by Daniel de Paula
A modest bronze plaque hangs on the wall of the former home of Sophia Schmalhausen (1816-1886), the sister of philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883), in the city of Maastricht. The plaque celebrates Marx's stay, during a few weeks in 1865, in the home of Sophia and her late husband Willem Robert Schmalhausen (1817-1862), lawyer and public prosecutor. Marx's visit was, as some historical accounts suggest, motivated by personal reasons, but the historical implications of his passing through the city may have been underestimated.
Speculation has surfaced that, in addition to being a guest at his sister's home, Marx may have visited the famous glass and porcelain factory Petrus Regout & Co. - later known as Royal Sphinx - named after the founder, industrialist and politician Petrus Regout (1801-1878), whose code of conduct was: “NO WORK, NO LIFE”.
Consequently, before the publication of the first edition of his emblematic critique of political economy Das Kapital (1867), Marx may have witnessed in this factory the precarious and unhealthy working conditions imposed on the workers, many of whom were young children. Such an experience would have been insightful and supplemental to Marx's lingering theories on capital. As a result, it would also have been essential to the succession of radical reactions against the dominance of capitalism in our lives, which have since branched out worldwide from Marx's rigorous analytical gaze.
On the occasion of this exhibition¹ I am showing an engraved copper plate which was part of the production process of the Petrus Regout & Co. factory throughout the year 1865, the same year Marx is said to have visited the industrial factory. Instead of buying and displaying a product made in 1865 that is the result of the factory labor process - such as a ceramic plate or vase - I deliberately chose a fragment of industrial machinery that belonged to the production process itself. Or, in Marxist terms, I show the means of production - which would no doubt have been physically present during Marx's speculated trip to the factory - to underline the infrastructural manifestation of a quasi-automatic social framework. One that has since emphasized our existence under capitalism and a value-producing and labor-oriented society.
In that respect, my interest is paradoxically not in the copper plate itself. Not with the materiality of the object, but with what hides its physicality. I am concerned with the ideological essence hidden behind its explicit appearance. Its phantom, its shadow. The violent, inhuman and abstract categories of capitalism - time, labor and value - that rule everything and everyone.
Finally, through a self-conscious and self-critical attitude towards the commodification of my own work - which inevitably reproduces the abstract forces of capitalism - I transform the physical and metaphysical shadow of the copperplate on display into a commodity. As a fetishistic object. A unique salable and collectable work of art, available for purchase through Galeria Jaqueline Martins, by means of a certificate and contractual language confirming its ownership. In the same way as any legal document validates a commercial exchange and confirms ownership, be it land, an object, or one's own soul.
¹ in collaboration with the Centre Céramique, a cultural institution based in Maastricht that holds and maintains several collections of ceramics and archeological artifacts, including the Petrus Regout & Co. and Royal Sphinx collections
Daniel de Paula (Boston, USA, 1987) lives and works between Amsterdam, Netherlands and São Paulo, Brazil. Recent solo exhibitions by Daniel de Paula include and materiality becomes nothing but a mere representation of a structure of dominance, Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam (2020), estrutura insuperável, Kunsthal Gent, Belgium (2019), the control of things over subjects is the control of subjects over themselves, Galeria Francesca Minini, Milan (2019), the conductive form of dominant flows, Galeria Jaqueline Martins, São Paulo (2017); testemunho, Galeria Leme, São Paulo (2015) and objetos de mobilidade, ações de permanência, White Cube Gallery, São Paulo (2014). In 2021, Daniel de Paula was granted a prize from The Graham Foundation (Chicago, USA) in support of his upcoming project developed for São Paulo’s 34th International Biennial alongside artists Marissa Lee Benedict and David Rueter. Since 2020, he has also been supported by the Mondriaan Fund (Netherlands). Recent art residencies include: De Fabriek, Eindhoven, Netherlands (2019), Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht, Netherlands (2018) and FLACC, Genk, Belgium (2016). Daniel de Paula works have also been included in recent institutional exhibitions such as Repose, Arts Club of Chicago (2020), Brasile. Il coltello nella carne, Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy (2018), Matriz do Tempo Real, MAC, São Paulo (2018); Avenida Paulista, MASP, São Paulo (2017); Metrópole: Experiência Paulistana, Estação Pinacoteca, São Paulo (2017).