Nervo Óptico was an artist’s collective founded in Porto Alegre (Brazil) in mid-1976 during the informal meetings of a group of artists, who decided to join forces against the commercial interests of the art market and the government cultural policies of the time.
The first two meetings were held at the Museu de Arte do Rio Grande do Sul Ado Malagoli (MARGS), with the participation of the artists Ana Luisa Alegria, Mara Álvares, Carlos Asp, Carlos Athanázio, Vera Chaves Barcellos, Clóvis Dariano, Jesus Escobar, Telmo Lanes, Elton Manganelli, Romanita Martins and Carlos Pasquetti.
In September 1976, the group wrote a manifesto that openly criticised the ideology of the art market as a conduit for cultural policies, and declared its commitment to spreading works that stemmed from an alternative way of conceiving art. The document was ultimately signed by eight artists and published in the local press. It was later disseminated at the exhibition Actividades continuadas at MARGS on 9 and 10 December 1976.
The group’s subsequent meetings, which always included a high dose of creative content, were held in the Clóvis Dariano’s photography studio. A great many photographs were taken to document the improvised actions of the participants, which were often humorous, ironic, irreverent and based on imaginative games.
In April 1977 the group, which was down to six members – Mara Álvares, Carlos Asp, Vera Chaves Barcellos, Clóvis Dariano, Telmo Lanes and Carlos Pasquetti – launched a collectively produced publication as a means of publicising their works. It began with a print run of one thousand copies that were distributed free of charge through universities, bookshops and galleries, and sent to art critics in Brazil and other countries. This monthly publication, which lasted for thirteen months, was called Nervo Óptico, a name that was later officially adopted by the collective.
The common thread in the work produced by the artists in the group was the use of photographic images, which also served as a record of their actions, performances and installations. Nevertheless, the only member of the collective who considered himself a photographer was Clóvis Dariano, who explored the fragmentation of the body and of space through photomontage. The members of the group remained strikingly faithful to their original intentions: to transform art into an experience-field, to question artistic experience without abandoning an interest in its informative nature, and to demystify media and techniques and reformulate them on a level where artworks are activities or processes rather than end products.
From 1976 to 1978, the group organised four group shows and experimented with super-8 films, slides and performances. Nervo Óptico finally disbanded in 1978.