Have you ever thought about what it truly means to be in a “public” space? Tapume, an exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), asks this very question.
Eduardo Aquino, the artist behind Tapume, studied architecture and urban studies in Brazil and earned his MFA in open media from Concordia University. He is also a professor at the faculty of architecture at the U of M and runs his own practice called spmb.
“I’m an architect [and] an artist, and I have been both all my life, and part of my practice actually is working the interstices of those two disciplines, architecture and art,” said Aquino.
“Tapume, the project at the WAG, is pretty much the synthesis of all of that […] That friction between a found architecture structuring the city and a selection of body of paintings.”
The exhibition is also a living example of Aquino’s theory of non-public spaces, which challenges us to consider whether “public” space truly exists.
Tapume consists of a construction hoarding, which was previously in use during the construction of Qaumajuq, as well as a row of smaller paintings along one side of the gallery space.
“For me, there is an interesting, strong meaning on the hoarding, because it really shows the limit between what’s public and what’s not public, what’s accessible [and] what’s not accessible,” said Aquino.
The walkway is covered in swatches of blue paint due to buffing, a practice in which construction companies paint over graffiti tags, tire marks and other public traces. Aquino saw this cycle as a dialogue between the construction company and the public and, as the hoarding accumulated layers, it reminded him of Mark Rothko’s large colour-field paintings. This eventually inspired him to pursue Tapume as an artistic project.
“There was this play going on between taggers, or graffiti people, and the construction company. So, you know, as soon as they would find a mark, it would be covered and then another mark would be on top of it and will be covered,” Aquino said.
“I see the blue wall as a painting, just a large painting created by a conversation in public space.”
Upon entering Tapume, it is almost impossible to resist walking through the structure, particularly when coming from Qaumajuq’s side of the gallery.
In addition to its aesthetic and conceptual qualities, the walkway also mirrors its exact placement outside the WAG’s walls when it was in use and creates a flow of movement through the gallery space, which loops to where Aquino’s paintings line the gallery’s back wall, creating the hoarding’s shadow.
The flow provides a sense of an interior and exterior space in the gallery, a juxtaposition emphasized by the small holes in the hoarding’s wall, which provide a limited view to the paintings on the other side. These contrasting ideas and voyeuristic qualities lead viewers to consider the structure’s original function as an outdoor feature and divisive line between the realms of public and private space.
The paintings of Tapume are intriguing as well. Although they appear identical from a distance, their uniqueness emerges as they are approached.
Amidst their small variations in form, one can also find abrasions, paint splatters and even natural debris embedded in their paint. Each painting feels like a comment on how the world can influence a person, object or our perception, a quality that resulted partially from Aquino’s painting process, which occurred in his back alley.
Aquino’s paintings also speak to the introduction of industrial materials into the context of fine art, recalling artists such as Richard Serra and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“It’s a kind of another subdued way to bring everyday life into the museum, to bring something that’s really accessible to everybody,” said Aquino.
Like Rothko’s paintings, there is also a spiritual aspect to Tapume in Aquino’s eyes.
“For me, one of the most rewarding, spiritual and beautiful — and not even beautiful, I would call ‘intense’ — intensely aesthetic experiences in the city, more than even visiting a museum, is to walk down a back alley,” he said.
“You recognize beauty in things that people totally disregard. Even further, they ignore [it], they are indifferent about it, they even call [it] ugly. But if you go back to art history, every kind of ground-breaking moment or artwork usually is responded to like that […] so the very first moment is a shake-up to people and say, ‘Hey, look around in the world, the world is really beautiful, even a back alley.’”
After leaving the WAG, Tapume will go on to transform into a chapel, as a nod to the Rothko Chapel, at the School of Art Gallery in the new year. It will be further deconstructed into a series of paintings to be shown at the faculty of architecture gallery in fall 2022.
“The project starts in the art gallery as architecture and ends in the architecture gallery as art, as paintings,” Aquino said.
Overall, Tapume embodies a series of actions that transform into a visual and aesthetic element while simultaneously showing the interplay between public and private space. Beyond the power dynamics and social relationships Tapume speaks to, Aquino also impresses upon us the unexpected beauty of the urban world, reminding us that not only is realism still alive, but that it can be conceptual and abstract as well.
Tapume, in its current form at the WAG, is on display until Nov. 7.