Curatorial Text
Luiz Roque
Estufa
6 July – 20 October 2024

 

Curator: Léon Kruijswijk

Curatorial Assistant: Lara Scherrieble

 

Luiz Roque – Estufa

 

Estufa is the first mid-career survey of the artist Luiz Roque (b. 1979, BR). Roque’s practice inhabits a space between expanded cinema, visual art, and critical theory. His artistic methodology fuses an interest in the legacies of modernism, pop culture, queer (bio-)politics, and science fiction. This anachronistic approach culminates in timeless montages and environments while often disclosing the urgency of pressing socio-political issues of specific communities and subcultures. His open-ended, short videos are speculative, leaving the viewer wondering about the array of possibilities within alternative realities. The past, present, and future coalesce in each video, resulting in captivating trans-temporal amalgams.

 

Roque’s sculptural video installations explore a fine line between form, color, and content, with filming techniques and methods of screening and presentation reinforcing the subject matter. This expanded methodology towards the medium of video seamlessly extends to the architectural spaces in which his work is presented. Roque pushes for a thoughtful exchange between architecture and artwork, and, yet, they remain singular, their respective boundaries never dissolving entirely.

 

Estufa is Portuguese for greenhouse. The exhibition takes its title from an eponymous artwork that Roque created with the artist Letícia Ramos in 2004. A large greenhouse filled with tropical plants and flowers is both the subject and setting of the video. In one sequence, purple and pink smoke is blown through the green plants, gradually taking over the entire image. This haze dissipates to focus sharply on flowers with the colors identical to the smoke. In the realm between the visible and the opaque, the artwork alludes to the tension between the natural and artificial factors that stimulate growth. This is the earliest work featured in the show, framing an exhibition that looks back on exactly 20 years of Roque’s artistic experimentation, production, development, growth, and (con-)fused temporalities. The exhibition is accompanied by the artist’s first monograph.

 

<p>Luiz Roque, <em>Modern</em>, Film still, 2014. Performer: Lewis G. Burton. Courtesy the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo/Brüssel/Paris/New York © the artist.</p>

Luiz Roque, Modern, Film still, 2014. Performer: Lewis G. Burton. Courtesy the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo/Brüssel/Paris/New York © the artist.

 

Legacies of Modernism and Sci-Fi

The video Modern (2014) is presented at KW as an introduction to Roque’s methodology of challenging the lingering legacies of modernism. Seemingly taking place in the halls of Tate Britain, Henry Moore’s bronze sculpture Recumbent Figure (1938) encounters a provocative counterpart: a dancer completely covered in a curvaceous black latex bodysuit. The outfit references the extravagant Leigh Bowery, who was a key figure in the London club scene of the 1980s and 90s. Moving to upbeat house music, the dancing figure approaches the sculpture inquisitively and provocatively, and blurs the boundaries between inertia and activity, iconography and fetish, and the canon and the underground. Played on a 4:3 rear projection TV—an early 2000s technique to increase the screen size that outdated quickly—the device adds another time layer to the installation, further pushing the artwork into ambiguous realm.

 

In Ano Branco (White Year, 2013), set in 2005, Roque combines a documentary-like format with dystopian sci-fi elements. At the start of the video, a person impersonating Beatriz Preciado delivers a speech about how technologies of sex, gender and sexuality belong to a new form of power. Subsequently leaping ahead 25 years, a trans woman becomes the protagonist and initially finds herself having a flirtatious moment in a funicular railway, bathing in golden-hour sunlight. The socio-political situation, however, appears to be grim. In a later scene, she receives treatment from a robot in an unspecified clinic. A text clarifies that the World Health Organization has removed gender identity disorders from its list of medical classifications, forcing trans people to find alternatives to medical care. With this work, the artist expresses concerns about the precarity of emancipated positions in a political landscape characterized by the global rise of populism and imagines the outcomes of regressive discourses gain determining influence.

 

<p>Luiz Roque, <em>White Year</em>, Video still, 2013. Performer: Glamour Garcia. Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo/Brussels/Paris/New York © the artist.</p>
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Luiz Roque, White Year, Video still, 2013. Performer: Glamour Garcia. Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo/Brussels/Paris/New York © the artist.

 

 

Shaping Realities

The world order in Zero (2019) is of a different kind. The protagonist, who is a furry dog, flies solo through a desert landscape in a luxury private jet. At 12:01 pm, a food dispenser pops open and serves the dog a single pill, underscoring the ambiguity of the universe the animal is traveling through. Whatever the nature of this world, it certainly appears to be devoid of human life. Then, a mirage of skyscrapers shimmers on the desert horizon, followed by close-up shots of high-rises with reflective windows that turn buildings into equal protagonists. Zero suggests a rigid yet open-ended juncture of the here and now, a new start from scratch with a disparate distribution of power. The work further illustrates the non-hierarchical approach Roque takes towards his protagonists. They can be animals and buildings like in this film and in Urubu (Vulture, 2021), or they can be artworks and people like in Modern. Their equality lies in the fact that they the same importance in the artist’s worlds.

 

Roque’s fascination for (post-)modernist and brutalist architecture is reflected in the Zero installation at KW, among others. The glass wall showing the projection opens the view onto Tegeler Weg (1984/2005), a site-specific work at KW by Olaf Metzel, which is often covered during other exhibitions. Considered in the context of Roque’s subject matters, the concrete bricks can be loosely associated with modernist architecture methods in Brazil that are used to connect indoor and outdoor spaces in an equatorial or (sub-)tropical climate. The weightiness that is often a defining feature of these architecture styles becomes apparent in the tall, trapezoid plinth of Estufa that Roque developed for the work in 2019. This sculptural element forms an impenetrable presence not unlike that of, say, a massive brutalist column.

 

<p>Luiz Roque, <em>Clubber</em>, Ceramic, 2024. Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo/Brussels/Paris/New York © the artist.</p>

Luiz Roque, Clubber, Ceramic, 2024. Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo/Brussels/Paris/New York © the artist.

 

Luiz Roque’s accumulated studies of architecture and sculpture, of color and form, materialize on a smaller scale in his ceramic works. Some of them are existing works, others are newly commissioned for the exhibition at KW, where this strand of his work is presented on an institutional level for the first time. Created intuitively, the artist’s fascination for eerie and dream-like atmospheres resonates in the ceramic pieces. Although the medium may contrast sharply with the medium of moving images at first glance, the artist observes similarities between the process of producing ceramics and producing analog film, particularly in their relation to time and chemistry. In both cases, the core materials need to be burned, while the exact result remains unclear until the very end of the creation process.

 

Studies of filming techniques, too, are part of Luiz Roque’s practice. Throughout his career, he has explored and worked with various techniques, including 4K, HD, Super 8, and 16-millimeter cameras. DAS MONSTER (The Monster, 2009) is a stand-out example of these experimentations where the filming method amplifies the uncanniness of an ambiguous scene. Filmed in Super 8 and blown up to 16-millimeter, the film depicts a figure completely veiled by a golden cape, moving through a hilly and forested lakeside area. However, the protagonist’s monstruous aspects remain debatable. Again, the narrative is like a déjà vu, open-ended and evocative. Another exploration of the video camera’s possibilities is Geometria Descritiva (2012), in which Roque creates a density of movement that resembles photography. The action is set on a lush hill, on which a metal ball is thrown at a glass panel that shatters into a thousand pieces as a result. Played in reverse and accompanied by sounds deepening the suspense, the detailed video of this moment and its high number of frames is only possible with the use of digital filming technology.

 

<p>Luiz Roque, <em>S</em>, Video still, 2017. Performer: Romario Monte. Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo/Brussels/Paris/New York © the artist.</p>

Luiz Roque, S, Video still, 2017. Performer: Romario Monte. Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo/Brussels/Paris/New York © the artist.

 

A choreography of three films is shown in KW’s main hall, each of them launching the spectator into a different trans-temporal realm. S (2017) starts with a shot of Cubo Vazado (Hollow Cube, 1951) by Franz Weissmann, after which three androgynous performers take their dancing skills to an empty metro carriage and tunnel, as if they are trying to find the vacant spaces within modern society in which they can express their flamboyant selves to the fullest. República (2020) is a poetic meditation on queer life, biopolitics, migration and movement revolving around the vibrant eponymous district and the landmark Copan Building in downtown São Paulo. The unusual square and circular aspect ratios of these two videos are an artistic method employed by Roque to represent the narratives of specific subcultures and communities through alternative formats. The newly commissioned video Clube Amarelo (Yellow Club, 2024) combines 16-millimeter and HD film, in which people gather in a seaside sauna, bathing in light from the sun as much as the moon, following contact with non-human species and pharmacological substances. Their otherworldly state of being transcends any conceivable mode. It remains opaque whether Roque wants the state to appear desirable or not.

 

 

Exhibition design partly in collaboration with Studio Movediça

With thanks to Bildhauerwerkstatt im Kulturwerk des bbk berlin GmbH

 

 

With support by

 

 

 

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