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Hélio Oiticica: CC4 Nocagions

Reconstruction of the swimming pool with lights and projections, created with Neville D’Almeida in 1973.
By Alma Ruiz | Feb 2011

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), presents the exhibition "Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space," featuring five installations by six outstanding artists from Latin America in the first presentation of its kind in the United States. The spectacular immersive works of Carlos Cruz-Diez (Venezuela), Lucio Fontana (Argentina), Julio Le Parc (Argentina), Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida (Brazil), and Jesús Rafael Soto (Venezuela), which create a complete sensory experience for the viewer, are not only well known throughout Latin America, where they have come to be inextricably associated with modernism and contemporary art, but also in Europe, where several of the artists spent formative years. This exhibition, insightfully organized by MOCA Senior Curator Alma Ruiz, extends the museum’s practice of interrogating contemporary art history and tracing lines of influence.

A highlight of the exhibition, Hélio Oiticica and Neville D'Almeida's Cosmococa-Programa in Progress, CC4 Nocagions (1973) features a 90-centimeter-deep swimming pool installed amid colored lights and multiple wall projections of John Cage's book Notations, a collection of music manuscripts, covered with lines of cocaine. The water presents a dynamic surface where the movements of the swimming participants are integrated into the work in a complete reinvention of art as an immersive, sensorial, and interactive experience.

Hélio Oiticica lived a short but extraordinarily creative life; his boundless energy and acuity of artistic vision left a rich legacy in Brazil and Latin America—one which has also begun to be influential in Europe and the United States. Born in Rio de Janeiro, he lived briefly in London (1969) and New York (1971-78), but spent most of his life in Rio. Originally a painter, he moved away from that medium as he became interested in utilizing actual physical space in his work, leading eventually to the creation of large environments (which, today, would be called instal­lations) and semi-architectonic sculptures that could be built outdoors. These works were conceived to eliminate the distance between the object and the viewer. The transition from a two-dimensional static form to a three-dimensional form that could be penetrated, inhab­ited, or worn like an article of clothing shifted the conventional relationship between the pas­sive object that is contemplated and the active subject who contemplates. This simple act gave the spectator "the experimental exercise of freedom" [1] to come into contact with the artwork through a fuller bodily experience, as well as to rethink the function of art.

Between 1973 and 1974, Oiticica created Cosmococa—Programa in Progress, a series of installations that blend the languages of art and cinema. Five of the nine works con­ceived as part of the Cosmococa series were co-authored with filmmaker and actor Neville D’Almeida. D’Almeida is associated with Brazil’s 1960s Cinema Novo and Cinema Under­ground, though he does not identify himself with any particular style or current. Like Hélio Oiticica, D’Almeida viewed cinema as an outlet for free expression. His films, many of which have attained cult status in Brazil and abroad, are a window to the intellectual and cultural milieu of Brazil during the 1960s and 70s. The Cosmococa series, named by D’Almeida, includes: CC1 Trashiscapes, CC2 Onobject, CC3 <emphasize>Maileryn</emphasize>, CC4 <emphasize>Nocagions</emphasize>, and CC5 <emphasize>Hen­drixWar</emphasize>. [2] &nbsp; Each of these "Block Experiments in Cosmococa," or "Block Experiences in Cos­mococa," as the artists also referred to them, incorporated slide projections of D’Almeida tracing over album art, book and magazine covers, or other surfaces with lines of cocaine; a soundtrack; texts; and a plan for public participation in a prearranged location. Photos and posters were produced from the projected slides, to be sold separately. [3] &nbsp; he Block Experiments are part of a larger series of projects collectively titled Quasi-Cinemas, which incorporate elements of film. Oiticica focused on these projects during the seven years he lived in New York, beginning in 1971, when he was awarded a Guggenheim grant. He re­ferred to them as "quasi-cinematic" because, though they incorporate the film image, they lack the narrative aspects of traditional filmic forms and, unlike cinema, they challenge the passivity of viewers by inviting them to perform specific actions.

Each of the Cosmococa—Programa in Progress works is accompanied by a set of instruc­tions that includes basic technical information and recommendations for the audiovisual components, the performance, and the participants’ activities. (For example, the slide pro­jection for each Block Experiment lasts approximately twenty minutes and then repeats.) [4] &nbsp; Significantly, Oiticica and D’Almeida conceived these instructions in order to aid the adapt­ability of each environment to a variety of other spaces, such as a private apartment or garden; they desired to expand the context of the socialization made possible by the works beyond traditional museum and gallery spaces. The experimental proposition of CC4 No­cagions, the Cosmococa work selected for "Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space" is very open - a "suprasensorial" experience. (In fact, the use of the phrase "in progress" suggests the series’ open-endedness and ability to influence other texts or projects.) The environment comprises an enclosed room featuring a functional swimming pool surrounded by a wood deck strewn with lounging mats, a string of tiny bulbs lining the pool’s edge, a bright green light illuminating the water itself, piped-in music, and a slide­show of images featuring John Cage’s book <emphasize>Notations </emphasize>(1969) projected on two opposite walls. These images, taken by Oiticica himself, are not bound together by an overarching narrative, though they succeed one another like the frames of a film. The lights, the deck, the mats, and the pool are arranged as if props on a film set. Visitors entering the space are immediately surrounded by images of Cage’s book, a collection of music manuscripts accompanied by text organized through chance operations, projected onto the walls at regular intervals. They hear Cage’s <emphasize>Credo in Us </emphasize>(1942) filtering through the speakers, and they see colored lights both outside and inside the pool. The experience is complete when visitors change into bathing suits and view the environment from the vantage point of the water. They may also lounge on the deck and socialize, spending as much time in the work as they desire. By completing the work in this way, they, too, become elements of the overall installation.

Eighteen years passed before the first public display of the Cosmococa—Programa in Prog­ress series, when it was included in the 1992 Oiticica retrospective at the Witte de With in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Since then, the popularity of these works has increased due to a deeper understanding of Oiticica’s oeuvre. He used installation art to create an encompassing sensory/narrative experience for the viewer; he also recognized that the form could be accessible to a broader public because it could be presented in exhibition venues such as museums and galleries, as well as in private and public spaces. At the core of his installations is the blending of art and life, the breaking down of the museum walls, the demystification of art, and the creation of a new viewer-object relationship. Each of these characteristics may be seen as anti-artmarket expressions that have, in time, be­come common in art, ironically facilitating the collection of these works by institutions and individuals.

The sense of freedom that the Cosmococa—Programa in Progress series embodies also stems from Oiticica’s life-long search for new art forms that cross over into other disci­plines, music, poetry, anthropology, social studies, and so on. Expanding the function of art meant opening up to tangible and intangible propositions that pushed the limits of both art and artist. Oiticica’s searching is all the more vital because it took place at a time of enormous political repression in Brazil. His creation of "palpable works" that were "di­rected to the senses" was intended to lead anyone who came in contact with his art to a "‘suprasensation,’ to the dilation of his usual sensorial abilities, to the discovery of his inner creative center, of his dormant spontaneity of expression, conditioned to everyday life." [5] &nbsp;&nbsp; It was Oiticica’s hope that the individual’s rejection of his or her passive role as spectator and transformation into an active participant through art might carry over to everyday life.



  1. Brazilian art critic Mário Pedrosa coined the phrase "experimental exercise of freedom" to describe the practices of artists, including Oiticica, who were abandoning traditional media like painting and sculpture in search of more experiential forms. See Pedrosa, "La Bienal de cá para lá" (1970), in Otilia Arantes, ed., Mário Pedrosa: Politica das artes (São Paulo: Universidade de São Paulo, 1995), 283.
  2. Oiticica planned the remaining four environments that make up Cosmococa—Programa in Progress as collaborations with other friends. CC6 (Coke’s Head Soup) was realized with Thomas Valentin on September 23, 1973, while CC7 was conceived with the British critic Guy Brett but never got beyond the drafting table. For CC8 Mr. D (or D of Dado, the only iteration that did not include images of cocaine lines), Oiticica collaborated with writer Silviano Santiago. CC9 Cocaoculta Renô Gone was begun with Carlos Vergara in celebration of the series’ first-year anniversary on March 13, 1974, but also went unrealized; the work pays homage to the artist’s friend Renô de Souza Mattos, who lived in the São Carlos slum and had died in Februrary of that same year. Beatriz Scigliano Carneiro, "Cosmococa—Program in Progress: Heterotopia of War," in Paula Braga, ed., Fios Soltos: A Arte de Hélio Oiticica (São Paolo: Editora Perspectiva SA, 2008), 210.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Oiticica, "The Emergence of the Suprasensorial" (November/December 1967), in Hélio Oiticica: Painting Beyond the Frame (Rio de Janeiro: Silvia Roesler Edições de Art, 2008), 193.

Alma Ruiz

Senior Curator, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA).

© Text & Photos: Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA).
Published in: Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space. 148 pp, color & b/w illustrations, English / Spanish
ISBN: 978-1-933751-16-0

Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space

12 December 2010 -
27 February 2011

The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

152 North Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012


Carlos Cruz-Diez

Lucio Fontana

Julio Le Parc

Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida

Jesús Rafael Soto



Alma Ruiz



The exhibition travels to:

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C

23 June - 11 Sept. 2011


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