Visiting Nino Cais’ studio is something I wanted to do since I first saw his work while his room was being mounted for the 30th Sao Paulo Bienal. The artist’s own body and simple domestic objects such as buckets, pots, brooms and dishcloths, are material for the sculptures that compose his pictures. His artwork is intimately connected to his own life and personal objects that give the spectator the impression of getting familiar with the artist's home itself.
Nino Cais’ room at the 30th Bienal de Sao Paulo
Photo: Fundação Bienal / Leo Eloy
Nino's studio couldn't be anywhere else but his own house - a ground floor apartment with a lovely backyard in Pinheiros, Sao Paulo. Every corner of the house is filled with pictures, drawings and objects that Nino meticulously arranges along the walls and tables, composing a cosy ambient where one could spend a whole day observing and discovering a new thing by the minute.
Crazy about these curious objects, Nino usually wanders around small stores and buy all sorts of things, such as a weird comb made of nails to clean fishes (on the left) or a miniature carrossel made of sliced cans. "I like when I find an object that I can’t instantly recognize - I like to bring those objects home and let them be part of my world - with time they get intimate with my home and might end up being part of an artwork”, says Nino.
The studio, the only room facing the street, has a permanent spot for his dog Cintura [Waist, in Portuguese] close to the window where she carefully watches who passes by - barking when necessary - while her owner dives into his world of infinite images. Besides the pictures, objects and drawings on the walls, Nino’s studio has wonderful archiving drawers filled with reference images for collages, drawings and paintings.
We sit by the desk close to Cintura’s window to talk a bit about Nino’s work and life. He tells me he was raised in a very catholic family and away from the Visual Arts world. He actually had his first contact with Art at the church, when he started to write and direct religious plays and paint panels of saints. Having finished school and with no perspectives of work, Nino went to Minas Gerais aiming to study to become a priest. It was then that he had what he called a break-down, drop the religious studies and, with the help of a priest, got a scholarship to study Visual Arts at Santa Marcelina University, in 1997.
He confesses that at first he was a bit disappointed with what he found: “I had this fantasy that I’d become either a poet or a traditional painter with a beret over my head, but things were quite different at University. My painting used to be very realistic, I used to try to portray every single detail of a figure, people even called me ‘Rococo’ back then. Then, one day one of my teachers said something that changed it all: `Don’t look at the figure, look at the line’. And starting to pursue these lines I started to understand the subjectivity of things and the poetics that could be inside a line. So I realised I could be a poet without using a single word. I started to understand I could write poetry through the symbolism of objects - I reckon I am a poet who uses images instead of words”.
His first art piece (picture on the left), created when he was still at University, came from a sliced shirt where he made several knots. These knots were another striking point in Nino’s poetics: “It was then when I started my search for the silence. I noticed that things are always trying to settle down, to find their place of comfort, like sand on a water-glass, it moves until it finds this confort place. In nature, friction exists in this search for what I call silence place, that I started to link with sculpture. In the traditional sculpture the author acts over the material until it’s done, frozen, in silence. And I started to see the knot also as a sculptural act - the more I pull the knot, the more I tension it, more it finds this silence place. It’s a kind of tension that leads to the silence.”
This was when Nino started working with objects, creating tensions that lead to this “silence place”. A very strong piece from this time is a chair with porcelain cups and saucers under its legs, making a solid base with such delicate objects. The tension and at same time the perfect balance and serenity of these merged objects evoque silence.
And it was looking at this piece that Nino decided that his body should be part of these silent sculptures: “a chair always invites a body to sit on it - its shape is made to receive a body. Thinking about the tension of my body with that art piece - that was a chair where I couldn’t sit due to its fragile basis - I started to experiment new sculptures using my own body. I thought that if I started to merge my body with objects, I would make it eternal. And this process of me getting close to the objects was as if I was making a sculpture, looking for such silence place until I’m inside the object as part of it. It’s as if the objects were magnets for the human body, because if you really look at them, they are all shaped to interact with our own shapes.”
Nino’s work invites us to reconsider objects that surround us, paying attention to them under a different perspective. However, unlikely many contemporary artists, Nino doesn’t subvert found objects to make a comment about art itself, questioning what is or what isn’t art, neither intends to make a criticism of consumption society. Nino sees these objects with genuine tenderness and tranquility, showing us how they are part of our existence as human beings and give us the illusion of not being close to death, how they make us different to the animal world and are part of our human nature, part of our natural habitat.
In the process of making these sculptures, Nino searches for his place of silence, he tries to find the same belonging position that he believes things find naturally in nature. The artist’s body appears completely merged to these objects. Objects that the only reason of being is to interact with the human body. And when we look at his photos, made from the encounter of the human body with his natural habitat, it feels that all the elements found their place of being quiet and still.
Nino’s photo-sculptures make beautiful, silent image-made poems in perfect balance: odes to our bonds to our existence. And this is why Nino’s studio must be in his home: these encounters only happen by accident, when Nino unawarely bumps into an object and feels the tension. This reminds the artist how keen he is on Adelia Prado’s work and quotes the Brazilian poetess: “To write poetry I don’t expect a comet to cross the sky or a shooting-star to fall. I usually bump into poetry“.
So Cintura stopped barking and it was already time to go - I left Nino Cais’ with his object-made personal world, wondering what is the next one he may bump into.