INTERVIEW BY BETTY MILAN
AN AUDIBLE DREAM – INTERVIEW OF DENISE MILAN BY BETTY MILAN, MARCH 2010
BM - Our grandfather, a Lebanese immigrant, told stories of the Arabian Nights. We grew up hearing of Alhambra, the magnificent cave where there were diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies. What is the relationship between the stories he told, Ali Baba and all, and your interest in the stones?
DM - Grandpa was an unequalled narrator. One of the great moments of childhood was listening to the wonderful stories of the East. He often spoke in Arabic, and since I did not understand the language, I listened to the words. It was like an audible dream with fantastic images. It was with hearing this that my creation process began. When I started working with the stones, more specifically with crystal, which is a stone with various geometries, I related their forms to the sacredness of nature. This association also originates in our grandfather’s admiration for the splendor of Islamic architecture, he showed us pictures of magazines coming from Egypt. Islamic architecture is linked to a sacred geometry. The square refers to Earth and the circle Heaven...
This geometry that has accompanied us since childhood, appears to me – Brazilian and imaginary heir to the Mediterranean culture - through the crystal.
If we think in form and counter form we could say that the crystal could be the form and to Islamic architecture the counter form of the same geometry. It is as if one sprang from the other. It is as if I had discovered Brazil or the Brazilian Middle East.
BM - When and how did you get on this path which you have been on for decades? What open-sesame treasure have you found?
The stone’s whisper
DM - I went into the core of stone by accident. A friend offered me three stones that were quartz crystals. I spent months looking, trying to figure out how to penetrate them. One day I realized that it was only to listen to the stone. It whispered in my ear the direction I should follow. A course that changed my life and led me to delve into the mysteries of quartz. The whisper of stone was the open-sesame. It captured me and offered me the riches of its cosmos.
BM - Your first major exhibition was Genesis, at MASP. I would like you to talk about it.
DM - Before Genesis, there was the Garden of Light at PSO in New York in 1988. It was there that I began to see in the stones a mythical Brazil. I found several references to Brazil, this part of the Americas which attracted many sailors from overseas. They all came in search of the dream of untold riches. And these riches have always been here. It was only necessary for us Brazilians to search. We were blind, always saw through the eyes of other people. I made art to reveal the beauty of the stones. Show the exuberance of origins, leaving the mystery of the stone to manifest and heal the petrified sight of man. As for Genesis, an exhibition that associates the process of creation to the transformation of crystal, a process that goes from chaos to order. It is a dialogue between art and nature. The exhibition shows how what appears to be an error is a success on the larger scale of life. At the same time, it validates the artistic process as a possibility of evolution of consciousness.
BM - What was the impact of Genesis in Brazil and abroad?
DM - I took one of the sculptures to Hannover. Drawing admiration. When used as signs, the stones speak out loud, giving meaning to the cosmos.
BM - At the time of Genesis you met Haroldo de Campos, who also made a poem for the catalog. How wasthat meeting and what did he mean to you?
DM - Harold has his poem "Crystal". There was a synergy between his poetic elaboration and my creation in the universe of stones. He played with words and I was giving him opportunity to penetrate more deeply into the language of the crystal. A book was born from the conversations between Harold and me. We were going to call it poetic Crystallography. But one day he heard a poem of mine, "Cadumbra"
Umbra umbra umbra
Umbra umbra umbra in AI
Umbra in -di
Umbra in hi
hello in there
He loved the poem. He said it was a proto-language. "Cadumbra" entered in the book and for the first time, one of my poems was published. Years later he told me that several people felt that the title and text of my poem were his. I laughed.
BM - What a coincidence! After Genesis was Americas' Courtyard, a sculpture of large proportions in front of the Art Institute in Chicago. How did you get there?
DM - Again chance. A group from the Chicago Cultural Center came to São Paulo. They were making a big intercontinental event that is called "Re-education of Cities". I was invited to talk about public art and city. This was the first step I took toward Chicago. Many others would follow.
BM - Americas Courtyard you did with Ary Perez. What did you intend with this sculpture and what was done?
DM - Ary and I were working in a very organic way. Now I was starting a project and he made a prediction that changed everything, sometimes the reverse. We always we looked at each other's work. A kind of respect, friendship and curiosity. The idea of this sculpture was to make an allegory of the Americas, where a superior continent to the others did not exist. What is that supposed to mean? That all countries would be in the same arena, on an equal footing. If it’s called Americas Courtyard, which means the patio of the Americas. I think that this work also has to do with the desire to reveal the wealth of diversity, uniqueness of each country. To do this, I introduced in the sculpture a wide variety of rocks of different ages and different colors, evoking the nuances of the watercolors of Earth. Ary gave mobility to this sculptural work. It was he who found the solution so the stones could be moved from one place to another. From there, and also by an error of understanding, the opportunity arose to do infinite forms with these stones. Error of understanding, because I said, "A", Ary understood "B". The result, which was "C", topped the "A" and "B" and really surprised us.
BM - What did it mean to work with Americans?
DM - Working with the Americans was part of the dream of our parents' generation. A dream that in some way it was possible, leaving in the US the seed of a vision that subverts our relationship with that country. As for the work itself, it was great. They are pragmatic and this forced us to be very objective. Best of all, they liked our vision and bet on it. That is to say, they financed our art and promoted it in the best possible way. To date this sculpture is ranked among the top four public works of the city of Chicago. Along with Anish Kapoor, Madalena Abramovic ...
BM - After the Americas' Courtyard you had several invitations worldwide. What were the main ones and what has the exchange with other cultures brought you?
DM - The most recent was a project that Ary and I did in Taiwan. In it, the Amazon and Danshui rivers feed the ocean of wisdom. From 240 international artists 12 were selected and we were among them. We worked with Taiwanese volunteers for the installation in Guandu Park in Taiwan. It was an unusual experience that made us see new artistic possibilities. In this facility, the final touch was given by the participation and interaction of the public, who made a vow for the Earth. The vow was deposited in river beds, symbolized by ropes suspended in trunks. The trunks, in turn, symbolized the trees that lined the river. There was also the art and healing work we have done in hospitals and health institutions in the city of São Paulo. We have three works that exemplify with clarity the relationship that may exist between art and healing. The Belly of life in the Clinicas subway station, Times of healing in Einstein Hospital and the sculpture which is in the court of the Itaim Fleury unit. The sculpture shows that both health and disease are part of life, and this is like a Moebius strip, that is, it has one side and a single surface.
BM – Genesis, Courtyard Americas and then the sumptuous Opera das Pedras, where also your poetic talent was shown. How did the idea for this opera, whose title is perfect precisely for the paradox in it.
DM – It came when I realized the similarities between the process of creating the stone and our journey. The epic of the stones metaphorically represents the human drama.
BM - What were the steps to get to today’s show?
DM - The first step was a DVD made in partnership with composer Marco Antonio Guimarães, founding musician of the Uakti group. To discover out how the stones would speak, sing, would express our feelings was a great challenge. To face it, I called a team of young filmmakers, and my studio became a laboratory of experiments seeking the various languages of the stone. These languages were shaping up. Each discovery turned a page and gave us courage to continue.
The DVD was presented at SESC Pinheiros, São Paulo, along with an installation of twelve stony beings, twelve amethysts with human forms. It took us three years to get to mine underground in our country. The installation had scenography of Ary Perez. The audience would run across it as it entered the opera libretto.
BM - After the DVD you went onto the show itself. How was that?
DM – A new team was formed. I invited Lee Breuer to direct with me. Lee is the founding director of Mabou Mines group, a theater group in New York. As for the composers, they were coming one after another, and now Opera has six great Brazilian composers: André Mehmari, Badi Assad, Carlinhos Antunes, Clarice Assad, Marco Antonio Guimarãese, Nana Vasconcelos, who brought unreleased songs to the Opera, music we had done together in the eighties, when I worked in New York.
This experimental opera is being conceived as an art installation with a profile of the performance. It we to be able to be displayed in museums around the world. The libretto and set design are mine. In fact, the scenery can be considered a great scenic sculpture. The costumes, made by four hands, began a partnership between the designer Gloria Coelho and me. Fashion and art dialogue and appear on the stunning sculpturals, such as the creations from the fantastic world of Reinações of Narizinho.
Joining this list of creators is a team of professionals with exquisite creativity, bringing the most entertaining solutions. The stone speaks and breaks all boundaries of our perception. The unusual is imposed. To believe in your own imagination is an adventure without return.
BM - Last but not least, obviously I would like for you to make an evaluation of your work for Brazil.
DM - I believe that Brazil is lucid earth, I say this because there are the major crystal formations on the planet in its soil. The crystal is a lucid stone, a stone with transparency, which allows itself to be traversed by light. There is huge wealth under our land. Why not respect it? Why do we let this extractive policy persist which began with the discovery of Brazil?
My work offers to the Brazilian people the possibility of not continuing to let themselves be colonized. Awakening, we can exist in the world as a country whose wealth can serve all instead of benefiting a few. I believe in the quartz path as a way in which we can cure our blindness. So, my work acts as an open-sesame for the Brazilian land. The stories told by my grandfather, the stories of the Arabian Nights and Treasure of Ali Baba made me enter into the crystals of this country and give voice to the stones to be heard worldwide.
Betty Milan is the author of novels, essays, chronicles and plays. In addition to being published in Brazil, his works also circulate with stamps from France, Argentina and China. He collaborated in the main Brazilian newspapers and was a columnist for Folha de S. Paulo, Veja and Veja.com. He worked for the International Parliament of Writers, based in Strasbourg, France. In 1998 and 2015 she was invited to honor the Book Fair in Paris, whose theme was Brazil. In 2014, he represented contemporary Brazilian literature at the Miami International Book Fair (USA). Before becoming a writer, she graduated in medicine from the University of São Paulo and specialized in psychoanalysis in France with Jacques Lacan.