The book of time
São Paulo, 2007
First off, Fernando Vilela’s exhibition contradicts one of the catchwords of engraving, reproducibility. His enormous books (200 x 200 cm) are once-offs. The volumes, produced in sheets of expanded pvc, were printed from only three templates. They function as modules that combine and recombine playfully without heed for any geometry. This modular reasoning affords an enormous diversity of configurations. The graphic composition is structured by forces that vary in sense and intensity, spinning incessantly in all directions.
If images can be compared to a clock, as if the strips were superposed clock-hands, the work would entirely contradict all the regularity and repetition a clock would imply. Leafing through the books we get an extremely singular temporal experience. It is as if we forget the outer world and delve into the work. Its time is neither continuous nor homogeneous, much less rectilinear, but rather a time that dispenses with chronological order. Primacy is placed on the graphic aspect as opposed to a supposed march of time or narrative. Particularly because there is a series of more or less spatial superimpositions that reveal a simultaneity of times. These are even more evident if we contemplate the three open books, which compose a whole in which not even order and chaos can be understood as opposites anymore, but instead as integrated complementary elements, just like the empty spaces and printed forms.
The scale of the books is comparable to that of a door. To turn the page is to enter another space. Our everyday relationship with the book is therefore literally inverted – it no longer sits comfortably in our hands; it is we who find ourselves cupped, sucked into its interior.
Though the books obey rigorous planning, the artist did incorporate touches of chance that arose during their production. This was also down to technical issues, such as the drying of the paint on the silk-screened canvas. In general, the irregularity of the blotches on the plate was maintained. Dealing with prints of such large size and artisanal quality (which took a team of six to make), it was never going to be completely accident-proof. This awareness confers more vitality upon the work and avoids its being seen as somehow standing outside the time of its own creation. After all, this is not a project that envisioned accurate, surprise-free execution – quite the contrary, in fact; the unexpected is as much a constituent part of the process as it is of temporal flux.
The plates oscillate between the most silent, with few printed areas, to the noisiest, with a maelstrom of superimpositions and excesses. Their appearance is ambiguous: the image is silk-screened, but the veins in the wood – as the canvases were developed from woodcuts – are just as visible as the occasional imperfections. There is something precarious about the end results, as if they were street posters, but this is a sensation usurped by flashes of sheen, reminding us that here the artisanal and industrial mix, with all that silkscreen ease contradicted by the laborious process demanded by the sheer size.
Produced at the artist’s studio in Barra Funda, São Paulo, which sits overlooking the street, the works mix with the rhythm of the city. During printing, the screens were cleaned on the sidewalk while the proofs dried on the garbage troughs, rubbing shoulders with the urban dirt. This blending of the image into its surroundings also occurs, albeit in a different way, in the engravings in transparent acrylic hung at an angle to the walls. Thanks to the lighting, the printed images project and superpose themselves upon others facing or adjacent to them. While in the books the superimpositions occur on the plane, here they extend to and occupy three-dimensional space.
Independently of the symbolic aspect of the book, which mixes with the history of humanity and accompanies mankind over time, the work of Fernando Vilela establishes certain complex relationships with the subject, with the space that surrounds it and with the city itself that go beyond contemplation and mere reflection. Such is our involvement in the work that we slip into its own particular time, which is the same as ours, but which also seems to contain and transcend us.