A life acquires meaning largely thanks to the revelations it is made up of. Birth is probably the first epiphany we have – at least until we know more about intrauterine life, which must be quite rich. Being born is a difficult experience, most certainly a painful one, especially because we lose a warm, wet, protected environment and enter a wide world, which will take long to be perceived as a good one. Often this world will never even be a good one, it wont even make sense, we will often never find its rhythm. But then, after all this, we keep on having revelations. One of the most celebrated advertisement pieces in our culture considering that Brazil has top-notch admen is the one that features a girl’s first brassiere, the one she will never forget: The boys face lights up, between fascination and shock, as he sees a woman wearing nothing but a bra for the first time. A revelation of the sexual nature of female beauty, which might or might not be precocious. Eroticism appears disrupting, surprising, dazzling, and, as everything that dazzles and overshadows us, it forever changes the way we look at things.
Every big revelation is like that. It removes the veil that covers the world, it reveals, thus showing the truth, showing what is behind the veil, that which was believed to be hidden. Its first effect is to catch the eyes attention with such power that nothing else is left. For a few moments, which might seem too long, the sight is so overwhelmed that objects disappear, and what actually takes their place? Light? New objects? The chance of living life differently?
I live in a city that owes its name for having been founded in the day we celebrate a man going blind. Its patron saint, Saul of Tarsus lost his sight during a visit to Damascus. Before that, we relentlessly persecuted Christians. Suddenly, in the middle of a road, far from everything that resembled an urban space, which protects and safeguards, he is blinded by a light and a voice interrogates him. This is a well-known episode and I will not tell it again. The revelation of Christ to his persecutor obfuscates Saul. He recovers and is converted. Every major revelation is only valuable when it results in a conversion. Nothing will be as it was before. The persecutor becomes a preacher. Saul becomes Paul. He loses the heathen and opens up to the pagan. Saint Paul no longer has anything to do with Tarsus. He leaves the local behind and becomes global. He was probably the first greatest globalizer of religion. Christianity – which could have been nothing but a sect of Judaism, or even merely a change in Judaism – leaves the Holy Land and goes to the world. It no longer will be a religion of a single people, but rather a religion that touches the whole of mankind. So that was the most celebrated conversion of all, followed by the most celebrated epiphany of all.
Inhotim is a revelation. I don´t know anyone who has visited the art center and hasn’t left – the word they usually use is one of these – mesmerized, impressed. I had the privilege to be introduced to Inhotim by Cláudio de Moura Castro. He brought a catalog whose every image caused these impressions strong marks that get stuck to your soul and, many times, to your body, inerasable images. They stay. That is how I was seduced by images, before even visiting the place that especially celebrates images, for this is what art is: images. I mentioned I was seduced, and this is the correct word to use – for being seduced means to be deviated from the right path. But what is correct when it comes to art, to creation? Generally, that which is less good is correct. That which will generate a future generally begins because it is wrong. The artworks at Inhotim, whether those which fit the usual concept of bi-dimensional image or those which open more dimensions, including the sound dimension, disrupt commonsense, with orthodoxy, that is, with an opinion said to be the correct one. They deviate and deviate those who face them. This invitation to the crooked, to the different, is one of the most important contributions contemporary art offers to those who experience it (and that is precisely why there are no spectators at Inhotim, who would keep a somehow quiet distance from objects, a distance between the subject and the object, which does not modify the subject). Inhotim is not made for the Bourbons, who recovered power in France in 1814, after having been exiled for a quarter of a century and who neither had forgotten nor learned anything. It is a life experience with which you learn a lot and, undoubtedly, one which makes you forget a lot as well – for there might not be learning without oblivion, which Nietzsche believed to be extremely active, extremely needed for creation. This is the culture which is worthwhile: That which modifies those who experience it.
I remember Freud, in an article written in 1916, in which he deplored the Great War that was in progress, nostalgically recalling the day immediately preceding that period, when the educated man would travel to Europe as if each country, each culture, were a different room in a great museum. Nothing better defines the concept of what Inhotim is. The Contemporary Art Center is not a museum whose sole purpose is for people to enjoyably appreciate diverse objects that not question them. It is a series of questions, almost a questionnaire for each one of us, challenging us, offering pleasure no doubt but also raising one doubt after another. And, thus, we have revelations that are different from those which have inspired the apostle, for they don´t bring certainties, they don´t offer a new faith, an orthodoxy that supplants previous ones, instead, they raise questions, issues. It is no coincidence that Inhotim changes the minds of those who got used to just enjoy artworks, removing them from possibly blasé world of the connoisseur, while it fascinates young people, those whose looks are virgin.
I end with a truthful anecdote. Once, the two greatest French philosophers of the second half of the 20th century met. It was around 1970. Foucault said to Deleuze, One day, the century will be Deleuzianized. He meant that the traditional thinking, referring to Aristotle, Descartes and Kant, would not suffice for what was starting to happen among the younger minds. Well, that is what we have needed at least since the time immediately after May 1968. The world changes rapidly and we are barely able to understand, much less theorize, what is appears right before our eyes. Inhotim is part of this new world. We may lack theories about it, but we see it. And that is certainly why youngsters find so much pleasure here.
*Renato Janine Ribeiro is a professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy at Universidade de São Paula and a member of the Advisory Council at Inhotim. He has also taken part in the Friends of Inhotim Program since 2011.