IF YOU BELIEVE IN FOREVER, THEN LIFE IS A NIGHT ON ACID.
IN THE WAKE OF FIRE SALE, MATTHEW LUTZ-KINOY'S SOLO-EXHIBITION AT MENDES WOOD DM IN SAO PAULO, WRITER AND CURATOR TENZING BARSHEE NARRATES HIS BRAZILIAN JOURNEY THROUGH THE JUNGLE, MINGEI CULTURE, AND DANCING QUEENS.
When I visited Matthew Lutz-Kinoy in São Paulo, it was summer and it rained a lot. Some time before, I had interviewed him on his ongoing relationship with the sprawling, beautiful and harsh city. This was his third trip. The first time, we traveled in Brazil together (with our dear friend Michele D'Aurizio), I ended up writing a text entitled “I went to São Paulo and learned a lot”, and Matthew made charcoal drawings inspired by the city's pollution and its gay nightlife. This time he invited me, while I was drifting around, in awe of the world's madness and, coincidentally, I ended up just before in Goa, India, another prior Portuguese colony. Matthew, tan-faced, Facetimed: “Hi angel, I'm making ceramics in the jungle. Please come. It'll be heaven.” In anticipation of multiple adventures, I met him in this infinite place, this city of many, which we've shared before. First, there was only concrete jungle in sight and everything was labeled in Portuguese again, which was a weird sensation, traveling from former colony to former colony. As it turned out, later there wouldn't be any jungle either, but nevertheless lots of blushing nature and a feeling of complex engulfment, which I very much associate with the idea of a jungle. In any case, I arrived in the city and we went straight to Lourdes: a bar run by Luiza Bernardes and co-owned by the gallery, where Matthew was about to do his show. There we danced the night and my jetlag away. As we rode through the night and city lights, on our way home, I felt like I was arriving, by dissolution, in this place and in the true intimacy of friendship. There are a few places which trigger my romanticism about what it means to live and to settle somewhere. They're my personal little clichés (which I'm sharing with loads of people): my heart goes to São Paulo, Napoli, Marseille, Palermo… and any place where Matthew picks me up at the airport. After a couple of days, we left the concrete and took to the road, past Campinas, a nearby university city—or was it on the way there, who really knows what comes first these days, only to arrive in a little paradise, the home of Silmara Watari and her family, a Brazilian woman who studied Mingei, Chinese, and anagama pottery for thirteen years in Japan. In her country home, she built an anagama wood firing kiln, which she hadn't used in a while. Somehow Matthew, who's got a talent for finding the right people in perfect places, ended up with Silmara and had been preparing the firing of around 150 ceramics. Anything really, from tiny saké cups to grotesque looking face masks, but also bowls, pitchers, etc. Earlier, we had talked about how his interest in craft lies in the social fantasy that surrounds it. So, not really how it's made, but rather the socio-cultural threads which condition, enable, and merge historical and contemporary crafts. Finding Silmara must somehow have been the jackpot. Isn't it interesting how these life narratives manifest in the most nuanced utilitarian forms? This generous, gentle woman of wisdom, beautiful like a 1970s film star, who managed (through hard work) to bring together so much intense Brazilian and Japanese culture, old and new, in such an unpretentious but privileged way, was truly an ultimate social fantasy. The things that the two of them were making there weren't really artefacts of any sorts, but instead the results of an ongoing mutual seduction. Between their artistic visions, intentions and experiments – and perhaps I'm falling into the trap of my own experience, but somehow these objects, which were made amidst luscious Brazilian greens, oscillated between the eternal question of whether we make these things for the world, or whether the earth simply returns them to us. I was constantly thinking about how Matthew manages to critically engage and crash into his subject matters and materials with full force and conviction, basically how he crashes through the world and crushes hard at night. I felt like I was tumbling, watching them work, subtly asking a question here, making a commentary there. Supposedly, I had arrived at the end of all difficulties and at the beginning of some happiness. Matthew had also brought two large-scale flower paintings, sensual massive things— nothing could keep him from where he was going—and if his large paintings are best suited for a distant gaze, perhaps his ceramic are best considered with gentle touch. The struggle for their intimacy is also a struggle with intimacy itself, with the uncertainty of whether it's better to desire or be desired. It had been sunny before, but at one point the rainy season kicked in. Every day around 5PM showers of soft rain came down, but then, when they began the fire, the sun came back out. The firing lasted maybe a week. Once, enough ash had developed and the heat arrived at a plateau of approximately 1250° Celsius, the fire traveled through the kiln-body, spraying out of the chimney, touching everything inside. They stirred the ash by wiggling a stick or shovel, performing a type of fire dance, which created turbulence through which the ash adhered to the glowing ceramics. The ash flakes rode the hot air like butterflies. This extended the ideas of performance, movement and indexing, which Matthew had been previously preoccupied with, beyond the placing of the clay into the kiln, in a transfer of movements of the body and the fire. Before that, on the first evening when the fire started bursting out of the chimney, Matthew organized an excursion of sorts, following the lead of Felipe Dmab (one of the gallery owners) and Magê Abàtayguara (the most charming gallery director), Luiza Bernardes and other illustrious members of the São Paulo art and nightlife scene, such as international artists Erika Verzutti and Adriano Costa, arrived in our little paradise, and altogether we expanded the idea of a social fantasy to its possible limits. Silmara gave a passionate speech, explaining their process. Matthew talked about how he's been thinking about the space where performance takes places and how to deal with its afterlife. The ceramic-making very much lent itself as an illustration of these ideas, especially of the way the process undergoes different stages of un-controllability, which turns the firing itself into a space of an anticipated unknown, where the burning of large amounts of wood not only hardens the ceramics but produces a pile of ash, melting with the ceramic surfaces, adding color and texture. But it was also the shape of the kiln, which at the time read as an anthropomorphic figure, an incalescent body of bricks cooking silently amidst a bunch of luscious Brazilian greens, the heat in the ground flushing out spiders, scorpions and big toads. The latter were immense and impressive, their sounds haunting us the whole night, their screams heard until the morning light. In the end, everything needed to cool down. I went to bed thinking about the social and material narratives of these vessels, the oven, the ceramic containers, these artists, people, feelings—all and always in relation to the human body, the original vessel for any form of experience, and one of the most insisting recurrences in Matthew Lutz-Kinoy's wonderfully elaborate art.