Hélio Oiticica, “Apocalipopótese,” 1968 – THE ARTIST AS CURATOR #8
Hélio Oiticica, Apocalipopótese, 1968
by Monica Amor and Carlos Basualdo
from THE ARTIST AS CURATOR #8 – in Mousse #49
A lengthy and revealing letter from Oiticica to Lygia Clark dated October 15, 1968, indicates that his earlier embrace of the outcast, developed in the context of the favela, had become by that time an ideological position against the increasingly brutal “terrorism of the right” (terrorismo de direita).  The latter, as the critic Roberto Schwartz observed in 1969, involved a series of dramatic side effects: “the massive return of everything that modernization had left behind; it was the revenge of the provinces, of small proprietors, of sexual and religious prudery, of small-time lawyers, etc.”  Oiticica invoked in this letter Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization, and mobilized terms familiar to an intercontinental generation (in Europe and the Americas) aspiring to revolt: freedom, marginality, alienated and non-alienated work, repression, censorship. That last, observed Oiticica, was being deployed, viciously, against the theatrical productions of José Celso Martinez Corrêa (to whom Apocalipopótese was dedicated), which Schwarz described in terms of insult, brutality, scandal, outrageous offense, and attack on the audience.  In the letter Oiticica credited Duarte with inventing the term Apocalipopótese as a new concept for a type of mediating object for participation.  Not political participation, as with some theater of the period related to the traditional left, but liberating participation—non-instrumental participation aimed at the forging of radical subjectivity outside norms and social constraints.
Praising Clark’s “relational objects” developed in the mid-1960s, Oiticica declared, “But I really do not want the object, what a contradiction! I want the discovery in itself, as under the influence of pot: the discovery from inside, who cares about what, the pleasure of living, sweet or sour, maybe the essential object as a total home with special places to feel the life once lived. . . . That is what attracts me about the experiences: to live, to find.”  Betraying the pervasive influence of phenomenology on a practice now impacted by the brutality of the military dictatorship, Oiticica compared the Third World to a child that sees everything for the first time. The latter was essential “for a discovery of ‘meaning,’ to feel and to believe in the existence of the senses: to look for pleasure in the immediacy of the moment.”  Sequences of children manipulating planes of color, stacking blocks, and moving Roberto Linares’s flaccid sculptures in the film documenting the event attest to the persistence of this link between childhood and ludic engagement and creativity. The latter was associated too with popular culture, its rituals and celebrations, “the sensorial, the playful, the environmental,” as the narrator of the film indicates.
Installation view of Nova Objetividade Brasileira, Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, 1967 showing Tropicália with Penetráveis PN2 and PN3 (1967)
Action, experience, process, participation—these were the terms of an artistic practice that did away with the conventions of the artwork and the traditional exhibition format as ends in themselves. Instead, Oiticica reconfigured forms and structures to be the vehicles of a participatory endeavor that rejected representation and sought to foreground the production of a non-normative subjectivity. In the context of Brazil in the late 1960s, collective participation and radical subjectivity were projects fraught with perils, a fact amplified by Oiticica’s emphasis on precariousness and the insistent abandonment of well-defined boundaries and categories. Alarmed by the furious intensity of young audiences’ reactions to Caetano Veloso’s appearances, Oiticica doubted and pondered, in another letter to Clark, the unpredictability of this mediating participatory role of the artist, “as if that un-repressive moment would be an opportunity for destruction, which in fact it always is, in some way or another.”  Accordingly, the film Apocalipopótese prominently features children and others destroying Antonio Manuel’s Urnas Quentes while the voice-over encourages violence, the revelation of misery, at the same time that it invokes an apocalyptic landscape in which popular craft has been replaced by automation and the mass media has transformed our sense of reality.
Reimagining the very notion of the artwork and (in tandem) the exhibition beyond the constraints of the museological institution was an imperative in the face of the dissolution of boundaries that the nonobject had unleashed and the political repression that ensued. The artistic program that had begun with Oiticica’s Neo-Concrete experiments found a point of inflection in the Parangolé and its deployment in Apocalipopótese. The phenomenological intersected the political, and formal experimentation constituted both an attempt to rethink what could possibly become of an artwork conceived as a vehicle for life experience and a collective gesture of maximum freedom in the face of repression. In this sense, Apocalipopótese can be considered the most ambitious incarnation of the artist’s political program, the most important manifestation of his desire to intervene in the public sphere by aspiring to create a community that would respond to and amplify the horizon of emancipation that his work implied. Fusing work and exhibition, Apocalipopótese instituted a space for play at the margins of the museum. Reconfiguring modes of display and circulation through the affective circuits of a non-representational, nonobjectual, environmental manifestation, Oiticica conceived freedom as a collective gesture of possibility.
 Letter from Hélio Oiticica to Lygia Clark, October 15, 1968, in Lygia Clark-Hélio Oiticica, Cartas 1964–1974, ed. Luciano Figueiredo (Rio de Janeiro: Editora UFRJ, 1996), 49.
 Roberto Schwarz, “Culture and Politics in Brazil, 1964–1969,” in Misplaced Ideas. Essays on Brazilian Culture (London, New York: Verso, 1992), 136–37.
 Ibid., 151.
 For more on Duarte, see Rogério Duarte: Marginalia 1, eds. Manuel Raeder, Mariana Castillo Deball, Sophie von Olfers, and Rogério Duarte (Berlin: Bom Dia Boa Tarde Boa Noite Verlag, 2013).
 Letter from Hélio Oiticica to Lygia Clark, October 15, 1968, in Lygia Clark-Hélio Oiticica, Cartas 1964–1974, 53.
 Ibid. Morais, writing on the larger event of public interventions before its inauguration, and echoing ideas proposed by Johan Huizinga in Homo Ludens (1938), celebrated play, ritual, and leisure as privileged fields of human activity in the face of automated labor. Federico Morais, “Arte na rua: jôgo, rito e participação,” Diario de Noticias (Rio de Janeiro), July 4, 1968.
 Letter from Hélio Oiticica to Lygia Clark, November 8, 1968, in Lygia Clark-Hélio Oiticica, Cartas 1964–1974, 72.
THE ARTIST AS CURATOR #8 – in Mousse #49
Hélio Oiticica, Apocalipopótese, 1968 – Monica Amor and Carlos Basualdo
Mark Leckey, UniAddDumThs, 2014-15 – Elena Filipovic
The series is conceived and edited by Elena Filipovic, published by Mousse, and generously supported by an engaged group of art institutions and foundations that have made possible the research and production of the series.
This installment is supported by Kunsthalle Basel.