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ENTREVISTA


João Leonardo.


Studio view, Klippan, 2020


Studio view, Klippan, 2020


Studio view, Klippan, 2020


Studio view, Klippan, 2020


Studio view, Klippan, 2020


Studio view, Klippan, 2020


Studio view, Klippan, 2020


Studio view, Klippan, 2020


Studio view, Klippan, 2020


Studio view, Klippan, 2020


Exterior view of the studio. Klippan, 2020


Untitled (Table), 2010–2011. Installation view at Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar, exhibition 'Estranhos Dias Recentes de um Tempo Menos Feliz', 2017. Photography: António Jorge Silva


Exhibition view of 'One Hundred and Six Columns, Four Heads and One Table', Internationales Künstlerhaus Villa Concordia, 2010. Photography: Christian Frey


Calendar #1, 1996-2006. Exhibition view 'As Time Goes By...', Galeria 111, 2006


Exhibition view 'Flying High Falling Low', Galeria 111, 2013


Video still: Sony cybershot (memory stick), 2005


Video still: Sony cybershot (memory stick), 2005


Video still: The Funeral Party, 2004


Video still: Clean, 2003

Outras entrevistas:

MARIANA BRANDÃO



ANTÓNIO PINTO RIBEIRO E SANDRA VIEIRA JÜRGENS



INÊS BRITES



JOÃO LEONARDO



LUÍS CASTANHEIRA LOUREIRO



MAFALDA MIRANDA JACINTO



PROJECTO PARALAXE: LUÍSA ABREU, CAROLINA GRILO SANTOS, DIANA GEIROTO GONÇALVES



PATRÍCIA LINO



JOANA APARÍCIO TEJO



RAÚL MIRANDA



RACHEL KORMAN



MÓNICA ÁLVAREZ CAREAGA



FERNANDA BRENNER



JOÃO GABRIEL



RUI HORTA PEREIRA



JOHN AKOMFRAH



NUNO CERA



NUNO CENTENO



HUGO CANOILAS



MEIKE HARTELUST



LUÍSA JACINTO



VERA CORTÊS



ANTÓNIO BARROS



MIGUEL GARCIA



VASCO ARAÚJO



CARLOS ANTUNES



XANA



PEDRO NEVES MARQUES



MAX HOOPER SCHNEIDER



BEATRIZ ALBUQUERQUE



VIRGINIA TORRENTE, JACOBO CASTELLANO E NOÉ SENDAS



PENELOPE CURTIS



EUGÉNIA MUSSA E CRISTIANA TEJO



RUI CHAFES



PAULO RIBEIRO



KERRY JAMES MARSHALL



CÍNTIA GIL



NOÉ SENDAS



FELIX MULA



ALEX KATZ



PEDRO TUDELA



SANDRO RESENDE



ANA JOTTA



ROSELEE GOLDBERG



MARTA MESTRE



NICOLAS BOURRIAUD



SOLANGE FARKAS



JOÃO FERREIRA



POGO TEATRO



JOSÉ BARRIAS



JORGE MOLDER



RUI POÇAS



JACK HALBERSTAM



JORGE GASPAR e ANA MARIN



GIULIANA BRUNO



IRINA POPOVA



CAMILLE MORINEAU



MIGUEL WANDSCHNEIDER



ÂNGELA M. FERREIRA



BRIAN GRIFFIN



DELFIM SARDO



ÂNGELA FERREIRA



PEDRO CABRAL SANTO



CARLA OLIVEIRA



NUNO FARIA



EUGENIO LOPEZ



JOÃO PEDRO RODRIGUES E JOÃO RUI GUERRA DA MATA



ISABEL CARLOS



TEIXEIRA COELHO



PEDRO COSTA



AUGUSTO CANEDO - BIENAL DE CERVEIRA



LUCAS CIMINO, GALERISTA



NEVILLE D’ALMEIDA



MICHAEL PETRY - Diretor do MOCA London



PAULO HERKENHOFF



CHUS MARTÍNEZ



MASSIMILIANO GIONI



MÁRIO TEIXEIRA DA SILVA ::: MÓDULO - CENTRO DIFUSOR DE ARTE



ANTON VIDOKLE



TOBI MAIER



ELIZABETH DE PORTZAMPARC



DOCLISBOA’ 12



PEDRO LAPA



CUAUHTÉMOC MEDINA



ANNA RAMOS (RÀDIO WEB MACBA)



CATARINA MARTINS



NICOLAS GALLEY



GABRIELA VAZ-PINHEIRO



BARTOMEU MARÍ



MARTINE ROBIN - Château de Servières



BABETTE MANGOLTE
Entrevista de Luciana Fina



RUI PRATA - Encontros da Imagem



BETTINA FUNCKE, editora de 100 NOTES – 100 THOUGHTS / dOCUMENTA (13)



JOSÉ ROCA - 8ª Bienal do Mercosul



LUÍS SILVA - Kunsthalle Lissabon



GERARDO MOSQUERA - PHotoEspaña



GIULIETTA SPERANZA



RUTH ADDISON



BÁRBARA COUTINHO



CARLOS URROZ



SUSANA GOMES DA SILVA



CAROLYN CHRISTOV-BAKARGIEV



HELENA BARRANHA



MARTA GILI



MOACIR DOS ANJOS



HELENA DE FREITAS



JOSÉ MAIA



CHRISTINE BUCI-GLUCKSMANN



ALOÑA INTXAURRANDIETA



TIAGO HESPANHA



TINY DOMINGOS



DAVID SANTOS



EDUARDO GARCÍA NIETO



VALERIE KABOV



ANTÓNIO PINTO RIBEIRO



PAULO REIS



GERARDO MOSQUERA



EUGENE TAN



PAULO CUNHA E SILVA



NICOLAS BOURRIAUD



JOSÉ ANTÓNIO FERNANDES DIAS



PEDRO GADANHO



GABRIEL ABRANTES



HU FANG



IVO MESQUITA



ANTHONY HUBERMAN



MAGDA DANYSZ



SÉRGIO MAH



ANDREW HOWARD



ALEXANDRE POMAR



CATHERINE MILLET



JOÃO PINHARANDA



LISETTE LAGNADO



NATASA PETRESIN



PABLO LEÓN DE LA BARRA



ESRA SARIGEDIK



FERNANDO ALVIM



ANNETTE MESSAGER



RAQUEL HENRIQUES DA SILVA



JEAN-FRANÇOIS CHOUGNET



MARC-OLIVIER WAHLER



JORGE DIAS



GEORG SCHÖLLHAMMER



JOÃO RIBAS



LUÍS SERPA



JOSÉ AMARAL LOPES



LUÍS SÁRAGGA LEAL



ANTOINE DE GALBERT



JORGE MOLDER



MANUEL J. BORJA-VILLEL



MIGUEL VON HAFE PÉREZ



JOÃO RENDEIRO



MARGARIDA VEIGA




JOÃO LEONARDO


04/08/2020

 


With a degree in Art History from Universidade Nova de Lisboa, in 1996, he attended the Maumaus Independent Studies Program in 2003, concluded in 2009 the Master's Program in Fine Arts at the Malmö Art Academy at Lund University, Sweden, where he currently lives. In 2005 he won the EDP Novos Artistas (Emergent Artists) Award. New and used cigarette butts, cigarettes, packs of tobacco, blood, sperm, or urine are some of the materials used as mediums for many of his works. In Portugal, we will see some of his artworks this year both in Porto and Lisbon, in two group exhibitions.


by Sérgio Parreira

 

 

>>>

 

 

Sérgio Parreira (SP): I made a list of the most relevant materials you have been using as mediums on your work: blood, sperm, urine, your own body, cigarettes butts (used and new), cigarettes, cigarettes packs, liquid nicotine, tobacco powder, whiskey, beer, red wine, tobacco ashes, plastic cups… If you distance yourself, I do understand it might be difficult, how would you describe these materials and creative mediums?

João Leonardo (JL): I have always been very interested in the materiality of the works, and I am very much in favor of works that use a particular economy of means, pieces that do not need a large investment in production to materialize, although sometimes I also do the opposite. In general, I like objects that I find, that I do not need to look for or buy on purpose, because they already surround me, or are part of my daily life. All those materials have a relationship with the body, understood in an expanded way, some of which are exterior, and others are interior, literally coming from within. I am interested in the concrete and physical reality of the materials, the symbolic, metaphorical, metaphysical, and psychological resonances that each of them has. I am interested in organic, banal materials, which contain in themselves the history of their fragility and impermanence, exceptionally far away from noble materials such as marble, bronze, or oil painting.

 

SP: In my previous question, I was exactly looking for something that you just referred, and as a conductive link of all your work: the relation with the body. I found this reference, as you mentioned, through many forms, and I believe it would be interesting to look into them chronologically. In your first videos from 2002 to 2010, you explore the individual body, both physical and identity. Would you agree with this reading?

JL: Yes, I agree, but I also ask: What defines identity? A social group or a set of homogeneous characteristics of a particular group of people that identifies with something they have in common? A name? A name for a thing designates something with identity, but before language, there is the body. The body is that which infinitely identifies us because, without a body, we simply do not exist. From this body as identity, all obsessions with diets and transformations arise according to a very subjective idea of beauty. When I started working on video, I had this idea of the body as an object of desire and explored ideas of repulsion and attraction.

 

SP: This body exploration, in these videos, ones more than others, there is an experimental tendency that I find quite fascinating; a light approach, unapologetic, though simultaneously obsessive. When I say obsessive, I am implying that you draw your challenges, towards yourself, that you necessarily have to endure, complete, where failure is not an option. Can you explain these processes further?

JL: The videos from that period are all "experimental." Experimental in a sense that I did not make them for anything or anyone in particular, except for myself. I felt the need to film them and watch them afterward. To see what could be done, how far I could go further – in quotes – but also physically and explore what interested me, like digging deeper into my obsessions, but obviously with full knowledge of what was done before.

 

SP: In a way, I find that you continue to explore this idea of repulsion, but I will get back to this further ahead. Still in this period, and with these experimental-like videos and on the record exploration of personal obsessions, were you able to acquire any type of lessons influencing your future creative work?

JL: I don't know if I could spell out lessons in an academic sense. I have always followed more intuitive processes, and many of these videos are, in fact, performances for the camera. They were influenced by performances and videos that I came into contact with at that time, and that impressed deeply, such as Bruce Nauman, Martha Rosler, Harun Farocki, Ana Mendieta, or Chris Burden. There is a form of knowledge and learning that has nothing to do with theory, it goes through experience and something a little more intuitive or irrational. In that sense, I learned and grew a lot. These were experiences that allowed me to evolve and, above all, to lose my fear. I learned not to be afraid of being ridiculous, and that is liberating for any artist. Obviously, this experimental phase also helped me to better understand who I am and the terrain or route that I was interested in exploring.

 

SP: In 2008, if I am not mistaken, in one of your videos, Time after Time, and later in 2009 with other works Timeline (350 Photos/Images), you developed a kind of autobiographic narrative. I am not sure if this is the best way to describe it. What were you exploring and trying to communicate during this time?

JL: You can appoint these works as autobiographical narratives because they are. I often realize that many contemporary artists who use their own bodies or their photographic gaze avoid the word autobiography at all costs as if it were something reductive or a less relevant, less erudite, and complex discourse. I see this as a kind of prejudice that does not happen at all in literature if we think of the idea of self-fiction, for example, in Marguerite Duras or the concrete notion of autobiography in an author as recent as Karl Ove Knausgård. I assume this category without any modesty or reservation. I think that an artist can and should talk about what he knows, and often this process starts precisely on its own. Of course, these works are also reflections on time and a particular idea of mortality. I was interested in the concept of a public diary, as an exhibition without filters, but of course, this is always and inevitably very subjective. They were made during a period in which digital photography spread in a more accessible and democratic way. In fact, both come from an older video, the Sony Cybershot (memory stick), from 2005, which was based on a succession of images from my personal archive, accompanied by music by Death in Vegas, used on a campaign for the first mobile phone launched with a 2-megapixel digital camera. In a way, I see these works as precedents of the current Instagram, which works as a kind of open/public diary, just like Sol LeWitt's 1980 artist book, precisely called Autobiography.

 

SP: Also, during these years, you debuted a visual period, lasting until today, where you use tobacco in its most diverse ways, packages included. Can you remember and describe your very first work where you used this medium and work technique?

JL: The first time I exhibited a work that causally related to tobacco was in the first solo exhibition at Galeria 111, in 2006. It was Calendar #1, and it was made up of the collection of all the SG Lights tobacco packages that I bought and that I had saved until that date. The piece itself was only materialized on that date, but as a work-in-progress, it had existed since I started smoking and storing the packs when I was very young.

 

SP:  A predictable and unavoidable question now. Do you still smoke?

JL: Yes, I still smoke. A pack a day, every day. Sometimes more and rarely less. There is something about the number of cigarettes in a packet that has the right daily dose of nicotine. If you divide a day into 8 hours of work, 8 of leisure and 8 of sleep, the 16 hours I spend awake, divided by 20, gives 1.25 cigarettes per hour. Yes, it is the right account to feed this addiction that has persisted for 30 years.

 

Detail of sculpture under construction.

 

 

SP: The cigarettes, tobacco, cigarette butts, are all recurring in your body of work since 2006. Between 2006 and 2016, you have several pieces created through variations of this medium. I will now highlight a few that I find incredibly exciting and that I would like to have a more in-depth insight from you. The first one is Untitled (Head #1 to #4) first shown in your solo show One Hundred and Six Columns, Four Heads And One Table at Villa Concordia, in Bamberg, Germany. What would you like to say about this work?

JL: The series of filter heads are figurative works in which the representation of the body is less literal than in the videos but equally concrete, linked to the real. In this residence in Germany, I met a sculptor who worked as a restorer of Renaissance pieces and who mastered all the traditional techniques of sculpture in stone, metals, plaster casting, clay, and wax. With it, I made a set of plaster casts on my face and bust, and it was these casts that served as the basis for making the filter pieces; in the process, I filled the negative space of the form with the glued found filters. In these cases, most of the filters were from cigarettes smoked by me, not because of a conceptual issue, but because they were in better physical condition. This series has many layers of possible meanings, which each is free to interpret as one sees fit. I was interested in the formal process of this classic category in sculpture, the portrait. Furthermore, the dialogue with the funerary tradition of death/mask, and the subversion of the materials, the idea of disgust, and fragility was also something that I was very fond of.

 

SP: Untitled (Table) 2010-2011 is, in my opinion, quite unique, and I look at it somehow in a traditionally romantic way, as the artist's support worktable. However, due to the medium and techniques you use, this analogy turns into a provocation, which probably triggers in the most audience a feeling of repulsion, as you referred at the beginning of our conversation. What I first want to understand is simple, is this work really the support table of the artist? If this reading is accurate, who is the artist that you are introducing and communicating to the viewer?

JL: That is an excellent question! Perhaps these are the kind of questions that I think a successful work raises, that is, it raises doubts more than it gives us answers. But honestly, the table is practically identical to what was, in fact, in my studio during the months of residency. When transposing this almost ready-made to the exhibition space, I had in mind earlier gestures or similar actions such as the transfer and exhibition of Lucas Samaras' studio at the Green Street Gallery in 1964. Additionally to that, the monumental pieces on the floor of Dieter Roth's studio, The Floor I (Studio-floor from Mosfellsbaer, Iceland), 1973–1992, and The Floor II (Studio-floor from Mosfellsbaer, Iceland), 1977–1998. What interested me here was to explore all the points you touched, namely a certain romanticism to the artist's workspace as a collecting agent, analyst, processor, and transformer of materials and ideas. It is also a kind of abstract portraiture. The way everything that is once carefully separated, organized, identified, and cataloged; it demonstrates such obsessive care that it is perhaps a much more accurate representation of me as an artist and this in comparison with the headpieces.

 

SP: On a second installment, at the beginning of your career through the video pieces, you explored your body and the notions of repulsion and attraction. Nowadays, these works created from diverse variations of cigarette applications have a very classic romanticism, such as the busts and the table. I sense that you might be deliberately transferring into to the viewer the dichotomy repulsion/attraction previously explored through your own body. Is this true and intentional?

JL: I agree with your reflection and what you feel makes sense. But I do not know whether this transfer has occurred programmatically or consciously. Maybe so and looking at it with some distance. I think that dichotomies are very present in my journey, starting with the first solo exhibition in which a concept of addiction and virtue could be distilled. I am a Libra with Gemini ascending. Two signs of the air element that are, by essence, dichotomous. It is possible that both in art and in life, I am continually trying to find a balance or synthesis between opposing forces.

 

SP: There are themes in your work that I can consider self-explanatory as they emerge in a very organic and natural way, as you just mentioned with the busts. I believe that this also happens with the self-portraits, representations of sections of the adult body, or the more nostalgic allusions to your native country Portugal and the subject matter of nationality. Where do the fetus, pacifiers, and babies arise from?

JL: This is a tricky question to answer, but I will try to keep it simple. As a young child, I remember seeing an image of a human fetus in a school textbook on Biology or Natural Sciences, as it was called at the time. I am almost sure that it was an image of the Swedish photographer and scientist, Lennart Nilsson, from the book A Child Is Born, published in Life magazine in 1965 and which was later widely disseminated. This image has always fascinated me in an inexplicable, very profound way. However, at the height of the feminist criticisms that later emerged: the isolation and separation of the fetus from the mother, a kind of erasure, as if the mother/woman were an object of pregnancy, and the later appropriation of these images by anti-abortion movements in the United States in the 1980s. Regardless of these critical readings, ideas with scientific value, they served for the development of sex education, at least here in Sweden (a country that has had legislation on the right to abortion since 1938 and that gave women complete freedom of choice since 1974). I consider them fascinating, as a science, regardless of ideological and historical narratives. A few centuries earlier, that same fascination and curiosity must have led Leonardo da Vinci to make those drawings/studies on the fetus in the womb that is equally, absolutely fantastic. Still, but much later, at the end of 2001: Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick, there is that image so intense, so visceral, and full of mysticism, as if the entire universe was the energy of divine creation. I made many drawings and paintings in my teens with this motive, pseudo-surrealistic and naïve things, but precedents of a recurring theme. One day I asked a drug addict friend what he felt when he used heroin, to which he replied that it was a feeling of warmth and absolute pleasure, like being wrapped in a blanket of total protection, like being back inside your mother's womb. I remember that this response touched me deeply, and I felt great empathy. When thinking about representations or allegories of death, the image of the skull is one that we immediately associate. What I did with the works you mentioned, was to picture the opposite of death, the beginning of life, before being born or immediately after. There is a psychoanalytic theory that interprets Edvard Munch's work as a return to the trauma of birth itself. What auditory memories are created before you are born? When do we start to register the sensations of pleasure or pain in our bodies mentally? When do we inhale air for the first time? When do we cry? These are the kind of questions I have in mind.

 

SP: Your studio (many of your works as well) can probably represent for some anti cigarettes people, a really intense experience. The idea or the smoking act is directly related to the abuse of one's individual health, physical space, or even boundaries. For some, it represents a severe threat to public health, a criminal act with an environmental impact, both locally and globally. How do you manage these facts and realities?

JL: My studio is a sacred space of absolute freedom, and only those whom I decide to invite are allowed in. As for the rest, I have no patience for fundamentalism! Anti-smoking itself is a movement that I'm aware of, for obvious reasons. Still, I don't particularly care, because deciding whether to smoke or not is and will always be, an act of personal freedom, like deciding to eat chocolates or drink coffee instead of tea. This will still have to be respected no matter how much they insist on opposing. It is one thing to have legislation and prohibitions in public spaces, which I understand and accept, another thing is my private space, and any attempt to interfere with my freedom of personal choice is necessary to resist. It would be more logical to simply ban the production and sale of tobacco, but that will never work, there is too much money at stake in this business. For my part, I already plant my tobacco plants and hope that one day I will quit cigarettes only to smoke pipes from the plants I grow.
Evidently, I find it horrible to discard filters in the public space and see this irresponsible action simultaneously as a metaphor and a concrete reality of the way we relate to and disrespect the environment. If I don't put out my cigarettes on the floor of my house and throw the butts into the living room, why will I do it on the street, on the beach, on my planet? Bad habits, like mentalities, are tough to change, but it is possible, and more and more smokers are aware of them.

 

SP: There are some artists and works that, when I see them, I immediately think about conservation and restoration, regardless of if the artists are still alive or deceased. This happened with some of your works for several reasons:
1. The cigarette works have a smell? Do you give them any kind of treatment before or after finishing for this purpose?
2. Regarding restoration, are there any requirements or periodic assessments, or you accept the natural decomposition, if any, of the works?
3. Is there any type of advice for a buyer/collector, or when the works are displayed on a show?

JL: When you raised the question of transferring the feeling of repudiation to the body of the spectator, I remembered this question. In fact, there are some works whose olfactory component is an essential part of the pieces, such as the table and those circular pieces with the figures of babies, Flying Angel / Falling Angel, 2013, and also The Fall, 2013. But I am judicious in the use of the smell. I think it works well when the pieces are totally insulated, either by layers of glue or varnish or insulated in acrylic boxes. What happens then is that the person "imagines" the smell, and in that projection, there may be even more disgust or rejection. In a way, I am manipulating the audience's expectations, and that interests me.
Regarding conservation aspects, everything decays because nothing that exists escapes the law of entropy. However, the material of the butts is paper and plastic. There have been papers or papyri since ancient Egypt for centuries, and they are very well preserved, just having the right conditions of humidity, temperature, and light. Cellulose acetate, which is a type of filter plastic, will also be maintained, as it is, for at least 200 years and if not soaked in water. But of course, over time, everything degrades, and that is inevitable. For conservators, it may be an exciting challenge. As for the last question, I never felt the need to give any particular or specific guidelines. Besides the obvious things that apply to any artwork, the canvases painted with liquid nicotine, if they receive direct sunlight, they will become browner, but this it is ordinary care that the collector or museum would take with any other painting or photograph. Concerning the parts with filters, they are solid objects, much more resistant than one suspect, and if the acrylic glass breaks, just replace it.

 

SP: Let me step back now to romanticism in a less subjective manner. Mostly in your earlier works, you refer and represent quite often the concept of love, or by merely mentioning the word love. Would you like to dig further into this indiscreet comment?

JL: I want to be loved. I believe in one way or another, all the art of all time always reflected on love, sex, and death. I could write an essay on the subject that you questioned me and ended up being unable to say anything. Some things don't translate into words. Maybe it is a little romantic, but there is a phrase that somehow sums up what I sincerely believe "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."

 

SP: How is living in Klippan, Scandinavia?

JL: Winters in Scandinavia are bleak, so living space must be a priority. Living in a small town has all the advantages of country life, that is, a lot of space and quality of life that you would never have if you lived in the center of a city. To choose the countryside is to be able to work and receive friends, gardening, have my own compost pile, pick mushrooms in the forest; it is being able to buy fresh eggs from a neighbor who has chickens... at the same time, obviously, I have all the comforts of modern life. I am always online, and the physical distance becomes relative. Besides, I am also close to Malmö and Copenhagen, so I often go "to the city" to see exhibitions or other events that interest me.

 

SP: Are there any ongoing projects that you would like to share with the readers?

JL: Regarding future projects, the whole situation of the pandemic changed many plans that I had, mainly due to the impossibility or difficulty of traveling. But I can say that I am working on new projects, especially for confirmed group exhibitions: one curated by Eduarda Neves, to be presented in Porto in November, another curated by Inês Grosso and Rosa León, to be presented at MAAT in Lisbon, also in November, within the scope of the 20 years of the EDP award. At the invitation of the publisher Stolen Books, I am developing a project that will be a book, but we still have no specific date for publication. I am also planning a solo exhibition with Gallery 111 in the new space in Lisbon, but I even can't put a date forward. In Sweden, a few weeks ago, I was awarded a one-year work grant from the Swedish Artist Grants Committee. This will allow me to focus on producing a new body of work, without having to worry so much about financial constraints, which I will present at a date and place to be determined soon. But with this pandemic, the word "soon" has never been so vague and uncertain...