[Interview published in the catalog of the exhibition ABRE ALAS 5, held between January 24 and February 28, 2009 at the gallery A Gentil Carioca (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)]

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André França. Dr. Freud`s Vacation #1 (in the Sahara desert), 2008. Archival pigment ink print. 19,7 x 88,6 inches.

Antonio Marcos Pereira interviews André França

Antonio Marcos Pereira: Your production is usually very stiff and formalistic, and I think I like this series a lot because it's smiling, because there's playfulness and lightness here. What provoked you to tackle Freud with such aplomb?

André França: First, the desire to make a certain inflection in my work, clearly incorporating into it the elements you point out - play, lightness - and also humor. The invitation to a reading that privileges humor is presented right from the title, a reference to Tati's Mr. Hulot. Secondly, Freud was chosen because he has always been the subject of an extensive, sombre iconography. His figure has reached iconic proportions, just like Chaplin, Che Guevara or Einstein, but always in a very serious, stern, even severe way. So I wanted to start from there, to achieve lightness, humor, through an operation of contrast. I was also interested, of course, in bringing into play, in these triptychs, shades of the influential Freudian perspective, even from a critical point of view.

AMP: In one of the works in this series with Freud, he is in the desert, addressing a polar bear very articulately. I find this work very interesting: on the one hand, he seems to be commenting on the well-known popular saying, "So-and-so is preaching in the desert". But there is an anomaly, a somewhat surreal twist, which is the presence of the bear. Furthermore, the presence of the polar bear brings me to a connection that seems very fertile to me and that I don't see being commented on very much, between Freud and Dadaism. It's customary to talk about Freud and surrealism - the connections are quite obvious, there's a lot of mutual and programmatic contamination between psychoanalysis and surrealism. But I think there's an interesting conversation between dada and Freud yet to be had. Around 1912, when Duchamp was speaking out against "retinal art", Freud was still working on Malaise in Civilization, and I keep thinking that there's an interesting connection between the two. What do you think of these connections?

AF: Yes, the connection is pertinent. Both Duchamp and Freud made the same fundamental gesture. This radical gesture was to "point to another place". Freud pointed to what he called "the other scene", that is, the field of the unconscious; and Duchamp pointed to the also unsuspected field of the latent artisticity of the ordinary, mass-produced objects that abound in our daily lives. Whenever we "point to another place", we perform an operation of displacement, and this is what makes a polar bear appear in the Sahara, for example, within a dreamlike logic. But, in this series, this displacement is also at the service, in the third half of the triptych, of the "encounter" and strangeness: the encounter with a ladder that, on a beach, springs out of nowhere and heads towards the sky; the encounter with a polar bear in the Sahara or with wild animals that seem to be patiently waiting for a lecture. The idea of "Freud preaching in the desert" is present, yes, there's no getting away from it; after all, at the end of Freud's century, men continue to move according to the logic of accumulating piles of money and letting loose the drive for destruction in wars that never end and that we never understand. I think that, starting from Freud, that is, from a representation based on an oneiric logic, Dada is always "on the horizon"; that is, from this representation, we will get closer and closer to Dada the more resistant it is to signification.
In my most recent series, "Call me, love", I think Duchamp and Freud meet again, in a work in which we have an object curiously displaced from its neutral, generic function of communication, to now almost pre-orientate its function within the field of sexuality.

AMP: I think the big issue here is the transformation of psychoanalysis into a fact of the contemporary world: wherever you go, Freud is gone, and psychoanalysis has penetrated so many sectors of culture that it has become something you can find on polar ice, in the Sahara. Is that how it works for you too?

AF: Yes, but partially, because there are two ideas here. The first is exactly what you point out, that of a fantastic dissemination of a theoretical perspective that has circled the globe many times. That's why these places are so distant, remote, inhospitable: the Amazon rainforest, the North Pole, the Sahara desert, the beach in front of the immensity of the sea. However, this idea is no longer entirely there, because it is based on what we said above about "preaching in the desert". In other words, despite the incredible spread of this set of ideas, people often prefer to ignore them, to disregard them. And so the time of war continues.
But the second perspective I wanted to put forward concerns the contemporary ecological crisis on the planet. On his "vacation", Freud goes to these enormous ecosystems, ecological sanctuaries, and his "presence" there cannot fail to present a critical observation regarding the destructive acts that men have been directing at these and other environments. Looking at the series from this perspective, its humor practically disappears.
The last piece in the series (Freud at the movies) takes up the first perspective and presents Freud's influence on the field of culture and art in a synthetic, punctual way (a single image, not a triptych).

AMP: What is this performance of yours, this business of theatricalizing Freud with a doll? With this, you leave the place of the photographer of the capture, of the subject who dedicates himself to recording a certain factuality, which is your usual place, and move on to the place of the photographer as a director, as a subject who incorporates the ethos of theater, the creation of the scene and the incorporation of a narrative mode. What do you think of my reading?

AF: I believe that the "place" from which the photographer works - which includes the way he relates to what is in front of him - is always a question for him. It is always a point or a zone around which we circulate, assuming one position at one time and a different one at another. In about half of the series I've done so far (the first half in particular), the perspective that reigns is one of non-alteration, nonphysical intervention on the (often immobile) object or place being photographed. I don't consider this to be the same as a "record". "Record" is often associated with the idea of impartially capturing the image of what is in front of the camera. In this sense, registration is something that doesn't exist in photography. After all, various choices (such as distance from the object being photographed, lens used, camera angle, diaphragm opening, shutter speed, film used and so on) destroy the idea of an impartial apprehension of a portion of reality and are, in fact, the channels through which the artist's subjectivity works. This is an interesting point, because I think there is still some confusion about this out there. Sometimes we hear someone comment that a certain piece of work is a "record", as if that denoted less creative work on the part of the photographer. That's not true. There is no less creative work, there is a different attitude towards the space in front of the camera. A particular photographer, working on a certain project, might call this (a guideline of nonphysical intervention) "respect" or an "ethical stance" towards "reality". It was from this "place" that I made, for example, the series “Houses and Time” and “The Last Stop”. I like this place. But I'm also interested in the other, the one where we operate physically on the physical elements in front of the camera (as I did in “Dr. Freud's Vacation”) or through other recombination strategies (as I did in “Nightswimming”). These "staging" procedures or, on the contrary, those of a "more neutral", "more exempt" posture (since it is difficult to talk about registration) end up, in my case, being outlined and imposed early on, at the beginning of the reflection on each project - and depending on its nature. As for the reasons for choosing the object, a representation of Freud, I believe I have already clarified this point in my answers above.

AMP: Who is your "anguish of influence" aimed at? Who are the past models that guide your work, with which you want to dialog and get rid of?

AF: At different times in my education and for the different reasons described, these are the names: Edward Weston (for his delicate interest in the field of objects, nature, natural materials); William Eggleston (for his work with the color palette and also for his interest in objects); Edward Hopper (for his representation of solitude, silence, the difficulty of communication); Michelangelo Antonioni (for the same reasons); Helmut Newton (for desire converted into sensuality which, for me, returns again to desire - for photography); Cindy Sherman (for the staging procedure and the reference to the cinematographic image).

André França is an artist/photographer.
Antonio Marcos Pereira is a literature critic and professor at UFBA.

Copyright © 2012 André França