A subtle aesthete and studied classicist, Camargo charted a personal course through the history of modern sculpture beginning in the early 1960s. Newly returned to Paris, he continued his formal experiments with volume and space, abandoning representation as he constructed what would become his signature wood reliefs, defining for the first time the conceptual problems that would preoccupy the rest of his career. Composed of diagonally-cut wooden cylinders set atop a flat wooden board, the all-white reliefs open up the syntax of geometry to provide a tactile, kinetic experience indebted to historical Constructivism yet attuned to contemporary deconstructions of its systematizing forms. Camargo's self-described "empirical geometry" confronts the limits of modernist form by carving away and rearticulating its volumes, reaching for maximal points of coexistence between order and its disintegration.
"The crucial point," according to Ronaldo Brito, "was how to arrive at an abstract aesthetics of the volume: how to elaborate the specific intelligence of the volume without falling back on the illusionist mimesis and all the substantialist load that inexorably accompanies it?"(1) Relief # 197 explicitly pressures this dynamic between the picture plane and its topology of space, placing in contrast the spectacular surfaces formed by the carved wood cylinders, which indulge the optical sense through the play of light and shadow around their modules, and the perfect, reductive flatness of the white board below. Here as always, Camargo begins with the coherence of precise geometries and the constructivist rationality provided by his formal building blocks, cylinders and parallelepipeds. However, he works against that syntactic program at every turn. The integrity of the original forms is contested from within, through slippages into non-Euclidean space created by the metastasizing forms, which multiply in new and constantly changing arrangements. His reliefs are ultimately a study of continuity across surface, in which the individual forms retain their essential properties but become infinitely transformative, never to return to their original state. The shadows and textures of their uneven edges create a depth in surface that defies the ordering principles of Constructivism, whose rigorous logic Camargo upsets with the poetics and the adventures of the unexpected.
The crux of Camargo's aesthetic, like that of many other artists of his generation, rests between the physics and metaphysics of his work, in other words between the materiality of the wood cylinders and the conceptual space they project. Sharing the philosophy of his teachers, Gaston Bachelard and Pierre Francastel, in Paris, Camargo understood his reliefs as intellectual products, world-conscious and historically situated. The sculptures acknowledge the precedents of his mentors, from the Argentines Fontana and Pettoruti to the Europeans Arp, Brancusi and Vantongerloo, yet dramatically re-engage their tradition of Constructivist aesthetics, invigorating old geometries with the lyricism of organic form. As Brito has suggested, "The final triumph belongs to the absolute aesthetic evidence of each piece in itself. His more classical approach, trusting in the social action of the form on a way of long historical continuance, can only refine itself, however, through the conquest of tension, vertigo and opposites, challenging permanently its own balance."(2)
1) R. Brito, Camargo, Ediçes Akagawa, São Paulo, 1990, p. 37.
2) R. Brito. "Present for Future," in Mira Schendel, Sergio Camargo, Willys de Castro, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, 2000, p. 59.