In every photographic series by Mauro Restiffe (1970, São José do Rio Pardo, SP, Brazil) and, even more so, in his body of work as a whole, there is a harmony that comes from the way the artist looks at the world, superimposing and almost merging personal relationships and experiences with the architecture, cities and spaces he passes through. Even when it would be possible to place his photographs in the "architecture" genre, for example, they are characterized by a very particular temperature, making them immediately recognizable. The series that depicts Philip Johnson's Glass House is extremely revelatory in that sense: the architecture itself hardly makes an appearance, fragmented in a sequence of planes and elements (the external glass, the landscape reflected in them, the artworks, the furniture…) that intersect and overlap, creating the impression of a house that is truly alive.
The atmosphere of a place and significance of a moment are crystallized in Restiffe's photographs. The presence of time is almost tangible in some of the more expansive series, such as that produced in Russia in 2015. Invited to observe and document the construction of the new headquarters of a cultural center in Moscow, Restiffe, who lived in the country in the early 1990s, did not limit himself to the commissioned work. Instead, he produced a series of works where the transformation of the country after the Soviet era is intertwined with a meditation on the passage of time, through combining photographs taken over a period of two decades, showing the transformation of both the places and, as one can imagine, the people who inhabit or pass through them, including, of course, the photographer himself.
The artist works in a similar way in the large installation conceived for the 34th Bienal, but transcends the personal aspect by juxtaposing two significant moments in the country's recent history. Photographs in Empossamento [Inauguration] (2003), one of Restiffe's most iconic and well-known series, which was produced in Brasilia on the day of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's inauguration (1st January 2003), are juxtaposed with the series Inominavel [Unspeakable], taken exactly 16 years later, on the day of Jair Bolsonaro's inauguration. The contrasts, similarities, the analogies and discrepancies between the two series are at once emphasized and condensed by their proximity. Without relying on an explanatory caption for each image, it is up to the viewer to analyze the compositional elements according to their own expectations of sense and meaning. As part of an exhibition that explores how the meanings of a work of art are stratified and shift over time, this work also introduces a reflection on the history of the Bienal itself, and of the works that were exhibited here, considering that the series Empossamento was first shown at the 27th Bienal de São Paulo (2006).
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).