1991.09.21. BELLOWS VIII / BIENAL DE SAO PAULO / TEXT BY THE ARTIST.
I visited Rio Branco in Acre, Brazil in the spring of 1991. This was a chock to me. Never have I seen a landscape as surreal as this. In place of the forest was now a neon green grass. Sharp and sticky. Grazing on it were zebu´s. A bull imported from India. The rubber tappers that used to live in the rain forest were now being threatened by the land owners and had to move. I arrived shortly after the murder of the rubber tappers union organizer Chico Mendes. I met his widow through Helio Melo, a local hero and artist. Helio was a bit older now and had in the last ten years been able to give up the rubber tapping and was now able to devote his time to painting the life of the local seringueros (rubber tappers). We went on a trip for a few days into the landscape that used to be rain forest. He related all time to what it used to be. And there was no other way. It was now a vast void.
We rented a taxi for three days. It was a small Fiat Uno. The tires broke two or three times a day. They had to be repaired. We got to know the local tire repair shops (vulcanizadoras). One afternoon when the car had another flat tire we pulled in to a sawmill. The sound of the steam engine was loud. I went into the mill and saw the raw teeth of the different saws glistering when cutting the wood up. The smell from the wood was very strong. Suddenly the whistle blew. Break. I accompanied the workers down to the lot in front of the mill where the mechanic was fixing another flat on our car. Everybody gathered in a circle around Helio when he took his violin out from the rear of the car. He started to play a beautiful tune. We were taken in. At the same time an older guy started to unwrap a bandage over his hand. Slowly in tune with the music. The cloth got more and more red the further into the bangage he got. Finally he showed us his hand. It was an infected limb without fingers. I smelled the burned rubber from the vulcanizer from somewhere in the background.
Dead nature. I built Bellows VIII with experiences like these from Brazil, but with our European fighter animal; the lion. I was offered to cast a dead lion cub that only was a few months old when it was killed at Kolmården Zoo. It was now in a freezer at the Natural History Museum in Stockholm. The cub had been executed with a gun shot in the forehead. The shape of the particular bellow is an enlarged version of the bellows used by large format cameras. Early imagery from the 19th century of the Amazonian rainforest were photographed with these kinds of cameras. Even further back in history, the lion was a common animal all over Europe. UR 1991
Group Exhibition 21ST BIENAL DE SAO PAULO, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Curated by Joao Candido Galvao.
All photos by the artist.