du film Brasilia
Voyage Vers L'Aurore
In 2004, I had the opportunity and the honour to meet Oscar Niemeyer in his loft in Rio de Janeiro during one entire morning, for the filmed interview he accepted to give me then, about Brasilia. This happened in the context of the project of a documentary film that I had written about the genesis of Brasilia, Brasilia. Travel towards Dawn (Brasilia. Voyage Vers l'Aurore).
I produced the session in its contents and funding, and directed the filming, with the precious help of Ana Cristina Costa e Silva (Dharma Filmes in Brasilia) who held the position of executive producer, my friend the French film director Jean-Thomas Renaud who accepted to film and to work the lightings out on that set, and a sound engineer and interprets.
At the end of the interview, Oscar Niemeyer was kind enough to offer me the series of drawings he had designed during our morning together, while evoking the birth of Brasilia.
I offered him in return the Aeoporto de Brasília (Brasilia Airport).
I made this painting especially for Oscar Niemeyer in order to thank him for having accepted to meet me and being filmed. For the same reason I offered him a few months later the painting Eaux! Eaux de Mars! (Waters! Waters of March).
I then wrote, produced and edited 13 minutes of a trailer for that movie, which I called Prologue.
In spite of many efforts in 2005, and then after in 2008, with the help of French production companies in order to find funding at the French networks' (as Arte for instance), the production of Brasilia. Travel towards Dawn could never take place.
What remains of this adventure are three hours of filmed interview of Oscar Niemeyer -that I keep as the most precious of treasures-, and this small Prologue, which, in spite of all its weaknesses, has the merit to exist at least, and gives an idea of what the final movie could have been in terms of mood, musical ambiance and visuals.
Telling about Brasilia's genesis by showing how the city was born and were built, and how it developed since then.
Two travels in parallel:
- A travel though Time, from 1955 (birth of the Brasilia project), going through 1960 (date of the city's Grand Opening), until the Brasilia of today.
- A travel through the Brazilian Cerrado, in a car, from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia, with the voice of Brasilia's architect Oscar Niemeyer accompanying the trip. His memories being the film's guiding thread.
The travel across the Cerrado will serve as a background, a sort of a jewel box for our Time travel.
And, because of the synopsis' structure and final editing, these two trips will looak visually and conceptually imbricated.
They will seem to flow simultaneously, and will end up at the very same location and at the same moment: at dawn, just in front of the Palace of Alvorada ("dawn" in portuguese), in Brasilia nowadays.
The relations between painting and architecture span several thousand years. Yet they remain highly complex, since they vary with the times, with the artists involved and the techniques used, with the way they work together, and with the artistic conceptions that converge with or diverge from these two “arts of space” as Henri van Lier calls them.
We know, for example, that the new architecture that appeared in Italy during the Renaissance began as simply painted representations, before transforming into actual building commissions. Contrary to what may be thought, though landscape is a pictorial genre that stands alone or develops jointly with other genres, only very few painters have ever chosen a single building as the subject of their picture, making a ‘portrait’ of the building rather than weaving it as a motif into a landscape.
William Turner achieved this with his Hôtel de Ville in Paris or the Château d’Amboise, painted during his journey to France in 1802. And Vincent van Gogh also ‘portrayed’ a number of the buildings in which he lived at different times in his life, from the Nuenen period in 1885 right up to his death in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890. Yet clearly the most striking and complex experiment in this field is the famous series of thirty canvases that Claude Monet painted of Rouen cathedral between 1892 and 1894. Georges Clémenceau wrote of these works that “seen together, (they) represent a particular moment of art” (1895). In 1929, Kasimir Malevitch accurately wrote that “Monet was working above all on the changes in the purely physical aspect of light, not on Rouen cathedral as such.”
It seems useful to situate the works of Jacques Benoit in this pictorial nexus. With his blend of exuberance and perfect technique, he decided to use Oscar Niemeyer’s emblematic buildings as the almost exclusive subjects of several series of paintings.
The compositional gambit became clear from the first series, painted several years ago and entitled “Brasília. De Chair et d’Âme / Brasília. Flesh and Soul.” It involves presenting a building – the Brasília Congress or the cathedral, for example – from the most characteristic angle to reveal the rhythms and sensuality that underwrite its symbolic power. However, to pay an even greater tribute to the spirit of these buildings celebrated in his pictures, Jacques Benoit combines them with human figures, which in most cases suggest a sort of drama or choreography around the often naked bodies of men and women, contrasting or conspiring with the building through their intrinsic shapes and colours. It appears to be clearly the case with the "Criança" and "Mulher" diptych, and the series of four paintings entitled "Ritmo e Sensualidade (Florescimento 1 & 2 et Construção 1 & 2)", all works related to the jubilee of the city.
Jacques Benoit brings into play simple, clear-cut shapes painted inusually intense, contrasting and saturated colours, either flat on the canvas or in layers of complex, structured materials. This non-imitative and usually extremely powerful approach to colouring joins forces with the unexpected linkage between architecture and figures, gripping the viewer, intriguing him, encouraging him to look at and then enter into the painter’s world. To dream.
Whether these figures are anonymous outlines, sometimes suggesting Brazil’s people, or portraits of Niemeyer himself, they underpin the painter’s evolving game.
Thus, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the inauguration of Brasilia, Jacques Benoit developed the series "Construção!". These compositions are drawn on paper with a mixed technique involving lacquer, paint, pencil, pastels soft and dry, each weaving itself to the other. Theses compositions' surfaces, very elongated in a ratio of nearly one in three, clearly go beyond the traditional "Marine" format, to enforce the vastness of the skies and the stubborn horizontality of the Planalto, the Brazilian High Plateau covered with “cerrado”, this sparse and meager vegetation of origin.
This is when the architectural shapes -embryonic between orthogonality and strained curved bent by Niemeyer-, against backdrops of grandiose nebulosity or implacable skies brightned with vibrant deep red, spring out among scaffoldings.
In his vision of the amazing genesis of the Brazilian capital, Jacques Benoit does not celebrate any workers on a construction site as Fernand Leger did, for example, with the "Builders" painting (1950): his sharp lines, his graphics loaded with black lacquer and very dense colours tell us about the sheer gigantism of the territory in the works, the complex and cumbersome task, the bitterness of climate, the omnipresence of powdery laterite dirt.
Perhaps then the visions of the painter eventually join those of Niemeyer which the latter reported he had, during his nightly rounds of inspection of the site, when it was dormant and still. And beyond their specific evocative power, these drawings will allow Jacques Benoit -with the help of this vivid contrast-, in the exhibitions to come, to do a vibrant justice to the plenitude and the audacity of Niemeyer's works once they were completed, something that the talent of the painter achieves no matter what sort of painting is considered here.
Jacques Benoit also manages to imbue Niemeyer’s architecture with a new form of monumentality, through his framing and stage setting, as it were, of the buildings. This can be virtually seen in most of the buildings that the painter chose for a theme in his pictural works inspired by the capital of Brazil.
Fascinated by Niemeyer’s works, Jacques Benoit celebrates the architectural quintessence of buildings in all its splendour. By investing the canvas where it glows like a jewel, the architecture makes one forget about the city, secretively suggested by the figures as they join in the artist’s architectural reverie. And these often enigmatic characters offer themselves up to the viewer, who builds nebulous, lasting relationships with the figured architecture in the pictures, yet anchored in each person’s unconscious. Acting as what Merleau-Ponty called a “voyant”, you can surrender to poetic meditation, and gain a more intimate knowledge of the work.
(2006 / 2010)
Brasilia. Flesh and Soul.
Gallery Rubem Valentim
Espaço Cultural Renato Russo 508 Sul – Brasilia
A DOCSTEEN production
After being welcomed in spring 2010 by the Espace Lúcio Costa at Maison du Brésil in Paris, and selected by the Brazilian Official Jubilee Commission, the exhibition Brasilia. Flesh and Soul was presented in Brasilia from October 28th to December 10th of 2010, at the Rubem Valentim Gallery, the Renato Russo 508 Sul Cultural Center's major exhibition space, at the initiative of the Federal District's Secretary Office of State for Culture and with the participation of the French Embassy.
My many and very special thanks go to Elaine Ruas, Director of the Espaço Cultural Renato Russo 508 Sul, for her friendship and unfailing support to my work, that made this exhibition happen. And to Silvestre Gorgulho, Secretary of State for Culture of the Federal District of Brasilia, for his support and friendship, that made this exhibition possible as well.
Regarding this exhibition in Brasilia, my thoughts, of course, also go to Juliet Vincent for her faithful friendship and invaluable help in all areas.
I do thank as well Yves Saint-Geours, ambassador of France in Brazil and his wife Jocelyne Saint-Geours for this wonderul sunny moment that they offered me at the French Embassy in Brasilia, and Ana Lucia Niemeyer for honoring us with her presence during the opening night.
A big thank you to Tininha Morato and Carla.
And also thank Ione Carvalho, Françoise Cochaud, Pedro Eusebio Cuesta, Fernando Lemos e Carlos Alberto de Oliveira.