ALVARO ABREU BAMBOO – BOOK

ALVARO ABREU BAMBOO – BOOK

It is a publication in an unusual format: 12 blades folded in leporello format and stored in a glove. In total 20 photos of 108 x 28cm with life-size spoons, printed in black and white. They are accompanied by six texts in Portuguese, English and German signed by professionals of different specialties:

Hannes Böhringer, professor - Berlin;
Franco Clivio, designer - Zurich;
Marcus Jauer, journalist - Berlin;
Axel Kufus, teacher - Berlin;
Peter Nickl, curator - Munich;
Corinna Rösner, curator - Munich.

Design: Hans Hansen, Hamburg
Edition: Florian Hufnagl, director Die Neue Sammlung - The International Design Museum Munich
Photos: Hans Hansen
Photo assistance: Felix Krebs, Hamburg
Graphic design: Annette Kröger, Pierre Mendell Design Studio, Munich Coordination: Bebel Abreu, Mandacaru,
São Paulo

Printed in Berlin, Germany, in 2012 - Single copy of 1,000 copies
ISBN: 978-3-00-037678-8


 

Letter to Hans Hansen

 

My dear Hans,

Your decision of making a book about my bamboo spoons made me think about the power of photographs, the magic of spoons, and the power of fortune interfering with our lives.

I have learnt that there are a large number of people that don’t pay attention to the spoons they use every day, and that there are people who like spoons, as much as they like other objects. There are also, and that is very good, a few number of people that love spoons.  A jewelry teacher, who gathered a beautiful collection of spoons, has taught me that the spoon is the first object ever used by men and that this could help explain the fascination some of us feel about it.

Life has shown me that people who are affected by the simple shapes of handles and shells perhaps remember their own grandmothers in the kitchen, making a sweet with a very good aroma. Others, enthusiastic with what they have seen, do surprising things: invite you to take part of an international exhibition, decide to keep spoons in a design museum, and like you, even set out to make a photograph book about them. I think they do that out of generosity, so that other people can also be delighted.

I tell you that the history of this book begins with terrible black and white photos of spoons that the painter Heidi Libermann, a good friend of mine, insisted I took for her. And Peter Nickl saw precisely those images without contrast in a friend’s house, in Hamburg. He likes to say that he was mesmerized, and has never ever forgotten what he saw. His invitation to expose at the 2002 Exempla, an annual event celebrating the excellence of the manual work, came exactly on my birthday, as a gift.

It was there that I saw Corinna Rösner coming close to the spoons with sparkling eyes, as someone who had finally found something to include in her collection at the International Museum of Design, in Munich.  As I don’t mix money and spoons, we agreed that, in exchange for a set of long spoons, my daughter Bebel would do an internship in the museum, under Corinna’s guidance.

It was there that she met Pierre Mendell and fell in love with his posters.  I found it very funny when I was told he would like to get exactly a dozen spoons. I responded to that order by cutting an old little bamboo pot I found at a friend’s kitchen, and was thanked by Pierre with a small red heart drawn in the center of a card. As far as I know, you saw precisely those spoons at Pierre’s  studio, which Annette Kröger keeps active, during a meeting his friends, who miss him very much.

Your letter talking about your old wish of making a book has deeply touched me. It brought me back your tall and thin figure in front of the counter full of spoons, touching each of them with great curiosity. I tell you that I kept in my memory your joyful face, getting away from us, shaking a long spoon in the air that, because of a communication failure, you believed I had given you as a gift. During all these years, I tell this funny history about our meeting at the Exempla. Later on, I was told you were a photographer who was exhibiting your works in town.

When returning from Hamburg, bringing my spoons back, Bebel and Diana told me that you would smile by yourself while patiently positioning the spoons to photograph them, and that you would have no concern about time. This made me feel that we are similar persons, and made me think that to photograph in the studio and to cut bamboo while walking on the beach might activities of the same nature.

 

May the book bring you lots of happiness, my dear Hans.

 

Alvaro Abreu

Vitória, June 2010


The Magic of the simple things

 

Excerpt from the text published in "Álvaro Abreu Bamboo"

I first saw Alvaro Abreu’s spoons at a special show, Exempla, during the 2002 Internationale Handwerksmesse in Munich, and despite the many other strong impres sions there, they struck me like lightening. There were four of us at the time: the director of Die Neue Sammlung – six months later the museum would celebrate the opening of its new building, the Pinakothek der Moderne – and the three curators. We had a kind of annual ritual: first, each of us would stroll separately around the special shows and then meet later and talk about what struck us as outstanding, always with a view to whether it was worthy of a museum. Our awareness had been further heightened by the plans for our future permanent exhibition on the theme of design. In 2002 there was no controversy whatsoever: Alvaro Abreu’s spoons fitted the collection, like a glove fits a hand.

At an exhibition in Abreu’s hometown, Vitória, I saw the spoons again, this time a much larger number, a huge number, innumerable spoons. The walls of the exhibition space were covered with them, a whole universe of spoons. The insatiable eye was presented with spoon after spoon, ladles, scoops, spatulas. And here again one could well understand – or understand even better in view of the diverse nuances, variants and modifications – why the right place for these works is the museum, where what counts is design, not products that can be bought, but ideas. What counts for Alvaro Abreu is the idea of the spoon, the making of it, and its usefulness – yes, that too – but primarily, the grasp of the idea of appropriate design gained in the making of these simple handy things for every day use. If you wish, you could call this conceptional, to use a timely art term, but you can also simply be captivated, delighted, enriched and inspired by it.

 

Corinna Rösner, Curator


Mr. Abreu’s Spoons

 

Excerpt from the text published in "Álvaro Abreu Bamboo"

One night I was dining at friends' house in Hamburg when black and white photos of bamboo spoons appeared beside my plate. "Is that something for an exhibition?" asked the hostess. I looked at the photos and something electrified me. This does not always happen, and when it does, one does not forget in the blink of an eye.

 

Peter Nickl, Curator









 

Clipping

Clipping

BAMBOO SPOONS EXEMPLA CATALOG

BAMBOO SPOONS EXEMPLA CATALOG

Recalling Bamboo

One of the participants in the workshop I held in Vienna wrote on the back of a photo she sent me as a souvenir: “the bamboos and the kites don’t leave my mind”.

I think something quite similar has always happened to me. In fact I believe that my recent working on bamboo has sprung from the memories of a time when each fisherman, like myself, used to prepare his own fishing rods. I still have bright in my memory the pleasure of choosing the bamboos and bringing them home by myself. After cutting off the branches with a jackknife, I used to straighten the rods with the help of a candle flame, by warming up the points that had to be straightened out. Besides softening the bamboo, the heat brings up the sweet smell of hot sap, makes the outer layer shine brighter and leaves dark marks on the surface. To decorate the rods, we used to make burned spots in all sections. At that time fishing rods had personality.

All that doing required attention to identify imperfections as well as the skill to correct them. Any careless move could provoke irretrievable damage. The work would be lost and our dreams would fade along with it. Yes, because after the rod was done, we spent a long time testing its performance with imaginary fish. A fisherman must know his fishing materials, specially their resistance limits.

Bending and getting back to the initial position is a natural capacity of bamboos. Their flexibility is exceptionally efficient to absorb the impact of the bigger fish jerks. The form of the resulting curve, kind of a hyperbole of the fisherman’s pleasure, expresses the absorption of the fish’s strength and the man’s resistance. The more pronounced the curve, the bigger the fish, the greater the emotion.

For many years in the beginning of school holidays we spent hours making our own instruments while we talked about fishing. My skill with both the jackknife and the heat of the fire helped building up my reputation as an excellent bamboo rod maker. It was the memories of such small emotions that decades later, after a heart attack, made me instinctively turn back to bamboo. Mentally depressed and physically weakened, I needed alternatives to fill up my forced inactivity and to escape all that talking about disease, medication and cholesterol control. I needed badly to keep my hands busy to replace cigarettes. In fact, I also needed to feel capable and, if possible, to receive compliments.

The structure formed by cylindrical sections separated by knots grants the bamboo a unique place among all different types of wood. The sections have their walls formed by fibers. Its flexibility, its resistance to traction and a great diameter variety, allow the use of bamboo for diverse functions and purposes. The shine, the colors and the texture of its rind reinforce its singularity.

I rediscovered bamboo at a friend’s farm. In cutting a piece of it in different planes, I could see, in detail, the play of forms and colors of its inner part. I could also find out its fibers. When cut in transverse planes, the fibers look like little dark round dots; when cut in slanting planes they form small ellipses, and in longitudinal cuts they turn into straight lines. I noticed that the fibers had varied dimensions and that they are arranged in an organized way along the bamboo wall. They were thinner and more numerous in the outer part, thicker and in smaller number near the middle. Between the fibers, there is kind of a lighter and softer mass.

I felt extremely happy to discover the secret of bamboo flexibility and the hidden beauty that lies under its surface. As I showed my findings to my friends, I saw that they were happy to see me conected and talkative again.

Back home, I felt asleep thinking about the bamboo stems I had got at that farm and woke up excited to start cutting that still humid dark-rinded and white-kernelled wood. Those sections almost half-meter long, with thick walls, would certainly require proper hard work tools.

Choosing the Tools

I have always been attracted to tools as well as I have had an interested admiration towards their inventors. I like trying to guess the needs which determined their appearance.

I’m specially fond of a small steel sickle, craftly made from a truck spring, which I’ve carried with me for almost 30 years. Sharp and perfectly balanced, with its anatomic handle, it is good for crushing, accurate strokes. After carefully sharpening the sickle, I began to work compulsively. In the beginning, I cut just for cutting, for the simple sensation of seeing the blade entering the wood, drawing out splinters. Next, I began to try to gauge the strokes seeking the precision and the satisfaction of cutting in the right place. A sore arm from the repetitive effort and my body general weakness made it difficult for me to control the movements. I learned that switching tools allowed a change in the required effort, so that the muscles could rest.

With the jackknife blade I began to change the rough forms created with the sickle into regular surfaces and curves. I noticed that alternating tools improves the control over the process and allows shape refinement. The first compliments to those big, rough spoons came from my friends’ generosity.

As time went by, I learned that bamboo loses volume as it dries and that this drying changes the original shapes. Along this natural process, whatever is plane and smooth becomes curve and irregular. The refinement loses quality, compromising the objects’ beauty and the craftsman’s reputation. Some time afterwards, an old cabinet-maker taught me how to use the heat to accelerate the bamboo drying process. Since then, a small torch and the gas-stove oven came into action. The heat of the flame thrown upon the bamboo outer surface brings up a kind of dense liquid, which reveals a bright gloss as it is wiped with a damp cloth. In the heated chamber the bamboo expels steam jets in the direction of the fibers. The strong sweet smell, coming from the kitchen, reminded me of the fishing rods time and provoked friendly protests from the family. The use of the microwave oven granted an important quality leap to the process, allowing greater control in the drying of small pieces.

Working with the dried bamboo required more physical strength and sharper tools. On the other hand, it allowed the use of sandpaper and broken glass to finish surfaces, improve conformity between planes, increase borders accuracy, and obtain softer, more precise curves.

I learned with time that borers feed on bamboo sap, which, as people say, contains some type of glucose. They made many tunnels and canals in all the pieces made out of the farm bamboo. A white, very thin powder announced the presence of the insects and the loss of the spoon. That made me start to share the teachings of the peasants’ wisdom: bamboo, like any other wood, must be cut down during the last quarter moon and preferably in the cold weather, when the amount of sap is quite reduced.

Little by little I began trying other tools that could be found around the house: saw,  metal saw, chisel, gouge, gross, sandpaper, leather-cutting blade. Each one its way and within certain limits, helps to expand the intervention possibilities in the bamboo. That searching made me use the sidewalk pavement, the living-room door glass panel and the lower surface of the dining-room table granite top.Need made me develop a cylinder-shaped sandpaper support, of entirely variable diameter and consistency, very useful for obtaining soft curves.

The noise that came out from an electric sander was thoroughly disagreeable and incompatible with the environment. When I gave that machine back to its owner, I was decided to work with simple tools, moved only by the skill of my hands.

The Working Process

As an industrial engineer and a technological development specialist, I have always depended on the use of intellect, reason and objectivity. At that moment, away from the business world, I felt entirely free from the patterns rationality or thought rigidity. Now I was moved solely conditioned by the sensations of manual work itself, something that many people scarcely imagine exists.

Gradually I became aware that when you work free from prevous aims, the fear and anxiety of not achieving the desired results is better replaced by curiosity. I noticed that each move brings along a sensorial dimension that offers the ego small stimuli and guides the movements of the hands. The surface texture, the sound that comes from the blade, and the burning smell suggest the moment to stop or to replace the tool. The precision in each stroke and the attainment of a perfect straight line are enough reason for quiet smiles.

Making hollow surfaces with the tip of a blade, in replacement for a gouge, requires a lot of patience, but is a great challenge. In the same way, achieving symmetry is useful to confirm the skill when it´s got without the help of any instruments. I like to work with regular, repetitive movements and to follow the gradual evolution of their effects. I enjoy using the bamboo fibers as a level curve and extracting long snail-shaped strips with a small blade. The thinner and more even their thickness, the greater the chances to smile. The bamboo must be very dry for that.

I have experienced the pain and frustration of having a spoon lost due to the imprecision of the cut. I hate to have to interrupt my work because of my carelessness or an error of mine. Gradually I developed certain practices that helped reducing the risks of failure. Besides concentrating all my attention on what is going on, I learned that each piece of bamboo is unique. Thus, it is absolutely essential to know and consider its specificities. The color of the gloss, the unevenness on a section, a variation in the thickness of the wall, a stain on the rind, each is a part in the same jigsaw puzzle. In the process of creating each spoon, the attitude of valuing some of the characteristics of a certain piece of bamboo is complemented by that of overcoming its defects.

Most times, the complete forms emerge from the series of material withdrawing operations alternated with observing moments. Identifying the flaws is essential for their cure. Perfection is alsoo the absence of defects.

I have observed in my daily practice that the results obtained with each tool are limited and include small imperfections. In the same way, I have noticed how transverse light and the contrast against a dark background are useful in identifying small flaws. Fingertips are delicate sensors in carrying out that activity, even in the dark.

My workbench is full of tools, unfinished pieces, apparently useless objects, and many parts of bamboo trunks. It offers many options to whoever intends to play with wood. Silently, I like to watch and organize all that as part of a ritual for choosing the piece of bamboo that I’m going to prune. Curiously, in that process the choice seems to happen without any determining reason.  On the other hand, some bamboo stems and uncompleted pieces await their turn for over two years.

My bench is beside the TV set in the living-room, where the people in the house like to gather. The activities that don’t produce any sound enhance the pleasure of working while talking and, above all, listening to the others’ conversation. Because of the noises of the sandpaper and the club strokes, I’m invited to leave the room. On the other hand, I’ve earned the right of leaving bamboo traces throughout the other corners of the house.

Because of the portable character of the tools I use and of the reduced size of the pieces I make, I can work in the garden, in the porch and on the kitchen table. I often carry my tools and bamboos over to friends’ homes. I eventually work on the train, at the movies, in business meetings.

I love to carve spoons on the sand of the deserted beach, during my daily walks in search of health. I like the synchronism of the cutting rhythm with the pace of my steps: it seems to help to organize my thoughts. In those moments, when I’m by myself, my attention concentrates on the themes of life, on the company I own, on the people I love. It‘s good to keep in mind the image of the person for whom I’m carving a piece. And that can last for many hours in a row.

As far as I don’t sell the pieces I make, the destiny of most of them is the bottom of a cardboard box placed beneath my workbench. A few of them, the longest, remain stuck in giant bamboo pots, helping to make the atmosphere of that homely workshop cozier. I like to have them around as witnesses of what I was able to achieve some day with my own hands.

Real and Virtual Results

I believe that during the last 6 years I have made over 900 pieces, mostly spoons and spatulas. Only three forks and many objects which are useless for any practical purpose. It’s curious that all of them differ from each other, either by bamboo imposition, or by the simple satisfaction of creating different forms. Any similarity between the piece I´m working on and some other one brings the impulse to change its shape.

Some of the pieces are especially significant either because of its esthetics, the raw-material origin, the difficulties to create them, and so on. I confess that I prefer those that express bamboo peculiarities and the ones that are soft to touch.

I have fun watching people’s reactions before my spoons. Some just want to know about their use, their destiny, their commercial value. Others, whom I prefer, touch the pieces with their hands and their souls. It seems that a kind of magic happens and they begin to make gestures and movements which are typical of the imagined use for each one of the spoons. To such people, the bamboo pieces bring out dreams and emotions that transform them into famous cooks, enthusiastic conductors and skillful swordsmen. Usually, they ask me to take one for themselves. I deny it, though embarrassed, and I promise I’ll send them later.

Anyone who sees a completed piece, certainly cannot imagine that one is only the last of the much many forms which were obtained during the whole process. Before that one, over a thousand others existed and were lost in a succession of strokes and the pruning of sandpaper.

I say that because from a certain moment in the process the objects are practically ready and finished. The thickness and the shape of the handle, the lines of the scoop curves, the surface regularity and finishing, the harmony and balance of the whole may suggest that they are completed.

I like to evidence a kind of mystery that makes itself present in the clash between the permanent state of being almost ready and the moment of completing each artifact. A delicate equation that is almost always solved.

Bamboo definitely exerts kind of a fascination over some people. Perhaps that can explain the invitation I received to exhibit my work at EXEMPLA 2002.

CHRONICLE OF MY FIRST HEART ATTACK - BOOK

CHRONICLE OF MY FIRST HEART ATTACK - BOOK

This is what I thought – and wrote in my book Chronicle of My First Heart Attack – when  I first saw the little pieces of bamboo I had brought from a friend’s ranch:

“… sitting on the rocking chair, I planned my activities. First of all, with the help of a bucksaw, I would cut a very straight section. Then, I would cut four to five wide stripes, in the direction of fibers. Next, I would choose one of the parts and start carving with my little sickle from Paraíba, searching for the basic and primary shape. Once this was done, it would be time for using the rough file to gradually improve the shape of what was coming out. If necessary, I would use the old chisel that would have to be sharpened for that. The pocketknife would be of good use in the finishing stage, when I would be closer to the final shape. From there on, it would be the time to use a recently broken piece of glass to scratch the surfaces until they become nearly perfect. With the help of sand paper, always from the roughest to the finest, I would work on the final finishing. To bend or to unbend the pieces being produced, I would use the flame of the stove…”

SPOONS IN THE BANK – CHRONICLE

SPOONS IN THE BANK – CHRONICLE

The first invitation I was friendly pushed to accept came during a formal event. As usual, I didn’t give it much attention and changed subject. My head was completely full of concerns about life and work. I would rather postpone it, because it is too much of a relevant matter to be mixed up with any other thing. I say that because I know very well how putting an exhibition together mobilizes emotions and requires all kinds of arrangements.

The second attack came in writing. Words were courteous, but would not leave room for escape nor postponement.  The deadline for postponement was upon me. The invitation included the request to tell what I know and to show how I do it.

Lots of people know I like to make bamboo spoons, a little work I’ve been doing nearly every day, for many years, and with no concerns whatsoever.  I find it easy to make a spoon, but preparing an exhibition is a different kettle of fish, especially on a tight schedule.

I thought it was wise to call up the whole family to discuss the production. Each of them working in his/her own specialty: the middle daughter taking care of curatorship and organization, the oldest one dealing with graphic materials, the youngest one photographing the spoons; the eldest son updating the website, the fifth son shooting the party, and of course the mother of all of them carefully organizing all the pieces in the showcases.

It was decided that the spoons would be exhibited in open supports, without the protection of glass or acrylic, to be better seen.  Some of them could be touched.

The work tools will give a good idea of how the pieces are made. Spoons attacked by woodworms will show that bugs love to eat bamboo harvested on the wrong season.  Those we use in our kitchen can confirm that what I make can be useful, not only beautiful, as once told me a roadside peddler about a bamboo basket he was trying to sell me.

It is a good thing that nowadays most of the work can be done from far away: photos taken at my place’s balcony, catalogue formatted in São Paulo to be printed out here in Vitória. The design curator text was sent from Finland, and the room and showcase layout designs were prepared onboard of a gaiola-boat travelling upstream the Amazon River.

The to-do list is renewed every day: update e-mail addresses to send invitations; hire woodworkers, print out photos and words to hang on the walls, check the color proofs in the printing company, sort out the illumination, buy a nice shirt, and so on.   I can’t imagine how I could do all of this based on communication through envelopes, with my old Rolleiflex camera, and especially without the mobile phone.

Everything reminds me of the strong emotions I felt during the preparation of the first marble and granite fairs of Cachoeiro, when I worked at Bandes, from where invitations to the exhibition were sent.

Alvaro Abreu
Vitória, November 10, 2010. 
Published in A GAZETA

Espera - Crônica

Espera - Crônica

I finally got my copy of the book, after a long wait. It was conceived exactly ten years ago, and developed during the last twenty months or so.

It is a project that emerged from the sudden inspiration a reputed German photographer had when seeing and touching some of by bamboo spoons, during an exhibit in Munich, Germany. His desire came to life again two years ago when, by chance and a lot of coincidences, he saw, in a meeting with nostalgic friends, the pieces I had made as a gift to Pierre Mendell, the great designer who recently passed away.  Now, in addition to the desire, he had another special reason to make such book: to celebrate his 50th career anniversary.

I should say that in the beginning I was curious to know more about someone’s interest in making a book about spoons.  It seemed like a joke. Then, I was speechless when listening to the translation of the hand-written letter, asking for my permission. Then, it was time for the ingenuity of believing such professional would accept to photograph them here, followed by the courage to send a suitcase full of spoons, taken by two very excited daughters, having as destination his super equipped studio in Hamburg.

Disbelief escorted me during my morning walks.  When I thought about the distances, the time elapsed from the single and quick face-to-face meeting we ever had, the endless list of topics abandoned, and above all the very highly improbable happenings that mark this history. I was definitely astonished with the announcement that that man would bear the expenses of making a daring book, with a format that allowed meter-long photos. When I knew that six specialists would be invited to write informative and philosophical texts, I was proud as a peacock.

The copy of my daughter Bebel, who lives in São Paulo, passed directly through bureaucracy, and was delivered within a few days after being posted in Berlin.  She had helped materialize the desire of a person we hardly knew, and was radiant while holding the book in her hands, showing it to me through the Internet.

With the father’s authority added to the authority of a party directly interested, I forbid her to read any word or to show any image. I would rather live the full anxiety for another day or two, and then be able to feel my own emotions, without any influence. So far, my emotions were floating at the pace of little news coming from Europe about the arrangements, and events occurring there. I have never asked about dates or decisions related to that publication.

There is hope. Here, it showed up two or three times a day, before the confirmation that the book was still retained in the customs, in Campinas. I had to wait for ten days, while the package waited for release. With so many negatives, the hope gave room to irritation, and then to unbelief, until curiosity won over disappointment.  I asked for Bebel’s copy, and I got it at the boarding hall of the Galeão airport, where I was on my way to Paraíba. It was certainly an unexpected scene to see a bearded man on the verge of tears, impacted by the beauty of huge black and white photographs of spoons.

I always knew, and this amuses me, that there are people who love spoons, and that this can cause surprising attitudes. But the determination of that photographer exceeded, by far, everything I had ever seen. Hans Hansen is his name.

 

Alvaro Abreu
Vitória, July 09, 2012.

Written for A GAZETA