Regina Célia Pinto, from Rio de Janeiro, interviews:
REGINA VATER (Brazilian visual artist and visual poet, living in Texas, USA)

RCP> I would like you tell me about your childhood and about your artistic formation. When did you to be an artist?

RV> I think that since I was three or four years old I have loved everything visual. I used to draw all the time. My mother used to say that when I grew up I should marry the owner of a stationary store. I discovered very early that to be an artist is something very important. I came to this conclusion because of my doctor Dr. Calazans Luz, my father's colleague. Every time I had a consultation with him he asked me to pay for my visit with a drawing of [an Afro-Brazilian] baiana. I don't know why, but I loved to draw baianas. It seems that since then I was interested by how my Brazilian roots could inspire me as an artist.

When I was around nine years old, in my usual naughtiness, I started to experiment with some installations in my family's Copacabana apartment. After learning about the hanging gardens of Babylon, which had fascinated me, I decided to make a replica of them at home. My mother had gone shopping and left my sister and me alone at home. The house was filled with flowers because of a birthday party earlier that week. Under the spell of my experimental spirit I used a pin to carve out part of the wax in the wooden parquet floor of the living room, and there I stuck many flowers. When my mother opened the entrance door she was assaulted with the vision of my sister and I watering that fantastic garden.

I think this was my first installation, but not the last. Many others followed during that period with the same panache and joy extended by the freedom of experimentation. My mother scolded me a lot, but I think that underneath her stern exterior she was amused by our creativity. As I entered adolescence I started to draw and paint exhaustively. So much so that my father finally gave me some oil paints. He forgot to give me brushes though, and the day those oil tubes arrived I spent the whole night awake painting with my fingers.

My father, who didn't know very much about art, wanted me to study painting with one of his clients, a Belgian painter called Van Back. But being already aware about Van Gogh paintings I thought very little of the academic Van Back, and I continued in my self taught style until the day that I discovered Frank Schaeffer, who gave painting classes for a group of artists in his studio very close to my home.

Because my father didn't want to pay for my classes with Frank, I resolved to work to be able to pay for them. I started by working with my father in a clinic he had in Rio and I also gave private geometry classes. That was what happened until I started the architecture school. By then I also started to paint at the Ibere Camargo studio. Ibere helped me to free myself of many rules in art making. I was not very easy to understand that in Art, there are no rules. That it is you who make the rules. But I think that both the experimentation of my childhood and as well certain encounters I had with Ibere in the beginning of the 60's and with Helio Oiticica and Lygia Clark latter on in the seventies, helped me a lot to understand what Gilberto Gil says "I am the maker of my own road."

The faith I had that Art could be my Road was so immense that I dropped out from architecture school. But until today I have a very special relationship with Architecture. That is clear in the fact that I did more than 150 installations (which points out my deep relationship with "SPACE"- please read the text I wrote about space in my portal at (sambaqui section)

And my belief that Art is overall the practice of freedom, invention and experimentation (what lead me to a work totally not commercial) pushed me to use the precepts of order, organization and harmony learned at architecture school to invent a parallel career for myself as a graphic artist. And since very early (in the sixties, I produced many graphic works in Rio, including movie posters for the Faria brothers and Luis Carlos Barreto. I was even invited by Fernando Lobo to produce a drawing for the Tropicalia Long Play jacket. The Phillips Company paid me and framed my gauche, which I saw hung on one of the Phillips walls, many years later, when I made for them the jacket for Calabar, by Chico Buarque de Hollanda. They didn't use my design for Tropicalia because the manager of the group Guilherme Araujo opted to use something that could display a photo of the members of that musical movement. Joaquim Pedro de Andrade also came to talk with me when he was filming Macunaima to see if I could do the titles for his film. But what could a shy girl like myself do to compete with artists who already had an established network?

This was one of the factors that made me to move to São Paulo in 1970. I believed (and I was right) that there I would have more of a chance to survive as a graphic designer not only because São Paulo has a bigger graphic industry but because São Paulo is a emigrants' land where the value of what you do has more importance than the relationships that you establish. In this sense São Paulo was not just a training field, but also a jump board for my life abroad.

RCP>> I would like you talked me about your artist's book. How did you initiate that kind of production?

RV> I made my first artist's book in New York in 1973. It was part of the Luxo-Lixo series. I made it in silkscreen which I printed myself at the Pratt Manhattan studios where I studied printmaking. It was composed of a small brown envelope containing sheets of clear film with printed words. When the films were overlaid, the words formed a poem.

RCP> > What are your favorite books? Why do you associate the artist book with installations?

RV> - In 1974 I lived in Paris and there I made another book with black and white photocopies using photos which I took with a photographer called Miro during the whole Christmas day inside the Chatelet station. We took the photos always from the same point looking across to the other side of the platform. I was inspired by a text by Henry Miller where he speaks about Christmas underground and it was also inspired by a parable that Einstein used to explain relativity. I like this book a lot, actually several copies of it where stolen from several shows that I participated in, including one that Lucy Lippard organized in the 80's at the Franklin Furnace. The title of this show was The Copy Cat Show.

RCP> Why do you associate artist's book with performances?

RV> I also like very much the Book of Hope, which I made during my residence at the Art pace Foundation in San Antonio, Texas which was also part of the installation titled The Lady of Hope this installation was inspired by Oxumare (the rainbow serpent) and the Brazilian syncretism with the black Madonna of Aparecida. The book was a result of a compilation of many poems, letters (almost as written ex-votos) connected with hope. Part of a correspondence I received from various poets, artists, friends non artists, people from different social ranks including servants of some friends in Brazil. Because I printed the whole book on my home computer printer, I only could produce one single book that was beautifully handmade with help of my Art Pace grant. Because of that it received a special attention in my Art Pace catalogue.

Because this installation has to do with the altars to Isis and to the Black Madonnas in the European Cathedrals, the book is almost like a prayer book although many of its contributions have nothing to do with prayer.

RCP> First of all I would like that you tell us a little bit about your friendship with John Cage how he influenced your art?

RV> Did you receive my text about Cage, which was also published (in Portuguese and English) at I think that you could find there the answers for this question.

RCP> Could you tell me about your book Sounds Good?

As for the technical part, the book is composed by smiles:

Did you photograph those smiles? And about the digital part of it, the design, is it also yours? Or is it only an idea that you had? Do you work as a graphic artist in the computer? If the answer is positive what is the software you use?

RV> Yes and Yes (I have an immense pleasure in the graphic work which I made in Brazil during many years to survive - I made many jacket for books and Long plays. I made the layout for Chico Buarque de Hollanda's Calabar and even the first jacket for Tropicalia which was rejected by Guilherme Guimarães because it didn't have the portrait of the participants of the movement which after all he decided to include in that cover. I use Photoshop.

RCP> The Form and the concept:

The idea of creating an accordion book was pretty good, suggests a shower of smiles or that smile is contagious. It also escapes from the linear narrative. Could be that with this format, what you intended it was to show the possibility of the expansion of this concept "The most revolutionary act one can commit in our world now-a-days is to be happy." Or you didn't think about any of this and you didn't use anything rational, just your intuition?

RV> I liked very much your intelligent and sensible interpretation but frankly the results come intuitively from my experience as a graphic artist. Because I intend to continue the book in its back, I did that to give a sense of loop (no end) just as a vote for that the existence of smiles never finishes in the world. This is what I intended to reach with the design but I do not know if people read in that way.

People interested in the Sounds Good book should visit the Printed Matter site at: and at

RCP> Interaction. Tell me about the installation Sounds Good and the public's reaction to it...

RV> Well, 4.000 people pass by the installation every week. Because I am not there all the time, it is very difficult to know. But it is a very white installation (that gives it an inner light) and it is decorated with smiles, which everyone tells me is very uplifting. Many people have thanked me because they say that they need something like this in the present moment (March 2003).

RCP> You are a visual artist. When and why did you develop an interest in poetry?

RV> During my childhood in "Jardim Botânico", a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro close to the city's Botanical Gardens, I had a neighbor who was a poet. According to my mother, he was a cousin of the "Prince of the Poets" (Alberto de Oliveira) - a title which I thought incredible and magic well. This old man used to compose poems for me. This used to give me a sense of very special importance. The sister of my father also kept saying that we were related to the "Dove's Poet" - Raymundo Correa. I remember that I made a serial photo work in Venice (1976) connected to the subject of time, in homage to him. The subject of time, by the way is a theme that I have been pursuing for long time (since 1970.)

My father also used to say "your great-great-grand father (his great-grandfather) was a very important poet." There is even a square with his statue in "São Luis do Maranhã"o (the capital of a very traditional state in the North of Brazil which was considered the Brazilian Athens). He was talking about Odorico Mendes, whose real importance I verified with Haroldo de Campos many years later (Mendes was the first translator in Brazilian Portuguese of Homer and Virgil, and did excellent work). My mother, who always helped me with my first grade Portuguese lessons, is also a natural poet and loves poetry. I remember that in my French classes I even used to write poetry in French.

There is even a funny episode: in my adolescence I used to write poetry all the time. Because I was on the staff of a school newspaper, one day I went with my colleagues to the house of Manuel Bandeira to interview him. I brought a copybook filled with my poems. After the interview, I shyly asked him to read my poems. After a fast glance through them he turned to me and asked "my dear girl, do you know what chicken pox is?" I answered that it was an illness that almost every child has. He replied "in the same way, poetry it is something that always attacks during adolescence." From that day on, I archived my copybook and all my pretensions to become a poet. Because I was already drawing furiously, I turned all my passions to the visual. But poetry never ceased to be important and venerated by me.

In the sixties, when I was already supporting myself as a graphic designer, I created the design for a poem by Eliane Zagury (O Mercado, published by Cadernos Brasileiros). This helped open my eyes to Concrete Poetry.

Until then, Drummond (an extremely very well-known and good Brazilian poet) for me was the king. He even wrote a poem exclusively for me (poem which was lost by the Petite Gallerie when I gave it to them to be framed. I will never forgive them for this loss.)

When I started my series Knots in 1972 (Drummond wrote about them in one of his columns in the Jornal do Brasil, one of Brazil's most well known news papers) I realized then how important a title is, and what an intrinsic poetic part of the artwork it is. From then on after all the knowledge I acquired about Duchamp, for me, to give a title to a work is as important as the concept with which I am working on.

In the beginning of the seventies I was introduced to Concrete Poetry by chance, by Olga Savary (a well know Brazilian poet.) I was already living in São Paulo. Olga came to visit me just after a visit she made to the poet Augusto de Campos. He had given her his poem Lixo-Luxo (Luxury-Garbage) that she brought with her to my studio. I confess that I became fascinated and it never left my memory. My husband says that a seminal work is that one that comes to your mind in recurrences, over and over again.

When I arrived in New York in 1973, at the first impact from the city, that poem came to my mind as a large billboard. I started a large series based on this inspiration. It was then that I started to experiment with visual poetry, and produced in silkscreen in the Pratt Institute for a small artist's book titled Garbage.

To these series also belongs the Postalixos or Land(e)scapes. These Postalixos were part of a mail art project I did. After that came the Scul(ru)ptures, photos of garbage that I found forming by chance something that looked to me like sculpture. I composed an audiovisual of photos of New York garbage and New York luxury. I wrote a poem for this project that Helio Oiticica read when we did the sound together. Actually, Helio liked the piece so much that he insisted not only that I write to Augusto de Campos telling him about the project, but also helped me with the sound. We did a concert for live radio and TV sounds by four hands without editing at the same time that Helio read the poem. I participated at the 1976 Venice Biennial (the first international show totally dedicated to ecology) with this work.

As you an see I came to visual Poetry through a very natural and organic path. But it took a long time until I had the courage to consider myself a poet. Poetry for me belongs to the terrain of the sacred.

But it is not only visual poetry that attracts me. Poetry is Poetry. Recently overtaken by a burst of audacity (inspired by the philosophical mind of Edgar Morin and perhaps also by the desire of sharing with others part of my narrative poetry), I sprinkled the Edgar Morin, , site with some of my poems. If this site is still up I will invite you to give a look at the following items: "mito, conhecimento, civilização, estetica, olhar, ignorância, exclusão, cultura, amor, caminho, intelectual, amizade, sujeito, sabedoria, compreensão, animais, crueldade, vida, círculo, música, terra, sabor, ação, verdade, viagem, morte, literatura." To find me you just click in the "próxima" in the internal section until you see my poems.

RCP> Do you consider your artist's book as visual poetry?

RV> Yes there is a strong connection of Artist's Book with Visual Poetry.

RCP> Do you have knowledge of the new technology tendencies (animation, interactivity for visual poetry?)

RV> Of course, I only didn't use them until now for lack of opportunity and for lack of instructor. My husband actually knows about these things and even teaches them but as you know "in house of iron worker the nails are made of wood".

RCP> Do you believe that only now poets have the means to realize what Mallarmé predicted with the Coup of Des?

RV> Art for me is the supreme territory of freedom therefore everything is possible in it. For me it is always the artist who invents his/hers own rules. But it is also important that we leave room in the experimental for the flowering of the intelligence of the content. Without content, everything is reduced to gratuitous gestures. The cultivation of Experimentation and the cultivated Content must come side by side.

RCP> Are you interested in the new technological poets and by the softwares that makes possible the creation of this new poetry?

RV> Yes, mainly by those ones who have something interesting to say. I do not know if I would like to waste my time with magical tricks.

RCP> Do you have expertise in some of the software?

RV> I already answered that. "In the house of the iron worker..."

RCP> "The Brazilian Visual Poetry Show" was the first time that you worked as a curator?

RV> No. In 1979 I curated an exhibition for the Nobe gallery (East 57Th Street, Manhattan) that included works by the following artists::


This was perhaps the first show of Brazilian art in New York that highlighted the experimentation and the very contemporary side of our art. I curated a show of Super-8 Films for the Millenium also in New York where Ana Maria Maiolino and Paulo Brusky participated. I also curated a photography show for a gallery in the Village and in the beginning of the 80's a show of Latin American art in a gallery in New York state titled Latin American Visual Thinking. A total of twelve artists participated in this show, including Anna Bella Geiger, Ana Mendieta , Papo Colo, Liliana Porter, Camitzer, Catalina Parra, Cecilia Vicuna, Alfredo Jaar, and Juan Downey.

And in 1983 I was one the editors for the first issue of an art magazine published in the US about contemporary Latin American Art. Flue #2, vol. lll was a published by Franklin Furnance Archives, New York, and contained works by Roberto Evangelista, Lygia Clark, Lenora de Barros and Regina Silveira from Brazil, Luis Dias from Guatemala. Jonier Marin from Colombia and Padin from Uruguay among others.

RCP> How did you select the artists for the Brazilian Visual Poetry show? In spite that you say that your work as a curator came from your creative process how did you felt doing this work? If the work was a consequence of your creative process there was a difference between Regina Vater as curator and Regina Vater as artist?

RV> I never thought about this, and I am not sure how to answer. Perhaps there was a difference in the sense that I was not so intransigent in the choice of the artists as I am with myself when I produce my own artwork. I tried to incorporate all in a more flexible way perhaps.

RCP> What was the greatest satisfaction you got with the show?

RV> The six page article written by the critic and also a good poet Raphael Rubinstein which came out in the Art In American magazine which with Art Forum is considered the most important magazine for the visual arts in the United States and perhaps in the world. This magazine had never published such a large piece on any show ever made in Austin. I had people writing me from France asking me things about the show because this review.

RCP> Did anything thrilling, funny, or curious happen during your curatorial work or during the show?

RV> All the work for the show was hype in the good and in the bad sense, I do not know if I want to remember all those emotions. I was very stressed and put on a lot of weight (60 pounds!) When it was all finished I ended up sick in bed. I did everything almost without any money at all and using a very old Mac that broke down at the end. I worked the whole time (a year and five months) from eight in the morning to ten at night. I just had the very generous and free help of three editors and my husband, when he was not furious with me for not paying more attention to him. I literally "hunted a thousand rabbits hiding a cow," and "harvested many hurricanes."

RCP> And about your own work, the installation Camões' Feast, it also came from your intention of allowing the American public a better contact not only with our language but also with our culture?

RV> Yes, of course.

RCP> Then why Camões if the show was about Brazilian poetry?

RV> When the Americans pay reverence to Shakespeare they are not making a distinction between American and English culture. "My language is my continent's".

RCP> Why an installation if it was a poetry show?

RV> For me there are many ways to register poetry. If people today use digital/visual methods, why not use an installation? This actually is nothing new. Augusto de Campos already had done it and probably other before him. In art there is no rules. The artist makes his/hers own rules.

RCP> What is Poetry for you?

RV> Part of this question was already answered in a certain way before. But personally, poetry for me is the most economic way and the way with more latitude to arrive to the center of the matter. Heiddegger said the "the essence of Art is poetry, and the essence of Poetry is the instauration of truth".

I have a lot of difficulty with narrative poetry because many times its sin is the lack of economy just for not speak about the lack of latitude. Many poets insist on using poetry to write diaries. In my opinion, by doing this they take the risk of confining the poem to a problem of ego instead of expanding it with universal values. I prefer to watch soap operas. Another thing I do not have patience is for ornaments of language. Ornaments always are used to hide something that does not work very well.

RCP> The installation Camões' Feast could represent the festive space of poetry in the Portuguese language, or perhaps because the Portuguese language is a Feast for poetry?

RV> I think that making the question you already answered it as a good spectator I feel you are.

RCP> Among the guests for the Camões' Feast was Affonso Romano de Sant'Anna, who recently wrote a series of articles about art and has often criticized installation art. Did he have chance to see your installation? If the answer is positive, what was his commentary?

RV> Well, I have been living outside of Brazil for long time, therefore I am far from these domestic quarrels (so much more common in Brazil than here.) It was my intention to bring to the Camões table samples of various tendencies of poetry in Brazil by living poets. My project was not exclusive but inclusive. It was to invite to a dialogue on good terms about the Portuguese language and about Poetry, including some people who don't get along with each other. Affonso represents a more conventional vein (and I knew that) but at least he does not write diaries. About his more conventional way of looking at art I had already an intuition through many texts that I read signed by him.

But I never thought that he could be capable of such radicalism because I remember that he admired a work by Frances Torres, a Catalan artist who makes very provocative installations. What happened with Affonso must have been the same thing that happened to Ferreira Gullar - they both lost their "Stone".

RCP> How did you select the artist that were included in the show?

RV> Based on my familiarity with the work of the various poets.

List of Artist Books by Regina Vater

1 - Garbage 1973 N.Y.(silkscreen).

2 - Christmas Underground or A Brief Introduction to a Time Travelogue, 1974 Paris 3 3. Black and white photocopy.

3- Naturalezas Still Alive, New York 1975. Color photocopy.

4 - Tina America, São Paulo 1975. Black and white photos (by Maria da Graça) pasted in book of pictures bought in the brides' district in São Paulo. (photo of this book of artist is in CAYC's Catalog - 1976) collection CAYC - 1976) collection Fatima Bercht.

5 - Beds around the word, São Paulo 1975. Produced with black and white photos and color photocopies glued to a photo album (photographs of this book are in the artist's book in CAYC 1976 catalogue).

6 - What does Art mean? São Paulo Answers, São Paulo 1978. Edited by Massao Ohno.

7 - X-RANGES - Book of loose pages, limited edition, by "Galeria Arte Múltipla", Buenos Aires (1976). It is made up of photographic x-ranges of houses of the artists: Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Vito Acconci and John Cage. There are four silkscreens relative to each one of these artists two.

8- The Endless Book, São Paulo, 1978, black and white photos.

9 - Urbaccion, São Paulo 1978-1982. Color photocopy.

10 - What Does Art Mean? New York Answers, New York 1980/1998 photocopies.

11 - Cinematic Drawing, New York 1981. Artist's book installation approx. 20" X 44" based on Japanese animal scrolls and inspired by the Amazonian myth of the turtle's race. In this Amazonian version of the race between the turtle and the fastest animal, the turtle wins because it counts on the support of other turtles. This work is a cross-reference to both the European and Native American versions of the story.

The White Rabbit, who carries a watch in his hand and never has time, is printed in regular and equal intervals throughout the backside of the paper. On the external side in calculated intervals according to a mathematical progression, a Native American turtle was drawn 24 times (the 24 hours of the day). When the drawing is rolled up, the rabbit appears 24 times in the upper side of the scroll but always just behind the turtle And when the spectator finishes rolling the scroll the last turtle is already waiting for the rabbit at the end of the paper. Shown in an individual show at the Eugenia Cucalon Gallery in New York.


12 - Harvest of Wisdom, Austin 1987. Photocopies.

13 - The Snake Scrap Book, Austin 1988. Photocopies companion book for the Saneke nest that also can be considered as an artist book.


On the installation:

Snake Nest, 1988. Installation 16' X 8' X 4' - It consisted of framed 88 BXW photocopies of images of mythical snake symbols represented in different parts of the earth as good or evil omens. Shown at the Laguna Gloria Museum, Austin. Inspired by the snake symbolism in diverse mythologies around the Earth.

14 - "Comigo Ninguém Pode", Chicago 1988. One installation in a series (of eight -- until 1995) The first work of this series (which stated in 1984) as an artist book was exhibited in Artists Books Works store window - Chicago It measured 13'X 6' X 3 ' It consists of BXW photocopies of faces of all ages, races and people of different social levels. (The source of the photos is I.D. card photos taken in Brazil in 1982 by a street photographer); a Dieffembachia plant and dirt. Inspired by Afro Brazilian traditions of sacred plants and the universal myths of the Tree of Life and the dying and reviving gods.

15 - ARTéMIS à NoUs, Austin 1989. light box, inspired by the book of Octavio Paz about Duchamp (Castillo de Pureza).


16 - The Jaguar Eye (ou o Olho da Onça), Austin 1998 digital print.

17 - The Book of Hope, San Antonio 1999. Digital prints.

18 -Camões' Feast, Austin 2002. Off set limited edition of 500.

19 - Sounds Good, Austin 1987-2003. Limited Edition of 300.

English Version edited by:

Jennifer Potter-Andreu

Coordinator, Brazil Center do
Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies
University of Texas at Austin