by Lucas de Lima on Nov.26, 2013
Does the imagination have limits? Are we actually in the time of “uncreative writing”? In the age of information overload, is appropriation–the resampling of other texts–the last reservoir of our creativity? Is there really nothing new under the sun to be said or done?
When I look at the engravings of Gilvan Samico, the Brazilian artist who died yesterday at the age of 85, the answer to all these questions turns out to be a resounding no.
The shaman carries out theatrical acts and imitations of powers; by imitating powers, he produces the effect because it opens the doors of the mysterious thing that we are.
This would be a perfect description of Samico’s engravings had he admitted to imitation. Or perhaps the allure of this art, and all art in general, lies in falling victim to one’s own trap–a willingness to entertain aesthetic and experiential mystery. When asked if he incorporated ancient Marajoara, Japanese, Tibetan, and Egyptian forms into his composition, Samico replied, “If it’s there, it’s not intentional. I think it’s something interior. I work in a way that makes it difficult for you to recognize the legend and identify that cultural origin. I don’t do illustration. I’m working off a legend in order to create a new world.”
Samico’s claim to novelty defies not only the Conceptualist stranglehold on (and against) expression, but also what I take to be a cynical secularism at the core of experimental poetics in the US. To suspend disbelief in the inventiveness of one’s practice, as Samico does, is to hallucinate a sacred dialogue. To me this explains Samico’s maximalism, his ability to revitalize cosmic ingredients whose sources remain mystified to the extent that they seem rooted in the very image itself. In this sense, the image sets up a sacred trap when it attains the primacy of myth-making.
As in Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s account of Amerindian thought, this is the work of the cosmic diplomat who “can return to tell us the story, something the secular citizen is hardly capable of doing.” Instead of trotting out the usual subversions of that which has already been represented, Samico thus imbues all-too-familiar figures such as stars, birds, horses, and tribespeople with an irreducibility the viewer had long been taught to deny. Precisely because they appear to come not from our exhausted and expiring world, but a cosmos whose intensity was once or could one day be felt, these visions deliver the spell of presence.