On a rainy afternoon, I go to Henrique Oliveira‘s studio by taxi. It is located in the area of Lapa in the city of São Paulo. While looking for the right place together with the taxi driver, we immediately figure out where it is, when we pass an open garage type workshop where four men with staple guns work on large wooden structures. I enter and one of Henrique‘s assistants goes to get dinner: pão de queijo, the delicious Brazilian cheese bread rolls.
Henrique tells me that he first studied social communication and publicity before he decided that what he really wanted to do is art. Starting off with drawing, he went on to working with wood, which he mainly found in the streets of São Paulo. With the wooden panels and fence parts he would collect at abandoned places - “tapumes“ in Portuguese, describing the wood used to fence off construction sites - Henrique built two-dimensional structures resembling paintings, but replacing paint with timber. Often associated with the buildings in the periphery and favelas surrounding Brazilian cities, the material and Henrique‘s use of it allude to art history all the same: Reminding of brush strokes and by its wooden nature referring to the brush handle attached to the tool most famously deployed in the history of art, Henrique creates various layers as if the material he uses was paint. Starting off two-dimensionally, he soon began to expand into space, creating pieces that seem to be coming out of the walls, inflating and bloating, always on the verge of exploding into space. These abstract “paintings“ penetrate the viewer‘s space and expose the tactile qualities of art to the spectator. Henrique soon discovered PVC as material that is more flexible and bendable than wood, allowing him to expand even further into space and metamorphosing his formerly rather two-dimensional wall pieces into three-dimensional architectural structures. With the PVC as framework underlaying the wooden surfaces, he creates dynamic “tridimensionals“, as he refers to his works.
Fully exhausting the elasticity of the seemingly flooding and liquid - rather than bulky and bursting - wood, Henrique constructed a huge parcours at the 29th São Paulo Biennial, which seemed to swallow visitors and invited them on a journey through the very inner of architecture or - depending on every individual‘s interpretation - the human body. The work “The Origin of the Third World“ (2010) - wittily playing with the title of a famous painting by French 19th century painter and enfant terrible Gustave Courbet - led up a few metres from the floor and allowed for different paths to be taken. Visitors would find themselves in an organic labyrinth, resulting in occasional ducked head encounters with other people. The site-specifity of Henrique‘s works calls to mind the relational and social dimension that architectural structures always have. By creating a new microcosmos with each piece, he also exposes its insides that seem to be pushing outward, making them available for us to see and help them out of their enveloped invisibility.
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