Active laziness & creative pleasure: Hélio Oiticica at the De La Warr Pavilion
An exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion presents the work of Hélio Oiticica, widely regarded as one of Brazil’s most important artists of the 20th Century. Lara Chapman visits to experience the immersive works and contemplate the role of artists, gallery spaces, and critics in today’s capital-driven world.

As I step across the entrance threshold of the De La Warr Pavilion, a couple leaving the exhibition Hélio Oiticica: Waiting for the internal sun pass by me, remarking delightedly, and with a hint of surprise in their voices: “That was fun!” and in reply, “That was fun!”. They laugh at their echoed sentiments. Across the room, another couple tap their bank card against a machine under a sign declaring “Enjoyed the exhibition? Consider a £5 donation.” I can only surmise that they did, indeed, enjoy it. It is a joyful, and voyeuristically charming, beginning to my exhibition visit, heightening my expectations.

Hélio Oiticica’s work takes over the galleries of the Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff designed 1930s International Style masterpiece on the East Sussex coast (see 00123) in Bexhill-on-Sea. Oiticica (1937 - 1980) is a Brazilian artist who spent his short career questioning the purpose, use, and possibility of art whilst rallying against the mechanisms of capitalism and corruption of politics, particularly in his birth country. The exhibition’s introductory text describes Oiticica’s practice as creating “freewheeling, participatory artworks comprising abstract paintings, immersive environments, interactive objects, and cinematic experiences that challenge us to engage with our surroundings in new and unexpected ways, stimulating our senses, emotions and physical bodies.”

Even before I see either of the works on display, I already sense the intended shift of engaging with surroundings in new ways that is implied in the text. An art gallery usually comes with a certain stiffness – we walk a bit slower, perform concentration, and are hyper-aware of the value (financial or otherwise) of works and objects on display. Instead, in these De La Warr galleries, which overlook the windswept North Sea promenade, people are coming and going freely: children sprint up and down the room, laughing as they engage with a large-scale installation, while other visitors chat and look on. This is a space to be enjoyed however a visitor wants, stripped of the formality of normal exhibitions.

“At the core of his practice,” the introductory text continues, “is a drive to move beyond the formal categories of art such as painting and sculpture, in order to fuse art with life and invite the spectator to become an active participant with each of his works.” Admittedly, I’m slightly wary of being an active participant at the whim of an artist I don’t know much about, but I’m also intrigued. I turn away from the comfort of the text and give my attention to the exhibition.

Text also makes up one of the first encountered works. A short essay, re-printed on a large-scale blue poster in white typewriter font is plastered to the wall. It was written by Oiticica on January 14, 1969, and titled Creleisure, a term the artist coined to describe a merging of creativity, leisure, and belief. It’s a conjured word central to the wider curation of his work and this exhibition.

In his writing, the artist grappled with the importance of what living a truly creative life looks like and means. For Oiticica, leisure and pleasure are political, and reclaiming leisure time, he posits, is a radical act against the productivity and exploitation foisted upon us by capitalism. He urges us to embrace “active laziness” and “radical passivity” as methods to become truly creative beings.

Within this text he also rallies against the establishments of the art world. “The bores can stop right here” he writes, “for they will never understand: stupidity prevails in art criticism.” I chuckle to myself, the irony not lost on me that I am here to write about the exhibition under what Oiticia might feel are false pretences, and using my weekend, a time supposedly reserved for leisure to undertake this commission – though the line between leisure and work in this instance is a fine one. I resolve to try to turn off my “stupidity” as much as possible and experience the works on display.

A large MDF structure fills the gallery. Colourful lights escape form the box-like structure onto the ceiling above, hinting at some kind of fun within. On the walls surrounding the box is a timeline of the artist’s life, a combination of more text with images – before the promised fun, I dutifully begin to read more words: about the artist's exile from Brazil, his role in the queer artistic community, how his experiences shaped his philosophy regarding leisure, and the costumes and capes he created as wearable artworks. But I am soon distracted.

A mother and her young daughter burst from the MDF structure. “It’s AMAZING!” the mother exclaims to an invigilator, the girl excitedly recounting her experience of getting free orange juice inside the installation. The mother and daughter dive back in for another go. Intrigued, I skim through the remaining timeline, briefly stop to watch some film works that deserve more attention than I offered, then finally turn my attention to the room-within-a-room.

Filter Project–For Vergara (Projeto Filtro–Para Vergara) dates from 1972, this incarnation a copy created to Oiticica’s instructions in consultation with the artist's nephew César Oiticica Filho and artist Neville D’Almeida. Oiticica considered himself “a proposer of practices,” firm in his belief that exhibition objects should be touched and experienced. As such, the curators chose to install reproductions rather than original works, leaning into and honouring this philosophy, allowing visitors greater freedom in interaction. Oiticica’s works gently upset the usual hierarchies and priorities of gallery spaces.

The installation is a labyrinthian journey through a series of corridors, translucent coloured and textured screens, and curtains. Throughout, clips of 1972’s news emerge from small TVs and radios mounted on high shelves. It’s a thrilling, heady experience and the smell of cut MDF takes me back to happy times in workshops, tinkering and figuring out through trial and error.

Buzzing strip lights struggling to illuminate the space, competing with natural light to light dramatic thresholds formed of humble materials. A curtain made from two strips of thick yellow plastic glows richly at its base then fades towards the top. I pass through this sunrise, expecting to find an artificial yellow light, but instead a gallery window is covered with yellow vinyl – the Sussex greyness outside magically transformed through a humble intervention into an oxytocin-filled light, bathing both me and the artwork in its glow. Another curtain is black and in the centimetre between the curtain and the floor an electric blue haze beckons, reminiscent of an entry door to a club or party.

The maze culminates at an orange juice dispenser with some plastic cups. There is no instruction or invitation to drink, but I recall the girl’s pleasure and take it as permission to help myself. It somehow feels wrong to be drinking in a gallery, triggering a sense of rebellion heightened by the joy of a free reward.

I exit the artwork to climb the De La Warr’s spiral staircase to the first floor and second space of exhibition. Pausing on my way up to look at choppy ocean, wild in the bluster. Spotting kite surfers in the distance, I consider the fitting context for Oiticica’s work, that a work about creleisure takes place in a gallery overlooking a public beach. Beaches are spaces where time seems to stretch, the lack of things to do inviting creativity play.

The second installation, Cosmococa/CC5 Hendrix-war (1973), is entered through thick black curtains. The installation fills the whole room and with what the artist terms a “quasi-cinema” environment. It feels full, but also strangely empty, the only physical objects in the room are six hammocks. It’s full, though, with noise and projections, the white walls, ceiling, and floor awash with a slideshow of photographs documenting Oitica’s drawings using cocaine dust over the vinyl cover of Jimmi Hendix’s War Heroes album. Both the projections and Hendrix’s music flood the space.

I settle into a hammock, nestling into the fabric to absorb the projections. I feel as if I am inside the work, the projections overlapping, spilling from wall to ceiling at odd angles. It is chaotic, but intentionally so. Lying in the hammock, alone in the room, my mind drifted to the contextual caption text I’d seen which spoke of “the hedonistic avant-garde of New York” during the 70s, and how Oiticia was commenting on the “transgression, corruption and violence” of the drug wars between Latin America and the USA. How strange, I pondered, to be reclined, relaxing in a space with such undercurrent of intensity. It seems nearly impossible to be stressed while in a hammock, its swaddle and rocking encouraging a state akin to floating.

A couple enter, briefly contemplate the hammocks then carefully climb in. They don’t see me floating in my own hammock, then after a few minutes one manoeuvres out and walks over to where I lay, looks down at me and asks “are you part of the exhibition?” She seems earnest, so I explain that I’m not, but just here to also see the show. Her friend joins us, it’s strange looking up at them from below. “You’ve got a notebook in there,” he remarks, “is that your thing?” Is note-taking my thing? I suppose, to some extent, yes. Writing, or thinking about exhibitions is a thing I consider to be part of who I am. I say, something along these lines, adding that I’m supposed to write a review. He perks up, laughingly as he (presumably) jokingly suggests I can mention meeting Bryony and Courtney in the exhibition. Courtney offers me her review: “We don’t know what the hell it is about, but it’s very exciting!”

Becoming part of the work – or being mistaken as part of the work – feels like a suitable ending to a show where active participation is the aim, Oiticia’s subversion of the gallery setting seems complete. I had planned to immediately start writing this review, but instead I close my notebook, leave the De La Warr, and start a long, creleisurely, walk along the beach.

Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980) is widely regarded as one of Brazil's most prominent artists of the twentieth century and a touchstone for much contemporary art made since the 1960s. Through freewheeling, participatory artworks – cinematic installations, immersive environments, interactive objects and abstract paintings – Oiticica challenges us to engage with our surroundings in new and unexpected ways, stimulating our senses, emotions and physical bodies.
Oiticica’s work has been the subject of major recent museum exhibitions, including the critically acclaimed retrospective Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium, which debuted at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Philadelphia in 2016 and travelled to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2017. Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Color was exhibited at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2006-2007 and in London at the Tate Modern in 2007. His work is included in the collections of numerous international institutions including Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Inhotim Centro de Arte Contemporãnea, Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA; Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, USA; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA; Tate Modern, London, UK; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, USA; the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and the Pérez Art Museum Miami, FL, USA, among others. The Projeto Hélio Oiticica was established in Rio de Janeiro in 1980 to manage the artist’s estate.

Lara Chapman is a writer, researcher, and curator who thinks about how design, in its many forms, intersects with the world. She is interested in the mechanics and process of exhibition making, design’s impact (for better and worse) on the climate crisis, and the surprising stories behind objects. She has shown her work in the V&A, Dutch Design Week, Onompatompee, and other spaces, and has written for publications including DAMN, Real Life, The Architectural Review, and Art Edit. She currently works at Disegno as an assistant editor.


Hélio Oiticica: Waiting for the internal sun, is exhibited at the De La Warr Pavilion until 14 January 2024. Further details available at:


All images of Hélio Oiticica: Waiting for the internal sun, at the De La Warr Pavilion. Photographs © Rob Harris.

publication date
18 October 2023

Beach, Bexhill-on-Sea, Brazil, Lara Chapman, Serge Chermayeff, Cocaine, Corridor, Creleisure, Criticism, Curtain, Neville D’Almeida, De La Warr Pavilion, Drug wars, East Sussex, Hammock, Labyrinth, Laziness, Leisure, Lights, Maze, Erich Mendelsohn, News, Hélio Oiticica, Jimmi Hendrix, Orange juice, Participant, Passivity, Plastic, Pleasure, Politics, Sculpture, Structure, Sussex Modern, Work