Lenora de Barros

Image: Lenora de Barros


Considerations on the exhibition on display at the Pinacoteca, in São Paulo

Who will visit the exhibition My language it will be immediately captured by Lenora de Barros' effort to articulate different devices for expressing singularity. Right in the first room of the Pinacoteca we find Language, a piece that synthesizes fundamental themes for his creative exercise: in this photographic sequence there is a desire to express the materiality of language, stripping it of its representative pretensions and taking it as an embodied expression. Contrary to what millennia of metaphysics teach us, the body here becomes loci of real production. It is through him that language finds strength to confront the ascetic submission of reason.

Language, 1990-2022. Photo: Diogo Barros[I]

The artist exposes here the intimacy of her own language, captured in different decades, to always express a singularity fissured by enunciation: Lenora de Barros reminds us how every subject dwells in the grooves that language produces in the body. Because it is an exposed, exteriorized muscle, the tongue is a particularly interesting case of contact between socius e sum; language cracks the flesh and, to some extent, manufactures it. It manufactures it as if reminding us that there is no body a priori — there is only a body as a result of its fabrication through sociability.

What is interesting about this sequence are the modifications in the features sculpted by time. They engrave in the flesh the succession of encounters with speech, with sex, with food that makes us who we are. The traces of language are there, perpetually modified, like an exposed fragment of truth: they remind us how the body is inscribed in the social by multi-diversifying its presence in our fabrics, just as the history of a singular body is always the history of encounters that they produced it.

As an organ, language organizes a certain socialization of singularity by outlining possible enunciations. His “drawings” are not ornaments, as Eduardo Viveiros de Castro would say. They function as cartographies of our concrete experiences with reality: they are the striae that result from contact with the other, from friction with the world. We see Lenora de Barros' constant interest in these contacts, in experiencing them in their inherent dangers, throughout the entire exhibition.

Em Poem, the artist's tongue runs through a typewriter. This meeting could be interpreted as a metaphor of representation, as only when translating by machine was it possible to communicate what vibrates in language. But I believe it is more interesting to think about it from the point of view of its shock character. If we think that the poem is precisely the ability of language to produce the new by subverting itself from within, from a suspension of its own rules, the work takes on another meaning, not exactly analogous to representation. We could, instead, accentuate the friction produced by two technologies of language that sensually collide, that allow themselves to be confronted in their different regimes of expression.

Poem, 1979-2014. Photo: Diogo Barros.

There is something of the insistence on the irreconcilability between speech and writing here. She does not fail to allude to our so vicious dualities: reason and affection, body and mind, organ and machine, technique and theory, metal and flesh. Confronted in the photographs, our apparent dichotomies become confused. They do it not as a way to dignify one pole over another, but to remain productive in an encounter that collides machines of different configurations.

The aesthetic event safeguards something of the power to suspend our current forms of life, freeing objects for new meanings. A good part of the contemporary artistic effort is to balance dualities, such as those between technical objects and artistic objects. Poem problematizes such barriers by aestheticizing concrete reality and dignifying art with a certain technological capacity, namely, the strength to intervene and transform reality.

Lenora's tongue runs over the typewriter as if oiling it; it dances with its keys, penetrates its gears; it destabilizes its systematization in order to meet the radically different, to create a means of expression that also produces the other. Finally reunited, desire and technology provide a new way of relating to the body.

An unsubmissive body, radically singular and inevitably erotic. Eroticism occurs where our reflexive pretensions of unveiling the other are suspended. In that breath of time, we open ourselves to somatic experimentation with desire. Poem shows us how, in desiring, we are driven by an impulse towards the unusual.

The grooves of Language emerge from encounters like this. Encounters with singularities whose speeds differ from ours and who write their marks to expel us from the insipidity of sameness or privatization of the body. They remind us how little or nothing is natural about corporeality; or more precisely, the natures, always multiple, of our bodies are manufactured by encounters with each other, their natures result from the interaction with the others.

Michel Foucault spoke of a synaptic contact between body and power. That's too cerebral a metaphor, I think. It would be better to speak of fissures in tissues, of paths that stretch into flesh. Language bodily safeguards something of the ontological exposure that constitutes us in the social field: to a certain extent, it makes its (symbolic) tissue present by tearing it into our (muscular) tissues. Always tiny rips, tiny cuts, erratic paths. The pieces invite us to confront this tear not as violence – they are where life becomes possible. They are forms of experimentation, laboratory of infinite bacteria, significant microorganisms.

thing itself, 1990. Photo: Diogo Barros

This culture of tongue bacteria intensifies in thing in itself. As a good researcher in philosophy, the reference to Kant jumps out at me. It must be understood as the final call to dissolve the tyranny of representation over our bodies. It is a question of remembering how the most decisive precipitates from the flesh, like a smooth surface, in full view, and that slides over the skin. This is Lenora de Barros' final blow to depose her judgment, if I may joke with Artaud and Deleuze.

We see this singularization of corporeality in pieces such as Tribute to George Segal e I said nothing. The impurities that ferment on the tongue spread throughout the body, exploding into configurations yet to find form. They strip us of our antibodies, our forgetfulness of the flesh, by producing antibodies in us: bodies that do not submit to rational judgment, bodies that do not adapt to the communicable because they are fertile with negativity.

Lenora de Barros plays with different modes of perception. Through sound and visual environments, as in The face. The tongue. the belly e eye touch, destabilizes our addicted sensitivity circuits. Art begins to function as a reassessment of our forms of singular relationship to the norm. All singularization occurs through unusual experiments. It allows the emergence of new corporeities by intervening directly in the sensible, something that philosophy has always excused. As long as philosophy retains its fear of mixing with aesthetic experience, it will remain platonic, in the sense of closing its eyes to the materiality of the real.

Philosophism teaches to die because it rejects life, resigns from its infinity. We will remain apprentices of death, endlessly learning to deny the productive force of negation, dreaming with the static and pale truth of our eyelids. The artist teaches us, in line with this model, that the most decisive pulsates in the flesh, in her quest to manufacture new forms of socialization of the singular.

* Peter Pennycook is a master's student in philosophy at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE).

The Pinacoteca de São Paulo hosts the exhibition Lenora de Barros: My Líwater, curated by Pollyana Quintella, until April 9 of this year.


[I] The photos of the works were taken from the article “Body and language in the work of Lenora de Barros”, published on the blog Artsoul, and its credits are entirely authored by the critic Diogo Barros. The accompanying article is also an interesting commentary on the exhibition. It is available at https://blog.artsoul.com.br/corpo-e-linguagem-na-obra-de-lenora-de-barros/

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