The rule of 12, 4, 365, and one


Essay published in the the exhibition catalog One Hundred And Six Columns, Four Heads And One Table, Villa Concordia, Bamberg, March 2011

When exhibiting at Internationales Künstlerhaus Villa Concordia the artist has to go without the advice of a professional curator. The artist is left to his own decisions. João Leonardo presented One Hundred and Six Columns, Four Heads and One Table from February to March 2011 with great success. 

The entire show was based upon numerical concepts, among those being: the months of the year, the seasons and days in the turn of one year. 

Describing João Leonardo’s rule of one I need to draw from my own observations.

Pleasure comes from thoroughly enjoying the accuracy of the execution of each piece, the testimony of the artist as a witness to life, its insufficient, incommensurable, highly delicate and entirely horrifying as well as delicious attributes. Leonardo, the self-confessing friend of mathematics, more an admirer than an actual number whizz, works with such immense meticulousness that nature -the system of order & chaos- is represented en detail and with great pains. Here order is invention and chaos is the great "given". The motive of the endless, ongoing Sisyphus’ work of collecting, separating, cataloguing and re-interpreting the findings of this world is referential for this artist’s alchemistic interests and powers. He picks the trashcan for treasures and behold: he finds the human species’ undeniable truth and translates them into pieces of significant memento mori-attributes. 

A somewhat soothing aspect lies in his work, revolving the concept of vanitas. He always includes his own persona, when exhibiting these aforementioned truths. Leonardo is part of what he shows. Taken this utter exhibitionism I am shaken with awe and fear for the artist’s privacy. His will to turn himself over to the observer is very real, disturbingly present in all his films, sculptures and paintings. The interesting fact with Leonardo is that he never makes himself centre of the spectacle though, which is what science dictates: a certain objectivity. Leonardo becomes his own object, his science being all transformational processes. My personal pleasure of beholding modules, rhythms and sets is infinite. And I know that I share this preference with many. All permutation, all direct confrontation gives me the feeling of deliberation and consciousness. Who does not like the idea that one can actually have an effect on one’s own life?  The work of Polish artist Roman Opalka, who for decades has written numbers to infinity and taken daily pictures of himself, comes to mind, when witnessing Leonardo’s obsessive operations.  

I dread his works for they confront me with everything I am, long for and cannot contain, as well as achieve. It is entirely human. It is commonplace and it is back street, intestinal darkness and eternal light (-ning). Leonardo’s work points fingers without pointing fingers. In this exhibition we see several pieces all paying homage to – as some might put it – one horseman of the modern Apocalypse: the cigarette. Collecting the leftovers of peoples’ testimonial of weakness is one thing, recharging these leftovers with new meaning, making them fit for the arts is another. An exhibition based on the idea of the (objets) trouvets – somewhat of an outrage to society, still. I declare it to be and therefore it is art, says the artist, mumbling, and leaves them (who are us) guessing in all their knowledge. 

People connect with people, eyes lock with eyes, dances begin. Lifelong ones and others no longer than the wink of the eye or the boiling of an egg. These connections set patterns into place, weave threats and knit nets that come in handy or let us be tangled to our demise.  Leonardo sees the body, the bodies of men, the bodily functions of the great organism mankind throughout history with absolute clarity and guarded romance. Duality is key and provides desperation for the one seeking definition. But who is? Only people that scare me understand one thing, when I say one thing. João Leonardo is an artist keeping close to the systems on top of the obvious, he rarely varies. He only employs changes concerning materials, which are minimal choices that tend to have a plenitude of effects for the systems work like calculus functions and produce their own myriads of results. Plainly spoken: exactness is unnatural. And Leonardo, the self-proclaimed aficionado of chaos is at work where there is a rhythm on the loose, a thread to be tied at both ends for the observer’s emotional sinus wave to stretch and build and cease. Binding chaos into a system of winning scientific and ceremonial display. João Leonardo works according to his rule of one. 

Nora-Eugenie Gomringer 

Bamberg, February 2011

Nora-Eugenie Gomringer is a poet and works as the director of the artist-in-residence program Internationales Künstlerhaus Villa Concordia in Bamberg, Southern Germany.