Leonardo On-Line

Between Form and Force: Connecting Architectonic, Telematic and Thermal Spaces

			Mario Ramiro

Translated by Stephen Sinsley and Simone Osthoff.

The author surveys his work from the late 1970s in Brazil to the present in Germany, describing specific pieces and discussing key ideas and metaphors that inform his production. He started working with public spaces in São Paulo, modifying the architectural environment in collaborative projects called "Urban Interventions." These works led to experimentation with photocopiers and later to work with telecommunications---radio, telephones, television, answering machines, videotex, slow-scan TV and fax. Since the early 1980s he has created levitational sculptures (three-dimensional forms literally suspended in the air) and thermal sculptures with invisible volumes. His continuous exploration of thermal space has taken new forms through the use of Schlieren photography, a laser imaging technique that results in photographs that reveal invisible phenomena occurring in the atmosphere around warm(ed) bodies, evoking the power of life and death forces

Urban Interventions: The City and the Media

Around 1978 in Brazil, especially in São Paulo, a new generation of young artists appeared, who created what later became known as "Urban Interventions." The objective of these performance projects and collective actions was the occupation of different public spaces in the city. Seeking autonomy in relation to the traditional gallery and museum circuit, these artists created works that coincided circumstantially with the upsurge of graffiti in various Brazilian cities, a movement that also went occurred in other large cities in the U.S.A. and Europe [1]. Young Brazilian artists utilized as support large urban constructions---avenues, viaducts, parks, tunnels---as well as other urban elements such as billboards, scaffolding and public monuments. Artists operated without prior permission from either private owners or governmental authorities.

In Brazil the streets have traditionally been the site of popular cultural expressions such as Carnaval and of commemorations related to state, federal and religious holidays. On such occasions, the streets become the stage where the joy of life, the fervor of religion and politics, and the grief of death are collectively acted out. The centrality of collective experience for Brazilian popular culture, however, traditionally is not matched in the visual arts. And yet, there have been some important, if isolated, contributions in the history of Brazilian art that acknowledged the vitality of the public space. Urban Interventions can be found, for instance, in the works of architect and visual artist Flávio de Carvalho in São Paulo in the 1930s and 1950s [2] and in the installations and performances of visual artist Hélio Oiticica in Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s [3].

After the overthrow of Brazil's democratic government by a military dictatorship in 1964, and especially after the implantation of Institutional Act #5 (AI5) in 1968, student and labor demonstrations nearly disappeared as the fear of governmental repression, torture and murder took the place of collective celebrations. Around 1977 in the streets of São Paulo and other nearby industrial cities at the heart of the Brazilian industrial region, pro-democracy labor movements reclaimed the public space for large labor demonstrations. This period transformed the streets once again into spaces for political and cultural expressions. The appearance of the Urban Intervention groups and the explosion of graffiti in our large cities were part of this retaking of public spaces and reclaiming of one's citizenship during a crucial phase of political transition that brought about the end of the military dictatorship in the mid-1980s. Among these active artistic groups, the group 3NÓS3 (1979/1982), created by Hudinilson Jr. [4], Rafael França (1957--1991) [5] and myself, was responsible for the greatest number of large-scale Urban Interventions, primarily in the city of São Paulo [6]. Many of our works were done with large quantities of industrial plastic sponsored by a São Paulo company [7] in strategic points around the city.

We created "stains" on the urban architectural fiber, "drawings on the city map," even though those were fleeting drawings of brief physical existence. These works, which radically altered the cityscape, were always done in a clandestine manner without any type of authorization from the city or police. We created these installations mostly in the early morning hours. They often had to be removed by police or firefighters, creating virtual chaos in the morning rush-hour traffic. One example was the intervention Arco 10 (Arc 10), a large, yellow plastic structure installed on one of the highest viaducts in the city, whose removal by the authorities was a great attraction covered by the press. Another example was Interdição (Interdiction), in which diverse bands of colored plastic material obstructed the intersections near the São Paulo Museum of Art. The intersections remained closed off until a motorist had the initiative to drive through the plastic, freeing up the flow of traffic (Fig. 1). Given the short life of these works, we found the best method for publicizing them was through a contact network with the written and electronic press; otherwise it would have been impossible to have made these works known to the larger public [8]. Using the media as an instrument to document and publicize the works was very practical and economical. We did not have the funds to produce a printed record of these events, but it was easy for us to buy a couple of newspapers the next day, cut out the articles about our works, paste them up in booklets, photocopy them and distribute them among a circle of supporters [9].


(Fig. 1)
In hindsight, I see Urban Interventions as an early form of media art, resulting in a temporal existence more significant than its physical existence by means of achieving a presence in the mass media. Much more than an installation or the product of a performance, the Urban Interventions existed as television or print media stories. The photographic documentation of the Urban Interventions had a fundamental role in the works [10], as was the case for a great number of conceptual artworks created in the 1960s and 1970s. Furthermore, the appearance of compact VHS camcorders on the market enabled the documentation of these events, since videotaping had previously been too expensive. A good working relationship between the press and 3NÓS3 at that time also permitted the publication of one of our articles in a São Paulo newspaper [11].

Equally important was the collective character of many of our actions. Our large-scale interventions required a great deal of operational organization. Groups that worked on different forms of intervention often united to produce larger events and collective projects. It was in this fashion that the groups 3NÓS3, Viajou Sem Passaporte, GEXTU, d'Magrelos, TIT, and various followers, organized the Evento de Fim de Década (End of the Decade Event), a large-scale occupation of the Praça da Sé, a central point in the city of São Paulo [12].

The Photocopier: From Picture to Process

The beginning of the 1980s was for me the start of an ongoing phase of experimentation with non-traditional media, especially those involving image reproduction. At that time, Rafael França had already begun to work with closed-circuit video [13], while Hudinilson Jr. and I had concentrated on using photocopiers [14] to explore the possibilities of creating works without an "original"---each copy becoming a master for other copies, and so on. The artistic use of photocopiers, which stressed reproduction ad infinitum, was generally called Copy Art in the U.S.A., Electrographie in France and Electrografia in Spain. In Brazil it became known as Xerox Art, in spite of the fact that machines of different brands were regularly employed in the production of the work. In addition to the exploration of multiples in Xerox Art, other aspects were also important to us, such as its social potential (some believed that the "work of art, in this case, would have prices accessible to the average buyer" [15]). Formally, Xerox Art is characterized by its wide range of graphic resources and by the creation of sequential structures that tend to organize themselves in time and space. This is due in part to its speed and low production cost, which favor the creation of large numbers of images.

Using photocopiers, I created many sequences that were similar to storyboards. I called these Passes de Mágica (Magic Stunts) (Fig. 2); they dealt with the appearance and disappearance of objects and body parts, as in old magic shows. Other sequences dealt with certain ambiguities between the plane (the paper support) and three-dimensional (3D) space, which is practically impossible to register on equipment designed to copy flat surfaces [16]. In one of my many artist's books from 1979, the issue of time is expressed by a photographic image of a hand approaching a white band on the right margin of the image. Apparently without any physicality, this band subtly revealed itself as an object in space---not merely as a white band on a flat surface. Similar to the succession of frames in a movie, the placement of these images on the pages of a book further emphasized the temporal dislocation of the action, underscoring the issue of time in the work. The theme of time would later be expanded in my telecommunications work.

(Fig. 2)

It was through a xerographic work, presented for the first time in 1984 [17], that the idea of a link with a remote past first occurred to me. The work was inspired by images that have their origin in the beginnings of human history. Entitled Lascaux Copy (a reference to the French cave drawings), this work was produced directly on a wall, with photocopy toner applied manually and fixed thermally with an iron (Fig. 3). Thus I created a "xerographic mural . . . on which toner was employed instead of natural pigments" [18]. An image of a hand reproduced with a standard photocopier presents the same characteristics of a cut-out image on a dark, pigmented background seen in the original Lascaux palm print in the cave at Lascaux. In Lascaux Copy, this configuration is also seen between figure and background---i.e. a white, negative hand against a dark background. In 1991, I created a piece called Os últimos registros de Lascaux (Lascaux's Last Records). In this work, the images are superimposed one upon the other, without a specific spatial order. This superimposition denoted a "temporal compression" similar to that seen in cave paintings, where the work of one generation is superimposed upon the work of another, with new images drawn over pre-existing ones.

(Fig. 3)
By the early 1980s, my use of photocopiers as an art medium was as early indicator of my personal movement toward the use of new technologies for the creation of new artistic forms. These forms were the result of conceptual articulations that were clearly distinct from those that had come before. I realized at the time that we were getting closer to something new in the realm of art.

Links and Networks: The Suppression of Space in the Language of Time

The breakup of 3NÓS3 in 1982 [19] was for me a turning point that opened up new perspectives. The group's interventions had represented working with space on an urban scale. The presence of our work in the media---an inter-urban scale that encompassed newspapers and TV broadcasts---showed me that telecommunications had even greater potential. A new form of reasoning was necessary to work with unusual concepts such as simultaneity, spatial suppression, interactivity and increasing immateriality. Moreover, new techniques had to be learned and new working relationships developed. As a result I began working with electronics---collaborating with communications technicians, physicists, engineers, programmers and holographers [20]---as did other artists at that time.

The movement associated with telecommunications art in Brazil in the 1980s coincided with the implantation of the videotex system in cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where in a short period of time many exhibits were organized around this new medium [21]. To a certain extent, these activities contributed to the creation of art-and-technology research groups, which had not existed previously [22].

My first videotex works were small series of images showing the dematerialization of objects [23]. These works were presented at the Museum of Image and Sound in São Paulo in 1982 [24]. After exploring videotex, I continued to work with telecommunications systems until 1988. One of the best examples of my telecommunications artwork was an event entitled Clones---uma rede simultânea de rádio, televisão e videotexto (Clones---A Simultaneous Radio, Television and Videotex Network) [25] (Fig. 4). This was one of the first attempts, in the context of electronic art in Brazil, to form an intermedia network in which three different telecommunications systems were integrated into one through conceptual unity and simultaneous transmissions.

(Fig. 4)
Clones---a word with Greek roots signifying "multiple"---was based on the simultaneous transmission and reception of representations of an object through three different systems, characterizing three distinct forms. An installation with videotex terminals, TV monitors, radio and speakers was assembled in a circular room in the Museum of Image and Sound in São Paulo. On nine videotex terminals connected to nine different phone lines, the object being represented was reduced to a simple graphic element---a horizontal red bar, without any indication of depth, displaced upon the plane surface of the two-dimensional (2D) grid of the system. On two other conventional TV monitors, the same horizontal bar received from a live broadcast in the city moved in perspective away from the surface of the screen, while slowly going out of focus and losing its rigid geometric shape.

Creating a sound version of this object presented us with a problem: how to give sound to a horizontal bar so that it could be transmitted on the radio. Duchamp's "3 Stoppages Etalon" offered one possible solution. Duchamp's rationale was that "if a horizontal thread one meter long falls from the height of one meter onto a horizontal plane, twisting as it pleases, it creates a new image of the unit of length" [26]. Following this idea, we dropped a 1-meter, 1-cm-diameter iron bar from a height of 1 meter. We then recorded the sound produced by this iron bar as it hit the ground and manipulated the sound with an analog synthesizer, thus creating a sound that could represent the images that appeared on the TV monitors.

The work, which lasted 4 minutes, focused on the appearance of a form, its actions in space over a period of time and its transformation into pure energy. At certain times, the synchronicity between television, videotex and sound accentuated even more the idea that various discrete elements can interpenetrate each other and come together in real time, taking form before our eyes.

Another multimedia experience that I consider significant among my telecommunications work is Altamira, created with Slow Scan TV (SSTV---transmission-reception of video images over the telephone) and realized in the context of the Sky Art Conference in 1986 [27] (Fig. 5). The bidirectional network, created by São Paulo artists and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), utilized the telephone to transmit and receive sounds and SSTV images. The site I selected for my installation---a "media cave"---was the concrete skeletal structure located in the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo, which was still under construction at that time. Altamira [28] was named after the famous prehistoric cave in Spain. In a free translation from the Portuguese, the word "Altamira" could also mean a high point upon which to fix one's sights, referring to the existence of a satellite in orbit.

(Fig. 5)
This work consisted of a large projection screen behind which the ballerina Laly Krotoszynski performed under flashing lights. Her movements resembled a primitive ritual dance around a bonfire. The choreography was accompanied by rhythmic percussion produced on a sheet of metal and amplified in synchrony with electronic music being emitted from the interior of a large steel object similar (in shape, not size) to Sputnik. This performance installation attempted a conceptual and spatial synthesis between the shadow images projected and transmitted by SSTV (platonic telecave) and the symbolic presence of the first satellite placed in orbit, marking the advent of a new perspective and a new way of looking at the world. This experience represented for me a link between contemporary and primeval forms.

The period from 1987 to 1988 was for me a time of intense bidirectional telecommunications experiences. My previous work had concentrated more on appropriation of telecommunications channels and unidirectional transmissions through the insertion of "noise" in the network's daily affairs; it was my intention to transgress the conventions of regular broadcasting. (I refer here to "noise" as disturbance in the mainstream signal.) However, as a response to the conspicuous presence of fax and telephone answering machines in many households, beginning around 1987 I began to focus my work more prominently on the idea of interactivity.

In 1987 I first taught a course entitled "The Use of Telecommunications Systems in Art" [29], in which I explored a wide range of experiences, especially with telephone answering machines. During the course, each student received an answering machine [30] and were instructed to set up the machine at a predetermined time of night with an outgoing message he or she had created. The students would use a mixture of text, noise and music to induce callers to leave incoming messages that would interact with the sonority, rhythm and poetic form of the outgoing message. Thus, the machines became instruments in the exploration of a totally new and unconventional vocabulary. Callers were asked to improvise a response in real time and were encouraged to leave their messages in a lyrical, noisy or theatrical form. Callers who were not course participants were also taken by surprise and left curious messages, unwittingly contributing to the process. All responses were recorded on the respective machines, and all interactions were later brought to the studio and discussed.

Among my works based exclusively on transmission, reception, transformation and exchange of images, one of the most interesting was a collaborative and interactive live event entitled Retrato Suposto---Rosto Roto (Presumed Portrait---Foul Face) [31] (Fig. 6). This event, which Eduardo Kac and I created in 1988, utilized two fax machines and a live TV transmission. On one side of this mini-network, I found myself in the studios of a television variety program targeted at the youth of São Paulo and connected to Eduardo Kac by means of a fax machine in his studio in Rio de Janeiro.

(Fig. 6)
As the TV program only reached audiences in the state of São Paulo, Eduardo Kac was not able to monitor the live broadcast portion of the event. The basis of this link was a real-time operation utilizing the fax as a dialogic medium in the context of a television broadcast, a unidirectional system of mass communication. In short, it connected public and private spaces. From the studios of TV Cultura in São Paulo, I sent to the Rio de Janeiro studio a repertoire of images---eyes, mouths, noses, ears---for the potential creation of a portrait, which I called Retrato Suposto. Minutes later, Eduardo Kac sent back a montage of those images that he called Rosto Roto. The whole process took place on the air. For Kac and me, the images were not the focus of the experience---the goal was not to develop a new method for creating pictures, but to explore simultaneously the interactive, improvisational quality of both personal and public telecommunications media, integrating the apparently antagonistic media into a single, seamless process. As Kac stated at the time,

"The connection we made between Rio and São Paulo was not a 'work' in the strict sense of the term, with closure and finite material result. It was an esthetic investigation that subverted the automatic and passive use of telecommunications media, foregrounding the personal, subjective human factor [32]."

Retrato Suposto---Rosto Roto essentially created an electromagnetic flux between distant points in space, giving visual expression to an immaterial structure in motion. The continuous exchange of images on both ends of our connection resulted in a feedback system, defying traditional notions of authorship. Retrato Suposto---Rosto Roto was not the first fax-based, collaborative and interactive exchange between Kac and me. In fact, it resulted from various earlier experiments [33] in which we sent single or sequential images to one another in real time, as propositions for further transformations and exchanges. We explored and mapped out what at the time we considered to be the main creative possibilities of the fax machine. We organized a repertoire of procedures, such as expansion and compression of images as they emerged from the machine and the use of the length and the thermal properties of standard paper rolls, as well as other purely unplanned results that created strong visual impact.

The majority of artists, critics, journalists and curators were, however, extremely uninterested in artistic experimentation with intermedia networks, satellite connections or works that could be distributed via telephone. In the 1980s, commercial galleries in Brazil promoted their neo-expressionist wares in consonance with the international art market. With very few exceptions, when technology-based artworks were shown publicly, they were exhibited away from mainstream venues such as commercial galleries and the São Paulo Bienal [34].

A few years later, in the summer of 1992, I created a rather unconventional work with Japanese artist Morio Labonete Nishimura, implementing a point-to-point link between Finland and Greece without any electronic equipment. Entitled Entre o Norte e o Sul (Between North and South) [35], this was for me a radical teleart experience, one in which I developed the concept of "scenic teletransport"---i.e. an attempt at telepathy involving the surrounding scenery (Fig. 7). The idea for this work was based on the fact that throughout Asia there are approximately 500 towers that contain, at the top of each, a small vessel of some of the mortal remains of the Buddha. These rare elements are responsible for the formation of a network that, according to believers, unites all of the towers beyond time and space. Working from this context, Nishimura and I constructed a type of "receptor-transmitter," which we called an "antenna," that was as unusual in its own way as the Buddhist towers and that we used in a very special connection project.

(Fig. 7)
Departing from Germany, each of us embarked on a trip in Europe, during which we each constructed an installation that had a function similar to the Asian towers and included our "antennas." Nishimura went to Lieksa, Finland, a forest region with lakes scattered all over. I traveled to just about the extreme opposite region, the Greek island of Amorgós, a rocky island surrounded by other rocky islands in the southern Aegean Sea. In this perfect regional opposition between "negative" and "positive"---small lakes surrounded by forests to the north, and small portions of land surrounded by water to the south---water became the common element in the connection between the two different contexts.

Since we both lived on the banks of the Rhine in Düsseldorf when not traveling, we had constructed our two glass "antennae" as vials containing river water from the Rhine, into which we placed a "filament" made of hairs from our heads, connected by gold leaf. This filament was the "transmitter" with which we would try to exchange images telepathically on a predetermined day and hour. The image chosen by each of us was to be unknown to the other, and the means by which we would each choose to register these images was by drawing, literally, whatever came to mind at that predetermined moment.

A few weeks later, when we had each returned to Düsseldorf, we compared the drawings of the images that each of us had mentally received. Out of a total of eight drawings by me, two were in the form of a chalice, similar to the lotus flower that Nishimura had transmitted. Of the total of five drawings done by Nishimura, two of them represented a horizontal cross and a circle of fire, similar to the burning sword that I had transmitted.

Of course, at this point we are entering an area of suspicious improbabilities closely allied to the field of paranormal phenomena that tends to evoke so much cynicism these days. On the other hand, it was very useful to find a reference to similar telecommunications practices mentioned by the fifteenth-century Neapolitan Giambattista Della Porta [36], as well as experiments of a scientific nature developed recently in the United States [37]. Removed from any of the technologies of our time, this work synthesized my different experiments in the field of telecommunications art. In this work I sought spatial suppression and searched, most importantly, for forms of contact with atemporal structures based purely on intuition.

Computer Graphics and the Free Fall of Bodies

After my first works with videotex and especially after Clones, I felt the need to work with systems that permitted not only navigation through the telephone network, but also the manipulation of more complex visual forms. I realized that videotex, with its low resolution, demanded synthetic visual reasoning. The system's graphic possibilities were extremely limited when compared to, for example, the video games that captured the popular imagination in the early 1980s.

In 1984 in Brazil the availability of computers with the capability of generating high-resolution 3D images was limited almost entirely to large multinational corporations. This led me to seek sponsorship for my project from one of those companies. The project and exhibit Level 5 brought together an architect, six visual artists and a writer with the objective of manipulating virtual, 3D space and developing works on a computer-aided design (CAD) system [38]. The concept was to have artists working side by side with software specialists (the latter were at that time indispensable in the creation of works that explored this new tool). The collective output of this project included a series of prints produced using a color plotter as well as video animations.

The work I developed for the Level 5 exhibit involved the representation of different mechanical waves, similar to those produced on the surface of pond water when a pebble is thrown in. I had explored this theme a few months earlier in an installation entitled Tempo em 8 (Time in 8) [39], where a photoelectric cell activated by the presence of an observer in space controlled a regulator connected to a water tank on the ceiling. Drops of water would fall from this tank into a parabolic dish on the floor. The images of the mechanized waves produced on the surface of this dish were reflected by a flat mirror placed at eye level. Thus, a "chain reaction of waves" was created by the system: the presence of the observer would break the invisible infrared waves that activated the regulator connected to the tank. Through gravity, a drop of water would fall from the tank, producing a mechanical wave in the dish. The image of this wave returned to the observer in the form of a visible light wave. This piece clearly reflects a central concern in my work: that changes occurring in dimensions that are invisible to us resonate in and can be made visible in the material world.

Electromagnetic Levitator and Thermal Sculptures

Since its beginnings in the early 1980s, my sculptural work has involved undermining the dominant role of mass in sculptural form while at the same time focusing on the exploration of physical forces in 3D space. In 1982, in my series Geoescul---wooden geometric wall sculptures---I created works that revealed the presence of a physical force upon the material by making use of mechanical tensions to shape a rectangle [40]. As I explored electromagnetic levitation and radiating heat, the action of forces in space became an integral part of my sculptural process.

Between 1986 and 1991, coincident with my explorations in teleart, I made a series of sculptures based on two basic concerns: (1) to liberate the sculpture from its base by means of electromagnetic levitation and (2) to extend the limits of an object to dimensions that are normally invisible, through radiation and propagation of heat waves. The idea of freeing an object from the action of gravity is rather disconcerting and at the same time confronts one with enormous limitations. The question of levitation is fascinating not only because of the unique condition of a body floating in the air, but principally because of the absence of any type of visual support maintaining the object in space. Levitation presents an inherent question for sculpture; it offers new directions for the classic problem of support [41].

In 1986, these questions started to take form for me in a work entitled Gravidade Zero (Zero Gravity) (Fig. 8) [42]. This work, made of glass, brass and wood, utilizes an electromagnet regulated by a photoelectric sensor, which allows the levitation of small metallic objects in space. A photoelectric mechanism serves as a positioning sensor controlling the intensity of a magnetic field that is used to counterbalance the action of gravity upon the suspended object. A light beam shines across the upper part of the object, hitting a photoelectric sensor (Light Dependent Resistor---LDR). This activates an amplifier connected to the electromagnet. If the object begins to fall, the photo sensor receives more light and---with the aid of an amplifier---the magnetic force upon the object increases, levitating it again to a point of equilibrium. If it goes up too high, the opposite will occur. The quantity of light that hits the LDR will decrease, lessening the flow of current to the coil, causing the object to go down. Under these conditions it is possible to speculate about the construction of objects that are free of the spatial and physical parameters---such as the concepts of "above" and "below"---that orient us. The form of these objects could be free from the limits of mass and weight, creating new principles of construction and distribution of material. Free from the pull of gravity, the objects could assume the strangest and most imaginative configurations, approaching the historical ideal of liberating the sculpture from its base.

(Fig. 8)
Campo de Força (Force Field) is the title of another series of my sculptures, characterized by a source of radiating heat installed within each structure (Fig. 9). Each piece has a distinct heat source and physical structure and, therefore, a unique force field. The concept of a force field, as most certainly originated in science fiction, involves the idea of a body surrounded by an energy field (normally invisible) that protects the body from contact with strange elements. As with any 3D volume, these sculptures are spatially defined by their height, width and depth in the same way that their plasticity "is defined esthetically by the materials used in [their] construction, and by the treatment thereof" [43]. In this sense they present something that the eye can perceive.

However, the heat waves radiated by the internal elements and reflected by surfaces that are part of the sculpture's structure act to "model" the space around the object by means of turbulence created in the atmosphere. This "modeling" of space by heat defines another volume around the object, the presence of which is for us normally invisible. I imagined being able to disclose the form of these immaterial volumes in space, calculating that the shape of the heating elements would produce different configurations of atmospheric volumes. Thus, a determined modification on the visible plane would correspond to another on the invisible plane.

Contrary to more traditional sculptures defined by visual volume, in my thermal sculptures the perception of an expanding immaterial volume happens through the sense of touch, via sensations created on the surface of the skin through thermal variations in space. This permits the observer to feel the "thickness" of the radiating field around the object. In these Force Field sculptures made of steel, copper, and ceramic, the material forms could be considered a source for the irradiating heat, a static base for invisible sculptures in movement. I also explored these principles in other thermal sculptures of the same period, such as the series Escudos (Shields). These pieces were usually round wall objects made up of varied materials such as wood, aluminum, nylon, steel cable and 110-V electrical resistors.

Lasergrams and Schlieren Photography

It was only when I moved to Germany at the end of 1991 [44] that I was able to make a systematic photographic record of the heat radiation produced by my thermal sculptures. As this research developed, I stopped concentrating on the mass of the object in space to investigate the possibility of photographing the air itself. Atmosphere can be thought of as a giant volume that fills all known spaces on earth, but photography done with a conventional camera can only yield a record of the transparency of this vital gaseous volume that we inhale. Utilizing a technique called "Schlieren photography" (which can be translated approximately as "image of heterogeneous substances"), I was able to capture phenomena occurring in the atmosphere around warm(ed) bodies by altering the position of the adjacent light (Fig. 10). Because we are warm-blooded creatures, our presence in space produces air turbulences that are defined by Schlieren photography as sinuous lines, similar to a warm aura.

(Fig. 10)
Based on the optical principle developed by the German physicist August Toepler [45], a Schlieren photograph registers the detours light takes as it passes through an area of warm air, through different gases or even through transparent materials. In this project, developed in the laser and photography laboratory of Academy of Media Arts in Cologne [46], I used an argon laser as a light source, creating what I called "Lasergrams"---photograms produced by the effect of laser light on color photographic paper. As a result of negative processing, the resultant images were comprised of colors that were complementary to the color of the laser used. In this way, use of a green-toned laser resulted in a reddish-magenta color. Similarly, when a blue laser was used, the end products were images with variations between yellow, orange and red. This technique produced works with very intense hues, resulting in my first series of lasergrams entitled Light Turbulences (Fig. 11). These laser photographs present other characteristics as well. Unlike what occurs in conventional photography, with Lasergrams, the photographed object is located <I>inside<D> the camera, between the film and the lens. Furthermore, transparent objects such as glass, acetate, acrylic or mica, when illuminated, project shadows as dark as those of opaque objects. Finally, the irradiated heat, visible in the negatives, presents special characteristics: sinuous forms that, when viewed at a determined angle, display rich linear and curved graphic patterns. Aside from these formal aspects, this work also marks the beginning of a thematic concept that diverged from the original idea of a Force Field.

(Fig. 11)
Rather than revealing the presence of invisible manifestations in space, this series of Lasergrams revealed images of bodies in movement, rising and falling amidst flames, with intense symbolic value. In Light Turbulences [47], the photographic image is not merely a record of something invisible to the eye. It becomes a means for the construction of a subjective narrative. Heat, rather than being represented as propagating waves, acquired the primordial and dualistic value of the element fire. This was seen either as the fire of purification, the flame of life, or as the fire of punishment, the blaze of destruction.

In a second series of works I began in 1996, I continued to investigate the possibilities of Schlieren photography, this time produced with a conventional white-light source. Unlike laser photography, white-light photography permits not only the registration of the atmospheric turbulences around the bodies, but also the registration of the volume of these bodies in space. With Lasergrams, it was possible only to register the shadows of objects; now, however, I was able to reveal, with color and volume, the material reality that previously had been hidden in undefined shadows. For this new series, I created installations utilizing my thermal sculptures as models for photographs. These images are not records of the installations as such, but rather the result of a stage especially created to generate, reveal and record atmospheric turbulences. In the same way, I also made a series of white-light Schlieren photographs in which the human figure reappeared as the central element, emphasizing themes of confrontation and duality, and represented by a character seen simultaneously as material and evanescent.

Unified Field

The ideas and metaphors that guide the development of my work can be divided roughly into two concerns. On one hand, I search for forms and forces that are visually imperceptible and yet perform an important role in the structure of the visible world. On the other hand, I want to reveal the ephemeral existence of bodies and their inevitable tendency to be transformed into pure energy. The collaborative Urban Interventions underscored their transient existence in the cityscape. Many of my earliest xerographic works attest, for example, to the simultaneous coexistence between material and transcendental realities. My telecommunications work, defined by the movement of electromagnetic impulses, created immaterial structures on a planetary scale---invisible and evanescent networks. These ever-changing, often invisible structures, characterize the greater part of my works. The heat waves around the thermal sculptures are essential parts of these spatial forms.

In my most recent works, I continue to explore links between science, technology, intuition and ancient metaphors. My installation Atlas, o suporte do mundo (Atlas, Support of the World) was based on an age-old Chinese myth in which the Earth is considered to be a flat disk in space held up by a tortoise shell of cosmic proportions [48]. This installation is composed of thermal sculptures (Escudos, Shields) activated by motion sensors, Schlieren photographs and an area defined by granite blocks, in the interior of which three tortoises (Fig. 12) move about on a heat field produced by light reflectors (reptiles need sunlight or artificial light to enable them to store heat in their bodies, since they are cold blooded) [49]. In this piece, I pursue material and immaterial aspects of life, searching not only for a dialog between object, photography and environment, but also for a synthesis of belief, natural elements and new forms of perception mediated by technology.

References and Notes


This article is part of the Leonardo special project "A Radical Intervention: The Brazilian Contribution to the International Electronic Art Movement," guest edited by Eduardo Kac.

For the print version of this article, see Leonardo Volume 31, No. 4 (1998), available from the MIT Press.

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