That's not funny at all: nots on selected works by Lenora

It is hard to describe how I felt when I saw Poema (1981) for the first time. This is because visual perception does not occur in time (like writing), or not only in time. It is a spatial-temporal experience in which everything you are and know is transformed in the light what you see.

The initial nervousness – or excitation – was brought on when I perceived the contrast between the beauty of those lips and that mouth and the cold mechanics of the type-writer; after (but is it really after?) the fullest of understandings of the sensuality, or the candidly sexual character of the tongue penetrating the concavity of the mechanism, stimulating the keys.

A witness and an accessory to the birth of the poem—any poem—I realized that I stood before a work of art.

At first sight, Homenagem a George Segal [Homage to George Segal] (1975) has a childlike side to it, as it seems to spring from the initial reading of anyone seeing the sculptures/installations of the North American artist for the first time: the alienation of the individual in the contemporary world.

Conceived and produced for the first time when she was still a college student, Homenagem..., like Poema, appears to be a series of photograms, whose surplus images have been rooted out, leaving only those “decisive moments” that are fundamental for the viewer to be able to make out the narrative.

What appears, however, to remove any feeling of childishness from Homenagem... or, at least, to introduce an element of perversity to what everything would seem to indicate is alien to the poetics of a homage is the fact that, there, the person submerged in the paste is the artist herself.

While, in the first image, we see Lenora setting about as mundane an act as brushing her teeth, in the last, the artist in the same position, but with her hand and her face totally covered with toothpaste. An everyday action is transformed into complete paralysis. And here the artist does not just represent the action: she lives it; or, rather, dies it.

To a certain extent, even though she was still a student, still finding her voice, Lenora went beyond Segal: and went beyond returning to a point prior to the act of production/reproduction of the object/scenario she had conceived. She is still there in the body, in the action of the body that submits to the world (and all that that means), submerging itself in its ironically refreshing materiality.

(Wouldn’t it be interesting to put together an exhibition, albeit a small one, or even one with only two pieces, that showed pieces in which artists pay homage to another artist? Lenora and Nelson Leirner have produced such pieces. What appears to be interesting is that the kind of homage they pay goes far beyond a mere homage, a “disciple” paying tribute to the “master”. In some way, they transcend the chosen paradigm. In Leirner’s Homenagem a Fontana, the strokes of the Italian-Argentinean artist–which were once considered radical – are evoked in ironic way, which reveals, and takes to extremes, the mechanical character of the repetitive “spatial concepts” Fontana adopted in the course of his career. Homenagem a George Segal, in turn, by radicalizing a meaning that is only hinted at by the North American artist, lays bare the limitations of his poetics.)

Poema and Homenagem a George Segal share one thing in common: in both, Lenora has used her own body to produce the piece.

Although always remembered (stigmatized perhaps?) as an anointed heir of the concretist tradition, it might well be said that Lenora first appeared on the art scene of the 1970s with her own poetics, based on an amalgam of different paradigms. Although she does show the influence of concretism, other movements were also present, working together in a productive symbiosis: Décio Pignatari and the 6 o’clock soap opera; Bruce Nauman; John Lennon and Nelson Leirner; Geraldo de Barros and Godard; the Campos brothers and Abramovic and Ulay.

The fact that in both of the aforementioned works, the artist used her own body to demonstrate that she was aware not only of the procedures and poetics connected with the local and international conceptual currents of the time, but also of the work of her own father. In fact, the photo-performances of Geraldo de Barros have always informed his daughter’s art. That is all very well, since it is a way of ensuring that his work is not overlooked in favor of the “purity” of modern Brazilian photography... Lenora manages to transform and turn these influences into appropriate vehicles for her own poetics.

One thing should be pointed out here: neither Poema nor Homenagem... are records of a performance, in which photography is used only to document an act. On the contrary, these acts were designed and performed to be photographed, and one clear sign of this is the objective quality of the images, demonstrating the care that was taken to produce them. In contrast to the technical poverty of photography as a way of documenting a performance (which was especially true in the 1960s and 70s), Lenora’s work reveals a care for the final result of her performances, which, in fact, bring together various media of expression.

This manner of working with various different aesthetic modes places Lenora’s work in a magma-like territory in which poetry, performance and the visual arts come toge-ther in a single synthesis under the banner of the objectivity of the photographic record. And who can doubt the veracity of what occurred in Poema and Homenagem... if, despite everything, the resulting photographic image still has the stamp of authenticity?

In the midst of a wide range of modes that have already been duly institutionalized (poetry, sculpture, performance and so forth), Lenora, from the outset, has always been a prime representative of an inter-media whose purpose is by no means that of cataloguing her work, but, in fact, defines her as an artist.

Shortly after 11 September 2001, on a Sunday, when we were all still avid for more news on the terrorist attacks in the United States, page 4 of “Mais!” (a supplement of the São Paulo newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo), displayed the words:

I am wanted.

The same image of the stunned face of a woman appeared over and over, as if in a poster offering a reward for fugitives from justice (terrorists, subversives, murderers, thieves and the like). The only thing that varied was the woman’s hair-do. In each photo it was different. She was the same and different; herself and another.

And, at a time when everyone was looking for those responsible for the terrorist attacks, she was looking for herself.

Clearly the publication of this “photo-poem” or “photo-performance”—does the exact definition matter for a deviant act? Does any rule matter for an exception?—so soon after the attack on the Twin Towers conferred a different meaning on the work, providing yet another demonstration of the extent to which the context in which a work appears modifies its meaning and its scope. However, it is worth establishing some bearings here to help us understand how Lenora’s poetics moves through the various media, using them at her will.

While in Poema and Homenagem... she made use of a series of photographs to address the genesis of the poem, any poem, or of the lethargy that can impose itself on any everyday action, in the case of Procuro-me she employs a device, a little computer program then available to the patrons of a shopping center in the city, to show everyone (as in Homenagem...) the uneasiness of being in the world. As a woman, as a human being, as a terrorist against oneself.

It was in Rio de Janeiro (Paço Imperial.) that I first saw the Não quero nem ver [I don’t even want to see] series. I had to go to Rio to meet Lenora again and I found an artist who is a woman – her work has always been that of a woman.

In Poema, however, that seductive mouth hid a penis-tongue that inseminated the machine. And this gives rise to a piece that falls somewhere between touch and sight. “Between” the text and the image incarnated in her own face. (The writing is touch and it does not want to see; it can’t. It’s too much.)

The work of a woman who sees and perceives the world, therefore, “from the other side” (is woman the “other” to man?), but without trying to proselytize. And it is because she does not strive to proselytize that Lenora breaks down the barriers between the sexes – both sexual and artistic ones – to develop work in which human frailty is exercised and made explicit in the very act of producing each piece.

Sarcasm, irony and humor are present in Lenora’s work: these are basic elements of her poetics. But by covering them up, or keeping them somewhere in the background, she imbues them with a dramatic quality, with a wry twist that almost always transforms the smile when the viewer first sets eyes on her pieces into a grimace. This is made explicit in Tempinhos (2005), in which the certainty that “human beings manage time” is subverted, in so far as human beings are here managed by the internal economy of the reading the piece itself has set up to subject time to its whims. And that’s not funny at all.