Blots and Figments_RickJosé Rufino. Memorabilia (polyptych), 2010. Acrylic ink silkscreens on old lined notepaper combining handwritten statements, impressions, poems, notes, documents, and forms collected from patients, caregivers, staff, and researchers affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer Disease Research Center. Prints are overlaid with monotype tempera and acrylic Rorschach-style inkblots created in partnership with the artist, several patients and their families and affiliated ADRC staff.

Curare: José Rufino: Art, Resistance & the Practice of Memory
Jessica Gogan

There was a disarming moment meeting Lee Strawbridge, a former nuclear engineer suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, when he laughed, seemingly fully cognizant of his memory loss, then momentarily became completely preoccupied with a pen on the table.

In 2004 when diagnosed with mild cognitive disorder, Lee, benefitting from years of report writing experience, undertook a detailed accounting of himself: his parents, wife, children, and friends. For in the eventuality that his diagnosis would worsen, which he fully expected at that time, the report would be a means of remembering who he was and whom he cared about.

Fast forward to six years later. Lee, working with the Brazilian artist José Rufino as part of a project on memory, perception, and loss, found himself rereading and puzzling over these same sentences. The artist had excerpted paragraphs from Lee’s report and printed the text combined with its mirror image on old lined paper to be used as a substrate for a collaborative art making process. Together, they would employ inkblots on the surface of Lee’s words.

What is at stake when artists risk the parameters of their autonomy in the collaborative, the instrumental, or the political? What happens when science merges poetry and the personal amidst regimented methodologies? The encounter of Lee and Rufino witnessed the confluence of these worlds and practices. When lived both as a convergence and a struggle, such encounters open up a third space in the here and now, an in between space, always in flux and only really known or understood in its praxis.

Affective, beautiful, and richly resonant, the meeting of patient and artist and subsequent exhibition arose from an unusual series of connections and events. Rufino is known for his exploration of personal and collective memory, and in particular for a body of work developed with family members of those who went missing during Brazil’s military repression (1964-1985). His work often comprises found furniture evoking corrupt and Kafkaesque bureaucracies combined with original documents that have special historical and affective significance on which he prints inkblots, recalling the psychoanalytic inkblot test developed by Hermann Rorschach in the 1920s.

Rufino had been invited by The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, USA to develop a project on memory that would draw on Andy Warhol’s Rorschach series, delve into the history of the famous artist, and explore another kind of “missing” through a collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer Disease Research Center (ADRC). Several years in the making, the project resulted in the exhibition José Rufino: Blots & Figments, which opened at the Warhol Museum in spring 2010. The show featured over 60 new works, from dramatic inkblots overlaying prints of the source image Warhol used for his Skull series to poetic collaborative inkblot works created with ADRC patients, caregivers, and researchers over their own handwritten drawings and reflections. This richly layered process bridging the worlds of art and science has inspired a series of initiatives entitled Curare, drawing on the Latin roots of the word curatorship, curare: to care, that weave together ethical and aesthetic concerns developed in collaboration with artists, researchers, publics, and diverse contexts with a special focus on the relations between art and health.


Installation shot featuring Andy Warhol’s Skull, 1976, (left), acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection Contribution Dia Center for the Arts (c) The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ licensed by AUTVIS, Brazil, 2013, with José Rufino, Morbus series, 2010. Photo: Richard Stoner.

This essay seeks to highlight both artwork and process, emphasizing the creative merging of art making, experimentation, and ethical care practices essential to such collaborative endeavors. The project’s story, told through the lens of unique encounters that made the project possible (Rufino with the ADRC, my own first experience with Rufino’s work, and the artist’s engagement with Andy Warhol’s art) weaves a thematic thread of creative resistance as core to Rufino’s art making and to constructing new “in-between” truths connecting science and art with a sense of agency in the world, even for people whose agency is threatened to the core by debilitating disease.

“Up Close Nobody’s Normal”1

Our memories give us life, and art is tied to our very human desperation to, in some way, hold onto our own iconographies whether they be from nature, society, or our own personal emotional world.

José Rufino2

Cumulative acts of misremembering may prompt individuals or their families to seek the diagnosis and support of the ADRC. Walking into the Center one cannot help but imagine the patients’ feelings as they undergo test after test: from copying geometric shapes and drawing clocks to memorizing addresses and recounting daily tasks. Called “the test battery,” these tests measure patients’ cognition against a mean normal score. The result will forever be the Archimedean point of their decline.

The test, whether in psychiatry, pedagogy, or the diagnosis of disease, is one of the main tools of homogenizing order. This ritual and scientific fixing simultaneously pins down a person’s individuality in his or her own particularity, while positioning that same particularity within larger systems of power and order. The subject is now forever a statistic, successively measured against a benchmark norm. The weight of that norm in the context of memory loss is significant. We have come to treat our mind like a disciplinary tool, a machine of cognition and capacities. When it fails us we are at a loss, not only in our day-to-day functioning, but also in how we think of ourselves. Therapist Rick Moryz emphasizes the double loss that accompanies an Alzheimer diagnosis, where it is not only the patient who is affected, but also, as a loved one’s memory goes, part of the family’s world disappears with it.3

Lee had dedicated his life to his work as an engineer at Westinghouse, Pittsburgh, USA, immersed in the kind of control systems that Michel Foucault identified as the normalizing practices of comparison, differentiation, hierarchies, homogenization, and exclusion.4 Reports and scientific-disciplinary mechanisms were second nature to Lee. So, when challenged to the core with the certainty of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, he turned to those very same mechanisms to give structure to his remembering by creating a detailed and systematic report accounting for himself and his family. In a moment of crisis, Lee Strawbridge instinctively subverted the normalizing practices with which he had worked for years, transforming his report writing, formerly an exercise of capital, to a resistance to his memory loss.

José Rufino. Memorabilia (polyptych), 2010. Acrylic ink silkscreens on old lined notepaper combining handwritten statements, impressions, poems, notes, documents, and forms collected from patients, caregivers, staff, and researchers affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer Disease Research Center. Prints are overlaid with monotype tempera and acrylic Rorschach-style inkblots created in partnership with the artist, several patients and their families and affiliated ADRC staff.

Another Alzheimer’s patient Nancy Stabryla, invited as part of Rufino’s project to reflect on the disease, utilized the organizing skill set from her former job as a technical trainer and administrator to create a word map/poem that organized the disorganization of her mind. As Foucault noted in his essay, “The Subject and Power”: “The power relationship and freedom’s refusal to submit cannot […] be separated. […] At the very heart of the power relationship, and constantly provoking it, are the recalcitrance of the will and the intransigence of freedom. 5

José Rufino. Memorabilia (polyptych), 2010. Acrylic ink silkscreens on old lined notepaper combining handwritten statements, impressions, poems, notes, documents, and forms collected from patients, caregivers, staff, and researchers affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer Disease Research Center. Prints are overlaid with monotype tempera and acrylic Rorschach-style inkblots created in partnership with the artist, several patients and their families and affiliated ADRC staff.

Faced with a diagnosis such as Alzheimer’s, Lee and Nancy reacted by transforming familiar practices of their day-to-day world and (re) deploying them as personal investigatory tools, as their own personalized memory practices. Morycz suggests that in so doing they bring a sense of continuity to their fundamentally altered lives.6 Importantly, they used means out of their own worlds to create their resistance and not some pre-determined “memory journal” formula. They created their own form, producing their own truths. As patients, Nancy and Lee may be unique, but their subversions point to what their practices of resistance may offer others suffering from the disease. The world of norms can have a corrosive effect, unless you recalibrate your sense of normal. As one of Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso’s songs suggests, “up close, nobody’s normal.” For Lee and Nancy and others in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, the more prolific their practices of resistance, the more they humanize institutional discourses and challenge normalizing practices with closeness and intimacy. Their resistance clamors for new understandings, ultimately pushing for not only a (re) conceptualizing of the public face of Alzheimer’s, but also altering societal views on aging.

An Artist’s Toolbox: the Rorschach & the Substrate

In “Artistic Education of the Public” published in e-flux in 2010, critic Adrian Rifkin muses on the nature of the artistic profession and what he sees as the artist’s sentence to make visible.7 Rifkin adroitly captures the internal and external creative compulsions and demands of the artistic process. Rufino can account for the moment of his own sentencing. In the early 1980s receiving documents from his family’s heritage, in particular letters from his grandfather a former sugar cane baron in the North East of Brazil, the artist discovered untold family histories and secrets. The personal and familial risk of exposing such material coexisted with a compulsion to draw, to render this intimate universe visible, bringing it into the present thereby transforming what he was reading and constructing a new way to live with the past. Rufino cites his engagement with this material and the decision to expose and transform it through his own markings and drawings (ultimately exhibiting these documents as the series Cartas de Aeria, 1990) as the moment he truly became an artist.8

Cartas_RufinoCartas de Areia (series), 1990 – 2000. Mixed media drawings on old envelopes of family correspondence. Varied paintings on old family correspondence / Tempera on family letters, modified Rorschach-style monotypes.

The son of activists arrested during Brazil’s military repression in the 1960s, Rufino is no stranger to secrecy. A child at the time, he can remember meetings in the house, muffled conversations, and going into hiding. His parents’ politics opposed his grandfather’s. The dichotomy of the paradoxically grandiose and radically activist past with which Rufino grew up makes the complex aesthetic and psychological symmetry of the Rorschach inkblot an interesting choice for him as an artist.

With a long history in art, psychology, and spiritualism, inkblots inspired Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach in the 1920s to create the famous series of ten inkblots known as the Rorschach test. Based on the notion that individuals respond with specific personal patterns and modes to external stimuli and, by extension, to the world, the test invites subjects to freely interpret a series of ten inkblots while being recorded by an analyst. According to Rorschach, the key to the inkblots’ invitation to meaning lies in the symmetry of their shapes – symmetry invites interpretation.9 ADrawn to the aesthetic as well as psychological aspects of the Rorschach form, Rufino’s interest was further peaked when he discovered that Rorschach is said to be have been influenced by Justinus Kerner. Kerner, a 19th-century spiritualist, writer, and artist, published a book of poems each inspired by an inkblot. Used at that time in spiritual séances, the inkblot was said to enable a recalling and an embodiment of the spirit. Such rich dimensions have made the Rorschach-style inkblot one of Rufino’s mainstays over the past two decades.

1_frente da Prancha de Rorschach III - (tamanho 17,80X24,35 cm)_1400px2_frente da Prancha de Rorschach IV - (tamanho 17,80X24,35 cm)_1400px
Hermann, Rorschach. Original Rorschach Test Blots. Psychodiagnostik – Psychodiagnostics. Tafeln Plates. Printed Hans Huber. Bern/Switzerland: Medical Publisher, 1948

A paleontologist as well as an artist, another vital tool for Rufino is the substrate – a surface with a recorded past, often archival documents and/or handwritten texts. These come from many sources: port authorities, railroad companies, banks, insurance companies, or personal papers. Rufino overlays these “inhabited” original documents with inkblots that draw on the Rorschach’s simultaneous potential for open-endedness and analytic specificity, creating highly evocative and psychologically dense surfaces.

7_Nausea (foto divulgacao) copy José Rufino. Nausea, 2008. Steel furniture (files, desks, filing cabinets) together with Rorschach style prints on bank and accounting documents. Northest Bank Collection.

In her book Performing Memory in the Americas: The Archive and the Repertoire, Diana Taylor remarks that the writing and memory equation is central to Western epistemology, a governing cognitive archetype that “brings about the disappearance of embodied knowledge that it so frequently announces.10 As a means of countering the writing = memory equation and, by extension, its depositing in the “archive,” as the sole model of knowledge, Taylor makes a case for “the repertoire,” where traditions, performances, and embodied memories are transmitted by live action.11 Drawing both on the archive and the repertoire, Rufino’s practice collapses this distinction: As a paleontologist the archive is alive with histories and performed embodiments; As an artist the excavation of the archive is a ritualistic performance, revealing what Jacques Derrida calls “the deletions, blanks and disguises” of writing and its inevitable history of repression.12 Practices of power bequeath practices of resistance.13 ARecalling Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s radical refusal of what he termed “banking education” where learning is “deposited” in the minds of students and his transformation of the educative process via participation into a dialogic one, Rufino resists the repressive force of the archive via a participative excavation and reclaiming.14 Hunting down archives, looking for things off the beaten track, and persuading political activists and their families to release private documents, the process is iterative, ethical, and affective. The final overlaying of the Rorschach on individual or collaged documents, drawing on the open-ended, symmetric, and always seemingly embodied inkblot form, performs a ritual contact that creates a presence of embodied memory, as if somehow these works are now sudaria.15 Curator Luiz Guilherme Vergara sees this sense of embodiment and living memory as a vital aspect of the artist’s work:

Rufino’s is the less-worn path taken by those artists who […] manage to stir up the layers of private and public memories and histories deposited or imprisoned in mixed sediments of longing and pain. He gives back to art what history has buried in silence.16

3_Murmuratio 3 colecao Museu da Vale José Rufino. Murmuratio, 2001. Installation with documents and furniture collected from old train stations in Espirito Santo. Vale Museum Collection.

Employed in the context of Alzheimer’s disease, these practices of memory and the artist’s tools – the Rorschach and the substrate – became tied with the patients’ own resistance. Excerpts from Lee’s report together with his wife Donna’s poetic reflections on their now-changed roles and Nancy’s word map/poem became the substrate documents that Rufino then doubled, printing the now mirrored image on old lined paper. The effect was as if the original was somehow always that way, as if it was written or found doubled, already primed to receive the inkblots the artist invited the patients, caregivers and researchers to create with him.

The ensuing series of works, titled Memorabilia, is deeply moving. Text and image intertwine. Powerful words resonate amidst beautiful and evocative imagery. The symmetry of the inkblots draws the eye simultaneously to the center and its edges, creating a sense of movement and an embodied presence. According to differences of pressure and ink at the moment of blotting, each shape evokes shimmery and unusual creatures that, at times, seem about to levitate off the page. At other times the images are like a centrifugal force stirring up the furies of loss, and, still others more stoically poetic. As an artist-researcher-catalyst, Rufino subverts paleontology via art to suggest that one can not only name but one can also (re) create one’s memories. This creative (re) construction of the past, married with the interpretative openness of the Rorschach’s sense of the possible, effects, through art, a release, a healing, and a renewed perception of memory. Here, memory becomes presence, not recall. Both the making of these works and their viewing thus become highly ritualized experiences.

4.6_Rufino_Memorabilia_7 copy

4.5_Rufino_memorabilia_6 copy

4.4_Rufino_memorabilia_5 copy José Rufino. Memorabilia (polyptych), 2010. Acrylic ink silkscreens on old lined notepaper combining handwritten statements, impressions, poems, notes, documents, and forms collected from patients, caregivers, staff, and researchers affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer Disease Research Center. Prints are overlaid with monotype tempera and acrylic Rorschach-style inkblots created in partnership with the artist, several patients and their families and affiliated ADRC staff.

This ritual experience existed not just in the art making, but actually began with the very invitation to participate. This project counteracted institutionalized practices of normalization by engaging the reflective, the personal, and the creative. Crucially, it built on the effective bonds already developed between ADRC and their patients and via a yearlong process of planning between the center and the Warhol Museum. Vitally, this caring was matched by an embrace and valuing of experimentation.

Months before Rufino’s arrival, ADRC coordinator MaryAnn Oakley recruited possible patients and caregivers for the project. Here, the worlds of science and art met under the auspices of the experiment. For researchers and patients the open-ended creative process required by the artist paralleled their faith in experimental research and as such in doing something that might benefit others in the future. Prior to meeting Rufino, patients and caregivers, along with ADRC staff and researchers, were invited to gather documents they thought might be relevant to the collaboration and that they would be willing to donate to the artistic process. They were asked to reflect on the disease and, importantly, to handwrite their thoughts. The invitation stressed an open-endedness, their “reflections could be drawings, notes or musings on memory, personal stories/histories, challenges, fears; they could be one paragraph, a few lines, doodles or pages; however [they] choose to approach this”.17 This request proved to be a critical component in the process.

Dr. Moryz used the occasion of meeting/working with Rufino to delve into decades of past therapy files, drawing on poignant words and phrases from patient and caregiver stories. The opportunity and what transpired proved cathartic. Other researchers and staff members brought stories of loved ones, ethical challenges, reflections, examples of patient tests, and one person contributed a moving list of every word she associated with Alzheimer’s disease, painstakingly filling an entire page. Each handwritten text/drawing mirrored became the surface for inkblots made collaboratively and by Rufino himself. In this process, Rufino’s authorial presence was an essential alchemical relation. What seemed to play a vital role is the perception of the artist’s role in society, at once marginalized, yet, numinous in people’s minds. A respect, perhaps, associated with a life dedicated to “making visible.” However interpreted, it was certainly clear, for Lee, Nancy, their families, and ADRC researchers and staff that Rufino’s presence was central to their sense of event.

New Encounters: Rufino & Warhol

“I’m a very dark artist,” Rufino remarked, smiling; his palette, black and sienna-hued, a far cry from the fluorescent colors of Pop Art infamy. Raised amidst radical politics and anti-Americanism, the artist’s comment described his literal and metaphoric puzzlement during a 2009 initial residency visit that marked the beginning of his journey engaging with Warhol’s art and practice, Pittsburgh, and Alzheimer’s disease.

A year later the artist had produced several bodies of new work for Blots & Figments, specifically engaging Warholian substrates: intense poetic inkblots layered on top of source images for Warhol’s Electric Chair and Skull series; strangely evocative creature-like blots covered old journals from Warhol’s alma mater, Schenley High School; delicate and lyrical Rorschach-style blots printed on art paper leftover from Warhol’s studio and on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspapers from the decades Warhol lived in the city (1928-1949). For all, except the blots overlaying the Skull series source image, Rufino crafted an additional substrate layer by selecting parts of Warhol’s Rorschach series and creating silkscreens of these images and printing these appropriated Warholian “blots” prior to adding his own.

1_Rufino_Substantia copy José Rufino. Substantia (series 1 – 6), 2010. Vinyl ink silkscreens based on the photograph Andy Warhol used for his Electric Chair series overlaid with monotype tempera and acrylic Rorschach-style inkblots on old lined notepaper mounted on rice paper.

A new video piece also featured a compilation of images shot from old photographs of Pittsburgh’s industrial past, which Rufino mirrored in an inkblot style affecting a rather beautiful and elegiac portrait of the city. Each work contributed to a complex creative, visual, material, and textual palimpsest—a rich layering of memory drawn from Warhol’s past: the city where he grew up, the school he attended, his art studio, and artwork.

1_pittsburg_myriorama_198mix_22752 José Rufino. Myriorama No. 3, 2009/2010. Vídeo created from images of old photographs of Pittsburgh (from magazines, newspapers and photographs in various collections) mirrored in an inkblot style. Approximately 1 hour.

My first encounter with Rufino’s work perhaps set the stage for his engagement with an opposing artistic universe. In October 2005, I visited Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) Niterói, Brazil. Perched on a peninsula overlooking the stunning Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, the circular museum, designed by the renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, is notoriously challenging for artists. The building, the view, and the large glass windows invite visitors to focus on the outside. Art has a hard time competing. It is only the rare artist or project that can rise to the occasion. But, if they do, they can capitalize on an equally rare environment of affectivity and a diversity of publics that is probably unparalleled amongst contemporary art museums.

On the day of my visit Por que museu? (Why museum?), an exhibition by Brazilian artist Nelson Leirner (1932 – ), was located on MAC’s first floor. Pop and incisively critical, Leirner grappled with the space tongue-in-cheek style. A carnival-like procession of hundreds of figurines culminating around a football stadium filled the center space. Along the veranda gallery with views to the ocean, Coke cans, Christ and saint figures, and a large cow poised together with two deck chairs and a sun umbrella, all looking out to sea, as if to anticipate the visitor’s desire to call it quits and grab a martini.

On the second floor, José Rufino’s exhibition Incertae Sedis (literally, that which has no classification) wrapped around the doughnut shaped gallery’s curved white- and grey-carpeted walls, closed off to the outside world, yet occasionally open to the floor below and views of Leirner’s colorful parade. It was like walking into another world, thick with the presence of history. Trails of bureaucratic stamps pinned to the walls connected suspended burnished wood office desks; slickly varnished cabinets grew menacing roots; old typewriters streamed filmic texts, and a line of beautiful wooden suitcases and boxes of different sizes seemingly coddled white egg-shaped forms. Delicate drawings infused old letters. Dense sculptural works combined tables, desks, and chairs with ethereal shroud-like Rorschach inkblots layered on top of collaged archival documents. The experience was one of a pervasive grasping of memory and forgetting, of tangible violence, and a Kafkaesque realm of poetry and lost administration amidst corrupt and brutal bureaucracies. For MAC, Rufino created a new work drawn from correspondence given to him by Lúcia Alves, the daughter of Mário Alves, an important activist who had been executed during the military repression. Seeing her father’s papers overlaid with Rorschach imagery, embedded in an old wooden physiotherapist table, seemed to affect a transformation in Lúcia, a healing of a hidden and anonymous life, made public and now somehow released. The resonant contrast of these exhibitions, one Pop and overtly provocative, the other darkly poetic, metaphysical, and ethical, added to the experience of each. My years of engaging with Warhol’s Pop surfaces drew me by comparison to Rufino’s richly layered ones. Both artists use substrates – Warhol, the source image, Rufino, the archival document. Both their surfaces are psychologically dense. Warhol’s thrive on the instantaneity of recognition and pervasive absence. Whether Coca-cola, Marilyn Monroe, or the electric chair, Warhol gives us images where the artist deftly and artfully gets out of the way; it is the plethora of associations we bring to them that gives them life. Presence hovers over Rufino’s “contaminated” surfaces, as he calls them. Like layers of an archaeological dig, his images and sculptures speak of inhabited histories. Warhol marshals vibrancy, Rufino ethereal hues. Warhol’s inkblots, like much of the artist’s work and his abstractions in particular, juxtapose the lyrical and the banal, the decorative and the alchemical. Rufino uses the Rorschach as a medium, materially, psychologically, and spiritually.

PLASMATIO_MAC_2005_1 José Rufino. Plasmatio, 2005. Rorschach-style monotypes on documents related to disappeared Brazilian activists, walnut furniture, wooden boxes, stamps and thread. Private collection. Photo: Paulinho Muniz

8_Imagens mac niteroi 022 - foto Paulinho MunizJosé Rufino. Plasmatio, 2002. Rorschach-style monotypes on documents related to disappeared Brazilian activists, walnut furniture, wooden boxes, stamps and thread. Private collection. Photo: Paulinho Muniz

I was curious what might happen if these artists’ works were brought together. How might the conjunction offer different perspectives on Warhol’s Rorschach series, a body of work hardly written about and rarely exhibited? In what ways might Rufino grapple with the American artist? I was also keenly interested in developing an artist residency project and collaborative context for Rufino where his powerful work might resonate in new ways.

RUFINO_DIREITO AUTORAL_ANDY WARHOL Installation shot featuring Andy Warhol’s Skull, 1976, (left), acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection Contribution Dia Center for the Arts (c) The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ licensed by AUTVIS, Brazil, 2013, with José Rufino, Morbus series, 2010. Photo: Richard Stoner.

Rorschaching Warhol

In 1984 Warhol embarked on a series of paintings inspired by Herman Rorschach’s psychology test.18 The artist was fascinated by images that could be read as simultaneously abstract and decorative, yet were imbued with rich associations such as camouflage for his series of Camouflage paintings. Warhol constantly asked associates: “what can I paint that’s abstract but not really abstract?”19

The Rorschach was thus a perfect choice. While on the surface abstract decoration, the nature of the inkblot’s open-ended symmetry can always be read as something in particular, as for example, it looks like “two men chatting by a fire” or “an elephant dancing.” That these interpretations in turn reveal our psychological patterns, even better; that the Rorschach had long entered the annals of pop culture, made it even more appealing. Indeed, inkblots were said to be central to a 19th-century fortune-telling parlor game called “blotto”20. These features combined with the Rorschach’s constantly morphing popularity since it was introduced from being simultaneously the most cherished and reviled of psychological assessment tools, make it a highly appropriate image21 and an apt metaphor for the artist who famously said: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it”.22 That “surface,” however, is rich with the possibility of multiple meanings. Critic Charles Stuckey suggests as much in his description of the contradictory readings of Warhol’s work as: “naïve and sophisticated, deadpan and slapstick, clumsy and lyrical, garish and ravishing, boring and provocative, trivial and profound”.23 The artist’s work operates like a projective test. The Rorschach, in its beautiful abstract plasticity coupled with its connotations of serious psychometrics, pop psychology, spiritualism, and divinatory projection, not only captures Warholian artistic contradictions, but also his very human ones from the inveterate partier and regular churchgoer to the astute businessman and crystal therapist patient.

Jay Shriver, the artist’s assistant in the mid-1980s, notes that Warhol was having so much fun making the Rorschach series that he would duck away from appointments.24 It is here that the series becomes a revelatory force in the artist’s body of work. Warhol not only liked to promote empty readings of his work, he also cultivated an image of effortless production, reflected in naming his studio “The Factory.” The Rorschach series, in particular the large scale canvases at over 13 x 9 feet, however, involved complicated folding and blotting, which when described by Shriver, portray a difficult, rigorous, and monumental art-making process.25 Additionally, according to Shriver, not only had it been made clear to him that “abstraction was an important element [Warhol] wanted to pursue” but also, this was because “abstractions weren’t being commissioned.26 It seems the ultimate irony that the king of Pop would recuperate abstraction as a means of resisting capitalist art production of his commissioned portrait work. Yet, the drive to abstraction for Warhol could never be solely lyrical or political. Duchamp’s legacy was never far away. However, what the Rorschach form allows is the possibility to render both the alpha and omega of two of Warhol’s key influences—the clever irony of Duchamp’s readymades and the poetic and experimental silence of John Cage’s musical compositions. More generally, the Rorschach’s open-ended invitation and resistance to interpretation offers a richly appropriate metaphor for reading Warhol’s entire oeuvre.

3_DgR_01 1998.1.297_2 Andy Warhol. Rorschach, 1984, acrylic on linen, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution (c) The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / licensed by AUTVIS, Brazil, 2013.

Blots & Figments: A Praxis of Resistance

Around the same time Warhol produced his Rorschach paintings he also put together his book America, a combination of photographs and commentary. Here, he reflected, in the context of a group of graveyard images that for his gravestone he would like to just have the word “figment” as an epitaph.27 This request offers another reading of Warhol’s Rorschach paintings as memento mori, as mediations on transience. Presented with the fierce intensity of the dripping inkblots of Rufino’s Substantia, which uses the source image from Warhol’s Electric Chair series, or the silvery shimmers of the blots in Legatum-Rorschach-Warhol made on paper leftover from Warhol’s studio, brings visceral resonance to this interpretation.

Rufino_Legatum_Rorschach_Warhol_2imgsJosé Rufino. Legatum Rorschach-Warhol (series 1 – 8), 2009/2010. Acrylic ink silkscreens featuring partial reproductions of Andy Warhol’s Rorschach series overlaid with monotype tempera and acrylic Rorschach-style inkblots on colored paper remaining from Warhol’s art studio.

This sensibility is furthered via Rufino’s Morbus series, which features multidirectional blots shooting out of the head and eyes of a skull, the same source image Warhol used for his Skull series in 1976. In 17th-century Dutch still life painting, the skull, amidst lush fruit and riches, is a classic symbol of life’s ephemeral nature. Warhol’s image both plays with and furthers the fleeting soberness of the symbol by giving us what could be an ironic Pop portrait of everyone’s fate, a skull image alone amidst acid yellows, pinks, and blues, conflating, the high society world of the artist’s portrait commissions and the moment-driven energy of punk about to explode at the time of the series’ making.

1_pittsburg_myriorama_198mix_22752 José Rufino. Morbus (series 1 – 4), 2010. Vinyl ink silkscreens based on the photograph Andy Warhol used for his Skull series overlaid with monotype tempera and acrylic Rorschach-style inkblots on old lined notepaper mounted on rice paper.

Rufino’s inkblots, however, give us a dynamic starkness, one of urgency, pirated resistance, singularity, and the sheer creative energy of thought. Rufino flips Warhol’s Pop-ness and in the process allows us to flip our readings of Warhol. Subverting the palimpsest of art history is part of being an artist. It is also this excavation and creative upending and overturning that may offer a framework for practices of resistance that directly engage with the often alienating circumstances in which we find ourselves, that reclaim lost histories, critique injustice, register love and pain, and grapple with loss.

As suggested earlier for Lee and Nancy, by subverting familiar practices to one’s own ends of remembering, a practice of memory can be a means of resistance, and, as such, an exercise of power. This remembering is not the reified memory of individual achievement embraced by the Greeks, but rather the everyday simplicity of who we are, what we value, know, and love. Akin to the idea of a kind of tekhne of life, of techniques of how to live, when freed from the exigencies of capacity, practices of memory may be seen as a conscious practice of creative freedom, of opening-up-to rather than recalling time.

Psychologist Erick Erikson’s notion of the psychological binaries at the core of lifecycle transitions offer a useful means of understanding this opening up to time. He sees the constitution of the self as perpetually evolving, as a process of experiencing and overcoming struggles, such as identity vs. identity diffusion in puberty or generativity vs. self-absorption in middle age or integrity vs. despair in old age.28 In this context, to play a productive role for the self, memory practices need to engage in the struggles of the self, appropriate to the life stage. It is in this sense, particularly vital in the context of Alzheimer’s disease that creative practices of memory, whether Lee’s report or Nancy’s word map, become less about cognition and recall and more about integrity and acts of consciousness in the here and now. Importantly, it is not to dissolve these struggles, in some kind of utopia of memory, but to acquire, as Foucault suggests, “the rules of law, the management techniques, and also the morality, the ethos, the practice of the self, that will allow us to play [the] games of power with as little domination as possible.”29

Rufino’s use of the Rorschach inkblot offers a ground for the performance and collapsing of such struggles, at once allowing for opposing and highly specific readings yet open to multiple interpretations. By enacting the inkblot on various substrates Rufino connects past worlds with the present and brings lived and living struggles and possibilities into perception. Read as memento mori, each work captures a flow of memory and forgetting, a simultaneous testament to remembering and recognition of the ephemeral nature of life, of perception and loss. Read as figments, the evanescent blots and contaminated surfaces are transitory moments of the creative imaginary and of the fullness of life, remembered, experienced, and wished for. As a kind of poetic and subversive paleontology, Rufino’s practice mediates acts of consciousness in the present that transfigure the past and merge with the possible. In the context of Alzheimer disease this artful practice offers a way, however momentary, to shift the discourse on memory from one focused on cognition to one of integrity.

MEMORABILIA José Rufino. Memorabilia (polyptych), 2010. Acrylic ink silkscreens on old lined notepaper combining handwritten statements, impressions, poems, notes, documents, and forms collected from patients, caregivers, staff, and researchers affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer Disease Research Center. Prints are overlaid with monotype tempera and acrylic Rorschach-style inkblots created in partnership with the artist, several patients and their families and affiliated ADRC staff.

If there is a role for art to play in science or for art as a science in itself, it is to extend beyond the safety of aesthetic boundaries to the ethical, to make visible those edges, to question the discourses of both, and to take the risk to resist assumptions and consensus of practice, opening up a third space, at once aesthetic and scientific, autonomous and instrumental, and poetic and healing. Rufino’s process and work make such a radical space real.


1[Brazilian Musician] Caetano Veloso. “Vaca Profana,” Totalmente Mais, 1986.
2Email conversation with the artist November 2009.
3Dr. Rick Morycz. Conversation: “Reflections on Impact and Process: A Collaboration with José Rufino, The Andy Warhol Museum, and the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer Disease Research Center” forthcoming publication.
4Michel Foucault. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1995 (Originally published in France as Surveiller et Punir: Naissance de la prison. Editions Gallimard, 1975), p.183.
5Michel Foucault. “The Subject and Power,” in Ed. James D. Faubion, Michel Foucault: Power. New York: The New Press, 2000, p. 342.
6Dr. Rick Morycz op.cit
7Adrian Rifkin. “Artistic Education of the Public,” e-flux, February 2010.
8Cartas de Areia (Trans. Letters from Areia, the city where Rufino’s grandfather lived and also as Letters of Sand as areia in Portuguese means sand).
9Conversation with Rufino, October, 2005.
10Diana Taylor. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003, p. 24.
11Ibid. p. 24.
12Jacques Derrida. “Freud and the Scene of Writing,” in Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978, p. 197, cited in Taylor op cit. p. 25.
13Michel Foucault. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction Volume 1.Trans Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1990 (Originally published in French as La volonté de savoir. Editions Gallimard, 1978) p. 73 & 96.
14Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th editon, Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York/London: Continuum, 2007 (first published 1970).
15Sudaria. Refering to the cloth used to wipe Christ’s face and the sense of presence hence embodied in the cloth.
16Luiz Guilherme Vergara. “Plasmic Art: Confluences Between Art and Existence.” (trans. from original Portuguese) José Rufino: Incertae sedis. Exhibition Catalogue. Niterói Brazil: MAC Niterói, 2005.
17Invitational text by José Rufino and Jessica Gogan, sent by email March 2010.
18Although, according to David Bourdon in his biography of the artist it seems that Warhol thought the Rorschach test required the test subject to create an inkblot of his or her own and interpret that, not one that already existed. David Bourdon. Warhol. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995, pp. 393-394.
19Cited by Bob Colacello former associate of the artist. Andy Warhol, 365 Takes: The Andy Warhol Museum. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, 2004, p.324
20James M. Wood; M. Teresa Nezworski; Scott O. Lilienfeld & Howard N. Garb. What’s Wrong with the Rorschach?: Science Confronts the Controversial Inkblot Test. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003, p. 23.Bass, 2003, p. 23.
21Ibid p. 1
22 Interview with Gretchen Berg. “Andy: My True Story,” Los Angeles Free Press (March 17, 1967), p. 3 (Reprinted from East Village Other).
23 Charles F. Stuckey. “Warhol: Backwards and Forwards.” Flash Art 101 (January/February 1981). In Alan Pratt ed. The Critical Response to Andy Warhol. Greenwood Press, London, 1997, p. 140
24Joseph D.Ketner. Andy Warhol The Last Decade. Milwaukee Art Museum/Prestel, 2009, p. 30.
25Ibid. p.45.
26Ibid.
27This observation is made by Rosalind Krauss in Andy Warhol, Rorschach Paintings. New York: Gagosian Gallery. 1996 p. 5.
28Erik H. Erikson. Identity and the Life Cycle. New York/London: WW Norton & Company, 1980 (first published 1959).
29Michel Foucault. “The Ethics of the Concern for Self as a Practice of Freedom,” in Paul Rabinow Ed. Michel Foucault: Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. New York: The New Press, 1997, p. 298.