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Flying carpet

Alex Flemming

Born: 1954 in Sao Paulo

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New Images 2005

Alex Flemming has no reluctance about taking on reality. His intensive artistic debate with it is carried out on three levels – biography, media, content – all of which are closely bound up with one another. Personal background: born in São Paulo in 1954, Flemming grew up in various countries and got to know the world early on through travel. His father was a pilot, his mother a stewardess; an urban nomad existence was his natural inheritance. And as an artist he takes on the challenge arising from this, independent of the fashionable claim to globalism that the art world now demands of its practitioners if they want to make their mark. The multiethnic, multicultural structure of Brazilian history and current society has meant that Flemming never needed to force himself into the role of the cosmopolitan; it has instead become his second skin.
Material resources: Flemming studied film and architecture, but as an artist he is above all concerned with photography, painting and graphics. He turns photocopying and the computer to artistic ends, and often makes use of non-traditional surfaces, such as stuffed animals or items of furniture, upon which to paint. The use of everyday objects leads to sculpture and spatial installation. The application of the camera, the stencil and digital printing techniques brings about a depersonalised visual language that makes his works comparable to the products of the mass media.
Content: the body as a projection surface for political, social, psychological and existential problems and conflicts is central to his work, which deals with life and death, vanity and transitoriness, power and powerlessness, illusion and reality. The experiences resulting from the particular living conditions of increasingly similar cities form the matrix, as it were, of Flemming’s aesthetic constructions. Both striking and winning, they command the viewer’s attention, yet instead of providing sheer visual flattery they give rise to uncomfortable, elucidatory reflection.
The new series of large-format images, which in their appearance have the effect of paintings, are photographic prints on PVC – such as is used for the backs of trucks – and were produced in 2005. They are based on photographs Flemming has taken in the course of his travels around the globe. The individual photograph – originally an analogue colour print – is not cited as a real memento, but is subject to a digital and media transformation process that robs it of its individuality and particularity, although without entirely denying its origin. But in the final work of art what once captured a particular moment at a particular place now becomes a general metaphor for transitoriness and being on the move.
The original photographs were taken from the perspective of the travelling artist: as seated passenger, strolling passer-by or upon meeting friends and acquaintances. A perspective corresponding to the look through an aeroplane cabin at neighbouring travellers reading, at the driver of a tuk-tuk – as motorcycle taxis are called in Bangkok – at street traders, at the posing shopping couple or the elegant businesswoman. The photographic section is retained, as the comparison between an original photo stuck into a pocket diary (it shows the artist with his galerist, taken with a delay timer) and its transformation in the final image makes clear. The concrete photographic situation, already generalised through the avoidance of faces and striking local features, is further radically stylised through digital image processing.
Many factors contribute to this alteration: multiple enlargement of the motif, strong colouring that almost drowns out the contours of the subject matter, and wide monochrome framing – the result of printing onto pre-coloured PVC. The immersion of the original scenes into a bath of light and colour defamiliarises them and gives them a somewhat ghostly air. There is also an important additional design principle: in all the works the artist has drawn down the lowest row of pixels (comparable to running paint) to bring forth several horizontal bands of coloured stripe-codes along the width of the image that look like cascades (they also distantly remind one of the barcodes used for merchandising purposes).
The transformation of the figurative-photographic initial motifs sets a perceptive process in motion whose contradictions result in thought and reflection. The celebratory large format collides with the everyday, unspectacular nature of the photographs. The lively, even enlivening, colours do not really match the static, sometimes almost clumsy, postures of the figures, of whom only the upper body or legs can be seen. The concluding lower bands of colour form on the one hand a pedestal-like, supporting zone; on the other their flickering effect suggests a lack of orientation. This is particularly clear where flagstones or steps can be seen. The people appear to lose their footing, as if caught up in a vortex.
Everyday situations become fugitive parables, scenes of mobility become moments of stasis. Nor can the capturing of time with the camera hide the fact that every moment already belongs to the past once the shutter has been released. A real camera forms part of the exhibited work “Dangerous Liasons”, from the series “Stages”. Within the ensemble completed by a record and a brand new tap it takes on – together with the latter – the phallic role, so to speak. Yet all desire to experience and take possession of the world, together with the enjoyment of power, is in vain; it perishes in the march of time. As do the two figures in the painting from the “Athletes” series of 1989, the photographically depicted modern-day muscleman (which he no longer is) posing in striped swimming trunks as surely as the antique sculpture (one of the famous Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in the British Museum in London). The vanitas motif also appears in exaggerated, parodic form in “Photograph on Sacred Object”. In a monstrance the Host, representing the body of Jesus, is as it were translated back into the naked, anonymous body of an athletically built man. Physical beauty and sacral trinket: only mortal remains. And even the hope of redemption seems absurd. Nothing lasts. Yet this thought, materialised in art, can comfort. It brings forth insight and consciousness. It can touch and move us, letting us sense life.
Michael Nungesser
August 2005


1954 born in São Paulo

Solo Exhibitions (Selection)
1980 MASP Art Museum São Paulo
1981 Gallery Paulo Figueiredo, São Paulo
1983 Gallery Metronom, Barcelona,
Gallery São Paulo, São Paulo
1984 Gallery Cesar Aché, Rio de Janeiro
1985 Paço das Artes, São Paulo
1987 Gallery Montesanti, Rio de Janeiro,
Gallery Montesanti, São Paulo
1988 Calouste Gulbenkain foundation, Lissabon,
Gallery Candido Mendes, Rio de Janeiro
1990 MASP Art Museum São Paulo
Art Museum of Latin America, Washington
1991 Gallery Opus, Coral Gables
Palácio des Artes, Belo Horizonte
Gallery Kandido mendes, Rio de Janeiro
1992 Gallery Tammen und Busch, Berlin
Gallery Tabea Langenkamp, Düsseldorf
Gallery Lang, Leipzig
1993 Ursula Blickle Foundation, Kraichtal
Gallery Aschembach, Amsterdam
1994 Gallery Tabea Langenkamp, Düsseldorf
Gallery Tammen und Busch, Berlin
1996 Gallery Lutz Teutloff, Köln
MASP Art Museum São Paulo
1997 CCBB Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro
1998 Sumaré Subway Station, São Paulo
„Die Föhliche Verzweiflung des Analphabeten“, show case, Gallery Blickensdorff, Berlin
1999 Gallery Blickensdorff, Berlin
2000 Gallery Celma Albuque, Belo Horizonte
2001 „Corpo Coletivo“, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, São Paulo
Gallery Blickensdorff, Berlin, Sieger im Wettbewerb für die Fassadegestaltung
an der Voltaire Schule/Potsdam,
2002 Gallery Blickensdorff, Berlin+Art Frankfurt, Palazzo Dora Pamphile, Rom,
Gallery Conny Diotzschold, Sidney
2003 Gallery Sylvio Nery, São Paulo, Gallery Blickensdorff, Berlin, Brasilian Ambassy, Berlin

May 2002: The book „Artistas Brasileiros: Alex Flemming“,
published by the University of São Paulo

Oktober 2002: The book „Alex Flemming“ published by Metalivros, Sãu Paulo

Group Exhibitions (Selection)
1980/84/86/89 „Panorama Contemporary Art“
MAM Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo
1981/83/91 Biennale São Paulo
1982 „Body Language“, San Diego
1986/97 Havana Biennale
1992 „Columbus Egg“, Mücsarnok, Budapest
1993 „Network“, Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo
1994 „Art on the map“, Chicago Cultural Center
Künstlerhaus Dortmund
1995 „Configura 2“, Erfurt
1996 „Art across Oceans“, Kopenhagen
1997/98 Art Forum, Berlin
1998 „Der Brasilianische Blick“ Collection Gilberto Chateaubriand, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin + Ludwig Forum, Aachen
1999 „Americamerica“, MASP Art Museum São Paulo
„Moto-Migratorio“ Scharpf-Galerie des Wilhelm-Hack Museums, Ludwigshafen,
„America Latina: das vanguardas ao final do milenio“, Caixa Geral de Depósitos Lissabon
„Einerseits der Sterne wegen...Der Künstlerblick auf die Sterne“, Kunsthalle Baden Baden
2000 Foto Biennale, Curitiba
2002 Goetheinstitut Salvador de Bahia
2003 art cologne, Galerie Blickensdorff

Works in public collections:
Art Museum of Latin America/ Washington
Birmingham Museum of Art/ Birmingham
Casa da Gravura/ Curitiba
Casa de las Americas/ Havana
Centro Wifredo Lam/ Havana
Fundação calouste Gulbenkian/ Lissabon
Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut/ Berlin
Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros/ São Paulo
Museo de Arte Latinoamericano/ Maldonado
Museu de Arte Contemporanea/ Curitiba
Museu de Arte Contemporanea/ São Paulo
Museu de Arte da Pampulha/ Belo Horizonte
Museu de Arte de Brasilia/ Brasilia
Museu de Arte de São Paulo/ São Paulo
Museu de Arte Moderna/ Rio de Janeiro
Museu de Arte Moderna/ São Paulo
Museu Nacional de Belas Artes/ Rio de Janeiro
Pinacoteka do Estado/ São Paulo
Museode Bellas Artes/ Santiago de Chile

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