Thiago Rocha Pitta’s work has been establishing a dialogue with nature, the preferred theme of his recent investigations. This dialogue emerges as much from the themes and materials he uses as from the direct relationship that his works create with the places in which they are installed. Although little explored in contemporary Brazilian art, natural phenomena and their cycles have become the mark of some recent artists, such as the Danish Olafur Eliasson and the British artist Tacita Dean. In Brazil we could think of Valeska Soares as a reference. In Thiago’s case, this interest is marked by a certain romanticism that pays reference to the atmospheric and luminous marine paintings of nineteenth century British painter, William Turner. This dialogue is manifested in the interest for fire and water—rain, for an artist who works with film, photography, painting, sculpture and installation, is one of Thiago’s landscape themes.
The British painter was directly mentioned in Homenagem a William Turner [Homage to William Turner] (2002), a 16mm film the artist made at a beach in Ilha do Fundão, an island in Rio de Janeiro. Based on Turner’s Burial at Sea (1842), the film is composed of two long takes that show a boat on fire, at sea. Less than a direct reference to the painting, this work invests on the experience of opposing fire and water directly. In Abismo sob Abismo [Abyss under Abyss] (2002), the artist fitted a suspended mirrored platform on the edge of a cliff in the Santa Teresa district of Rio de Janeiro. The spectator steps onto the 2.6 meter platform to find his/her reflection confronted against the sky and the landscape.
In Fonte [Fountain] (2003), the work carried out for the Museu de Arte da Pampulha within the Pampulha Project context, Thiago created a water sculpture directly related to the Pampulha Lake. The piece is a sort of inverted fountain built with stainless steel and installed on a garden plateau next to the Lake. The work is connected to a water pump that sucks out the Lake’s water to subsequently pump it back, thus creating a whirlwind inside the fountain, symbolizing the repetitive and vital cycles of nature. Fonte also deals with issues of scale, opposing its own dimensions with the volume of the lake’s water, which it makes use of to establish its continuous flow. Its relationship with the surrounding nature is direct: the concave shape mirrors the landscape and always reflects luminosity and sunshine; its color, intensity and volume all oscillate according to the changes in the water of the lake.
Replete with references (Van Eyck’s convex mirror, and Smithson’s Spiral Jetty spring to mind) this work is both romantic and unusual, evoking the sublime or provoking amusing reactions among the spectators. In the end, the aesthetic experience seems to return to contemplation—both on nature and on its strange representation in open-air sculpture. Thiago quotes Heraclitus: “beginning and end find each other in the circumference of the circle”.