Regina Teixeira de Barros: Nazareth, let’s talk about your background. What is your earliest memory of contact with art?
Nazareth Pacheco: My earliest recollections take me back to art shows at Masp [Museu de Arte de São Paulo], which I attended with my parents. I remember the Impressionists well.
RTB: In other words, your first contact with art was seeing art.
RTB: What about your creative practice? When did you start making art?
NP: As early as in elementary school I displayed a fair level of manual dexterity. I remember making a ceramic cup to give my dad on Father’s Day. In my last year of middle school I started taking art lessons from Claudia, daughter of architect and art dealer César Pires de Mello. And then I went to college …
RTB: How would you describe Claudia’s art course?
NP: It was a free course, it offered everything: drawing, painting, live model sessions. She taught various techniques, but modeling was my favorite.
RTB: And at college, what teachers influenced you and what subjects interested you most?
NP: I really enjoyed João Rossi’s pottery class. I also liked the woodworking class, where I learned how to saw and do joinery. I even built a stool there! I attended Caciporé Torres’ soldering sculpture class and I enjoyed Eliana Zaroni’s sculpture classes. I have always been keen on sculpture, on tridimensional pieces.
RTB: After you graduated from college, did you take continued education courses?
NP: Yes, I did. After working as a guide at the 18th São Paulo Biennial, my peers Rosana Mariotto, Elisa Campos and I looked up Guto Lacaz, whom we had met at the exhibition. We asked him for art classes and he agreed to meet us once a week in his studio for about 10 or 12 sessions. In one of the latter ones, he suggested that we each make a hat. Then, the day we brought in our hats, he asked that we wear them and he handed us each a diploma he had designed. Finally, after taking photos of us, he said, “Congratulations, you have graduated from the Pataphisico College.”
RTB: So then, in 1987, you headed for Paris.
NP: Paris was a good experience… to show me how I should not have spent time there! Paris was not my dream, but my parents had lived in that city and believed it to be a major cradle of the arts. But it was a mistake; I should have gone to Spain or to Germany. The Paris School of Fine Arts was neither academic nor contemporary. At the time, [Christian] Boltanski taught there, but he was on a leave of absence and I never got in touch with him. My instructor, Claude Viseaux, taught at the School on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Training under him was a boring experience because he did not get involved. In Paris I worked with wine bottle corks that I collected every third night when making the round of the local restaurants and then gathered together with a piece of wire. Finally, when I was about to leave for Brazil, I performed a few interventions in the college campus and photographed them.
RTB: In 1990 and 1991 you attended workshops at the Centro Cultural São Paulo and the Oficina Cultural Três Rios [later renamed Oficina Cultural Oswald de Andrade] conducted by several artists: Amilcar de Castro, Carmela Gross, Iole de Freitas, José Resende, Nuno Ramos and Waltercio Caldas. Which ones would you say better equipped you for the artistic career or opened up more paths, more possibilities for you?
NP: I clearly remember Resende’s workshop. I created a piece with cotton and sandpaper by wrapping cotton around sandpaper, so it was one material sticking to the other. It was one against the other, they were opposites. I also thought Carmela Gross’ workshop to be particularly impressive. One of the proposed themes was water, so I thought about how water brought me pleasure and fear, and I ended up building a lifejacket out of bubble wrap. Iole de Freitas suggested we work with the dimensions of the human body, with one’s own body and its structure. Amilcar de Castro talked a lot about raw materials.
RTB: And the work for José Resende’s workshop also sprang from the research on materials that you were to resume sometime later.
NP: Yes, cotton and sandpaper have contrasting characteristics: one is soft and the other is rough, it can nearly hurt.
RTB: The vest you made under Carmela Gross was a piece of clothing.
NP: Exactly! It was possibly one of the first clothes I made.
RTB: How was your academic experience when working on your master’s degree at the University of São Paulo’s School of Communication and Art – USP/ECA?
NP: Studio work is extremely solitary. My first gain at ECA was the disciplines and the contact with artists like José Spaniol, Dora Longo Bahia and Rosana Mariotto, among other dear ones. I trained under Annateresa Fabris and my experience working under my advisor, [Carlos] Fajardo, was extremely enriching. I suffered enough when writing the dissertation, but I also learned a lot, it was a time of reflection on my production up until then.
RTB: When did space become part of your concern?
NP: That was always an issue in my creative practice. I taught for a few years at Museu Brasileiro da Escultura – MuBE about object installation. I was always concerned with how to present objects and how to install them in space. This interest was shown in the first major exhibition of my works, in the lower level of Galeria Raquel Arnaud. On the occasion I presented objects related to my body, so to speak: in the center of the room I placed a latex object the same size as my body, and on the walls I installed pictures and boxes. On one side of the gallery the objects on display talked about surgeries and, on the other side, they related to aesthetic treatments. I think the exhibit was nearly an installation of my own body.
RTB: Years later, you were to design that bench covered with needles, also the same size as your body.
NP: Exactly. I showed it in the Casa das Rosas, the exhibition was titled Transcendence.
RTB: When making the bench for Casa das Rosas, did you have that first job in mind?
NP: No, the reference was not so clear. When installing the bench at Casa das Rosas, it was the European museums I had visited that came to mind. The Casa das Rosas building itself, its architectural style, the gallery space resonated the museums and exhibitions I had visited in Europe. By and large, museum galleries are equipped with benches on which people sit to rest or to observe the displays. This is why I conceived this bench, which was exactly the size of my body. Except it was not meant to be used for sitting, its seat was actually a bed of needles.
RTB: Changing the subject a bit, I want to ask about the role of your family, which seems to have been always very present – not directly in the works, but in the background. In your master’s dissertation, you mentioned your grandmother, who taught knitting to her grandchildren at the farm. You remember holding needles in your hands…
NP: I remember spending vacations at the farm with my grandmother since my early childhood days. She knitted and all her grandchildren learned to knit with her. My mother liked to sew. I think she wanted me to build finer motor skills, and to this end she would drop her open pin box on the floor and say, “Honey, please help me. I’ve dropped my pin box.” Then I would get my training, picking up the pins and putting them back in the box. I have always enjoyed working with my hands. One example is the pieces I created later on: the nightgowns I embroidered with phrases taken from Destruction of the Father/ Reconstruction of the Father, a book by Louise Bourgeois. I learned embroidery by doing cross stitch. I had a seamstress make a few nightgowns – some of which look like christening gowns – that I embroidered with crystals and beads.
RTB: What were those phrases?
NP: I chose Louise’s phrases that made an impact on me and that also spoke about my kind of person, my experience and my history. Here’s one: “My childhood never lost its magic, never lost its mystery and never lost its drama.” Here’s two more: “For me, sculpture is the body, my body is my sculpture” and “The subject of pain is my work field.”
RTB: If you were asked to indicate three or four of your most striking exhibitions in your 30-year career, which ones would you choose? Why?
NP: The first remarkable exhibition, held at Galeria Raquel Arnaud, was one in which I talk about my body. I had some difficulty dealing with this show myself. In the process of designing the exhibition, every time my parents asked what I was going to show, I would answer: “I’m doing a mixed technique”. The truth is, I had difficulty telling them it was about my body, about reparative surgeries, a bunch of procedures, about being born with physical disabilities and having to undergo several reconstruction surgeries. That exhibition was somewhat an exposition, it laid bare my body. It was a rather long process: I had already left Frederick Steidel’s studio, where everyone saw what eeveryone else was producing. I had moved to a mezzanine studio on Rua João Moura, where I had a room with more privacy. I found it important to have this reserved space, where I could work on this piece. That’s when I started to deal with a private issue, though in a very aesthetic and formal manner.
RTB: Actually, this exhibition set a major milestone in your career. It earned you recognition and turned you into a reference for this type of issues…
NP: Yes, issues related to the artist, the body, identity, and memory. The repercussion of the exhibition at Galeria Raquel Arnaud was, precisely, about someone speaking of her own identity, revealing matters related to the body.
RTB: What other exhibition was mementous after the solo show at Galeria Raquel Arnaud?
NP: I was very involved in the exhibition Mirrors and Shadows, curated by Aracy Amaral, at which I presented objects used in the manipulation of a woman’s body, such as speculums and the legrests of gynecological tables. I cast breasts in bronze and used plasterd bandages to take imprints of breast nipples. At this point, the focus was no longer on Nazareth’s body, but on a woman’s body. I took great pleasure from showing my work at this exhibition.
RTB: You set aside a personal matter to embrace the gender issue. At that time, there were few people in the Brazilian art circuit working specifically with gender issues. In our country there was no tradition of the vigorous feminist discourse we see in the United States, for example.
NP: Yes. There was Leonilson’s work, for example.
RTB: Lygia Pape and Lygia Clark addressed women’s issues, but maybe they focused on the less painful aspects.
RTB: What came after Mirrors and Shadows?
NP: Necklaces and dresses began to appear. I turned to work on the subject of seduction, with glitter and, at the same time, blades and needles used in surgeries that invariably got me panic stricken.
RTB: Your first exhibition of this work was also very important.
NP: I first showed my necklaces at Galeria Valu Oria. Then I showed my first dress made with razor blades and crystal beads in Panorama of Brazilian Art, a major exhibition held at Museu de Arte Moderna – MAM, It took me several months and many hours to build the crystal body. But before this one, there was a dress made with vulcanized black rubber, which I designed for the exhibition we organized at Frederico Steidel’s studio in June 1990. This show is almost 30 years old as well. I have a photo by Bob Wolfenson in which I am wearing this dress.
RTB: At that Panorama you won the Embratel Award for the dress made with razors and crystal beads, and the work entered the MAM collection. This was a very significant moment indeed! Now, what exhibition would you say set a major milestone in your career?
NP: Most certainly, the Panorama opened many doors for me, including to the São Paulo Biennial, in which I showed a set of necklaces. I was very happy because the invitation to show came from Paulo Herkenhoff, who was an important reference, but who I still had not met in person.
RTB: And what came after that?
NP: [José Roberto] Aguilar asked me to show in the Transcendence exhibition at Casa das Rosas. Two days after that invitation, I flew to Los Angeles and bought the book Destruction of the Father/ Reconstruction of the Father, Louise Bourgeois’ book that inspired my nightgown embroidery work. Coincidentally, in this book I found an interview in which Bourgeois discussed the relationship between art and transcendence! I ended up using a phrase from this interview in the work I presented at Casa das Rosas.
RTB: Tell me about your relationship with Louise Bourgeois. How did you come to know her?
NP: I first saw Louise’s art creations in the special room that Paulo Herkenhoff organized at the 23rd Biennial . I fell in love with her work, so I told Paulo that I would love to meet the artist and he said he was going to introduce us. I was on my way to New York, but our schedules didn’t match. However, in the United States a person’s phone number was easily found in the phone book. I called Louise, introduced myself, and made a first date for the following Sunday, which was Salon Day. I was staying quite close to her place, so I thought I’d go by and drop off a copy of my catalogue before my visit. To my surprise, she opened the door and invited me in. I was totally surprised and super excited to meet her. As soon as I stepped in, she pointed out my bangs were covering my eyes. I pulled them to the side and she said, “Oh, you have a problem with your eye.” I replied, “Yes, I was born with a congenital disorder.” She asked who was to blame for it, my father or my mother! I spent a few hours with her, who kept telling me to do things: answer the phone, sit on the stool near the window, etc. At some point she began to cook pasta; I asked if I could help, she said there was no need, she would get it done fast. Suddenly I had a very strong recollection of my grandparents, who were born in 1911, the same year as her. My grandparents were already depending on caregivers and there she was, living all alone. And when I left, she said, “I have a request for you.” I said, “A request?” “Yes. I want you to smile. When I told you I could get things done fast you did not laugh.” So I went away laughing after that comment. On Sunday, I went back to her place. Pouran Esrafily, a videomaker and artist who filmed all the meetings, opened the door and invited me in. At these gatherings, she was more keen on hearing us talk about our own experience and present our work, than talk about herself. That day, at the first meeting I had in Louise’s living room, she suggested we spoke about our own relationship with our fathers. She was a fine teaser. Some people were thrilled. There were people from all over the world: artists, musicians, architects, writers…
RTB: Did you keep in touch with her by mail?
NP: No. No, no.
RTB: Just in person, when you went to New York …
NP: Yes, at these Sunday meetings. Once I arrived in New York on a Friday and she asked me to create something to show at her Sunday salon. I said, “Sorry, Louise! I didn’t bring any supplies with me …”. She replied, “Oh… you didn’t? Then go get some Plastilina clay and make something.” Later, over the phone, she asked me what I was going to do. I said, something about the body. She asked me to close my eyes and envision it. I thought of an egg, a division of the egg, and a sperm cell. She asked me what size that piece would be, and I said about six inches, and Louise said, “Wow, how shy of you!” On Sunday I showed her the work, which she liked a lot and suggested that I did it in gypsum. Finally, not only did I make the gypsum piece, but I ended up casting it in bronze. Louise’s provocative statement, that I was very timid, ended up prompting me to do a piece that I titled Quarto (Bedroom). It was a work that emerged after my master’s dissertation, when I felt suddenly empty inside… I think it was one of my greatest pleasures, the greatest work I have produced to date, and one that also brought me great satisfaction.
RTB: Talk a little more about the Bedroom. It is an installation to be seen from the outside, without access to its interior. Only you had access while you were creating it.
NP: It’s impenetrable! [laughs]. After the master’s degree I had a feeling of complete inner void. I could see myself inside my room, where I felt protected. From that moment of concomitant protection and emptiness, I began to build the Bedroom with the same dimensions of my own room, and the bed as well.
RTB: And why did you use acrylic? Why did you make an acrylic bed rather than an iron bed, for example?
NP: To match the imaginary. The image is extremely light. Although the acrylic is there, it is much more in one’s dream, in one’s mind. Although it exists, not everyone sees it. It’s shielded. At the same time, I particularly enjoyed the shimmering effect produced by the razors on the bed.
RTB: This movement is quite intriguing: your first major exhibition is about you, your body, your history – in short, you resuming a few very particular issues. Then you turn to the feminine, to the generic. And now, Bedroom once again focuses on your own surroundings, even though most people have a bedroom and a bed. Do you agree with this view?
NP: As I see it, each person will have their own interpretation of my work, it depends on their references. This piece addresses such issues as violence, safety and protection. Like with the Box [shower enclosure] equipped with a razor curtain – a work that might be a penetrable, given that viewers may open its curtain –, here I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about an object in space. A similar example is the Camarim [dressing room], in which the curtain may be opened to allow people to enter the work, or remain closed. Anyone who enters it will see all those lights in a space where they can change clothes or just look at themselves. My story does not have to be there; based on their individual identity and history, each person can produce their own interpretation.
RTB: This comes to address a subject that I deem relevant throughout your career: the psychoanalytic interpretation of your work. Your early pathways at Galeria Raquel Arnaud probably led to such remarkable results that your history continued to follow that line, whereas other works might offer different interpretation possibilities. After all, one thing is for you to show photos of yourself and your personal references; a different thing is for you to show works in which more people recognize themselves directly. How was the repercussion of the exhibition at Galeria Raquel Arnaud? Did people identify with the works at all?
NP: I remember two people coming to the exhibition who were ill and undergoing treatment (some time later they passed away). The moment they came into the gallery I felt uneasy because there I was, talking about a process I had gone through, but I no longer had a health condition. I was showing off my overcoming. As I watched the two people go around looking at my boxes, it seemed to me that the boxes contained a mirror and each viewer was watching their own story. In my dissertation I state that elements of my life inform my work; however, I have always been very concerned with the formal too. What is more, regardless of the person’s knowledge of my story, my work must be self-sustainable, it has to have autonomy, it must have its own space and be provocative. While my work was on display at Louise Bourgeois’ Salon in New York , the curator introduced me to Manon Slome, who at the time was engaged in the curatorial design of the exhibition Dangerous Beauty and invited me to show. Early in our conversation, she commented: “When you first arrive in New York, the first very impressive thing you notice is the highrises; the second thing is the appeal to beauty and consumption that, in fact, relates directly to your work.” I was showing some necklaces and a dress made with razors, and I was very happy that she hadn’t met me before. As it turned out, her reading of my work was totally unrelated to my personal story. Unfortunately, however, after she got to know me she could not help talking about my process [as in her catalogue introduction to the show] as well as about the fact that I had been born with a physical problem and endured several surgeries.
RTB: In the INCLUSION / EXCLUSION chairs you also cover a broader issue, correct?
NP: Yes, at that time there was much talk about the inclusion of people with physical and mental disabilities in schools. I was involved with these issues because of my dear friend’s daughter. I think there was a lot of talk about inclusion, but in fact it was not exercised. The same thing happens with the accessibility issue: a lot of theory and very little practice.
RTB: Would you like to talk about some other work in particular?
NP: Another work that captivated me was the installation Gota a gota [Drop by Drop], which I showed at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo. The first drops had come up when I showed in the Paralela exhibition held concurrently with the 2006 São Paulo Biennial. My work consisted of a hammock made with crystals, in front of which I placed a curtain made with glass beads and razor blades. It was a space that should not be penetrated, but the crystal hammock was alluring, it was an invitation for leisure and pleasure. When I began to build this curtain, I would sometimes cut myself accidentally, but they were minor cuts, like in all previous situations in which I worked with razor blades. This time I had brought along a wonderful cotton paper from Germany, so I let the blood drip on the paper. Subsequently I photographed the droplets and the resulting images left me awestruck, it was absolute seduction. Then, in 2007, I showed at Casa Triângulo a piece that contained blood droplets. To me these drops were like planets photographed in outerspace. Later came wood drops, acrylic drops, and finally bronze drops. I started attending the Rebellato Foundry [now shut down], which was one of the oldest foundries in São Paulo. With a ladle, I would take incandescent bronze from the kiln and pour drops on the floor. I began to build small installations with these bronze drops and at some point submitted a project for the Pinacoteca, which was approved. Eventually I took two thousand drops in my car that I installed on the gallery’s elevator structure.
RTB: To me, the drops featured at the Pinacoteca did not bring blood to mind, they looked more like invader cells. You have turned the drops of blood into something else, yet without altering the idea of contamination that is associated to health. However, in this case, you were dealing with institutional health, the health of a building, the drops were spread inside the Pinacoteca building, right?
NP: The drops shown at the Pinacoteca were a result of my ongoing research on blood. A contamination, a measles outbreak. Another aspect worth noting is the implications of introducing bronze in the Pinacoteca building: the elevator car covered with scattered bronze drops serves all floors, including that where bronze sculptures are displayed.
RTB: Since you introduced the blood drops at Casa Triângulo, it seems that the needle has ceased to be an object used in aesthetic treatments to become an intermediary instrument. In the days it frightened you, the needle attended your works and played the double function of causing repulsion and seduction. But in the 2007 exhibition, it disappeared and apparetnly was replaced with blood. In other words, it seems that your relationship with needles has changed.
NP: I went for many years without going in for bloodwork. But when preparing for the exhibition of works with blood, I went to a lab and had at least a dozen vials of blood drawn. My guess is that when I started using needles in my work, my fear of needles disappeared. The pleasure of creating and producing the work contributed to my overcoming this fear.
RTB: Changing subjects, let us talk a bit about the Bienal Barro de America. How would you describe the installation you showed at this exhibition?
NP: When I was selected to show at the Bienal Barro de America, in Venezuela, I had just returned from a trip to the Amazon region. Together with José Spaniol, Marcos Giannotti and Emmanuel Nassar I visited several riverine communities: the flour community, the straw community, and the pottery community. The one I found to be most impressive was the cassava flour community, where they built a system based on bicycle pedalling to turn the wood-fired barrel oven and to mill the cassava flour. That was the only place I visited where the community conserved its original identity. Upon arriving in São Paulo I learned about my selection for the biennial in Venezuela. For my project, I thought about using something that came from the earth, like cassava flour, so I planned the construction of a space where there would be a photograph, which was not my own, showing the oven and the patio where community members produced flour. Except that when I got to Venezuela I learned something I could never have imagined – local people don’t make cassava flour! – so I ended up using wheat. I built a room with a small door closed off with a sheet of glass to keep anyone from entering. Through this dor viewers could see a tank of wheat about two feet in height, and the enlarged photo of the cassava flour mill house from the Amazon hanging on the back wall. After my return to São Paulo, this installation was to be set up in the outdoor area of MuBE – Museu Brasileiro de Escultura, so I decided to work on its architectural aspects: I built three hollow acrylic columns that, when viewed from the street, seemed to be in conversation with the museum’s architectural design, and I filled them with cassava flour.
RTB: Did you ever see an installation by Walter de Maria at the DIA Art Foundation?
NP: Yes, it was totally a reference for me.
RTB: This work reminded me of the piece you made with coffee in Piracicaba, in 1992. These foods attend several of your works, but it’s as if they were different subjects within your production.
NP: Coffee also plays an important role in my memory. My grandfather owned a farm he bought in the late 1950s, where I spent my childhood. Next to the farm house, there was the brick sun terrace on which coffee beans were set out to dry. Every day, during the winter season, I watched as farmhands managed the crop. In the morning they would spread the beans to dry in the sun; in the early evening, they would gather the beans onto conical piles that they covered with canvas to block dew buildup. Then the farm was sold during a coffee harvest, just when I was selected for the Piracicaba Salon. For my installation, I took some large bags of coffee beans to the exhibition venue and with a rake used on the farm to manage the plantation, I built a sun terrace and spread the beans. When the salon was over, I took some of that coffee and put it in an old glass container. I have it to this day, as memory of the last crop and reference of my childhood.
RTB: Speaking of reference, your work has a somewhat serial nature. Even in this installation with coffee beans, the grooved rake lines create a seriate pattern. Obviously it’s not industrial, but it’s still a pattern. Some of your other works also follow this trend, as for example the razor curtains.
NP: In the first period of my creative production, when I worked with rubber pegs, they were minimalist…
RTB: Exactly. Do you think serialization runs across your entire oeuvre?
NP: Yes, I believe so. Seriate patterns keep coming up, especially in my constructions and installations. At the time I was selected for the Centro Cultural São Paulo and for the Macunaíma Project , formalism and minimalism were trending. In those exhibitions I showed works with the vulcanized rubber pegs. Soon after that, I went to visit my brother in Boston and he gave me a book on Eva Hesse. I was extremely impressed by the similarity of materials and some formal solutions we both adopted in our creative work.
RTB: What is your current view on the series of Objects of Imprisonment you created many years ago?
NP: I had that idea about ten years before getting my master’s degree, but at the time I didn’t have the financial means to produce it. Initially I was inspired by some objects found in the basement of my grandfather’s farmhouse, like iron weights. In 1992, on a trip to attend the Documenta, in Kassel, I visited the Medieval Crime Museum, in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. There, an object particularly caught my attention: the confession chair, covered with wooden spikes. My work with rubber immediately came to mind, except that my pegs could be touched without hurting. Now this “thorny” confession chair was an instrument of torture. It was the materialized vision of the trapped body. Another interesting point to ponder is that, during the Inquisition, infants born with physical disabilities were sacrificed. If that practice was still in effect, I wouldn’t be here!
RTB: Finally, I want to know if you can come up with something about the most recent production that will be presented at the time of this book’s release.
NP: In 2013 my mother died of cancer, after two years of treatment. Soon after, we discovered that my father was ill. During their respective treatments I remained by their side. My father died of cancer too, a year and a month after my mother’s passing. During the mourning period, while dismantling their home, I saved for myself all the imaging exams performed during their treatments. I also kept some medical instruments from my father’s neurology practice and a few nightgowns from my mother’s bridal trousseau. I used part of this material in works now featured in this exhibition. In addition, over the last five years I underwent two orthopedic surgeries and attended numerous physical therapy sessions to treat an adhesive capsulitis (“frozen shoulder”). I also did some cosmetic surgeries. During these processes I took several photographs that will also be shown in this most recent exhibition.