If you’ve spent time in New York during the past year or so, you might have noticed plywood signs popping up around the city to announce a breakup with contemporary art. Painted with large red hearts, the signs feature handwritten Valentine’s-Day-gone-awry expressions, like “Contemporary art, we need to talk. This isn’t working anymore”. When images of these boards started to appear in my social media feeds, I was perplexed. Was this the work of an affectionately exasperated New Yorker? An irritated gallery manager? Maybe even a viral marketing campaign?
As it turns out, the plywood signage is the work of the Brazilian-born artist André Feliciano. But more than light-heartedly breaking up with the current art scene, Feliciano wants to declare the contemporary époque over, even dead. His recent performance pieces – which include birthday parties and funerals, all featuring a personification of the contemporary – are intended to suggest the period’s ephemerality in order to make room for his new collective movement, called the Floraissance.
In 2016, Feliciano began to reject the term “artist” and instead positioned himself as a full-time “art-gardener” of the Floraissance. Whereas the contemporary’s artist-as-individual might be defined by the production of work in relative solitude, Feliciano envisions the art-gardener as a socially conscious worker who undertakes projects that require community and long-term assistance from others.
An interdisciplinary collective has now grown out of the Floraissance, with Feliciano encouraging those in fields as diverse as medicine and law to come together in an embrace of service to the common good. “If I teach somebody how to sing a song, this person can teach others, who can teach others, making this song alive in the culture,” he told NYU Local in a 2016 interview.
The reason behind the Floraissance?
Nothing short of inspiring collective action to take on the world’s biggest problems, such as climate change.
“I believe that the term ‘Floraissance’ can help people understand and incorporate the idea that our world is not limited to what happens now, in the contemporary,” he says. Instead, there “is a passage of time, like a garden.” The garden, in all of its incarnations, needs to be nurtured and cared for collectively. And climate change, like the garden, “is a problem that needs perennial care. Only with a collective and long-term mentality will it be possible to find a solution.”
The seeds of Feliciano’s ‘art-gardening’ philosophy were planted long before his founding of the Floraissance. The artist-turned-gardener spent roughly 14 years developing his camera-flower concept, a collection of intricate garden installations that feature tiny, colorful plastic cameras as flower buds.
While these installations are playful nods to the antiquated conception of the camera as nature’s medium, Feliciano also gives the camera an agency of its own. In turning nature into an observer of humanity, he cleverly reverses the traditional power dynamic between photographer and object. His camera-flowers have been exhibited in São Paulo and New York, including at the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art (MAM/SP), Zipper Galeria, and the Tomie Ohtake Institute.
Who is André Feliciano?
Born in São Paulo in 1984, Feliciano began experimenting with photography and art while in high school. He went on to complete his art education at the University of São Paulo, finishing his MFA there in 2012. Yet he struggled to detach himself from ‘Antropofagy,’ which he explains as the Brazilian tradition of “digesting foreign art movements to create a unique Brazilian identity.” Indeed, he’s referring to Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade’s 1928 Manifesto Antropófagico, which argues that Brazil’s power lies in its “cannibalization” of other cultures.
According to Feliciano, much of the art produced in Brazil is “questioning, or reinventing, this Brazilian tradition. Even works that do not directly address it are intentionally ignoring it – like the 31st São Paulo Biennial, which deliberately chose to avoid the Helio Oiticica/Lygia Clark tradition.”
Attracted to what he saw as the dynamism and freedom of New York’s art scene, Feliciano decided to pack his bags in 2012. “[The art in NYC is] always changing, and there is no tradition [that artists] need to follow,” he says. “If someone sees an artwork they like, even if they don’t fully understand it, there is a decent chance they will invite you to be part of an exhibition. They can do it without knowing who you are, or what tradition your work is based on.”
Feliciano’s transcontinental move proved fruitful: during his first few years in NYC, he participated in 13 exhibitions, including a solo show and public installations at Brooklyn Bridge Park. His work has also been featured in Time’s photography blog, the International Center of Photography’s blog, and at Photoville and Benrubi Gallery in New York. His Floraissance manifesto is available at MoMA PS1’s bookstore.
Last year, however, Feliciano set off for another continental jump: you can now find him spreading the Floraissance in Berlin. “For some reason, I keep moving around,” he says. “Perhaps it’s a cycle, and eventually I will return to São Paulo to take care of the seeds that I planted there … it’s a continued cultivation.”
And as for his must-see destination when he does make it back to São Paulo? “For sure, the MAM/SP!”