10. November – 07. December 2006

Heleno Bernardi - "Masseter Suite"

Tough Life


Heleno Bernardi touches with his pictures subjects that are also in the core of the theoretical debate

on photography: transience and death. His sculptures have emerged for the camera; the moment of the picture

releases them from a process of progressive change and preserves with extreme accuracy that exact staged

look that interests the artist. In clear light the details can be recognized, the eerie does not immerse in

the darkness, there is a predominance of clearness, almost as if intended to capture evidence accurately.


Because of its specific link with reality, photography seems traditionally predestinated to these subjects.

From the metaphor of the “dead mirror”, with which at the time of realism the indifferent photographic

reproduction was designated, up to the characterization by Susan Sontag of all photography as a form of

Memento Mori, because it can be read as a moment which is irrevocably over. The classical author of an emphatic

sociology of photograph, Roland Barthes, formulated this in the following way: “Just because in every

photograph, and it is apparently still very firmly attached to the excited world of the living, this

irrefutable sign of my future death is always contained, a challenge lies in it to every one of us individually.”


Bernardi’s allusions are, nevertheless, much more specific, and are in a high degree committed to the Vanitas thought.

The reason for that is not only the recurrent theme of skulls, the classical Memento Mori motif, which, in this

artist’s work, and all other objects conceived in the picture likewise, are covered with pink-colored strips of

chewing gum. The impression this coating causes is irritating, nevertheless one can hardly recognize a difference

between raw flesh and the sticky matter processed by the masseter, the mastication muscle, a type of matter which is,

as one can see all the time from a look at the sidewalks, extraordinarily long-lasting.


In the photographic repertoires of previous times, there is a recurrent image of the confectioner’s happy skulls

that the famous British photographer Martin Parr has portrayed in the Mexican “Day of the Dead”, pictures that witness

a contact with the dead other than that of the Europeans, whose „Memento Mori“ motif has become history.

Brazilian Heleno Bernardi’s subjects are not found, but rather made. First, the sculptures arise,

which are only later transformed into photograph. In contrast with Parr’s pictures, it fits them an uncomfortable

colorful character; the pictures have nothing cheerful.


Bernardi does not try to bemuse the observer through beauty, which is known as nothing else than the beginning

of the terrible. What he shows is a transformation that demonstrates respect to the objects in a singular way.

They are alienated but remain recognizable and, in a very specific manner, make visible the opposition between

death and life. If in classical still-life paintings there was often a combination of skulls with fruits and flowers,

Bernardi’s choice is of a less palatable and at the same time omnipresent stimulant. It emphasizes, paradoxically,

the long life on the ground and, besides that, in a formal perspective, a certain volatility; it reminds us of

chewing gum bubble that we blow as children, which reminds of the motif of soap bubbles, which maybe could be as

allusive to the fragility of man’s existence as smoke in middle-aged representations.


Dr. Karin Stremmel, art historian

Translation: Marcelo Neves