The inventions

of Ascânio

Felipe Scovino, 2015

This is the first solo exhibition of Ascânio MMM in Curitiba, and that explains it being a retrospective exhibition. Notice, however, that the term "retrospective" is used here not merely as a historical review or an almost archaeological experience, but as a real and immediate possibility of the public to make contact with the most distinctive aspects, interests and research that the artist performs. In a coherent way, Ascânio, who began his work in the mid-1960s, points out new possibilities of understanding and activation of constructive languages, experience and aesthetic commitment that marked the transition from modern to contemporary in Brazilian visual arts.

It is important to note the references of Ascânio and their place in Brazilian sculptural practice. Impacted, at first, by Neoconcretism and especially by the work of Lygia Pape – understand the dialogue of his early works, which have focused on the research on volume and the graphic space, with the artist’s Relevos and Tecelares, especially the color that results in a spatial experience –, Lygia Clark – the breaking of the frame and the jump to the space that her Superfícies moduladas have produced and, more radically, the relationship between volume, architecture and participation in Bichos – and Franz Weissmann. In Torre neoconcreta (1958), an important mark for Ascânio, Weissmann explores a new model for the sculpture, leaving the pedestal behind and centering the support of the work through a few attachment points. The repetition of the leaked modules allows us to look at the interior, conveying a certain character of lightness to the work. This new apprehension of the sculpture is also reflected in the use of materials, iron and aluminum, which were virtually unknown for this support in Brazil. I remember that MAM - Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro and Enba - Escola Nacional de Belas Artes, two places frequented by Ascânio, were places of exchanges, workshops and exhbitions where different generations of artists were. In addition, the book Candilis, Josic, Woods: una década de arquitectura y urbanismo, by Jürgen Joedicke, with whom he met in 1968, was essential for him as a student of architecture and also an artist who have just started his career. Urban plans, plant facades, models and other architectural inventions "mediated by visual programming" of the book were absorbed by his plastic work. Paulo Herkenhoff stresses, for example, that "Ascânio’s political curiosity about Reidy’s Conjunto do Pedregulho, [in particular its project of social housing] and representations of projects of Candilis, Josic and Woodsmust necessarily go beyond the formalist correlations, as Ascânio is also interested in the bias of alternative social program in them. "[1] We notice that the artist's interest is also investing in public space and the viewer's experience with his work. When his works aim the space of the city, there is no logic of monument, that is, of boasting acts or historical facts that have been consolidated by busts or sitting milestones under pedestals or bases; on the contrary, the works of Ascânio seek maximum involvement with the viewer. They are works that invite to their interior for a fuller investigation of their attributes. They are not solid or obstacles to look or to walk as a regular citizen, but they are sensitive forms open to experience.

Ascânio has established himself as a key artist in the relationship between the sculptural production and the neoconcrete legacy because he was not an artist who followed fads or relied on repetitive and mindless models, having constructivism as a base. On the contrary, he has established new parameters for the research on the geometric abstract art in the country. And that is the reason of my curatorial selection. I have emphasized three aspects of his work: the first one is how light and color merge into his work, allowing the monochrome research of his works on wood, for example, to expand our perceptual capacity. We start, depending on the incidence of light and the position adopted in relation to work, to have an optical experience to envision a varied amount of white. There is a growing interest in exploring the light as a way to boost space. This ability to combine gentleness, silence and range of tones of what was seen as finite turn Ascânio’s work into a special place in art history. Notice that accuracy and sensitivity are not antagonistic in his work, on the contrary, they flows with the same constancy and balance. Placed side by side, Individual 1/11 (1969), and Escultura 13 (1972/2003), show exponential points of his research – virtual volumes, shaded areas that are activated by the incidence of light and then create different shades of white on monochrome surfaces –, as well as they mark the dynamic passage of the plan into space. If in Individual Um/11 the two-dimensionality is evident in a first look, although part of the structure moves into space as a defoliation, we see clearly in the second work that Ascânio’s research have always intended to dwell three-dimensional space, whether the city space or more clearly the commitment to public/spectator/walker.[2]

This diversity of tones creates an even more special effect when the work technique is unpainted wood. His training as an architect has enormously helped in this constitution of dynamic spaces and a '”’harmonious construction’ in which the use of mathematics and of the accuracy of measurements is based on the' construction according to the contrast principles”[3]. Taking advantage of the materiality of the shafts and other internal natural brands, our eyes stare at a structure of topographies and gestures that establish a living body and dynamic on that organic support. His works in wood call upon a range of motion of the ways in pure incidence of light, creating shadows and virtual spaces that increase their volumes or create new cores for the sculptures. This process, moreover, can be seen already in the drafts (called Paralelas) for the Poster Art Hall II of the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, made by the artist in 1968. In the three drafts (I, II, III), we see that the lines that make up the works establish their own pace: figures that are at the limit, due to the conflict between the line structure and the interval that extracts and shows. The result is a drawing that pulses, which discloses a material which tends to vibrate and to expand. The lines want to drop and aim to have volumetry, but are retained and required to compose a whole. Like his sculptures, it is an act in process, always in expansion or contraction, depending on our desire.

It is also important to notice the material and conceptual proximity – research on the kinetics and its particularity in Brazil to make use of materials very close to our culture and viable also by the economic point of view – with the Progressões series (1965-70), by Abraham Palatnik, which uses the jacaranda as support for his research on the vibration and expansion of materials in space.

At this moment, the second aspect of my choice is present. The artist gives to the sculpture a phenomenological character. Despite using different supports if compared to the sensory experiences of Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape, Ascânio also reformulates the question of the viewer, because the body is an important means for the understanding of his work. Reaching the senses of others is activating their perception. In many of his sculptures, the artist explores, first of all, a possibility of work transparency. We can see some ways to the inside or the "skeleton" of that structure. Twists, also present in his work, transmit an elastic character by this "body" that molds to the world and to our eyes, especially when we explore it completely. This sculpture/body is seen the same way it sees us.

The third aspect is the sound and playful characteristic of his work. The Caixas series (1968-69), intensifies the illusion aspect that the incidence of light causes on the monochrome tone of the work, making present all the diverse and subtle shades of white. In addition, this series makes apparent the participatory nature of the artist's research, since the top of the wooden boxes consists of triangular or quadrangular figures, which, placed on a scale progression, allow the viewer to manipulate them, creating a geometric game that combines order, chance and mathematics. Another aspect that makes more explicit the expansive nature of his work is the sound produced by the movement of parts, creating a new territory for the sculpture. The sound establishes this spell experience that the objects produce to the viewer, and, at the same time, it demarcates the increasingly fluid boundary between the mechanical time and duration time.[4] It is the condition of the potentiation of a playful body rather than a body-machine, enjoyment at the expense of function. The sound and aspects of the game, that turn the artistic experience into an unexpected and random act, are also present in the works of the Quasos series (2014). The screws, that are relatively loose on purpose, promote a twist in its own structure, making the work softer, susceptible to the touch and to the sound caused by the meeting of the pieces. His approach to Farfalhantes (c. 1967), by Aluísio Carvão, cannot be denied, but there are very clear differences. For example, curious is the fact that, though it may be fixed to the wall, considering its weight and its transparency, Quasos does not lose the symbology of being a cloak or garment. It is an object of eminent tactile order.

I end this essay with this analogy – of the body, the touch, of the touchable – because that is one of the most important of Ascânio’s contributions for the research on the constructive language in the arts. We were able to see and identify through his work the measurements of time and space. As transit objects, his work tears apart, decreases, slows and shapes such measures.



[1] HERKENHOFF, Paulo. Ascânio MMM: Poética da Razão. São Paulo: Bei Comunicação, 2012, p. 52.

[2] Here I mention numerous public works of the artist, placed in countries like Brazil, Portugal, Japan, among others.

[3] KANDINSKY apud HERKENHOFF, Paulo. Ascânio MMM: Poética da Razão, op. cit., p. 209.


[4] Time in his works will no longer be the mechanical time - usual, marked by the clock - but the duration time, in which "thinking is rehearsing, operate, transform, subject only to an experimental control where only intervene phenomena highly ' worked ', and that our devices produce, instead of writing them". (MERLEAU-PONTY, Maurice. O olho e o espírito. In: CHAUÍ, Marilena de Souza; LOPARIC, Zeljko (org.). Husserl e Merleau-Ponty. São Paulo: Abril Cultural, 1975, p. 275).