top of page

2022 Project Season

Paço das Artes, São Paulo, Brasil

Ana Roman interviews Leka Mendes 

 (July 2022)

Leka Mendes and I talked for a few days in her studio during the process of production of the works that make up the installation Observatory of Unreachable Images, a project that is part of the 2022 Season of Projects. In these conversations, we exchanged several references that we bring as brief quotes in this text.

AR: In your most recent works and series, you work the photographic language from a kind of 'expanded field'. At some moments, the photos are transferred to fragments of debris, at others, they are the object of an inking process. How do these processes appear in your practice and in what way do they reveal a photographic thought?

My artistic research starts from an interest in naturalists. At a certain point, I began to mobilize some more experimental processes: I have a series of photographs that I dip into ink. I print the photographs in black and white, and I do the process of dipping them in ink: I try to use the ink as a revealing chemical. I call this process post-development: I put the ink in, mix it into the photo itself, take away from the parts that I don't want to be painted. It is a laboratory process and the result is always something uncontrolled: you only find out after the whole process has been done. So, I can say that I have, always had, this way of exploring photography. 

And, after having incorporated the debris as a support for my prints, I also started to understand it as a matrix, as if it were the negative of photography. I use the debris as a kind of stamp. The debris is then used to produce the images.  Each work is unique, because it is a composition from these various fragments of rubble. At the same time, however, this procedure keeps a photographic thought, a possibility of reproduction. The debris, which is the negative, can always be printed on a new surface. 

If I talk to a printmaker, he will tell me that there is a thought of printmaking in this process. For me, everything comes from a photographic thought. The works in the Anthroposcenics series are photographs. Some people say it is painting, but, for me, there is a place of image production that belongs to photography.


Nature is just the name for excess.

JAMES, William. Pluralistic Universe. New York: Longmans, Green, And Co., 1909. 

AR: For me, in the Anthroposcenics series, you are creating landscapes from traces of what we already have in the world. There is a process of revealing these traces, which take on another form when displaced.

When I worked with what people usually consider photography, I would travel to inhospitable places to photograph these spaces. Nowadays, I imagine landscapes that I could visit to photograph. Instead of moving around in space, I create my own scenes here, in the studio, using found materials. I try to explore the various photographic techniques in my own work. Each of the debris fragments becomes an image: some of the found stones, when stamped on the surface of the fabric, imprint images that resemble little houses, others can be read as satellites or trees. There is a kind of alphabet that I try to create in these operations. 

When I start working with fabric, first with the marks of this debris as matrices; then by incorporating the debris itself into the compositions, and finally by subjecting the fabric to chemical processes with these 'revealing' compounds, such as bleach and chlorine itself, my goal is to create images. In these almost spatial compositions, from the series Soon It Will Be Night, for example, when we look from afar, we have the impression of being in front of a picture of the universe, and when we get closer, all this changes. One of the works that will be on display at Paço das Artes is a 'telemicroscope' to see galaxies: I built a "telescope" with a close up lens. The observer needs to be close to the object, like a microscope, but he seems to be facing a distant world.


AR: Images of the universe have become present in your most recent works. How do these images, which carry in themselves other times, come to relate to your artistic research? 


I always think, for example, of the images that the Hubble telescope makes of the various galaxies. It recorded the deepest image of the universe in a capture time of 1 million seconds, 11 days. The time frame of these pictures is much longer than the instant, which we usually attribute to photographic language, and which, in a way, interests me. Hubble seems to be recording the deepest past we have, perhaps the beginning of the universe. 


The uses of chemical compounds on fabrics are also subjected to time, and this has to do with some of the theorists that I have been studying, like Emanuele Coccia. When I submit the fabrics to the compounds and expose them to the sun, I am somehow affirming that the sun is a transforming force of nature. Everything is part of the same cycle: the creation of images is the creation of life, and the sun is one of the most important agents in this process. The sun creates and reveals the images, just as it creates the world around us. And all this affirms the idea that we are solar beings: we do not exist without it.



All objects and utensils that surround us come from plants (the food, furniture, clothes, fuel, medicines), but, above all, the totality of higher animal life (which has an aerobic character) feeds on the organic gaseous exchanges of these beings (oxygen). Our world is a vegetable fact before being an animal fact. 


COCCIA, Emanuele. The life of plants: a metaphysics of the mixture. Florianópolis: Cultura e Barbárie Publishing House. 2018.

AR: In these works, what strikes me is that there is a process of producing imaginary images of outer space. We don't know if the stars you represented exist or not, but nothing prevents that, in the birth and death movement of the stars, these sidereal landscapes have occurred or are occurring somewhere in the future. In some works, the stars appear to be being sucked into a black hole. Why does the black hole, this region of space-time that concentrates so much matter and does not even allow light to escape, appear in these works?

The black hole is always sucking everything in and it may be pointing to where we are heading. There are also white holes, right? They exist in a theoretical way, but there is no record of one yet. They are the places from which all matter is expelled, where it comes from. 

Black holes are formed when a large star starts to run out of fuel and collapses under its own gravity. Thinking about how we explore, from the deepest soils to outer space, we seem to be heading for it. When I started doing the first tests with the debris as a star, I had already done the black holes, I had already been doing with other experiments with the bleach and the debris stamps.

Natural resource for whom? Sustainable development for what? What needs to be sustained?

Krenak, Ailton. Ideas to postpone the end of the world. Companhia das Letras. Kindle edition. 


AR: Your work has, all the time, pointed to the creation of landscapes. But in the materiality that you explore, you have a very close relationship with the city. Why does the urban element appear in your work?

When I made these trips to photograph, I started a series called Operators. I searched the landscape for some human constructions and created a system that recorded everything that I could somehow use the suffix - ores to describe. I was looking for any kind of man's architectural interference in the geomorphology and geology of places, I wanted to understand them from an extractive, exploratory point of view, but also from the point of view of shelter.

Architecture has always been present in my work. I photograph architecture commercially. And I have always thought a lot about how human beings produce shelters for themselves. Going through sedentarization, or even before it, and also thinking about animals, there is a need for everyone on the planet to produce a roof over their heads. And recently I took a course in philosophy and one of the subjects was that, as communities were organizing themselves around these shelters, squares and monuments were also built. The construction of shelters is directly related to the construction of images. Images that initially had to do with gods: in the same way that shelters against the wind were produced, for example, an image of the wind god was created, which was the object of worship.

These references - and this atlas of images - started to appear directly in my work. Initially, it appeared as a geological thing, more mineral, and I produced some clay pieces. Then the mineral started to appear industrialized in my work, because I started to use a lot of rubble - granite, marble and everything I could find in the remains of house refurbishments. Somehow, by using this mineral found in the city landscape in my work, I try to close a cycle. The mineral is extracted from nature and used to build the city, then it becomes debris and I appropriate it to build other images. When it becomes a city, it has already been used to produce an image, but it is as if it were used to produce other images. It always has a relationship with memory and with a cycle of life and nature.  

AR: There is a sci-fi dimension to the creation of these images. 

For me, studying science is also studying history. I think Mario Novello says that. Imagine that everything that we believe to be science today was, in the past, seen as absurd. 

I love sci-fi especially when it portrays journeys to other planets and times. I started thinking about these most recent series from interplanetary exploration fiction. Somehow I try to refer to the history of human exploration on other planets and the consequences of this process, which has an extractivist character in itself. The Observatory, for example, which I am creating for the exhibition at the Paço das Artes, is this mixture of a desire to inhabit the unknown on another planet and the consequences of this process. 

So far, science has succeeded in building a formal structure capable of producing technologies that generate transformations in the daily life of society. In particular, this project has allowed us to think of the construction of global structures as formal consequences of local processes. A sofisticated, but equally idealistic version, ensured in practice the conviction that the whole is produced from its parts and some specific circumstances. It was thanks to this illusion that the idea of unification of physical processes settled into the society of physicists as an eldorado to be conquered. Not as a simple simplificating factor, but as an indispensable step for the understanding of observable phenomena.

Mario Novello. Cosmic Manifesto in The Unfinished Universe. Ed. N - 1 (2018) 


AR: Within all that we talked about, could you tell us a little more about the gathering of these sidereal images in the Observatory of Unreachable Images? Why build an observatory for them?


As I was producing the works of the series that gives origin to the Observatory and occupying the studio, I realized that this immersive experience, of being able to circulate among the works, was important. We have no notion of the depth of the universe, the "lines" of stars that form the constellations only exist from the terrestrial point of view: from another point in the galaxy it would no longer be possible to orient ourselves by these drawings. I am interested in the absurd distances between the planets and the devices that somehow make us feel closer to them.


These various points of view and distances, made me think of "telemicroscopes", instruments that look like telescopes with close up lenses, which I mentioned before. These instruments will orbit around the installation, as well as other objects that will be changed from time to time. 


In this project, I follow with these questions that guide my research: Would the act of constructing these sidereal images be in the same search and resemble that of the ancient human beings when drawing on cave walls? How could the practice of marking the sidereal space, marking it on a fabric, be configured in the possibility of materializing the desire to touch the intangible? Would it be the possibility of bringing to us images beyond the reach of the eye, and after painting, the fabric itself would be configured as a cosmic body coming from outer space? Would it be a possibility of approaching the traces and the celestial, sidereal and cosmic mysteries?



bottom of page