‘I blew on Mr.Greenhill’s main joints with a very ‘hot’ breath’ presents moving image and photographic works from the last ten years, selected in response to the Pavilion’s architecture and social context.
Together and separately, Guimarães and Akhøj explore the residual histories of art, design and architecture, exposing unexpected connections between states of rapture and modernity. Much of their recent work has emerged from research undertaken in the small Brazilian town of Palmelo, many of whose inhabitants are Spiritist mediums. Presented in the UK for the first time, Studies for A Minor History of Trembling Matter (2017) and Captain Gervasio’s Family (2014) are both set within this community. These films sit alongside Guimaraes’ film Canoas (2010), set in the home that architect Oscar Neimeyer built for himself outside Rio de Janeiro, and Akhøj’s Welcome (to the Teknival), 2009-17, a response to the restoration of Eileen Gray’s modernist villa e.1027. This is the artists’ first exhibition in a UK public institution.
Unfolding throughout the space, appearing and disappearing, a large curtain provides an environment for the works. The undulating form, designed by the artists in collaboration with Frederico Fazenda, echoes curtains seen in photographs of the De La Warr Pavilion when it first opened, as well as curves found in the work of Oscar Niemeyer and his collaborator Roberto Burle Marx. The artists invite the viewer to imagine that this curtain might also stand between the earth and the spirit world, the domain of Persephone – the goddess who, according to the original plans for the Pavilion, was to guard it, in the form of a sculpture by Frank Dobson, standing in front of the building and looking out to sea.
Captain Gervásio’s Family (2014) describes the lengths that one of Palmelo’s mediums underwent to draw a map charting twenty astral cities hovering above Brazil. The cities are described as ‘like those on earth but infinitely more perfect’, and entail a splendid vision of modernity – a fable of continuous progress and urbanisation. The film juxtaposes footage of Palmelo’s mediums in action with modernist architecture in the cities of Brasília, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It invites us to imagine that these buildings might have been projected from the bodies of the mediums like ectoplasm: materialising the astral cities they describe, and suggesting that these real and imagined places could be an embodiment of utopian thought.
Akhøj’s Welcome (To The Teknival) is a series of photographs taken in France between 2009 and 2017 during the ongoing restoration of villa E-1027, Maison en bord de mer. They are based on Eileen Gray’s photographs, first published by Jean Badovici in the journal L’Architecture Vivante in 1929, the year their villa was finished. Gray described the house as a living organism, an extension of human experience. Akhøj’s photographs reproduce Gray’s original compositions, capturing the process of change – graffiti made by squatters or the restoration tools that now take the place of Gray’s personal possessions.
Guimarães’s film Canoas is set around a staged cocktail party in Casa das Canoas, the iconic home that architect Oscar Niemeyer built for himself in Rio de Janeiro in 1951. The building, which was the site of many important cultural gatherings, helped project an idea of Brazil as an emerging modern paradise. In Canoas, the comings and goings of waiters and butlers suggest a series of interactions, many of them in tension with the modern project and the unequal social relations upon which it was grounded.