Adriano Costa: Touch Me I Am Geometrically Sensitive, Sadie Coles HQ, London

Most air traffic between London and Sao Paolo this summer was one way, well at least until the England football team limped out of the World Cup against Costa Rica on the 24 June. Those fans who stayed out in Brazil beyond the remit of their original objective to support the England team may have been lucky enough to witness a match which in many ways eclipsed the tournament and provided a compelling portrait of Brazil itself. The selecao’s 7-1 humiliation by Germany epitomised the Brazilian tradition of collapsing the boundaries between art and rubbish, poetry and tragedy.

Adriano Costa was on one of the less busy airbuses to cross the North and South Atlantics in the opposite direction earlier this summer. However, in his suitcase he must have been carrying a vial or two of the dramaturgical aqua regia that spilled out all over the pitch in Belo Horizonte. The socks, the bath mats, the paint tins and the old football shirts that are scattered across Sadie Coles HQ are familiar materials for Costa. Working in and out of one of the most desolate of Sao Paulo’s metropolitan districts, Costa has developed a magpie’s eye for detritus donated to the street after dark that constitutes the trace of life lived in 21st century cities under the process of globalisation.

Adriano Costa’s modus operandi is to reconfigure the relationship of salvaged objects. It is essentially a compositional task which affords him a way of approaching modernist tropes without collapsing upon the legacy of Neo-Concretism from which his work so clearly derives. The socks in Lotus that form a balletic Christmas tree and the newspaper cuttings in News For Free – You Better Accept It telling of summer sales, ISIS and Simon Cowell’s sexuality re capitulate the surrealists intoxication with the objet trouve and both Futurism’s and Dadaism’s textual experimentation. There is a certain amount of revisionism in these pieces that frames Brazilian art’s relationship to European avant-gardes as less exclusively bound up with Suprematism, the Bauhaus and Minimalism than is officially recorded. There is also a degree of formalist alchemy going on in Costa’s conjuring of luxury goods from such base materials.

Although the two tiled floor pieces in this show – Oven 25 minutes / You Cannot Walk On This One and Norwegian Cheese 2 – echo the industrial works of Amilcar de Castro in the way they embody the tension between the resistant material’s surface and the precision of the artists gesture, it is to a more theatrical strand of Neo-Concretism that Costa belongs. The critic Ronaldo Brito detected in the work of Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, and Lygia Papen a “dramatization of the work, its reason for being, and which placed in check the established statute of art.” This embrace of subjectivity is readily apparent in works like Have A Sit where the means to decorate a room (dulux tins, pot plants etc) are arranged unpacked in a painterly composition that feels halfway between a stage set and a window box. The effect is the propulsion of sculptural space backwards from the arrangement to the wall where pictures hang in a relationship to Have A Sit that feels both incidental and instrumental.

That is the secret of Costa’s alchemy, instrumentalising the seemingly incidental materials of everyday life to expose the fact that they are determined by the composition of industrial production and the circuitry of cultural value systems. Costa illuminates the one with the other. This is another way in which Costa’s work, despite this show being concerned with London (works were made from materials sourced during his summer stay in the capital), cannot help but feel poignantly and pertinently Brazilian. What does it mean to be an artist of the most lauded BRIC? What new set of cultural values are problematized by such global ascendancy and its attendant economic, social and geo-political tensions? The World Cup – from the protests to the fiesta of football, the hope of a nation to the trauma of a nation – suggested that the transitions through which the Brazilian economy is dragging its citizens will frame a conflict through which the values of the new Brazil will be forged. Costa’s work should contribute to this debate, yes it echoes with the reverberations of the past, but it is speaking to the future.

Ivan Knapp

Adriano Costa: Touch Me I Am Geometrically Sensitive runs until 27 September at Sadio Coles HQ.

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Credit 1. Image International Herpes Society courtesy of Sadie Coles HQ

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