The exhibition Tomar a verdade #1 para 4 is focused on the presence of four works by four different artists and maintains a balance of “four pieces in play” while assuming that the ensemble is the result of a study of the material remains of an (almost) foregone human life, of its memory and ideation — a ruse that encourages the visitor to establish relationships between the works. Positioned towards the context of the exhibition space, the construction of the exhibition’s narrative is focused on each work, individually.
The first work we come across in the exhibition is the sculpture The Hannibal Smiling by Tunisian artist Nidhal Chamekh, an appropriation of a marble bust that allegedly depicts Hannibal Barca, the Carthaginian strategist and political leader. The bust was originally found in the ancient city-state of Capua, in Italy. Replacing Hannibal’s original lips with a sarcastic smile, Chamekh transforms and bends the distance between the viewer and this former enemy of the Roman Empire. The philosopher Arafat Sadallah wrote about this work in his text Burn, Métempsychoses (2016): “[…] Nidhal questions the distances that Europe, the heir of Rome, puts in place between itself and the Others: among them there are north-African migrants, Hannibal’s sons.” He also writes that “Key to this work, irony destabilizes the stereotyped relationship that a certain tradition has tried to impose through the ages. It is placed on the edge, between the Exterior — the Mediterranean Sea — and the Interior — an anonymous immigration website.” This smile is placed on a forbidden boundary that will follow the visitor in a despotic way, forcing them to question their physical traits and their archetypal memories, bringing to the surface a reflection on the manipulation, authenticity and properties of the work of art. The intervention on Hannibal’s bust, its “appropriation”, raises one more question: the notion of taking something that is not ours — a situation that invites a reflection of the ideas of authorship, identity and originality.
Archives are considered to be sites of the past, places that contain vestiges of the collective memory of a nation, a people or a group. But they are not just a record, a reflection or an image of an event; they shape the event itself and influence past, present and future. In much of his work, Henrique Pavão uses ruins as the material object for an analysis, as an archive of human memories suspended in time. The photograph Hotel Palenque (Fóssil) (2019), now being shown at UMA LULIK, results from his admiration and research on the work of Robert Smithson (1938-1973), one of his favourite artists. Following the footsteps of this author, Pavão visited Mexico and the ruins of Teotihuacan to produce a series of photographs that show various interior and exterior views of the hotel, following Smithson’s seminal work, i.e. Hotel Palenque (1969-1972). Unlike Nidhal Chameck, Pavão does not appropriate or intervene on another work, but rather incorporates it, demonstrating the complexity and the proper interpretation of a “document” in ruins — according to his own intentions — and highlighting the almost undefined status of the abandoned architectural work. Upon his nomination for the EDP – New Artists Award in 2019, Pavão presented the installation The Lost Longing For Existence at the MAAT. During the exhibition of this complex installation in the dark room attributed to the artist, the slides were exposed to 816 hours of light, the exact time they were on display. Meticulous but receptive to chance, Pavão was unaware that the original black and white slides would be transformed by this exposure and create what is now Hotel Palenque (Fóssil), a register of the passage of the time of the original installation, a yellowish monochrome piece in which the almost complete deletion of the image of a certain point of view of the hotel intensifies the passage of a time, prior to the present, and reveals the object in History. As the very title of the work may suggest, a trace in the memory of some (crystallized).
Lippard and Chandler (1968) asserted that several artists were losing interest in the physical evolution of the work of art, a trend that seemed to be causing a profound dematerialization of art, especially art as an object. If this tendency were to continue, the object could become obsolete. AnaMary Bilbao’s work process challenges this view, as the artist convokes a set of issues pertaining the subjectivity and dynamism of the experience of memory. If until very recently Bilbao expunged, subjecting any support (object) to an almost total erasure, to an erosion — her series of paper and film works Quando um sol se apaga, quem lhe restitui a luz?, Renascimento por transformação and Todas as formas sublimes são transitórias are good examples; today the artist invokes the object, preserving its pure materiality without manipulation, enjoying the irony of the passing time, which obliterates her objects, the object of her research. Archival memory is no longer partially erased, and contributes to a narrative, a new narrative that gives us part of the truth of “what has been” and becomes “what is.” We refer to her most recent work Como interromper a eternidade? (Intervalos para a dúvida), shown at the MAAT between May and September 2019, and to the series Timeless as Glass, of which the work Timeless as Glass (CI) (2019) is a part of, and that we can see in this exhibition. This piece recovers the pure truth of the negative, in this case a glass object (perhaps over one-hundred years old) found by the artist in London. Discovering that many of these negatives were destroyed during the Great World Wars, to melt and recover the silver for military purposes, silver becomes one of the subjects of the work, if not the most important, because according to Bilbao “it carries the presence of destruction, which is imposed on the memory of the glass, as it becomes the only survivor.” To this subject, along with the glass, with the wear and tear of time, are also added the fungi, which progressively take over the truth of the image, oxidation and corrosion. These processes that result from the passage of time and subject the negative to all these trials, end up superimposing on the image, partially or completely cancelling it. This succession of events is the artist’s current focus of interest. If Bilbao’s practice used to refer to the process itself, the piece Como interromper a eternidade? (Intervalos para a dúvida) invites narrative into her body of work. The series Timeless as Glass hides this static narrative, captured in a fraction of second, behind the complete imperfection of unicellular creatures, of natural chemical processes and the colours produced by them. To look at Timeless as Glass (Cl) is to lose sight of everything that it contains; observing it is an encounter with the beautiful, not just because of the work itself but because one is allowed to enter in the artist’s mental process; seeing what has been discovered, it is like being behind the lens, in an archive, selecting a singular landscape of events taken over by time; it is to recreate the lost object that has been remitted to oblivion; it is recreating the obsolete.
“Drawing is the source and the body of painting, sculpture and architecture, as well as the root of all sciences.” (HOLANDA, Francisco de, “Diálogos em Roma”, Lisbon: Livros Horizonte, 1984, p.61)
Almost in opposition to the three works described above, we are now faced with a drawing; graphite on paper. Notwithstanding, in the context of this exhibition the physical opposition that seems to challenge the other works may also function as something that agglutinates space and what is contained in it — not just because of the piece’s contents, but also because of its scale. We refer to Paulo Lisboa’s Untitled (2014), the last piece we describe here — and, ironically, the first we installed in the exhibition. If the other three works are shown on structures that enhance and support them, that frame them a white cube devoid of noise, either using frames (photographs) or plinths (sculpture), this drawing hangs from the ceiling: its physical and material fragility occupies and reconfigures the space. According to Lisboa, the “saturation of overlapping unidirectional lines that fill in and homogenise the field of action results from a transfer from the stone to the paper, a re-synthetisation of matter on a now mineralised surface.” This saturation represents the cancellation of ideation in the drawing. However, the way the ambient light reflects on its surface, on the saturation of the graphite, forming a metallic sheen that always depends on our perspective, leads us into the universe of the Image. As if it was a black — but not completely uniform — background of some dark image on the Internet, or, incorporating it in the world of photography, functioning as a dark slide — manipulated with scratches and incisions? — i.e. a metal or wood slab on which is applied the photographic emulsion. If, on the one hand, drawing evokes the ancestral human need to communicate and is reflected in an archive of memories, on the other hand, drawing as a process — through the hands of Paulo Lisboa — projects his sensitive reality, transforming itself into a new two-dimensional reality. It is a reconstruction that carries the weight of the invisible — the artistic thought — and is always visible, as if it were, like a photographer or a filmmaker, behind the lens.