The eroticized male body is the matrix of Hudinilson Jr.’s work. The artist, whose brief yet prolific career began in the midst of the AIDS crisis and the downfall of Brazil’s military junta, scanned every inch of his own and other men’s bodies with the use of an office copier, assembling hundreds of tidily gridded and fearlessly homoerotic photocopies and collages. Images of bare flesh – from the artist’s own genitalia to Greek torsos and famous actors, torn and cut out of cheap tabloids and gay porn magazines – papered the nicotine-stained walls of his cramped São Paulo studio apartment, where he spent his last 25 years feverishly selecting, cutting and pasting found images.
Four decades of this obsessive work is under a restless process of cataloguing by the artist’s family and the gallerist Jaqueline Martins, whose presentation of nearly 100 works – most of them never seen before – occupy the entirety of her three-storey gallery in São Paulo. Spanning from 1979 – when Hudinilson was a member of the emblematic 3Nós3 group and made urban interventions with artists Rafael França and Mário Ramiro – to very shortly before his death in 2013, this almost too-elegant survey exhibition has mined a chaotic private archive and polished a number of hidden gems. One of the most stunning is a small cross-shaped wall-sculpture (Untitled, 1979) made of concrete, glass, metal and a series of cropped photographs of a man’s buttocks. The reflective glass shards, loosely fitted into the concave surface of a concrete slab, point to the nude while mirroring and blurring the viewer’s gaze, giving the work an aura of voyeurism and, at the same time, nodding to the myth of Narcissus, one of Hudinilson’s lifelong obsessions.
If you were in São Paulo in the 1980s, you might have spotted him, tall with voluminous dark hair, ambling around the office corridors of the city’s art institutions, where he had unmediated access to Xerox machines. This fast, cheap method of reproduction enabled written materials to circulate widely while circumventing established channels during the final years of Brazilian state censorship. Hudinilson often reinserted printed images into the machine, layering the original image until it became inscrutable. He saw the Xerox as the ‘co-author’ of these ghostly transferences, a creative partner that freed him from the art establishment of the time.
The ‘contemporary Narcissus’ – as Hudinilson called himself – saw his entire body reflected in the mirror of a photocopier. The dimly lit documentation of his Exercise in Seeing Myself performances from this period show him interacting with the machine like a sexual contortionist, twisting and rubbing his naked body against the exposure drum of the machine while obsessively pressing the ‘copy’ button until satisfaction. In other, more calculated, compositions like Gesto IV (Gesture IV, 1986) we see grainy and offset fragments of his hairy torso mounted on the wall in large framed panels, according to precise specifications.
Hudinilson Jr’s archival methods are well-documented in the selection of scrapbooks that sprawl over a large table and across collage boards neatly arranged in two-sided Plexiglas structures on the opposite wall. Collectively dated from the early 1980s to the 2010s, these feature newspaper clippings about his artist friends and contemporaries, such as Tunga and Jac Leirner, as well as medical prescriptions, movie-star portraits and, again, naked bodies – an enigmatic entanglement of Hudinilson’s personal life and the stream of images that he consumed daily, years before the internet made media saturation a cultural norm.
The last work in the show is a starched, well-worn pair of men’s briefs, covered in layers of white acrylic paint (Untitled, 1981), draped over a staircase-shaped plinth along with a number of other personal objects. This melancholic, fossilized undergarment bares the traces of an absent body. It is the testimony of Hudinilson’s sexualized body, one he saw as an artwork in and of itself – and a statement of defiance against the forces that sought to repress his desire.
‘Hudinilson Jr.’ continues at Galeria Jaqueline Martins through 3 August 2019.
Main image: ‘Hudinilson Jr.’, 2019, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist estate and Galeria Jaqueline Martins; photograph: Gui Gomes