Critical essay for Birger Lipinski and Laercio Redondo’s book ‘The Phantom Collection’, documenting the process involving two major artistic immersion projects for Södertälje konsthall, in Sweden: ‘Opacity (for Édouard Glissant)’ and the exhibition ‘The Phantom Collection’. Titled “We need to talk about silence”, the essay  summarizes Redondo and Lipinski’s long-standing collaboration and artistic practice overlapping between art and architecture, before further exploring the exhibition ‘The Phantom Collection’ which lends its name to the book. The publication also features an essay by historian Cecilia Fajardo-Hil on the exhibition ‘The simplest thing is the hardest to do’, held in 2020 at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, in Bareclona.

Source > The Phantom Collection exhibition catalogue, 2022

But from violence, from true violence, there is no escape, at least not for us born in Latin America.

Roberto Bolaño, 
Putas Asesinas, 2001

               After more than a decade of artworks devoted to iconic buildings of Brazilian modern architecture – including the Casa de Vidro (The Glass House, 2008), the Gustavo Capanema building (Façade, 2014) and the Aterro do Flamengo (Detour, 2015) –, Laercio Redondo has recently turned his attention to canonical objects of European modernism. In just two years, he has produced three major projects on the Continent: an intervention at the Mies Van der Rohe Barcelona Pavilion (Lo más sencillo es lo más difícil de hacer/The simplest thing is the hardest to do, 2020) and two offerings at the Södertälje Konsthall, one an exhibition (The Phantom Collection, 2021) and the other a permanent artwork (Opacity – For Édouard Glissant, 2021), both signed jointly with Birger Lipinski.

               In the context of a resolutely global contemporary art that conspicuously values (and, at times, fetishizes) local specificity and belonging, that gesture may seem reckless. In fact, one could ask: what can an artist from the South have to say about European modernism? Is there actually anything still to be said on a subject so studied by experts in the North? There is more: in the wake of a welcome (if tardy) movement to decolonise hegemonic institutions, is it not the time to show that Brazil was once modern, too; to show that, before the political, economic and social debacle it finds itself in today, this Latin American country had a project for its future, to show, moreover, that that dream had colours, textures and outlines different from Europe’s?

               These questions are legitimate, but to answer them with the necessary depth, one must first change perspective – and that is precisely the operation that Redondo invites us to undertake. After all, a brief glance at his earlier work is enough to see that their tone is not just one of celebration. The Brazilian modernists who appear there, although playing leading roles, are not infallible: they embody doubts, hesitations and contradictions. That ambiguity, besides corresponding to historical facts, also responds to a definite narrative strategy. On the one hand, it is about recovering their stories, so the world knows who these figures were and what they did and so that we Brazilians avoid the trap of self-imposed cultural amnesia, which is one of the most elementary forms of colonial domination. On the other hand, it is crucial to preserve the impurity of those narratives, without adapting them to the – always so coherent, limpid and triumphant – format of the official accounts, so as to make Brazil into more than just an exotic addendum to a history of art that, in all respects, remains Euro-centred.

               It is this tightrope walker’s eye of his, which rememorates without ever commemorating, that Redondo now casts on the products of European modernism – in such a way as to suggest that these ghosts of the South that wander among our scaffoldings, buildings and ruins also haunt the solidest and most rigorous edifications of the North.


               In fact, there is nothing abrupt about this transposition of contexts. The artworks that Redondo has produced over the years have grown out of his numerous comings and goings between Brazil and Sweden, where he has lived since 1999. A great many of these involved contributions from his partner, Swedish furniture and exhibition designer, Birger Lipinski, who now co-authors the projects at Södertälje. That change in the status of collaboration between the two merely brings out more explicitly the intercultural – or rather, translational – dynamic that has always characterised their productions, thus eliminating any possibility of their being categorised as “Brazilian” or “European”. This co-authorship also serves to underline the – absolutely central – function played by exhibition design in giving material form to these artistic investigations. By searching for the expographic vocabulary that best suits the singularity of the architectonic contexts being examined, with each new project Lipinski and Redondo increasingly blur the boundaries between the spaces of art, technique and also life.

               To start with, the duo’s interest in architecture is different from that of experts in the field. In an interview granted to curator Justine Ludwig, Redondo declared that architecture allowed them to “reflect upon power and how it is articulated in society through its buildings, constructions, and whatever official meaning (or perhaps lack of it) they are charged with” [1]. By attributing an essentially metonymic value to these constructions, Lipinski and Redondo retrieve and update the strategies of a generation of artists who, since the 1960s and 70s, have been calling for aesthetic concerns to expand beyond the institutional art field. Indeed, unlike artworks such as paintings or sculptures, which can easily be abstracted from their original context of use and meaning, buildings and monuments remain bound to their surroundings – the city, the community, the society – and thus fall short of (or are beyond) the modernist ideal of an absolutely autonomous art object [2].

               That also applies to the museum, this singular kind of edifice created at the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. Designed to isolate certain objects from external space and safeguard them from the passing of time, it fulfils a function that is not only material, but also ritual, narrative and epistemic. By carefully selecting and presenting its collection, the institution tells a certain story about the past. Also, by way of decisions regarding how people circulate through its rooms, corridors and halls, it helps produce a certain view of the future, shaping the tastes of hundreds, thousands or millions of visitors every year. As French art theoretician Hubert Damsich puts it, “the Museum not only assures a conservation function, it secretes history” [3]. Now, this is no less true of the modern museum, which began to be designed in the early twentieth century following on the development of the new discipline of exhibition design. Working with space as a veritable expressive “medium”, a number of avant garde artists, artisans and designers managed to reorganise the logic of exhibition and circulation in the traditional museum, thus enabling the same institution to tell new stories with new objects and new protagonists.

               Lipinski and Redondo backtrack significantly in history to recover these expographic devices, so as to identify, point up and question those narratives, both classical and modern, today. Building on the logic of installation art, which calls for the object to be integrated into its surroundings, their exhibitions mimic and problematize the exhibition space itself, short circuiting the discourse expected (and articulated) by the institutions. This strategy, already latent in works such as Recast, in 2018, which re-examined the collection of the São Paulo Pinacoteca through the (little explored) dimension of smell [4], became even more explicit in 2020, with The simplest thing is the hardest to do. By way of a series of small- and medium-format pieces and materials that dialogued, reflected and at times merged with the space of the Mies Van der Rohe Barcelona Pavilion, Redondo (and Lipinski, who signed the displays there) subtly reintroduced layers of the site’s complex history. These ranged from the fundamental contribution of Lilly Reich [5] to the original, ephemeral project conceived to represent Germany at the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition, to political issues of a post-Franco Spain which were embedded in the reconstruction of this replica in 1986. In this way, Lipinski and Redondo managed to reveal to the public the true nature of that “new old” building: it was, in short, a museum of itself. At the same time, they also pointed to an unexpected after-life of modernism in our times: that process of “museologisation”, which confers aesthetic autonomy on certain objects, was now also being extended to architectonic works. Deprived of their original functions, buildings too find themselves transformed into “works of art”, in the modernist sense of the term, to be appreciated only morphologically [6].

               However, there are cracks in this process: whatever was omitted, excluded or suffocated remains present there, precisely as repression. Thence the need to return to these institutional spaces, and sometimes to those that are most canonical. For, without interrogating what their walls conceal, it is simply impossible to grasp what radiates out beyond them. This is also the strategy at play in The Phantom Collection, of 2021, presented at the Södertälje Konsthall. There, the pair presented an assemblage of vases, by famous or anonymous creators, all emblematic of modern Swedish design – and all of which, let it be said, to be had these days in second-hand shops. As in previous projects, here too, the task of highlighting the progressive loss of these objects’ original context and their subsequent museologisation fell to a sophisticated expographic device. Visitors experienced that metamorphosis first as deception: after being received in the exhibition room by highly aestheticized images of the objects produced by a delicate interplay of light, motion, projections and shadows on fabric, they were abruptly confronted by the limitations of their initial experience. On the backs of the displays, it could be seen that, mixed in with the Swedish originals from the early twentieth century, were more recent reproductions of similar pieces. Manufactured in other countries, possibly using cheap labour, these replicas retained the characteristic aesthetic that had brought fame to modern Swedish design, but were at odds with its original function, which was intimately connected with the development of the country’s Social Welfare State policies [7]. That break – which, however radical, was invisible to those who believe it possible to separate form and ideology – then materialised physically in the exhibition, in the form of obstructions of the visitors’ movements. Distributed irregularly around the room, the displays seemed deliberately to prevent any fluid circulation through the space, causing visitors to backtrack, deviate and circumvent, in order to move forward. As intentional as their positioning in the room was the fact that these displays were made out of the same “neutral” partition walls that the institution regularly uses to organise its exhibitions. This way, instead of giving support to the museological narrative, the exhibition design started producing interruptions and hiatuses, which ended up revealing the very space where the institution tells its stories, along with its assumptions, perspectives and blind spots.

               It is as if, then, in spite of the impressive formal refinement of their installations, Lipinski’s and Redondo’s goal was less to show the public their art (works produced, collected or appropriated) than to exhibit the art spaces themselves. Indeed, an analogous inversion of perspectives had already been seen in another piece (Opacity – For Édouard Glissant), presented in that same room a few months earlier in 2021. The perennial artwork (temporarily covered up on the occasion of the Phantom Collection) consisted in replacing the museum’s usual flooring with a complex patterned design inspired in basketwork techniques of aboriginal Amerindian peoples. That gesture could be read in different layers. In the first place, by transposing a traditional art of the South to a contemporary art institution of the North, it explicitly declared the intercultural logic of the duo’s artworks. Secondly, it reasserted the importance of more than just a formalistic view of art, by recourse to cultures that see objects ritually and use elaborate patterns, not only for decorative purposes, but as support for cosmological narratives. Lastly, it situated the public in uneven, complex and often enigmatic terrain, also paying tribute to the philosopher and poet of the Antilles, Édouard Glissant, who pointed to the notion of “opacity” as a condition for mediating cultural differences. As Redondo said on another occasion, it is only by obstructing the perfect visibility of the institution that it becomes possible to “provide new paths that could create different stories about the past, things that reverberate also in the present” [8].

               In Opacity, in spite of a complex weave of lines, the pathways are not traced out beforehand. On the contrary, they appear only under the visitors’ own footsteps, as they are invited to take a place (and position) in a story that concerns them directly: Is it really as a passive stroller that I move through the history of art? Is it really as a passive listener that I take part in that history? After all, as we are reminded by the Spanish philosopher, Paul B. Preciado, we are the outcomes of these histories that echo in the spaces we circulate through: “Architecture is a performative technique: it produces the subject that it claims to shelter”. Our identities, he adds, are not the spontaneous work of nature, but collective social constructions performed on our bodies: “Like architecture, political technologies of gender, sexuality and race work with the very materiality of bodies and space” [9]. Transposing that analysis to museum space, it would then be urgent to appropriate these “performative techniques” of architecture, so as to create in the present new choreographies of the past, which could then open up dissident prospects for the future.


               This dance necessarily retraces the steps of modernism, whose complex legacy is nowadays celebrated and misunderstood to the same extent. What Lipinski and Redondo offer the public is the opportunity to evade the simple dichotomy. Modernism is neither to be surmounted by assuming an inexorable “end of history”, nor to be reinstated as if it had been a “golden age”. Instead, it is necessary to confront its historical contradictions [10] head-on, right where they both show and hide today: in museums. In that regard, their efforts seem to coincide with those of a second or third generation Institutional Critique, which has been working to reformulate the discourse of institutions and thus the very history of art. In the words of the United States artist, Renée Green, “creating a basis to recover and interpret subjugated histories is a massive project with which thinkers and artists in different disciplines in different countries have been engaged for decades, and which continues” [11]. If there is anything unmistakably Brazilian in this pair’s contribution to this decentralised, international, collective project, it stems not only from the presence of objects, buildings or persons representative of that Latin American country. Rather, it is due to the acute awareness, expressed differently in each of their works, of the violent nature of the (writing of) History, which strives to obscure, at all cost, the structurally unfinished nature of reality. From their artworks, we sense – with a mixture of melancholy and enthusiasm – that there is simply no point in reproducing a new pantheon of artists of the South, in the likeness of that of the North. In order to bring out our silenced histories, we first have to find other ways of telling them.


[1] Laercio Redondo, “In conversation”, In Intimacies / Proximidades, The Green Box Kunstedition: Berlin, 2016, p.30.

[2] Also deriving from this historical filiation, by the way, is the pair’s preference for using techniques and formats such as silk screen, weaving, photography and video, which are sometimes labelled “minor” because they breach the institutional boundaries of High Art.

[3] Hubert Damisch, L’Amour m’expose. Le projet ‘Moves’, Yves Gevaert, Klincksieck, Paris, 2000-2007. p. 28. Author’s translation.

[4] In Relance (Recast), the pair builds from an anecdote involving Estevão Silva (1844-1891), the first Afro-descendent painter to enter the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro. In order to enhance the realism of his canvases, Silva used to present still lifes together with a compositions of real fruits, thus adding a new dimension – the sense of smell – to visitors’ appreciation of the art. By setting up other correspondences between artworks and fragrances in the São Paulo Pinacoteca, Lipinski and Redondo invited the public to experience other ways of appreciating art that go beyond the visual – a dimension central to several theories of modern art.

[5] As we are reminded by the sound piece that was in the garden of the Barcelona Pavilion, Lilly Reich (1885-1947) was a key figure in the German context in the first half of the twentieth century: a fashion and furniture designer by training and professor of interior decoration in the Bauhaus, she was the first woman to reach the upper echelons of the Deutsche Werkbund, as well as being a pioneer in the field of exhibition design.

[6] In this regard, it is no coincidence that this perennial reconstruction – which effaces the building’s original meaning and purpose, to replace them with a dimension that is solely aesthetic and monumental – was carried out on the basis of a small set of black and white photographs (and some sketches from the period). In fact, just like the museum, photographs perform a dual operation, decontextualising and recontextualizing their (in this case, represented) subjects. It was from this image-based reading, from photographs in History books, that, in the meantime, the absent pavilion came to be a milestone in modern architecture.

[7] As narrated by the sound piece that forms part of the exhibition, these at once beautiful and functional objects were key components of a veritable “household revolution” led by art historian Gregor Paulsson in the early twentieth century. At the head of the Swedish Society of Industrial Design, he sought to create in the private sphere – in homes and individual mentalities – a perfect equivalent of the organisation of the public sphere operated by social welfare policies.

[8] Op. cit., Laercio Redondo, “In conversation”, p. 35.

[9] Paul B. Preciado, “The Architecture of Sex: Three case studies beyond the Panopticon”, In The Funambulist: Politics of Space and Bodies, #19 Limited Edition Supplement, September-October 2019: Paris, p. 2. 

[10] For instance, Mies Van der Rohe did not help to reverse the process of the effacement of Lilly Reich, his former collaborator, who was fundamental not only to the creation of the German Pavilion at Barcelona, but also to safeguarding its legacy by hiding from the Nazis its memorial, photographs and preparatory drawings, which would enable it to pass on to posterity. Also, the programme conducted by the Swedish Society of Industrial Design to democratise beautiful form was not itself organised on the basis of a democratic process. From a certain perspective, it can even be seen to have been the imposition of the taste of a cultural elite that took upon itself the task of forging the aesthetic sense of an entire country.

[11] Renée Green, “Beyond”, In Institutional Critique and After, ed. John C. Welchman. Zurich: JRP/Ringier, 2006, p. 160.