Interview with Toco-Oco for “The World Within”

Thinkspace is honored to introduce the work of Brazilian husband and wife duo Toco-Oco (aka Lara Alcântara and Guilherme Neumann) for “The World Within”.

Toco-Oco sculptures carry Lara and Guilherme’s profound thoughts and gigantic questions about human existence in their clay frames. Under this playful name, they dream up fantastical creatures which they turn into curious doll-sized sculptures. Figures that live on the border between heaven and earth, between the human and the divine. They’re both animalistic and supernatural. “It is a world very similar to ours,” they say, “full of injustices, but full of hope.”

Our interview with Toco-Oco in anticipation of “The World Within“, explores their creative process, strengths as artists, and a philosophical approach to life and art day by day.

Can you share a little bit about your individual upbringing and where your studio is currently set up? How did you begin to collaborate together?

We are a couple, both graduated in visual arts from Fine arts university of São Paulo, our small studio is located in São José dos Campos, in the countryside of the State of São Paulo, Brazil where we live. We met in college and around 2006 we started working together, in 2012 we started the Toco-Oco project and a few years later we decided that we would pursue an independent career.

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

From the beginning, we followed the same poetics, which is what moves us and makes us continue to produce, although we express ourselves through very different media, the themes are the same. The relationship between life and death, human interrelationships, ancestral symbologies, and the relationship between human beings and nature.

What was the most challenging piece of this exhibition? How did that help you to grow as an artist?

All the pieces are challenging, and our growth as artists happens day by day in practice inside the studio, understanding what will be the material for each piece, which processes will be more relevant and being able to deal with the limitations of each medium, are challenges to be considered every day.

What is a day in the studio like for you? How do you structure your days?

We work every day, with the exception of Sunday, and we usually arrive at 7 am. Our work dynamics is organized by a daily worksheet, a weekly worksheet and several other production worksheets for each series of works. And we understand that this is the best way to ensure that everything goes as expected. As we are a small business, we have to deal with issues not only of creating and developing works, but also with suppliers, customers, and distribution of our work.

Do you have any rituals that help you explore a creative flow?

Some things help the creative flow, especially leisure, but as we don’t have much time to guarantee this, we are all the time connected and exploring references, we talk all day and this exchange is very important to keep the ideas flowing.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of the creative process? What are the qualities of your employee that you admire?

Our favorite part is when the idea comes to fruition, when it becomes real. And from there we have the whole production path to go. I, Lara, admire Guilherme’s ability to focus completely on a new idea, and as this is vital for him, while he researches everything so that the idea becomes real,  it’s as if it wasn’t possible to do anything else, super focus!

I, Guilherme, admire Lara’s ability to gather the whole idea and form it creates a critical thought about it, as well as how she reads each work creating poetry and texts about them in a masterful way.

If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you like to be able to do/expert?

Guilherme would like to be able to speak every language on the planet. I would like to have access to different cultural experiences, I think it would be a good pair of skills.

What was the biggest challenge of 2020 for you?

In addition to the practical issues of the pandemic, dealing with the psychological issues that an extreme situation causes, I think was the most complicated. The feeling of fear and insecurity about everything, not just the global health situation.

What is your proudest accomplishment of 2021? Life so far? (may be art related or not)

Being able as a third-world artist to finance our own home — we think was the biggest accomplishment, besides being able to provide a quality education for our son.

What big projects do you have in 2022 and 2023 that you would like to share more about?

Our focus is not on big projects but on careful day-to-day, to stay relevant as artists, keep communicating with each other, and being able to keep the work going. We try to keep dreams possible and feed them daily.

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