Paul Setúbal on how to continue the Delfina Residence even from a distance
30 Mar 2020, 3:33 pm
Winner of the last edition of the Residence Award promoted by SP-Arte in partnership with the Delfina Foundation, the artist Paul Setúbal talks about his creative process in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. The artist, represented by Casa Triângulo (São Paulo) and C.galeria (Rio de Janeiro), prematurely ended his three-month stay in London due to the pandemic, but he says that the work continues virtually.
Although the residency ended earlier due to circumstances, is it possible to measure the influences it will have on your career?
Paul Setúbal: The Delfina Foundation team and artists are working on online alternatives to continue the work started at the residence: conversations with curators, researchers, institutions and artists – a continuous exchange that takes place during the two and a half months of experience together and that now continues on digital platforms. So, from home I’m developing the program and working on future projects that started in London. The time I spent as a resident was an intense period of research and production. I was focused on finishing some work for my next solo show at Casa Triângulo (São Paulo) and I also used the time at the residency to develop projects that I will carry out soon, future partnerships and a new range of production. Back in Brazil I can already see in my work aspects and references that reverberate from the residency, such as my research that is now increasingly interested in local as well as global references, such as border issues or the struggle for control of territories. These problems have been occurring in different and simultaneous ways in several countries, and I noticed that there is an international interest in research that deals with the complexity of events of this nature. In my production, I want to dedicate myself more and more to intersecting relationships between the local and the global.
How was this hurried return to Brazil? How do you believe this global situation will impact your artistic work, taking into account the production and also the subject matter?
PS: The return occurred by observing the closing of the borders and understanding that the future recommendation in both England and Brazil would be to stay at home. Because of this exceptional situation, we decided to end the residency period and look for alternatives so as not to interrupt the dialogues and contacts made previously. The strategy has worked: I continue to follow the program’s calendar through virtual meetings or dedicating myself to writing. My work always starts from an event in my life and these last three months have had an impact on my way of thinking. Many works in which I deal with social or political life, relations of power and domination are based on personal experiences, once living on the outskirts of Aparecida de Goiânia, with a very high rate of violence, in the capital of power Brasília, or in metropolises such as Rio de Janeiro and currently São Paulo. These experiences shaped and transformed my research, which is often a type of reaction to some shock wave in my body.
London is already beginning to impact my production, not only for the cultural life of the city, but also for the events on a local and global scale that I experienced, such as the British farewell to the European Union with Brexit and the pandemic still ongoing which arrived there a while ago. I followed closely how the city developed part of its policies to address these issues, which led me to revisit some projects that I had started, dealing with issues of borders, state and city policies, since these relationships encompass the rights of the body, which is one of the most important points in my thinking. I realize that my production, especially during periods of residence, is changing to the same extent that the political life of the context I live in changes. It is certainly still too early to deal with this amount of experience, as it is still ongoing and it is a scenario that changes every hour. So it is a daily exercise that at the same time intends to digest recent events and seeks to deal with a changing scenario on a global scale.
The body is one of your main artistic tools. How is your creation process based on it, and how do you see possible developments from what you have already explored?
PS: My research is dedicated to the experiences that the body tries to reframe. It often starts from an event that I was impacted by or that I could not understand at first. So these situations start to become subjects in my production. In 2015 I had my first solo exhibition in Brasília, at the Elefante Centro Cultural. The exhibition was called “Aviso de incêndio” [Fire Warning], because in that period, especially in Brasília, where people live very close to the power figures, there was a premonitory feeling in the air that we were close to a collapse of the political system. There were also rumors that came directly from some political offices, anticipating events that later became public. In that sense, my production attempted to understand a little what we were going through at that time, the Zeitgeist of the moment.
This same modus operandi has been a kind of guide for my recent work: I have been trying to understand what is in the air, what is in this collective energy that my body has been indicating as a subject. I have already developed a series of projects and drafts on these new themes, which I will present as work soon, and deal, for example, with the archetypes of masculinity that endure violence as a means of making politics. While I am designing (I usually produce watercolors), I am unfolding the thought and also revisiting previous issues in my production in relation to the project to come. It is a way of understanding whether the new research endeavor is related to the rest of my production and thinking.
Your work moves across different platforms, from object to performance. How does this transit happen? And how does your research turn into these different expressions?
PS: It is always the work that tells me, as I work on it, what is the final format of the work. Sometimes I start a video project and finish it in performance or start painting and finish it in sculpture. During the development of a new work, I understand which formats are best suited to deal with the issues that arise, whether conceptual or technical. It is common for me to try to learn some new technique to deal with some material that has just appeared in my production. For example, I have been working with ox leather, a very common material in the life of anyone born in Goiás, and with which I have some familiarity, in making clothes and accessories such as belts and saddlebags. At the moment I have dedicated myself to study cutting and sewing techniques to improve the development of new sculptures that use leather as material.
It is common for me to develop the same idea in different formats, or for works with the same title to develop in completely different ways. For example, the performance presented at the Performance Sector during SP-Arte 2018, “Compensação por excesso” [Compensation for excess] dealt with the relationship of excesses between the body, capital, market and history. This work resumes the years I worked as an employee of the museum of the Centro Cultural UFG, almost recreating the moment when I handled works of art of very high values, and that as an employee I was responsible for safeguarding historical artifacts. In the same sense, the objects of the series “Compensação por excesso” show batons bent and engraved with human marks, presenting the excessive use of violence by state apparatus in contemporary societies, an experience that resumes my childhood in an extremely violent Centro-Oeste [Brazilian Midwest] and my present living with the violence established in the big cities I inhabit. Both works deal with the concept of excess, but have completely different solutions. I believe it is a way of dealing with matters that are not exhausted in a single elaboration, since domination and power are forces that inhabit the most diverse mechanisms of society.
You are part of the Solo sector of SP-Arte 2020, which has been suspended until a more opportune moment. Could you tell us a little about the works that are part of Alexia Tala’s curatorial project?
PS: For the Solo sector, in partnership with C.galeria (Rio de Janeiro), we thought of a selection of my last three years of production that would necessarily dialogue with the country’s current problems. We selected works that encompass political and territorial disputes, such as conflicts over land in the interior of the country or the truculence that plagues large urban centers, based on my last solo exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, “Corpo Fechado” (2018), at C.galeria. There, I presented works that thought of the body as a greater symbol of resistance that at times was on the verge of the impossible, being stronger than metal and capable of hurting bronze objects, or a body that sought to heal its wounds at all costs, even by arduous processes, like cauterization. Understanding the speed at which the country’s political situation has been changing day by day, it is likely that for the Solo sector, entitled “Slices of Time” by Alexia Tala, the selection of works will change as social issues change, as my interest is to present a set of pieces that dialogue with contemporary times, where the body is a fragile structure, but which has the capacity to withstand all types of pressure in societies. I should probably present some new work that deals with the experiences of the Delfina Foundation or that tries to deal with the social energy that we are experiencing. Certainly, by the next edition of SP-Arte the world will not be the same.