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Hudinilson Jr. : Cut Up the World

  • Scrap Metal Gallery 11 Dublin Street, Unit E Toronto, ON, M6H 1J4 Canada (map)

Hudinilson Jr. (1957-2013) emerged from a unique set of cultural and historical circumstances. After coming of age during a military dictatorship, he devoted his artistic career to thwarting the cynical machinations of the art market, favouring instead ephemeral gestures and materials, multiples, street art, stencils, journals and conversation; things that were difficult to categorize or make saleable. Since his death five years ago his extraordinary output is becoming appreciated, in its totality, as an essential commentary on the joys and perils of self-reflection.

Long before we became mired in the endless scroll, amassing our online ghost-ship aggregates of images in inflexible templates, the magpie stockpiling of pictures was an activity that belonged to the lone obsessive. The scissors and glue, the stacks of newspapers and magazines to be plundered, the doting, the loving excisions, the arrangements, embellishments and refinements; it was as much the folkish domain of the zealous scrapbooking homemaker and teen idolater as it was the solitary porn enthusiast. Regardless of who was performing the cuts, the compulsive collection and organization of images has always been an attempt to analogize and compose one’s inner world by imposing a kind of arbitrary, and ultimately illusory, control on the outer one. In the unwieldy archive of Hudinilson we can see why his work –with its fanatical pursuit of beauty and tragedy– feels prescient to us. From the compulsive accretions in his journals to his confessedly narcissistic explorations of his own body, we catch glimpses of the danger we now so readily put ourselves in every day. Yet, unlike someone taking a ‘selfie’, which dements the participant into adopting the modality of a merchandise showroom, Hudinilson’s process of materially reproducing and refracting himself was forensic, a way of trying to see more closely.

There’s every reason to be wary about ascribing pathologies to an artist, but if we’re to understand Hudinilson’s work in context then it’s necessary to imagine the state of a soul raised under authoritarian rule. For nearly a quarter century, 1964-1985, the Brazilian military maintained control through surveillance, exile and torture (for which the US government provided special training). It’s irrefutable that queer Brazilians suffered particularly brutal oppression during this period. Even today, after considerable progress, Brazil still has the highest per capita LGBTQ murder rate in the world, though now largely spurred on by evangelical rhetoric. Attempting to live in a society that deprives one of relatable images of oneself, of images of others like oneself, creates existential agony. This deprivation includes the censorship of queer pornography, which has always been as much a source of deep, if distorting, self-affirmation for gay men as it is an erotic outlet. In one sense, excavating Hudinilson’s creative artifacts is like sifting through an inventory of the contortions necessary to arrive at self-knowledge when the routes have been more or less obliterated: it’s there in the form of shed skins, cast-off clothing lacquered stiff with paint; in the oblique references to his sexuality via a female stand-in; in his repeated invocation of the Narcissus myth; in collages and scrapbook pages where lithe athletes from the newspaper Sports section repeat in mosaics that both blur and belie erotic intent. Eventually, as military rule declined, he arrives at the tiled, photocopied assemblages in which he inhabits the pornographic body himself, in images distorted enough to be unlike himself as to become his own desired other.

Hudinilson was 28 when the regime finally collapsed and creative culture flourished in its wake. Unsurprisingly, many of the artists that emerged from this period worked with subversions of bureaucratic language (using rubber stamps, form letters, absurd taxonomies and the creation of fake organizations…), while maintaining distinctly clandestine, anti-authoritarian overtones. As history played out in Brazil news arrived by way of art magazines, of other communities living in the shadow of intolerance; in the margins, finding new forms of art and technology that could change the way people viewed and exchanged ideas. There’s a shared spirit in the emanations from those eras that finds its way into Hudinilson’s work: though he couldn’t have been aware of them, his collages share certain similarities with Robert Mapplethorpe’s unusually playful constructions from the early 1970s; in New York, graffiti was experiencing a renaissance as landlords kept the outer boroughs on the brink of decay; and Ray Johnson took a tip from Fluxus and excused himself from the narrowness of the art market, opting to use the postal service instead, becoming the first great mail art artist. Hudinilson’s xeroxed works also coincide with Hockney’s layered photo-collages, which, despite their prettiness, were intensely polemical; Hockney was critiquing the limitations of the camera-eye, as opposed to a more encompassing kind of vision that could be conveyed by a skillful painter. This argument nicely underscores a key aspect of Hudinilson’s work, namely that it hinges on information that’s missing rather than what’s plainly seen. Bodies are truncated and clipped by virtue of the limits of the media and mediums he uses. The edge of the page is the limit of vision. The common refrain that he “made love to the photocopier” is perhaps not entirely accurate, as anyone who’s tried to photocopy something oversized (or themselves) will attest. The gorgeously be-furred and fractal-y, multi-paneled landscapes of his torso couldn’t have happened in any other medium. He split himself into fragments, as there was simply no other way to get the result. He tried to make himself fit into/onto the technology that simply couldn’t accommodate him in his entirety. 

Cutting up the world using technology to show the arbitrariness of the ways in which we perceive the things around us used to be the order of the day. Now the opposite prevails, wherein each of us uses technology to fortify our imaginary narratives. The artists of Hudinilson’s era wanted to say something about the lacuna between what we think we see and what’s actually in front of us. When painter Brion Gysin and writer William Burroughs’ split the cultural atom in a squalid Paris flat with the first multimedia Cut-Up experiments in the early 1960s, the reverberations would go on to have an impact on art, music, cinema and literature that peaked in the 1980s and persists to this day. They proved that the basic nature of reality could be disrupted if the materials that recorded it could be methodically chopped and rearranged. The Cut-Ups were a tool for bypassing the official narratives of popular culture, regimes, and even one’s own self, in the pursuit of the deeper truths that lurked beneath the surface. While there’s no record of Hudinilson mentioning Burroughs or Gysin, his artwork is so much in step it seems impossible that he wasn’t acquainted. Unlike that duo, who used fiction and news clippings to generate their material, Hudinilson used himself and chose to wade into the refractions alone. 

In The Quantum and the Lotus (2001), a Buddhist monk recorded his conversations with an astrophysicist, and uncovered some of the astonishing parallels between Buddhist philosophy and the most recent discoveries of quantum physics. The splitting of the atom, already a theoretical proposition, reveals that the splits may well be able to carry on infinitely, to the point where it’s a reasonable generalization to say that everything is, in fact, made of nothing. The search for the primary molecule, the irreducible “real” thing, is a fool’s errand. In much the same way, neuroscientists are beginning to agree that the “self” is an equally unreal and un-locatable invention. Hudinilson’s work partially intrigues us because it appears to be the record of a man who split himself into thousands of fragments, erotic and banal, thereby hoping to render up some kind of insight into the nature of desire and the mysterious “I” at the centre of it; to find some kind of essence, an irreducible part. What ultimately draws us in, though, is the penumbra of sadness that tinges everything he makes and his arch awareness of its futility. In the notes he left behind for his executors, and future curators, the language of officialdom and bureaucratic play is more befitting an archeological dig than the cataloguing of personal artworks. You can see as his opus unfolds, he begins to realize that there is no locatable entity in the archive, but in an act of poetic audacity he continues undeterred. We also see this spelled out in his contempt for the commodification of artworks, for capitalist modes of exchange, and it was abundantly clear in his valorization of the insubstantial, the temporary and the elusive; the game was already up, but it needed to be played to its conclusion. He had often said that his favourite part of the Narcissus myth was that the boy staring into the fatal pond had no idea that the reflection was himself. Someone said, “selfies are the cross upon which we torture to death any hope of self-knowledge.” As Hudinilson points out to us, with ramshackle meticulousness, in his Arte Povera-approachable and heartbreaking way, there’s no one waiting for us at the bottom of the pool.

Scott Treleaven, 2018

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Later Event: August 4
Caribana Parade