Photographs immortalise the expressions of a body at Cecilia Brunson projects. In dark tones and black and white gradients punctuated here and there by touches of copper and white tulles, the frail yet muscular figure of Francisco Copello transcends the images. The Chilean born artist was a master of performance art spanning pantomime to theatre. Part of the rise of conceptual art in New York, through his involvement in a collective of other Latin American artists he introduced experimentation of his body as an artistic means of expression.
The series of photographs and collages hung on the wall serve as Copello’s artistic biography. The images worked on with Chilean photographer Luis Poirot denote the poetic and romantic aspect that the artist might have possessed and which contrast with the brutal expressions of the black and white pieces of cut and re-assembled photographs. Soft colours, white tulle, stripes of copper and pieces of metallic paper soften the strong poses purposely assumed by Copello. Just like the arrangements in the collages, the gestures and facial expressions coming from the artist’s body are harmonious and bold. Not forcing itself upon its audience, nor wanting to shock or provoke, each step, each glance, and each stare is like a painter’s brushstroke gently applied on a canvas with the difference being that the viewers are able to appreciate the process and be present when the artist attains completion.
Copello worked with highly renowned photographers which explains why the quality of the interpretation of the images allows me to take the snapshots of the motions exactly for what they are and perhaps sometimes imagine the rest of one movement in my head. What strikes me the most is the authenticity. It’s not overplayed, and neither is it done for attention. Copello’s work is a sincere translation of his personal emotions and ones that he wishes to transcribe through the use of his body. While viewing the series of photographs by Giuliana Traverso, I detect a cry for help in an effort to escape from both his permanent physical and emotional imprisonment. The sensation stems from the body itself – how it’s twisted, the precise placement of the limbs, and the ever so mesmerizing eyes, which no longer belong to the artist but to the expression of his art.
This type of avant-garde art was at first introduced in the 1980s and didn’t reach as wide an audience as it should have. Underlying themes such as sexual ambiguity, AIDS and the questioning of politics, were at the core of the performances but mostly, the desire to transport the body away from its main purposes into artistic spheres might have been the reason why audiences were turning away from Copello’s spectacles. The grave character of the performances is slightly reminiscent of the works of the South African performer Steven Cohen. Similar in their use of silhouettes, they both employ their bodies in an attempt to reflect their values and beliefs. Cohen embellishes his body and face with props and make-up, whereas Copello strips down to flesh and bone. They share an inherent sensitivity which both are able to communicate without taboos or hidden agendas.
Death pervades Copello’s movements. I can feel it deeply when gazing at the photographs by Giovanna dal Margo. In this series, the artist moves with a Chilean flag. As I progress from one image to another, the movements become more radical, his face more severe and the flag ends up soaked in blood. A stream of anger, rebellion, despair, doubt, and sadness emanates from the art. Through the fragments of this performance which I can appreciate via these photographs, I have an imaginary conversation with the artist. I ask “Why and how did it make you feel?” And Copello answers back with a pose, a gesture, or a stare. The videos of his performances at the entrance of the gallery are even more engaging. They show a continuous flow of emotions which can at first seem hard to follow, but as I get accustomed to the language spoken by Copello’s body I find myself following the narrative, nodding, feeling empathetic in response to certain movements, and finally entering into an intense conversation from body to body, with no need for words.
Mi Arte es mi Cuerpo: Francisco Copello at Cecilia Brunson Projects (13 June – 28 July 2017)