Singularity, utopia and politics

in the work of Hélio Fervenza


Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil

Hélio Fervenza, Um deserto na palma da mão, 2002. Courtesy of the artist.

“Um deserto na palma da mão” [A desert in the palm of the hand] is a work that enables a reflection about our time. The poetics of Brazilian artist Hélio Fervenza allows us to move through language, body and the other, creating utopian images intertwined in time, which support a critical, ethical and inventive position before adversity. The desert metaphor resonates in the gaps of meaning intrinsic to the human condition, and worsens during periods of intense change and incoherence.

Included in the artist's book: “O + é deserto” [The + is desert] (2003), the chosen photograph was created at the turn of the 21st century and represents a striking feature of contemporary Brazilian art in its investigative and innovative perspective. In dialogue with such picture are: parentheses, capsules, photographs, grains, words, deserts, all within reach of the hand. As such, the artist underlines the power of experience, of contagion, of care and micropolitics.

The image is located in the section Annotations and combines the hand, the grain and the word. It rescues the importance of writing, while demarcating positions, enabling to move between subjective experience and its materialization in word, image, object, message. "What can writing do in favor of the visible?" [1] The question suggests that it is impossible to see everything and inscribes, at the same time, a desire to show life’s complexity, of enlarging the gaze and the forms of transmission. As critic Fredric Jameson rightly analyses: “The attempt at a radically different system liberates the imagination and utopian fantasy...” [2]

Between body and politics, the artist rescues the significant desert as a way of addressing the dimension of space. Each era has its deserts which endure and differ but which are always associated with adversity and ways of coping with malaise. The artist aims to analyse the desertification conditions of art production and, therefore, indicates an economy of adversity, a profitability in producing deserts. This movement explains the dominance of capital in everyday life and an emptying of shared experience.

In a dominant way, we live in search of oases, ideal places, total images, certainties and guarantees that do not call for strangeness or encounters with difference. A present time marked by globalisation, individualism and spectacularization. The pandemic has brought about a disruption of collective struggles and has opened up socioeconomic inequalities. Thus, it reinvigorated social movements and humanitarian policies, but also political-ideological polarisations. It sharpened death policies through the act of letting die.

Our time is interpreted by artistic language, by putting the hand on focus and the word ATACAMA written in a grain. A sense of surprise underlines the unconscious dimension that inhabits the image, shocks the subject and, thus, unveils him. [3] The artist seems to ask: what deserts do we build with our own hands? What deserts are we ready to transform?

Most likely, we will never get rid of ‘deserts’ due to a condition of insufficiency that seems to constitute us, but to invent languages that make us understand our ethical and political position before them is a possibility for the establishment of new public spaces. “Creation dreams of the space of exile, of foreign lands that trigger our condition to invent new forms.” [4]

[1] FERVENZA, Hélio. (2003) O + é deserto. São Paulo: Ed. Iluminuras, p.9

[2] JAMESON, Fredric. (1997) As sementes do tempo. São Paulo: Ed. Ática, p.86

[3] LACAN, Jacques. (1999) O Seminário, livro 5: as formações do inconsciente (1957-58). Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Ed.

[4] SOUSA, Edson. (2007) Por uma invenção da utopia. São Paulo: Lumme Editor, p. 16

Hélio Fervenza website

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