Camargo, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1930, studied at the Academia Altamira in Buenos Aires as a student of Lucio Fontana and Emilio Pettoruti, after which he moved to Paris to study philosophy at the Sorbonne. In the 1950s, he returned to Brazil where he was exposed to the dominant Brazilian Constructivist movement; however in 1961 Camargo once again relocated to Paris where he would remain until 1974. During this time – the most significant of his career – the artist’s creative practice developed in line with the contemporaneous European Avant Garde and its impetus to strip the work of art back to its essential components: light and space. Where Camargo’s practice chimed with the general unifying principles of the prominent European movements of the moment (namely Spatialism, ZERO, and Nouveau-réalisme), it was with the Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel (GRAV) that Camargo most identified.
Camargo joined GRAV in 1963, and, akin to its members, he began to emphasise the physical importance of the spectator for his work. Founded in 1960 by François Morellet, Julio Le Parc, Francisco Sobrino, and Jean-Pierre Vasarely, GRAV stipulated the empirical and participatory importance of the viewer as their central concern. As the group outlined in a statement entitled ‘Assez de mystifications’ in October 1963: “If there is a social preoccupation in today's art, then it must take into account this very social reality: the viewer. To the best of our abilities we want to free the viewer from this apathetic dependence that makes him passively accept, not only what one imposes on him as art, but a whole system of life...” (Excerpt from ‘Assez de mystifications’, October 1963, Archives Julio Le Parc, Cachan, reproduced in: Exh. Cat., Grenoble, Magasin, Centre National des Arts Plastiques, GRAV: stratégies de participation, 1960/1968, June - September 1998, p. 126). In Camargo’s Untitled (Relief No. 348) the spectator’s physical presence is as central to the work of art as the cylindrical lengths that compose it. Together, work and viewer become intertwined in an entirely unique expression of pure light and shadow. In this manner, the viewer is freely invited to intuit space as an elemental and subjective physical encounter with unfettered geometric form.
Owing to the subjective quality of these works, Camargo’s reliefs present an experiential balance between concrete geometry and inexplicable abstraction. Nietzschean thought equates the balance between structure and chaos, reason and the subconscious, light and darkness, with the personification of Dionysus and Apollo. Via a similar dynamical tension between polarities – light and shadow, order and chaos, form and nothingness – Untitled (Relief No. 348) comes to life, hypnotizes, and lures us into the depths of the subconscious in which irrational darkness dances with the light of reason.
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