“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!”. Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy: Inferno. 14th century
The epigraph, taken from the first part of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, cites the inscription above the gates of hell, read by the author before his descent there and later ascent into heaven. It serves us as a warning to the apocalyptic realization that family, morals and good customs are over. The poem by Dante Alighieri marks the passage of the Middle Ages into humanism, the first of the movements where, to the detriment of religion, reason began to play a central role in human development.
It was with this prediction engraved on a plaque that Nikola Tesla (1856–1943) received those who entered his laboratories. The engineer born in Smiljan – in what was then the Austrian Empire, and is currently part of Croatia – is venerated as the inventor of technologies that changed the world: he invented and produced the fluorescent light bulb, the x-ray, the remote control and the robotics, as well as being held as the true creator of the radio; he amassed around 300 patents worldwide.
In one of his studies, Nikola Tesla demonstrated the possibility of furnishing clean, wireless electrical energy, through the creation of the Wardenclyffe Tower, which would also be able to transmit radiophonic signals to every point on the globe. This heroic feat would give humankind all the communication and energy necessary for its functioning, as well as a better relationship with the environment, which would not suffer the same ecological decline that we are experiencing today. Tesla was, therefore, a kind of Messiah, who gave power to man, just like the Titan Prometheus that, as defender of man in Greek mythology, stole fire from Hestia and delivered it to the mortals. Zeus, who was afraid that the mortals would become as powerful as the gods themselves, punished Prometheus for this crime, leaving him bound to a stone, where each and every day a huge eagle would eat his liver, which regenerated during the night, only to be eaten again the next day.
Abandoned by his investors, who had found a cheaper investment in radiophonics with a quicker result – though without the distribution of clean, wireless energy – Tesla became a recluse until the end of his life. His eccentric personality, coupled with his apparently bizarre and unbelievable statements about possible scientific developments, led to him being seen as a crazy scientist, and therefore ostracized. Never having given much attention to his finances, Tesla died in poverty at the age of 86.
In his third solo show at Galeria Vermelho, Henrique Cesar associates the religious reverence of the Middle Ages to the celebration of the modern scientific advances protagonized by Nikola Tesla. He thus develops an iconology based on the mixture of religious and scientific icons. It is, however, in the religions of African origin that Cesar finds resonance for his articulations.
In the Xeri de Tesla series [Xeri of Tesla] (2014–2015), we find the representations of the rattles often used in Afro-religious rituals. Xeri (a Yoruban word) is a summoning instrument, wielded by the image of Shango (the orisha of thunder, fire and justice) to tame the atmospheric discharges. In the rituals of Candomblé, the xeri is wielded by the priest with the aim of evoking a trance and greeting the divinities. In the series of xeris painted in oil on paper, we see schemas that physically simulate the paths of electrons and the directions of the magnetic fields found in the design of Tesla’s Coil, which is a resonating transformer with a very simple construction and yet nonetheless able to generate extremely high voltages. Invented around 1890, the physics of its mechanism was designed primarily for transmitting electrical energy at a distance – a technological precursor to wireless technology. The xeri and Tesla’s Coil are, therefore, equivalent in this series, developing a sort of canon by associating different realms of rationality.
In Elo [Bond] (2015), images appropriated from a 1976 Petrobrás catalog are organized like a page from a comic book, showing the process of extracting petroleum from Brazilian oil fields. The artist reproduces the images in India ink and overlays on them an image of a Patipemba sketched in red Econoline ink. Patipembas are schematic drawings, normally scratched on the ground, used in pagan rituals to attract the forces of spirits. This is one of the many ways of physically manifesting the message of ancestors, within the cult of Palo Mayombe, an old religion of the African Atlantic Coast that gave rise to Quimbanda and influenced Brazilian Umbanda, as well as Candomblé. Henrique Cesar unites two different processes (the extraction of petroleum and the attraction of spiritual forces), which converge on the similar idea of obtaining energy from the earth – one material, the other spiritual.
In the drawings of the series Estações [Stations] (2015), Henrique Cesar portrays the central emitters created by Nikola Tesla to carry out his research into the wireless distribution of electrical energy. Tesla’s mechanisms appear at the place of their origin – his laboratories – as well as over Cesar’s studio. The isolation which appears as an aspect common to all the stations represented makes them resemble temples – presumably by the elevated quality that the artist appears to adopt in representing them.
Isolation also appears in Câmara [Chamber] (2015). In the sculpture, six microwaves all face one another in such a way that the radiation emitted by the six devices clashes when they are operated at the same time. The energy generated by the devices creates a central nucleus of energetic excitation that appears to be on the verge of expanding into an implosion. The arrangement of the devices in axes like those that compose the three dimensions (height, width and depth) seemingly alludes to the cosmic explosion which, between 10 and 20 billion years ago, supposedly formed the universe as we know it. Is the imminence of this technological explosion linked to its creative capacity?
In the series Metalinguística [Metalinguistics] (2015), Henrique Cesar uses microwaves’ doors as the support for six oil paintings. They are figures that narrate the saga of physics/chemistry experiments, responsible for the ennoblement of some paradigms relative to the containment, dispersion, distribution, fission and explosion of energy as a physical greatness. They thus become icons constructed on the basis of an iconoclastic gesture by the artist. That is, they become new symbols of veneration based on the destruction of their predecessors.
This new iconography finds its place in Cosmologia Composta [Composed Cosmology] (2015), a set of four drawings focused on the stations constructed by Nikola Tesla to perfect his experiments with the transmission of electromagnetic waves. The set of silkscreened numerals that are overlaid on these landscapes present the number π expressed in binary code. That is, this group of zeros and ones shows a binary way of constructing the image of the mathematical constant that rules the properties of circumference. This circular constant is present in the calculations for circumferences and, consequently, for the waves created by the flow of electrons within a magnetic field. They thus become a mantra above the previously mentioned “temples” of Tesla, uniting the place of worship and its “gospel” in the form of mathematical abstractions.