Nelson Leirner



Considerations on the trajectory of the plastic artist

Known as a contumacious appropriator of statuettes manufactured in series, without any technical refinement, of objects and images from the visual repertoire of religions practiced in Brazil, and of mass communication icons, Nelson Leirner inserts characters from animation cinema into this universe, in a demonstration of cultural syncretism and contestation of consolidated categories.

At first, the cartoon characters participate in installations conceived as groups of heterogeneous figures, selected to constitute a repertoire made up of religious myths, children's fantasies, angels, animals, which represent, according to Agnaldo Farias, “our intimate and archetypal bestiary: a myriad of major and minor incarnations […] of our most innocent and most sordid desires; fragmented (and perhaps decayed) materializations of what we judge to belong to the invisible part of the world (the sphere of fantasy with which we feed our imagination) or even to the divinity”.

Starting with the big parade, presented at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro (1984), the artist creates a set of objects that are decontextualized and devoid of fixed identities, which will gain new arrangements and new titles over the years, without losing their primitive corrosive power and capacity to disconcert the observer. the great fight (Luísa Strina Gallery/São Paulo, 1985), the great burial (Pinacoteca do Estado/São Paulo, 1986), the great mass (Paço das Artes/São Paulo, 1994), Land in sight (Museum of Contemporary Art/Niterói, 1998), the big parade (Venice Biennale, 1999), Worship (Museum of Modern Art Aloísio Magalhães/Recife, 2002), The day Corinthians were champions (Tomie Ohtake Institute/São Paulo, 2004) and The wedding (Museu Vale/Vila Velha, 2008) constitute new stages of a project in which the artist introduces, each time, changes with the selection of new characters, the alteration of the title and new spatial configurations.

In the first three groups, poorly made and grotesque figurines of Snow White and the seven dwarfs and Donald Duck coexist with images of Saint George and Christ, Iemanjás, mermaids, Exus, Pombas-Giras, friars, cherubs, winged horses, Indians, Romans in chariots, Venus, elephants, giraffes, lions, oxen, zebras, dancers, naked women, little soldiers, war tanks, planes, He-men, Sacis-Pererês, cats, dogs, spiders, lizards and “small rubber artifacts that mothers offer their babies to bite them”. (Farias). As Fernanda Lopes points out, the reconfigurations do not obey any idea of ​​hierarchy: “elephants can be in a privileged position in the image of Christ; Iemanjás may be more prominent than São Jorge; and He-man may be better placed in relation to the Venus de Milo”.

the big parade, in turn, more than quadruples the 1984 design, comprising almost 2.500 pieces. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Donald Duck coexist with Catholic symbols and Candomblé and Macumba practices, various objects (carts, refrigerator penguins), bandits on horseback, Sacis-Pererês, Batmans and various animals.

As Lilia Schwarcz recalls, the set is arranged in an imposing triangle, at the apex of which is the image of Christ blessing everyone. The front of the parade is made up of carioca rascals, Batman cars and horsemen. The group presents “an inverted cosmology”, the result of the meeting “of popular and official culture, of Catholicism combined with Afro manifestations”, filling the eyes by the “humor that unveils” and by the classificatory principle circumvented and reorganized at the same time.

Various figures of Mickey, Minnie and Donald Duck, accompanied by hearts of Jesus, Our Ladies, garden dwarfs, superheroes, princesses, cangaceiros, dancers, Indians, Saint Georges, refrigerator penguins, cute doves, etc., are the guests of Weddings from 2008, in which the bride and groom are represented by two life-size mannequins, elegantly dressed and wearing monkey masks. Donald Duck, Daisy, Mickey and a possible Bambi are part of a unique pilgrimage (1999), headed by animals and finished by cult figures. A not very dissimilar articulation characterizes missamobile (2000), placed on a skateboard, in which the usual rudimentary figurines of Donald, Goofy and a black-nosed Sylvester can be distinguished.

Figures of Mickey and Minnie, alongside garden dwarfs, Batmans, saints, orixás and deities, Virgin Marys, Iemanjás and a blessing Christ, constitute the peculiar crowd of Football (2000), conceived as an impossible game due to the multitude of sacred figures arranged on the lawn. Once again, Leirner dispenses with any hierarchical conception, transforming all the figures into spectators of an event marked by an “inversion of expectations”, in the words of Moacir dos Anjos. Devotional images and figures taken from the circuit of mass culture, which should be worshipped, are, on the contrary, “in a position of adoration as the football match unfolds”, generating “a symbolic buzz that evokes the conflicting creation of evaluative consensuses in the world of sport”.

On the Serie So it is... if it seems to you (2003-2011), Leirner once again makes use of animated film characters: hundreds of stickers of Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, Piu Piu, the Dalmatians, characters from Maurício de Sousa (Mônica, Magali, Cascão, Cebolinha, Chico Bento, Rosinha, Zé da Roça), associated with skulls, skeletons, Santa Claus faces, Barbies, little monkeys, cats, Brazilian and American flags, dollar bills, etc., are superimposed on old and modern maps and to plastic terrestrial globes, generating a unique cartography, in which Agnaldo Farias detects the desire to corroborate, “through literal illustrations, what is already known about the new world order. Booming Mickeys and Donald Ducks cover North America and Europe while skulls are scattered across Latin America, Africa and a substantial portion of Asia”. At the same time that he uses the “child activism of taking possession of things, Nelson Leirner sheds light on the arbitrariness of discourses and the instances through which ideology is present”.

The equation, however, is not so simple, since the series does not allow a single reading. If, in one of his achievements dated 2010, the overlapping of Mickey and Minnie stickers on the American continent could be seen as a demonstration of their power to penetrate a global imaginary, other examples help to contradict this simplified interpretation. This is the case of a work from the same year, which shows the same space taken up by numerous skeletons, and two works from 2003, characterized by backgrounds in different colors: yellow and red. In the first, North America is literally taken over by an army of skeletons, while the southern portion is under the control of two fictional figures.

In the second, the layout is reversed, leaving the viewer bewildered by the sudden change of route. Far from seeking in the series a one-dimensional reading of the organization of the world order under the capitalist regime, Leirner gives the impression of wanting to propose to the viewer a fantastic geography, made up of breaches of expectations and visual games that allow him to create a paradoxical and parodic vision of the history. By appropriating an ideological discourse that is organized into zones of political and economic interests, the artist proposes a biased reading of official history, in which he injects an anarchist bias and an exchange of signs with the aim of denouncing domination through force. of the dominant discourse.

Lilia Moritz Schwarcz's reflection is in line with this reading, as, in her view, the series can be analyzed from different points of view. The geographer Leirner denounces, on the one hand, “the supreme globalization of this world that pasteurizes the different and makes a tabula rasa of images and representations”. On the other hand, the maps made their nature of representation even more clear, of “symbolic geography, made much more to impose differences – and naturalize them – than to just give veracity to this world”. The author invites the reader to delve into an exercise of imagination: “Just look at the numerous skulls that inhabit these colorful and brilliant atlases [...]. It is enough to look at where the infinite Hello Kitties or the various Mickey Mouses are arranged to know that nothing is exactly random. For they cheat our established forms, and make what is established laugh.

“Donald Duck, Mickey and other Disney characters have long represented and symbolized capitalism and its “supposed invasion”. However, seen from this new perspective, they are completely out of place. Instead of dominating, they seem dominated; colonized. In fact, Nelson Leirner blurs boundaries, showing his artificiality and, at the same time, the playful and fun side of our space conventions. […] Even more: as each artistic atlas is unique in the resulting work, each new world map appears profoundly varied and multiple. As diverse as our current reality is, which promised globalization but delivered a human universe made up of many faces and a myriad of responses, designs and tribalizations. And that's how Nelson Leirner's maps are, the same in wholesale, very peculiar in retail. Each one is one, being many”.

The artist seems to have a real fascination with the figures of Mickey and Minnie, as he transforms them into protagonists in other satirical and corrosive compositions. On the Serie Everything in its place (2012-2013), appropriates photographs and photograms, in which he intervenes with stickers and colored acrylic pieces, to satirize the North American consumer culture. Some of the images are well known and the intervention assumes, in these cases, an even more scathing tone, as evidenced by the placement of Minnie's face in the famous photogram of Sin lives next door (The seven year itch, 1955), in which Marilyn Monroe's white dress is lifted by the jet of air coming out of a subway vent.

Leirner removes the figure of the neighbor from the image and creates a balloon with the empty black outline of Mickey. Another famous image, Lunch on top of a skyscraper (Lunch atop a skyscraper, 1932), is transformed into a gala dinner sui generis: instead of the eleven workers photographed by Charles Ebbets on the 69th floor of the RCA building, the artist places the black cutouts of the mouse couple, flanked by two waiters, whose faces consist of empty molds of Mickey in black and red. A promotional image for the Rockefeller Center then under construction, Ebbets' photograph takes on a new meaning with Leirner's intervention, which makes it an unmistakable symbol of capitalism and its empty rites.

Other interventions include a still from a western, a photograph of a girl in intimate clothes, a snapshot of a couple in Woodstock and a group portrait next to a car. In the first, Mickey's face is above the figure of a cowboy, who directs his thoughts to his beloved, an outline of Minnie's face. In the second, the female face is replaced by a red mold of Minnie thinking about her boyfriend. In the image of the couple, the male figure's face is covered by a Mickey outline, while the woman wears a Minnie mask. In the collective portrait, six black molds of Mickey and a red one of Minnie are seen. With his ironic interventions, the Brazilian artist deconstructs the traditional idea of ​​a portrait as a bearer of personal individuality, replacing it with that of a cliché and referring it to the universe of mass communication and its burden of non-differentiation.

Minnie, Daisy, Mickey, Donald and Puca figurines are part of the unique Shelf 2009 in the company of books dedicated to beauties, an engraving by Pablo Picasso and knick-knacks from the most diverse origins: souvenirs from Mona Lisa (1503-1506) and from The girls (1656), by Diego Velázquez, dolls, oriental ceramics, toys, rice powder cases, etc. On other occasions, Leirner individualizes some icons of animation cinema, as evidenced by Bust (Simpson) e Bust (Puca), dated 2012, and the set Coat, held in the same year.

Despite the variation in titles, the works are quite similar; what differentiates them is the type of coat worn by the figures and the color of the tie. The police uniform Busts loses the pockets with the insignia in the series Coat, but rigidity is a feature common to both; the black tie, in turn, is replaced by a red one with white polka dots. Puca's angry face integrates both sets; Marge Simpson gives way to daughter Lisa; and Frajola, with a perplexed face, represents a new insertion in relation to the Busts.

With these works, Leirner wants to ironize a type of sculpture that emerged associated with the cult of the dead (ancient Rome) and saints (reliquary bust) to later become the celebration of important individuals and dynastic figures, as attested by the examples of busts dedicated to Niccolò de Uzzano (Donatello, c. 1433), Eleonora of Aragon (Francesco Laurana, c. 1468), Louis XIV (Gianlorenzo Bernini, 1665), Napoleon (Antonio Canova, c. 1804-1814), among others others.

In the mid-eighteenth century, the bust was placed at the service of celebrating famous personalities, and one of the greatest neoclassical sculptors, Jean-Antoine Houdon, dedicated himself to “faithfully preserving the form and making the image of men who achieved glory undying”. or the good for his country”. Faithful to this design, Houdon immortalizes the figures of philosophers (Denis Diderot, 1771; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1778; Voltaire, 1781), inventors (Benjamin Franklin, 1779; Robert Fulton, 1803-1804) and politicians (George Washington, 1785 -1788; Thomas Jefferson, 1789), as well as Louis XVI (1790) and Napoleon (1806). The cartoon characters chosen by the Brazilian artist gain the parodic status of figures to be remembered for their deeds, although they come from a dysfunctional family (Simpson) or fail to achieve their goals (Frajola and Puca).

But it is not just the universe of mass communication that Leirner turns his attention to when he appropriates icons of animation cinema. His operation is more complex since, on different occasions, he uses characters derived from this type of production to make critical comments about imagery transit in contemporary culture. Interested in analyzing how artistic images are reproduced and multiplied through the “imaginary museum” and what connections of ideas they are capable of producing, the artist reframes some emblematic works by replacing their figures with cartoon icons. Since the past belongs to the sphere of memory construction, the images to be re-signified can come from different historical times, without this creating methodological problems. In the manipulation of the past both Marcel Duchamp and fifteenth-century art, for example, fit.

Em Apollinaire (2008), Leirner resumes and modifies enamelled apolilinere (enamelled apolinere), performed by Duchamp in 1916-1917. It is a quotation of a quotation, as the French artist had appropriated an advertisement for Sapolin paint, in which he introduced several modifications in order to propose an allegory of the ready made. The first change concerns the replacement of “Sapolin enamel” by “Apolinere enameled” thanks to the obliteration of some letters and the addition of others with black ink. Second, the commercial slogan “Gerstendorfer Bros., New York, USA” becomes a meaningless message “Any act red by her ten or epergne, New York, USA”. Finally, Duchamp draws on the mirror the reflection of the girl's hair that is painting the bed frame, adding a new visual element to the original image.

According to some authors, this addition has erotic implications, but it is possible to think that the scene itself carries a sexual message due to the presence of the bed and the brush held by the girl, which could refer to a phallus being caressed. If it is recalled that the French artist stated in 1961 that all the paintings were ready-mades helped, as the tubes of paint were manufactured, it will be possible to see in the work a reflection on the abandonment of traditional artistic tools in favor of new instruments of a conceptual and poetic nature.

Leirner trivializes Duchamp's operation, stripping it of all allegorical connotations; at the same time, he makes the reference to Guillaume Apollinaire more explicit and mysterious. In his installation, he keeps the gigantic bed, but replaces the girl in the act of painting with the figure of a motionless Snow White. The presence of a crowd of dwarfs under the bed, in turn, makes the erotic suggestions attributed by the critics to the ready made of 1916-1917.

The work is part of the series Apollinaire bewitched, in which Leirner dialogues with another emblematic work by Duchamp, The bride undressed by her bachelors, even (La mariée mise à nu par ses celibataires, même), also known as the big glass (Le grand verre). Produced between 1915 and 1923, the realization is deeply hermetic, but one of its meanings can be summarized in an observation by Michel Carrouges: it represents “the denial of procreation and, consequently, of human genealogy”, since the sexual relationship between the bride and celibates is impossible.

Leirner trivializes not only the complex game of meanings mobilized by Duchamp, but also another objective underlined by Paulo Venâncio Filho: to arrive at an anti-retinal painting, at the service of the mind, with the “progressive withdrawal of traditional procedures, materials, themes, to leave nothing or almost nothing suspended in the transparency of the glass”. Moacir dos Anjos detects the dialogue with Duchamp in the first work of the set, in which Leirner shows mannequins dressed as brides lying down on three glass beds. In two of them, there are plastic toys and wooden flowers, of a phallic nature; under the third bed, dozens of stuffed dogs watch over the bride's hidden dreams.

The presence of Branca de Neve in the second work of the series and her physical proximity to the first reveals, according to the author, the symbolic ambivalence of the image of the betrothed: she is an expression of the virginal state of the woman and, at the same time, of the socially approved abandonment of such a condition. “Virgin heroine who acts, […] as a surrogate wife of the seven dwarfs […]”, Snow White, in association with the forty guardians placed under the bed, can be considered “almost a kitsch and hyperbolic retelling of 'The great glass". Along with the first work, “it magnifies the sexual energy that fairy tales usually contain and repress”. The result of this energy flows into the other two works in the set – a nativity scene and a nursery with nine baby monkeys –, questioning the impossibility of procreation envisaged by Carrouges.

Ironic dialogue with an artist who rebelled against the conventions of art, making use of pre-existing artifacts to which he conferred a seal of artistic quality, Apollinaire it's not as blunt as Viva 2010 (2010). In this, the parody conceived as a self-reflective investigation into the relationship of art with the past and the present, is taken to paroxysm. The observer is faced with a paradoxical scene. In an environment richly decorated with plant and animal elements, characters from the Disney universe stand out: Donald Duck wearing a female costume; Minnie acting as chaperone and a small dog; and Mickey playing dual roles. The paradoxical aspect of the scene, which demonstrates the artist's desire to establish an intertextual relationship with the traditions and conventions of past art, incorporating and challenging the object of parody, becomes even more intriguing for the observer who manages to determine the identity of the parodied work.

Leirner makes his interventions in a reproduction of the tapestry By my only wish (At mon seoul desir), which is part of the cycle The lady and the unicorn, made in Flanders (c. 1484-1538) and composed of six pieces, which are articulated in an allegory of the five senses and a possible injunction to rise above pleasures. The composition of for my only wish it is full of symbols that suggest some hypotheses about its meaning. The work would represent an allegory of the elevation of the soul through the senses, the subjection of animal tendencies and the predominance of reason; or even a cryptic homage to human love and the possibility of the suggestion of marriage.

These different reading possibilities are absent from Leirner's parody, which establishes an ironic game with a work from the past, modified from mass communication images in order to give it a new meaning. The abolition of any boundary between elite art and mass art leads the artist to transform Donald Duck into the tapestry lady, creating a disproportion between the female body and the head of the Disney character, and to give Mickey the role of the two main characters. symbolic animals, the lion and the unicorn.

The smile stamped on all the faces of the cartoon and comic characters contrasts with the seriousness of the figures in the original, but is consistent with the expressed desire to parodically rewrite past art history, questioning its stability of meaning and problematizing knowledge. historic. Leirner's parodic recreation does not fail to evoke the rewritings of historical facts and literary works proposed by the Disney Studio and its affiliates in comic book series such as goofy makes history e classics of literature, in which the nonsense, the subversion of everyday logic and the sometimes crazy transformation of reported/recreated events are the main features.

For Apollinaire e Viva 2010 can be properly appreciated, it is necessary for the observer to know the parodied works. Only then will it be possible to assess the extent of the parodic destruction of codified meanings and the process of downgrading works belonging to the sphere of high culture, which end up being renewed by contemporary interventions. By lowering the values ​​attributed by critics to Duchampian tapestry and play, Leirner challenges the idea that it is up to the serious tone to express the truth and everything that is important and considerable. Close to Mikhail Bakhtin's conception, the artist seems to want to demonstrate that laughter, “ambivalent and universal, does not refuse seriousness”; rather, it “purifies and completes it.”

The purification process turns against dogmatism, one-sidedness, fanaticism, categorical spirit, didacticism and naivety. In the wake of the Russian author, the laughter mobilized by Leirner prevents “the serious from settling and isolating itself from the unfinished integrity of everyday existence”, allowing the reestablishment of an ambivalent reality. In this, there is room for the “open seriousness”, which “fears neither parody nor irony, [...], because it feels that it participates in an unfinished world, forming a whole”.

The fact that he attributes a creative function to laughter and that he does not propose any closed solution makes it possible to understand Leirner's proximity to Luigi Pirandello's questions about the impossibility of knowing the truth. This proximity is explicitly assumed in So it is... if it seems to you, whose title is inspired by the “philosophical farce” (1917) by the Italian writer, who brings into play the problem of the inexistence of a single truth, since reality is perceived in different ways by individuals, resulting in the relativism of forms and conventions of every genre.

The artist, who claims to have remembered Pirandello “because his theater is all about riddles”, evokes him again in the title of a work of encyclopedic dimensions, One none one hundred thousand (2000-2011). In the novel published in 1926, Pirandello takes to extreme consequences the theme of the loss of objectivity of reality and its disappearance in the vortex of relativism. Its protagonist progressively becomes aware that identity, deemed unique, is nothing more than an illusion. From the discovery of a physical defect, he realizes that there are countless images manufactured by others based on his appearance and ends up giving up all identity after living the experience of estrangement in front of the mirror and a photographic portrait.

The issue of image identity, or rather, “the progressive dissolution of symbolic differences” (Angels) between heterogeneous groups of icons and hybrid figures created and following the best practices is at the heart of Leirner's parodic encyclopedia, which challenges the viewer's visual memory with a joyous and unrestrained game. Once again, characters from the world of animation/comics are summoned, along with various other symbols of mass culture, to participate in “grotesque degradations” of art history. Mickey and Minnie are the great protagonists of “an alternative cosmovision characterized by the playful questioning of all norms” (Stam), assisted by other figures from the Disney Studio (Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Snow White, the Prince who woke her from death , the dwarfs Mestre and Zangado, Tinker Bell, the Little Mermaid and Winnie the Pooh) and from several production companies – Betty Boop, Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Penélope Charmosa, Hello Kitty, Tweety, Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Woodstock, Scooby-Doo and Sausage.

As it would be impossible to account for the entire visual universe explored by Leirner, which, in the case of visual arts, ranges from Antiquity to Jeff Koons, some examples characterized by the use of Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy in parodic stagings of famous works will be analyzed. Two works by Leonardo da Vinci appear in several segments of Leirner's encyclopedia. Topped by the smiling heads of the four characters, Mona Lisa it loses its enigmatic and introspective air and becomes a grotesque figure, emptied of any psychological dimension. The last supper (1495-1498) is subjected to the same process of desublimation. The artist appropriates both full reproductions of the fresco and fragments and populates them with heads of Mickey, Minnie and Donald, endowed with small distinctive details that do nothing more than underline the similarity of the groupings, thus stripping the work of its psychological density that Leonardo had lent him.

The Milanese fresco represents an innovation in the treatment of the theme, since the attitudes and gestures of the apostles represent not only physical movements, but also the emotional reactions of each one to the announcement of betrayal made by a self-absorbed Christ. By placing the smiling faces of Mickey and Donald on his figure, Leirner obliterates the contrast created by Leonardo between the emotional turmoil of the apostles and the meditative and gentle attitude of Christ, transposing the sacred episode into the universe of carnivalization, understood as a subversion of current order and redistribution of roles “according to the 'upside down world'” (Stam).

The same desire to strip art of a serious vision is present in the revisitation of other famous works from the not-too-distant past. Minnie's smiling face affixed to puberty (1894-1895), by Edvard Munch, removes one of its main aspects from the painting: the question about the fate of women in nineteenth-century society. In the original work, the girl's frightened expression and her shy gaze awaken a feeling of discomfort and loneliness in the viewer. The young woman's restlessness with the moment she was going through – the passage from childhood to adolescence – is increased by the presence of the threatening shadow to her right.

This can be seen as an omen of what awaited her in adult life: the loss of freedom and joy due to the only functions attributed to women, procreation and child care. If Minnie's happy expression makes Munch's work idiotic, so does the rereading of Marat's death (1793). Mickey's head smiling in place of the revolutionary leader's agonized face strips the painting of the celebratory character that Jacques-Louis David infused it with. The image of Marat as a martyr of the French Revolution, underlined by the mystical light, the white turban that recalls the band worn on the forehead by sacrificial victims in Greece and Rome, the arm hanging out of the bathtub and the body reclining backwards that evoke the figure of dead Christ, becomes a grotesque representation aimed at negating and reversing the French painter's objectives.

Typical of the carnivalization process, this reverse logic is still mobilized in the re-reading of works in which Leirner proposes a gender permutation of the figures. O slave dying (1513), by Michelangelo, and the self portrait with model (1910), by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, are transformed into examples of sexual shuffling. Minnie's head superimposed on the sculptural figure gives new meaning to the languid and sensual pose of the young man who seems to have given up fighting and surrenders to eternal sleep, in a metaphorical evocation of the liberation of the soul by death. The approximation of a smiling face to a body in which life is fading away recalls the image of the “happy death” analyzed by Bakhtin.

In popular sources, the image of death is ambivalent. Despite focusing on the dying individual body, it still encompasses “a small part of another nascent, young body, which, even when it is not specifically shown and designated, is implicitly included in the image of death. Where there is death, there is also birth, alternation, renewal”. The idea of ​​“merry death” applies equally to Minnie and Donald's heads emerging from mummy sarcophagi. Leirner, who bets on this renewal process in iconographic terms, does not shy away from a representation in drag of Kirchner's painting when he places Margarida's head on the painter's body and Donald's on that of the model, transforming the tension of the original into a playful and uncompromising vision.

This same principle of downgrading is applied to ancient statuary, medieval miniatures, an iconic figure such as Christ the Redeemer and works by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Fernando Botero, Egon Schiele, Giorgio De Chirico, Edgar Manet, Edward Hopper , René Magritte, Pablo Picasso, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, Jeff Koons, José Guadalupe Posadas, Glauco Rodrigues, Aleksandr Ródtchenko, Anita Malfatti, Andy Warhol, just to name a few examples in a universe made up of more than three thousand pieces that are the size of playing cards.

As Agnaldo Farias clarifies, One none one hundred thousand was born over more than a decade dedicated to “methodical and silent work, done on the sidelines of larger orders and projects and in the cracks of everyday obligations”. During this period, Leirner dedicated himself to carrying out interventions in invitations to exhibitions, banknotes, stamps, saints, reproductions of works of art, book covers, maps, among others, in order to open “new and unsuspected perspectives”, capable of revealing that “each fragment, however small and inexpressive, [is] a condensed version of a complex and virtually infinite world”.

Lilia Schwarcz, in turn, proposes seeing the whole as a “work of cannibalization” and, even more, an “anthropophagic activity”, that is, an act of “cultural circularity”. In this context, the artist can be seen as “a hardened modernist, always mixing logics, contexts, characters and situations”. A summary of Leirner's poetics, the work is “a patchwork of images, of small details, which, arranged all together, make up a large multifaceted carpet, revealing the work of our artist's entire life”.

Leirner's interest in the world of animation also extends to series abstract figurativism (1999-2013), Sotheby's (2000-2013) and in a work like pollockcow (2004). In the first, articulated as a kaleidoscope vision, the artist explores different temporalities of the history of cartoons, as he rescues historical figures such as Betty Boop, Piu Piu and Mickey and introduces more recent protagonists such as Hello Kitty and SpongeBob in configurations that, seen from from afar, they evoke post-impressionist painting. When approaching the works, the observer realizes that that abstract pointillism is made up of thousands of stickers coming, in large part, from the imagination of children and young people, of which the animated film characters are fundamental parts.

In the second series, Leirner appropriates catalog covers from the famous auction house to contaminate the sphere of “high culture” with visual jokes that subvert the logic of the market. The smiling faces of Mickey, Goofy and Donald are superimposed on female busts placed on chairs in a verdant garden. In another intervention, the faces of Mickey and Minnie are on top of two chairs on wheels, equipped with protuberances that evoke breasts.

Plastic glasses with Minnie's ears and bows are placed over the eyes of a Roy Lichtenstein artwork. The smiling face of Mickey's girlfriend affixed to the reproduction of Madame Récamier (1805), by François Gérard, generates a noise in a painting characterized by the delicacy of the pose and the pictorial treatment, based on a subtle game of white, yellow and green tones. The painter's care in establishing a chromatic agreement between the red of the curtain and the pink tone of the skin on the face is completely lost in Leirner's intervention, who adds an element to the original: a balloon with Mickey's face to explain the smile of the new model.

The same smiling face of the mouse takes the place of Medusa's head in the reproduction of one of the versions of Perseus and Andromeda, painted by Gustave Moreau in the 1860s. In addition to erasing the heroic feat of the son of Zeus with the presence of the Disney character, Leirner empties the tragic aspect of the episode even further by affixing gold to the eyes of Andromeda, sacrificed to the sea monster Cetus, and with the addition of golden trimmings.

Disney characters gain a special role in the series. As Lilia Schwarcz writes: “Contrasting with sometimes traditional settings, sometimes with classicist canvases, cubist engravings or works by contemporary North American authors, Mickey, Minnie, Tigger, Goofy, Daisy and Donald now appear in the works, unbalancing more consecrated meanings. In the first place, there is a humor operation, one of those that use the displacement of meanings, to build new meanings. Seeing a catalog framed and invaded by characters from the cultural industry is an intervention that calls for a new look: plastic and critical. Secondly […], there is an aesthetic agenda summarized there. Nothing is left to chance: color, format, size, theme are part of the criteria that are selected when intervening on catalog covers”.

Dialoguing with the book by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, To read Donald Duck: mass communication and colonialism (1971), which she considers outdated “because of the angry and inflated tone”, the author proposes not to see in the work of the Brazilian artist a very strict or explicit social reading. In her view, Leirner makes “playful and beautiful” use of Disney characters, which she subverts by artistically manipulating them. In addition, there is “a joke with colonialism, or rather, with who colonizes whom. Is it the capitalist advance, advocated by the Disney crowd, that invades Nelson's maps, or are we the ones who make this invasion, along with them? I think that there was a kind of technical tie here, or rather, cultural circularity instead of a one-way and mass road”.

Schwarcz's question "Who colonizes whom?" can be applied to pollockcow, the umpteenth play by Leirner with the universe of “serious” art and its profound meanings. Is this a tribute to Pollock or a mockery of the mystique that surrounded the American painter's method of work, halfway between painting and performance? With the methodical and controlled application of hundreds of stickers of Cinderella, Tweety, Mickey, Hello Kitty, Tigger, Gaspar, Winnie the Pooh and a multitude of Snoopys, among others, Leirner seems to perform two operations: to demonstrate that their cumulative actions do not they are casual, as they respond to a visual design; to show that Pollock's performance brought with it the celebration of vital impulses, but, at the same time, hinted at the possibility of their exhaustion in a continuous game between finished and unfinished.

pollockcow can also be seen as a critique of the phenomenon cowparade, which began in Switzerland in 1998, quickly spread around the world and arrived in São Paulo in 2005. At that time, Leirner stated that it was a process “repetitive of the art system itself. The artist can no longer be an aggressor against society or the art system. Everything ends up being consumed, encompassed. I think for the public it will be interesting, but for the city it's just more visual pollution”.

A tireless collector, interested in all kinds of objects and images that make up the contemporary visual landscape, Leirner makes use of the animation cinema imaginary, detecting in it one of the sources of those new mythologies that expanded the artistic field in the 1960s. phenomenon, Gillo Dorfles, drew attention to the birth of new expressive forms – cinema, television, advertising graphics, industrial design –, which could not be left aside in the evaluation of the contemporary artistic situation. The Brazilian artist does not fail to take into account two questions raised by Dorfles – Where does the field to be attributed to art begin and where does it end? Where are your goals and targets? –, but it does so in its own way, questioning the rules implicit in a marked card game and giving primacy to an imaginary grounded in entertainment and manifestations of popular art. Thanks to them, he scrutinizes and ridicules the universe of official art, which he turns upside down, eroding its seriousness and provoking displacements capable of producing new meanings and even counter-meanings.

In fact, the questioning of the limits of art had already been outlined in the 1930s by a politically engaged artist like Diego Rivera, who detected in Mickey's figure a new artistic potential, comparable to the "plastic value" he attributed to works by popular art of an ephemeral nature: sugar sculptures to be eaten, and cardboard and paper sculptures created to be “broken or burned”. In the Disney Studio mouse, Rivera finds “the characteristics of the purest and most graphically defined style, of the greatest effectiveness as a social result”.

This second observation demonstrates that the painter gives the character a social meaning. His drawings “cheerful and simple […] they make the masses of tired men and women rest and make children laugh until they get tired and sleep without screaming, thus allowing the elderly to rest”. Rivera goes even further in his considerations and even foresees a future in which the masses, who “carried out the real revolution”, will not show great interest in “the 'revolutionary' films of today” and will look with “compassionate curiosity” at the paintings, statues, poetry and prose that survived “the general cleansing of the world”. Cartoons will probably continue to amuse adults and make children and artists die of laughter; they will realize that Mickey “was one of the true heroes of American art around the first half of the twentieth century, in the calendar before the world revolution”.

Rivera's enthusiasm for the creation of the Disney Studio seems to know no bounds. Due to the style, the standardization of the design of the details and the “infinite variety of sets”, the cartoon is compared with the painted friezes of the Egyptians and the fired clay vases of the Greeks. In relation to the achievements of the past, he had an advantage: the movement and its manifestation in the cinema, the art of the present, “according to Mr. Eisenstein”.

In addition, animation cinema expressed “the most logical rhythms, although more unexpected due to technical needs”, and could be defined as the result of “greater efficiency with greater economy”. Through the parody of famous works, Leirner is part of this type of discussion, which aimed to broaden the modern conception of art and call attention to the artistic potential that animation carried.

Like the theorists and artists of the first decades of the XNUMXth century, Leirner perceives in cartoon characters a universe of “transformation, subversion and provisionality” (Leslie). Although attracted by their subversion of logic and order, the artist does not fail to take into account the transformations they were subsequently subjected to, leading them to lose the revolutionary charge of the first anarchic and utopian achievements. Leirner seems to mobilize the two moments experienced by animation, starting from the assumption that its unreality is not at all naive.

In the works in which animation/comic book characters are inserted in the universe of the cultural industry, their relationship with the capitalist system is remembered, albeit in a biased way on different occasions. When they participate in the process of contesting the official artistic world, it is soon their anarchic and subversive character that is enhanced. In these moments, what counts is the invasion of the universe of high culture by marginalized visual forms, capable of challenging conventional rules and restrictions with irreverent and corrosive parodies.

*Annateresa Fabris is a retired professor at the Department of Visual Arts at ECA-USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reality and fiction in Latin American photography (UFRGS Publisher).



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