Waldemar Cordeiro's Oeuvre and Its Context: A Biographical Note

Critical Writing
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Journal volume and issue: 
Leonardo Volume 30, No. 1 (February 1997)
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Abstract (in English): 

In Arteônica, Cordeiro's seminal text on electronic art, he stated that Brazilian Concrete art employed digital creative methods and offered algorithms largely employed in communications. It must be clarified that he did not use the words "digital" and "algorithms" literally here. He was not referring to actual computer programs; rather, he was suggesting that the visual forms created by Concrete art were applicable to mass communications and graphic and industrial design. It was not until 1969 that Cordeiro, working in collaboration with physicist Giorgio Moscati, created his first visual computer artwork. In this and in subsequent computer artworks (the last produced before his premature death of a heart attack in 1973), Cordeiro synthesized his lifelong concern with radically innovative forms and the social and political dimension of art. Cordeiro started his career exploring purely visual geometric abstract forms, only to incorporate semantically charged shapes and objects at a later stage. Ultimately, in his computer art, mathematical abstraction (as digitized and processed imagery) and political and emotional concerns (as content-oriented art) came together in a truly original and challenging way for the first time in his career. In forging this unique synthesis, the product of a natural evolution of his ideas, Cordeiro produced some of the most important works of the first phase of computer art. Abraham Moles, Pierre Restany, and Jonathan Benthall are among the international critics who recognized Cordeiro's early contribution to the incipient new art. In the context of Brazilian art, his work ranks as one of the most innovative and stimulating, side by side with Flávio de Carvalho, Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica and Abraham Palatnik. If we are to write the history of electronic art from a truly global perspective, we must acknowledge Waldemar Cordeiro's pioneering contribution.

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At the same time that Cordeiro's work as an artist was shifting focus around the mid- and late 1960s, his interest in architecture, landscaping, interior design and urban planning increased. It seems that the artist, responding to the impact of mass media and the economic and philosophical issues it raised, identified new aesthetic challenges in the creation of public spaces to be experienced by the masses, rather than in the crafting of objects to be viewed by isolated individuals as is the case in galleries and museums. In 1967 he obtained an advanced degree in landscaping. From 1950 to 1973 he worked on more than 150 landscaping projects.

As a consequence of his interest in artificial languages, which he saw as directly related to the syntax of forms promoted by Concrete art, Cordeiro ended up embracing the latest technological tool---the computer. On the one hand, he saw the need to integrate the Constructivist lesson with the new qualitative and quantitative demands posed by mass society in order to address new communicative problems raised by electronic means of communication in an ever-shrinking world. On the other hand, the artist found that the unique object created manually for the consumption of a few was obsolete. For him, the global culture of the future would require an electronic art that could reach millions simultaneously without any loss of its informational content. When he started to create computer art in 1968, Cordeiro was motivated to do so for political and aesthetic reasons. He was committed to the creation of a new art, but he was also interested in the social implications of this new art, which for the first time could overcome, in electronic form, insurmountable geographic barriers and participate in a worldwide culture. Some of the ideas expressed by Cordeiro in his Arteônica ("Arteonic"---a contraction of arte [art] and eletronica [electronic]) manifesto (included here in its first English translation) anticipate cultural, aesthetic and economic issues raised today by the World Wide Web, for example. In her article also included here, Annateresa Fabris further analyses his works and writings, particularly those related to his computer art.

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Luciana Gattass