Brazilian artist Gustavo Prado makes simple materials work for him in increasingly inventive ways. His sculptures, incorporating multiple mirrored elements, split apart the self and question contemporary society’s self-obsessed culture, while individual works’ varied configurations and finishes give off a unique vibe. The complexity of his LEGO artworks, reinterpreting sections of Baroque paintings such as El Greco’s Christ Carrying the Cross, 1580, bely their original structure, pushing a medium not known for nuance or deep contemplation in new directions. Prado answered questions about his art and current exhibition “Assembly” at Galerie Richard in New York City, on view from April 30 through June 22, 2019.
Chris Bors: Despite the work’s conceptual rigor, your Measure of Dispersion (2014—ongoing) series becomes a perfect selfie moment for the viewer. Did you anticipate this reaction and does it change how you move forward?
Gustavo Prado: I knew from the beginning that the mirror pieces were going to be too seductive to avoid, and this aspect of creating an optical trap was very much the point, but I’m not sure about the “perfect selfie moment” idea. The perfect selfie moment is all about control and constructing an idealized version of ourselves, but I see these sculptures more as offering the experience of a disobedient mirror, or, of being unwillingly observed and surveilled, like when you cross the border.
In them, your reflection is not as directable as either an ordinary one or the black one in your hand (your phone) and you end up having a disconcerting moment when there’s a collision between what you project, expect, and what you get. It’s something way closer to the way others see or photograph you, like that discomfort we all feel when confronted with how different we look from what we think we look.
CB: The way you use blind sport mirrors and security mirrors makes things more confusing as it fractures one’s viewpoint. Would you say the best art raises questions rather than gives answers?
GP: Yes, it’s interesting that you picked “fractured”, which happens when the confidence we have in how much we can shape events is challenged by reality in drastic ways, which is when fractures and trauma become possible. We know a lot about that where I come from and maybe the show as a whole can be seen as trying to find fractures in our extreme expectations.
But “dispersed” is the word I usually go for, which comes from statistics and from attempts to find order even in the most complex and chaotic events. It seems paradoxical, but it’s akin to what happens in our minds all the time—this constant movement to attach concepts to experiences.
Like in ourselves, these events that appear to be external, are, in fact, internal to the piece but can’t be controlled. But there’s a flow to what I’m describing; it’s like observing that we are aware.
CB: Are the works in Measure of Dispersion meant for contemplation or as a warning? I can imagine an Orwellian scenario, as we are so quick to interact with potentially intrusive technology.
GP: The interesting thing that started to happen as I posted the images of this work online, and as other people began sharing theirs under my name, through different means, like hashtags, etc. is that the work became not just individual parts of a series, but one ever-growing virus that keeps manifesting itself in different places, countries, and homes. So I feel like the work is gathering data in a way. I often imagine how much it can see, or has happened in its reflections, or will keep happening even when I’m not around.
CB: You reinterpret details of iconic religious Baroque paintings using LEGO bricks in your Ascension Series (2019—ongoing). Did religion play a part in your life growing up in Brazil?
GP: It certainly did, and in a way it still does. I probably think as much about what could be considered religious concepts as I do about art. This series started as an exercise of observing the importance that these images had, and still do, on how I see myself, the world, and even my own body. My son, who is now five, was asking me if I’m the man in the images. That was a potent moment for me. There’s this question about the purpose or the burden of religious education.
CB: The way you incorporate both shiny and matte LEGO bricks, as well as building up the surface to create dimensionality gives them a sculptural quality. Was it important to vary your use of this medium, usually associated with children?
GP: As much as I’ve indicated otherwise, I’m not interested in defending a theory with any of this, and the choices made in terms of which kinds of bricks to use, and how to deal with the patterns created in the surface, are mostly aesthetical ones. The works have to hold their own as visual things, not as illustrations of ideas. Staying in the border between painting and sculpture is very much a strategy to present them as questions and investigations, and less as statements.
CB: The works become clearer when photographed, in a way the opposite effect of the Measure of Dispersion series. How do the two relate in your mind?
GP: The effect of becoming more recognizable when photographed does present a problem. When I chose to render the images as bitmaps, the most simplified version of the original, the goal was to be at the limit between abstraction and figuration, between the surface and the image. And when photographed, especially by the phone, it becomes utterly two-dimensional, so you lose a lot of those complexities that keep the tension between seeing and not seeing the image. When you do see them, and recognize their religious connection, that ultimately becomes a demonstration of their power over us, and if you use the phone as a way of pushing you towards recognition, it’s almost like you’re cheating the challenge that they offer.
In terms of their similarities, there are several. But more importantly, they are all aggregates. They are all grouped materials that diverge from their use, and that although combined with extreme precision, in the end, dwell on the symbolic—ascending from the objective through the conceptual towards the more transcendental; serving as an investigation on the conditions through which we can experience the world the way that we do.