With 999 (2015) Kasper Akhøj presents a concrete poem of sorts – a series of sculptures produced entirely in concrete – in homage to the late Brutalist architect João Vilanova Artigas, founder of the movement known as Escola Paulista (‘São Paulo school’). Akhøj is thinking of Artigas’ mid to late 1950s entanglement between architecture and politics and his animist-like belief on the power of concrete.
Artigas believed that exposure to béton brut could re-educate his bourgeois clientele in Sao Paulo in lines with socialist thought and ideology. He believed that concrete’s rawness would exert its power – or perhaps we should say ‘spell’ – onto the people who inhabited it, as if concrete could speak of spaces and persons outside of the sphere of the bourgeois home.
This was in line with the Brazilian Communist Party’s political programme at the time, which viewed the moral re-education of the Brazilian bourgeoisie as vital for the country’s social transformation – a transformation not likely to be led by the proletariat or peasantry, but by the re-educated middle classes.
This moral re-education would put in place ideas that were more collective than private, and would introduce habits more modest and austere than decorative and superficial. Hence the project for the bourgeois house acquired a revolutionary aspect.
In spite of the 1964 military coup in Brazil and the dictatorship which followed, deflating Artigas educational architecture, what is to be made of Artigas’ animist understanding of materials?
Akhøj’s research results in the presentation of seven sculptures which he cast and ‘bushhammered’, as if to summon their latent force. They are abstract forms in concrete, deduced from Artiga’s animism, its role in Brazilian modernist utopia and Brutalist language. Like characters from a Marxist science-fiction – the blocks insist on the intrinsic power of matter to affect consciousness.
Kasper Akhøj works with photographs, slide-projections, film and sculptural installations. He creates work that involves research, appropriation and reconfiguration, borrowing tools from sociologists, historians, and ethnographers. Situated in the realm of conceptual storytelling, he explores objects, situations, and residual histories of art, design, architecture and the institutions that present them. Akhøj follows the way things travel, investigating their political, economic and geographical implications. His sources are broad, drawing both from architectural theory as well as from anecdotes heard in conversation around the topic of his research.