Rafael Bensuaski Vieira
Shadow Works: Field Notes on Contemporary Archaeology originated at the Laguna Honda Hospital’s dementia unit in San Francisco, where I worked for Art With Elders (AWE), a non-profit that focuses on promoting the concept of healthy aging through a Socratic method studio art practice. The majority of my students initially had full cognitive function; they came from non-artistic backgrounds and were eager to develop creative skills and practice that was mostly inspired by the beauty of nature and everyday life. As I accompanied my students in their aging process, many entered the dire state of senility. In most cases, just before leaving this world, I witnessed first-hand the shift in their artistic expression, slowly moving away from the theme of nature and landscapes towards abstractions. Just as acceptance was part of their preparation for the hereafter, so were their new aesthetics–resembling the shapes and patterns often found in the cave art left behind by our ancestors.
As I continued to work at AWE for twelve years, eventually teaching at seven different sites, and witnessing this shift in artistic motifs and style, over and over again, I could only question if these abstractions were learned, or if they were an innate expression of the primordial self, an ancestral calling, a universal language?
Inevitably, the Jungian concept that the “Ancient still controls a majority of our lives and what we think of as conscious living,” offered a welcomed framework and momentum for this series. Shadow Works are visual conversations on the relationship between man & symbol, and reflect on the current state of archaic themes. We are surrounded by neolithic abstract markings, such as the eight pointed star, the bodily cross layout, and the sun wheel, which are well documented in this body of work; these symbols, most likely initially experienced on “sacred ground” and ritual spaces, thousands of years ago, not only thrive in nature, but continue to harbor a subliminal, integral, and personal expression of the collective and individual unconscious.
From my work with AWE to a contemplation on topophilia–the ability to shape the human experience by creating a sense of place within a familiar environment–Shadow Works plays with the primal need to make a mark, and the possibility of projecting intense personal emotions on a landscape, to then assemble deep site specific connections.
By exiting the artist studio with a camping backpack and push cart, full of art supplies, I was able to conduct nocturnal field studies of the megalopolis, and “the Poetics” of its space. But, I also found myself surrounded by the more unseemly aspects of the city’s nightlife–or what is often considered a negation of life–and was often confused for another person living on the street, lost to addiction and mental health issues: “The shadow contains, besides the personal shadow, the shadow of society...fed by the neglected and repressed collective values."
In their most basic form, Shadow Works represent field notes from these urban studies. Site responsive and time based, they confront the archaeological considerations of the aesthetic, historic, religious, symbolic, educational, economic, and ecological values of a given place and time. They are acts of preservation and simulated restoration. Collectively, these works serve as a legend of coded symbols, colors and styles that represent geographic data on a map of my own movements through the city’s sphere.
Rafael studied contemporary arts at the San Francisco Art Institute. It was during these years of Interdisciplinary studies, where the comprehension of abstraction was introduced, and fostered under the guidance of a long line of Bay Area abstract thinkers such as Carlos Pedro Villa, Bruce McGaw, Dewey Crumpler, George Kuchar, Jeremy Morgan, John Roloff, Sam Tchakalian, Henry Wessel.
His long term mentor Carlos P. Villa who was warm hearted, open and stern in his teachings, pushed Mr. Vieira to think about every action, 'what's your intention for making these lines, Carlos would ask him,' his teachings redirected Rafael's frame of mind, he began contemplating all his actions, having to go beyond aesthetics when producing works.
Alongside his art, the ideologies of 'social sculpture' were introduced during Villa's ground breaking class, 'Worlds in Collision,' held inside a NPO, The Luggage Store Gallery -SF.
Key concepts involving community development through the use of Art was instilled, motivating Rafael to work with Non Profit Organizations, such as Art With Elders.org, MCCLA, and volunteering for underserved communities throughout the Bay Area, and Miami.