonate throughout de Paula’s work, his pieces being either vestiges of actions he performed rather than things he produced in studio, or materials displaced and subverted which only become artworks with the active participation of the viewers. De Paula’s art is still made of objects, but its significance resides outside of them, moving towards dematerialisation as the title of other triptych suggests. In a formal sense though, some of his artworks could perhaps be called performative installations or performative sculptures. In different ways the three works on show seem to be imbued with a certain performative quality, which through the actions of the artist – and sometimes the actions of the observers – intersect time flow and spatial arrangements.
In both ‘Crux’ and the triptych works, the concretisation of the work and the subjectivity of the aesthetic reflection are dependent upon the persistent presence of the body of an active – or sometimes contemplative, spectator. Time is nevertheless absolutely essential to create a place where the potential aesthetic experience can be fully realised.
This place is the space of relations – between object, public, artist and other agents involved in the creative process – to which the artist wants to draw the audience, since it is just there that his work is illuminated and acquires relevance. As the exhibition title suggests, the objects created by de Paula might be of transitory and ephemeral state, but the actions that produce them have rather permanent effects. Echoing through the artworks, and going beyond them, are attitudes, intentions, positions, relations that invoke the anti-art Hélio Oiticica talked about, the emergence of a collective expression which will give new creative vitality to the human experience, placing life in the centre of art.