Learn more – Natália Quinderé, 2023
Published on the occasion of the exhibition More Abstract, at Portas Vilaseca Galeria, 2023.
Pierre Bourdieu wrote in “The Production of Belief” (1977) that the art business would be “a trade in things that have no price.” This phrase, from almost half a century ago, delimits the production that Pedro Victor Brandão has been unfolding since 2013. His works in photography, video, painting, sculpture, and sound expose, converse, twist, mine concretely and symbolically the financial system. By producing these intersections, Pedro outlines part of the productive chain of artistic work – execution, circulation (Instagram posts, art fairs, and museums), sale, collectible items. The work of art is a current asset. Its mobility characterizes the work of art in bourgeois society of the capitalist state. Pedro has been manufacturing this amalgam between works of art (its stories and theories) and the process of financial abstraction that erupts in the global economy and, in a micro scenario, our daily routine.
When was the last time you counted money? Coins? Used instant payments?
View to nothingness (Untitled #1 to #36) is a series made with films for instant photography. Pedro doesn’t use a camera. The artist controls the time of the chemical reaction produced in the encounter between alkaline liquid and the two bases that make up the film. The final result of the photograph also depends on variations in atmospheric pressure, luminosity, and temperature of the environment. Through the repetition of the technique, 36 colored landscapes are created, with shades of blue, green, red, lilac, yellow, and black. These instant images, due to their volume and texture, remind me of sandwiches made of colored glue, crushed between two papers that are separated shortly after. They are impressions. My game, in front of these assembled landscapes at Porta Vilaseca, with spacing and height respected millimeter by millimeter – one after the other, after the other, after the other – is to recognize, in this cubic and repetitive horizon, forms where there is nothing to see.
Flags of a melted Brazil. Lunar surfaces. Countryside horizons. A little piece of Monet’s water lilies. An impossible mixture of viscous liquids spilled on the white surface of photographic paper.
From the series of 36 landscapes, Pedro decides to show an enlarged copy of Untitled #24. The reproduction and augmentation process in large format, with high resolution, is repeated by the artist when minting non-fungible tokens for each of the originals presented in the gallery. In “More abstract,” what we see before us in the exhibition space is always also in the virtual space. It is possible to take unauthenticated copies of these landscapes with the files contained in these financial instruments. Once sold as a physical and digital pair, it is possible to buy only the non-fungible token of one of these 36 originals secondarily in any decentralized market, choosing never to frame or mount it on the wall of your home.
The non-fungible token – NFTs – is a non-substitutable (current) digital asset. For example, a 10 real bill is fungible. I can exchange it for another 10 real bill, two 5 real bills, five 2 real bills, or ten 1 real coins. This equivalence does not apply to NFTs. They possess a unique characteristic that differentiates each digital asset (image, sound, video, audio, game, metadata, etc.) minted on the network. Pedro plays with these “non-substitutable” traits. He circulates this series and others in the gallery space and the virtual space; in the art world and the financial system; he puts the discourse of art history and theory in endless conversation with the language of data. Pedro’s work is increasingly (in)formed by these games.
On the stairs, we hear an unpublished sound compilation with 600 advertisements extracted from the Meta Ads Library – a transparency tool that lists active and inactive campaigns on Instagram, Facebook, and Messenger. With a duration of 8 hours, equivalent to a workday at the gallery, Pedro accumulates in Click on learn more, from Detremura series, the chatter of others on how it would be possible to make money by clicking… Here! Here! Here! And here! This sound work, exhibited in a passage, is paradigmatic to understand the mass of information that the artist usually accumulates and manages in his projects. In the ascending and descending movement of visitors on the stairs, there is an equivalence to the infinite scrolling of our fingers back and forth on the smartphone screen. Our attention is in capture: mouth, eyes, ears, body, heart. These chatty ghosts sell us money.
“Look, if you, like me, are tired of seeing ads… Take a look at this amount: over 10,000,000 reais that I earned with my virtual businesses, without needing to appear, in a 100% honest way.”
Pedro has been rehearsing the construction of scatological narratives of cognitive capitalism. Sometimes money is the main character in his speculations; other times, it is the machine that drives the story. Faced with the sensations of tragedy, laughter, melancholy, and bankruptcy that Click on… can provoke, one of the founding repressions of colonial modernity remains to be pointed out: the accumulation of wealth. Accumulation, achieved with the labor of enslaved Indigenous and African peoples, extracting gold, silver, and other precious metals in peripheral countries like Brazil. Money doesn’t grow on trees. It doesn’t fall from the sky. Where does it come from? What is the cost? Who pays the price? How to make a lot of money? By working?
In the age of monetary abstraction, the Faria Lima stock market, rising interest rates, clouds of encrypted data, the creation of metaverses, and real estate bubbles, we know that the peg was lost a long time ago. It is not possible to measure a country’s wealth by the amount of gold, silver, or copper reserves. But here, a prank of economic “abstraction” rules, in the time of oil. Money is somewhere, circulating, preserved in some tax haven or, who knows, in some duty-free art bunker, being tasted by 1% of the world’s population; to the detriment of another, increasingly indebted. What has been transformed, with financial abstraction, are the methods, alliances, and state regulatory frameworks that enable the (cosmic) accumulation of money, concentrated in the hands of a few.
In Totalities (Untitled #42 to #47), Pedro Victor creates a series of six paintings of treemap charts depicting the sales evolution of five sectors of the economy – non-fungible tokens, art and antiques, natural diamond jewellery, video games, and weapons – from 2019 to 2024. These charts materialize the economic evolution of these sectors (note: the first two paintings do not include NFTs; also, the works in this series were not minted as tokens because they are paintings, “naturally” non-fungible) and tell us where money is flowing, beyond fiat currencies. At the same time, the charts are paintings. Abstract paintings that multiply, with minimal variations, from a formal pattern predefined by the artist. This logic of infinite reproduction is present in Faucet, from Prepared screen, this time as a board where the participation of visitors determines snapshots that are minted as NFTs and can be collected for free throughout the exhibition.
Cloud, Continent, Island is an index of Pedro’s trajectory and his relationship with photography. The artist was born in his family’s darkroom, which, like others, did not survive the digital revolution. Each of the videos is created by executing a script on photographs of clouds in the sky. The script gradually illuminates each image, point by point. The series of videos is a metaphor for the works exhibited in “More abstract.” Clouds of various shapes, with different densities, are sustained in the sky by technical processes, history and art theory, heavy programming, administration of encrypted data in blockchains, and non-fungible tokens. Pedro makes us look at the clouds in the sky and warns us that we must understand the movement and composition of clouds within the machines that never leave our hands.
The predefinition of techniques that to some extent determine the result of each of the repetitions that make up “More abstract” performs an ironic sense for abstract art. The movements of artists, since the beginning of the 20th century, towards abstractionism (against representation, against easel painting, against History) served to forge a teleology of the history of art. It is a narrative that revolves around the specificities of each artistic medium, with painting being the main one. In an abstract painting, we would need to observe the brushstrokes, the colors, the size of the canvas, the artist’s body in the work… This history, confined to medium analysis, obliterated the political and economic uses of abstract art, especially post-45 abstractionism.
There is a dialogue between two characters from the series Mad Men, in front of a red-toned painting by Rothko, displayed behind the advertising agency owner’s desk: “I don’t think it means anything. – I’m an artist, right? It must mean something. – Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you have to experience it. Because when you look at the painting, you feel something. It’s like looking at something deep?” From the second half of the 20th century, an abstract painting will be hung in the lobby of every major mirrored New York corporation. The dialogue between the two marketers in the boss’s room indicates what advertising has been trying to sell us for a long time: experiences.
We are hypnotized.
April 22, 2023