Tropicália was Hélio Oiticica’s first immersive installation, and gave its name to the Tropicalismo movement of art, music and theatre. With his work, Oiticica aimed to consolidate a Brazilian avant-garde, fusing fine art with the popular culture of the streets to promote artistic and personal freedom. Under an increasingly repressive political regime, which saw these concerns as contrary to the official cultural programme, many of the proponents of Tropicalismo, including Oiticica, fled Brazil to escape persecution.
Tropicália features the ‘penetrables’ PN 2 and PN 3, which were designed for people to enter, transforming the visitor from a passive spectator into an active participant. The subtitle of PN 2, ‘Purity is a myth’, refers to Oiticica’s interest in the formalist modernism of artists such as Mondrian, who sought an understanding of reality through pure colour and geometric forms. Oiticica adopted these concerns to produce his own unique vision, merging art and lived experience in Tropicália through references to favela architecture to the inclusion of live parrots.
By encouraging the viewer to interact with his art, it was Oiticica’s hope that this sense of engagement would spread into all areas of their lives. The incorporation of non-art materials reinforced this holistic vision. The other works in this constellation embrace these concerns with interaction and political activation, with art to be completed by the viewer, to be experienced through the body and not just the eye, as well as an interest in colour, form and a re-reading of modernism.