Portraits pin-pricked into bananas, creatures coaxed out of carpet fluff, snake bones hung like wind charms, Tonico Lemos Auad coaxes new spiritual significance out of familiar and fragile stuff. His slight facilitation of meaning through clutter appears informed by a developing dialogue with drawing, and an interest in physical manifestations of belief, specifically the status afforded material things of particular personal or cultural significance. The best of Auad’s arrangements prompt sensory responses not normally associated with the objects or imagery in question. And while a couple of the works here quite literally ‘sing’, the business-like nature of this commercial site and its surroundings alters the pitch of his susurrations on the everyday, luring one at points, pied piper, towards an all too audible ‘message’.
The gallery, as container, is reminiscent of a recently emptied bath now strewn with playful vessels and trinkets, sides stuck with valuable soilage. As with other of Auad’s exhibitions, allusions to paganism pervade, conceptually stretched between the vaporous suggestion of the afterlife and the very present netherworld of consumerism.
The London-based Brazilian returns time and again to certain motifs and materials, and several works here are versions of pre-existing projects; gold and silver chains, for example, which hang in long loops broken in places by tiny, brightly coloured sections of gossamer thread that swim seductively before the eyes. A shelf, set at around 15 degrees below horizontal on one wall, supports a flower in a bottle of water, and a selection of coloured pieces of paper, dyed by the sun in a straight line as if daylight, has been held steady like a blind.
The gallery office, a kind of holding bay between its two exhibition rooms, is a tricky space to show anything, as one is not inclined to stop and hover, much less negotiate the bank of staff, to experience Auad’s custom-made scent ‘Perfume/ Volunteer’, 2009. But it’s a perfectly ephemeral idea, each atomised spritz releasing a priceless, impossibly temporal drawing, that, like the giant architectural scratch card next door, simultaneously links the different lines of his enquiry while detonating myriad other associative possibilities in the mind. His hand-painted fragrance wheel on the wall offers an exclusive Sonia Delaunay-esque map to the scent that conveys both the functional poetry and sensory futility of rendering olfactory notes with text and swatches of colour.
The neighbouring ‘Reflected Archaeology’, 2009, is worthy of a single review for the anthropological layers it reveals. Auad has collaged images of offerings to the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé goddess of the sea on the wall, covered them with scratch-off silver ink, and put out a viewer invite to get creative. Planetlike images of candles and consumables meld with numerous cartoon doodles and protestations of love, inanity and concern: ‘The Internet is illuminati spying machine’, reads one.
The felt boat and humanoid pot sculptures clustered around the floor certainly fit the mood, implying a journey between one world and another. For as Auad’s title for the show states, they have MOUTH, EARS, EYES just like us, but, unlike his sublime alignment of invocations to lady luck, their rustic cuteness prevents one from being taken far beyond the craft shop.
Rebecca Geldard is a writer based in London