The Revolt of Frans Krajcberg
When Brasilia became the Brazilian capital in 1960, Frans Krajcberg was upset. The construction of the Brasilia-Belém road opens an irreparable breach in the luxuriant nature he loves so much. It is urgent to take action.
“My sculptural work has become politically engaged. It is my revolt I want to express. There is only one solution for the modern artist. Either art participates in the third industrial revolution, that of electronics, and engages in progress, or art fights against the consequences, against the pollution which is as fearsome as the atomic bombs. It is necessary to choose, and I have chosen to fight, to express myself not only with the beauty of nature’s shapes, but with the nature that is being destroyed. My sculptures today are like the memorial of the disaster I see, in the middle of which I live”.
Frans Krajcberg is very soon aware of environmental issues. In the early 1970s, he completely engages in this fight, making him one of the fathers of the Anthropocene movement, giving man a determining role in planetary balance. Art affects our most profound sensibility, it gives us the means to act upon society and places man “fully and radically at the heart of any project of civilization”.
Throughout his life, Frans Krajcberg dreams of radical artistic gestures:
“The absolute gesture would be to unload, as it is, in an exhibition, a truck of burnt wood, collected on the spot. My work is a manifesto. I do not write: I am not a politician. I have to find the picture. If I could spread ashes everywhere, I would be closer to what I feel”.
To express what he calls “his revolt”, Frans Krajcberg is inspired by the elements that nature, mistreated by man, offers him. He wants to alert, to denounce, and shout out to the world the wrongdoings of destruction. Abandoned fragments of nature whose beauty moves him gives him the means to express himself in a universal language. Wounded or dead vegetable flesh inspire him a lot and give essential tools to awaken our sleeping conscience.
However, his works show destruction and death, but also rebirth and renewal. As an experienced archaeologist, he searches the trace of man in this disappearing world. He was fully invested in this fight which requires considerable rigor and physical effort on a daily basis. He “works” tirelessly. Even when he grew old or felt sick he showed a strong discipline.
“I show the unnatural violence done to life. I express the revolted planetary consciousness. Destruction has forms, although it speaks of the non-existent. I’m not trying to sculpt. I am looking for forms to express my cry. I am this burnt bark. I feel like I am the woods and stones. Am I an Animist? Yes. A Visionary? No. I am a part of this moment. My only thought is to express whatever I feel. It is a huge struggle. Painting pure music is not easy. How can a sculpture scream like a voice? There are cultural reminiscences in my work, reminiscences of war in the unconscious. With all that racism, that anti-Semitism, I couldn’t do another art. But above all, I express what I saw yesterday in Mato Grosso, in the Amazon or in the State of Bahia."
In 1975, Frans Krajcberg was invited to Paris to exhibit his work at the Centre National d’Art Moderne, Georges Pompidou. He meets Claude Mollard, General Secretary of Centre Pompidou, to whom he will remain close to until the end of his life.
Pierre Restany writes the catalog of the exhibition, which is widely acclaimed by the critic. It gives rise to passionate debates within the public. These debates reinforce Frans Krajcberg in his will to show nature which is threatened by the urban extension of the third technological revolution.
“Something moved within me. The debates of the CNAC have clarified it. I became aware that Art for the sake of Art was over and I wanted my sculptures to be the witnesses of this disaster."
Frans Krajcberg in the Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris, 1975.
1975, FK and students at a debate at the CNAC
Another decisive shock: the fires ravaging the Brazilian forest. In 1985, during a trip to Mato Grosso, a wild and luxuriant region in the center of Brazil, he helplessly witnessed the fires set voluntarily by the big landowners to clear the land devoted to extensive breeding. He was outraged and decided to start a long photographic report on the burning forests: “Queimadas”. His photos show without ambiguity the role of Man in this massive destruction. He is the first renowned artist to use a camera to denounce the fires.
He got in touch with the inhabitants of the forest, feeling close to their traditions, way of life, and art. His work is difficult, sometimes putting his life in danger, and reveals a deep suffering. The wounds that remained gaping after the destruction of his family during the war worsened at the sight of hectares of forest disappearing before his eyes.
“The Amazonian nature calls into question my sensitivity as a modern man. It also questions the scale of aesthetic values traditionally recognised. The current artistic chaos derives from urban evolution. Here we face a world of shapes and vibrations, the mystery of continuous change. We must know how to take advantage of it. Integral nature can give new meaning to individual values of sensitivity and creativity. With Pierre Restany and Sepp Baendereck we launched the Rio Negro Manifesto in 1978, the day Brazil opened to democracy: the military had just granted amnesty to opponents. It was the first debate after the dictatorship, and we had never talked about the destruction of forests. The attacks were violent. Some would not admit that three “gringos” were speaking about Brazil. The manifesto was presented in Curitiba, New York, Paris, Rome and Milan. “…” The massacre that I saw in the Amazon rainforest, I never saw elsewhere, even during the war”.
From now on, Frans Krajcberg is, and will remain a strong activist, showing and denouncing relentlessly. In the 1980s, his notoriety allowed him to act on the international scene and to assert himself as an activist and as an artist. He is invited to exhibit his work all over the world. He shows his “Revolts” in Cuba, New York and Stockholm. In 1988, he joined the symposium on the environment in Seoul and the “Doctors without borders” movement in Romania. These years of combat are marked by several decisive events:
- in 1987, he travels for the “third savage” of Mato Grosso;
Tribute to Chico Mendes
- December 22, 1988, Chico Mendes, the first to have defended an ecological conscience in Brazil and abroad, is assassinated. His intervention saved nearly 1,200,000 hectares of forests. Frans Krajcberg pays tribute to him by sculpting a wounded rubber tree, incised with deep red lines that evoke blood. A commemorative plaque in pyrographed wooden bears the name of the martyred activist;
- in Rio Branco, in the state of Acre, Frans Krajcberg tirelessly photographs the devastated forest and collects scattered elements for his sculptures. He tries to convince the farmers to give up cutting down the trees, which lead to several death threats;
-He meets the Amerindian “Cacique” (spiritual leader) Raoni and works with him to defend the cause of the Amazonian Indians, with whom he maintains friendly and activist ties.
The 1990s brought him expected recognition, definitively associating the artist and the activist. In 1990, he was invited to Moscow at the International Congress of Ecology. It is the first time he returned to Russia since his Fine art studies in Leningrad.
In 1992, the World Environmental Conference was held in RIO. The Museums of Modern Art of Salvador and Rio put the work of Frans Krajcberg in the spotlight. In Rio, his exhibition “Imagens do Fogo”, attracts more than 300,000 visitors around his photographs of forests devastated by fire, where trees seem to grow burnt, where scents, sounds and colors can no longer match and combine. The forest, metaphor of the memory and the collective unconscious, a former earthly paradise, is nothing more than a collection of wood burnt by humans. The burnt trunks, collected by Frans Krajcberg, straightened with majesty carry a raw cry of suffering.
In Paris, the “Latin America” exhibition at the Center Georges Pompidou Center shows several works of his. In 1996, he was at the heart of the “Villette-Amazone” exhibition at the Grande Halle de la Villette. Under the responsibility of Jacques Leenhardt and Bettina Laville, the exhibition places the environment as a priority issue for the 21st century.
In 1998, he exhibited at the Fondation Cartier, in the exhibition “Being Nature”.
In 2003, the “Art and Revolt” exhibition organised in the new Montparnasse Museum, in the alley where his studio is, paid tribute to him.
The "cry of Bagatelle"
2005 is the year of Brazil in France. The General Commissioner is Jean Gautier, who is in contact with Brazilian circles and who knows Frans Krajcberg personally. Brazilian authorities wish the event to be the opportunity for a major retrospective in Paris. The City of Paris made the Parc de Bagatelle available for the occasion.
Sylvie Depondt is responsible for the General Commission and the catalog. Claude Mollard and Pascale Lismonde publish a detailed biography “the crossing of fire”. The teams, on the Brazilian side, on the Department of Green Spaces and the Environment of the City of Paris (DEVE), coordinate the installation and invest in this exceptional event.
2005 is also an opportunity to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the acquisition of the Bagatelle estate by the City of Paris and to recall that Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier made it possible. As a visionary, the curator of the Bois de Boulogne foresaw the dismantling if the site was acquired by developers. Without hesitating to put his own fortune on the line to launch an impressive press campaign, he won, and in 1905, Comte d'Artois park became the property of the City of Paris. Deeply topical in the context of today’s large metropolises, the theme of urban and peri-urban forests was essential. It allows us to question the social and environmental role of these spaces that are essential for the well-being of city dwellers.
Unesco becomes a partner while Paris and the municipalities of Rio and Sao Paulo join in the debate. Frans Krajcberg sees an opportunity to launch his “Cry for the Planet” and he wishes it to resonate with force. The exhibition becomes “Dialogues with Nature” - a vibrant tribute to Frans Krajcberg and his work and a place for meetings and debates on the environment and the future of large metropolises. The exhibition opens on June 6 in the presence of many important cultural figures including Gilberto Gil - then Minister of Culture in Brazil - and Walter Salles who dedicated one of his first movies to Frans Krajcberg.
The exhibition will remain open for several months and will be carried daily by Frans Krajcberg himself who does not hesitate to welcome visitors on the site. The Parisian public and the passing tourists were thrilled - there were More than 450,000 visitors over one year. Children from schools and day-care centers who visit the exhibition during the summer were prepared beforehand by their teachers. They already discovered Frans Krajcberg at the Montreuil press and children’s book fair where he is honored. Eric Darmon and Maurice Dubroca’s film “Portrait of a Revolt” allows them to better understand this man. Some come out of the screening room in tears and rush towards him. Because he is present, and ready to talk, exchange and even draw with them - Frans Krajcberg is acknowledged, and adored by this young audience.
According to the Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë, the municipal representatives and the Brazilian representatives, the event is an opportunity to claim their wish to engage in the environmental debate. Frans Krajcberg is a key player in this great debate. The meetings bring together specialists and managers who draft a manifesto, with concrete recommendations. The content will be read in Curitiba, during the international meetings for the environment taking place at the end of the year. The long awaited “Cry for the planet” by Frans Krajcberg is launched for the very first time.
The Manifesto signed in Bagatelle in 2005 was presented in the environmental debates of Curitiba, the “ecological capital of Brazil”. It received a prize awarded by the UN for its exemplary nature in strategy of urban development. Frans Krajcberg is present and takes part in the debates.
Frans Krajcberg donates twenty emblematic works to the City of Paris to install them in the Espace Krajcberg. Now he can spread his message. Frans Krajcberg said: “there will be a before and an after Bagatelle”.