Life passes through here
by Gisela Rosenthal
And words like God and Death and Suffering
and Eternity must be again forgotten.
And we must be once again as simple and wordless
as the grain that grows or the rain that falls.
We must simply be.
Carlos Nogueira begins his work always in the same way, by resorting to a certain pre-established discipline and accomplishing a few predetermined steps. In spite of that, he always manages to take new, unexplored, unique paths. At the beginning are the reconnaissance and contemplation of the spaces in which he will intervene, as well as of the lines of force with which he will interfere. This gathering of spatial and environmental information will later help him to project the occupation of available spaces “in an aesthetic perspective”, as the artist himself explains, “always taking into consideration the pre-existences, as, for instance, in terms of orientation, or of lighting and other elements, always making sure that my intervention will match… another dimension that, before existing in volumetric terms, can be found on the level of sensorial propositions… recovering forces and energies that they themselves already possess and which interest me particularly.” On the other hand, he continues, “it is projected without disrespecting my needs in terms of the construction and organisation of the piece itself, but with a view to integrating it with tangency and continuity lines…”(1) The primacy of the sensorial and the desire to awaken the senses to other dimensions of being – both contemporary echoes of founding imaginal gestures which Kasimir Malevich(2) intended to fulfil at the beginning of the past century through the “supremacy of pure sensation”, the “surface freed from the pressure of objects” and the “sole truth, which only exists in the absence of objects, in nothing” – are fundamental elements in Carlos Nogueira’s work, since its beginning in the 1970s.
In the concrete instance of desenhos, construções e outros acidentes [drawings, constructions and other accidents], the artist’s attention, applied to the tectonics and energy of the space in question, has led to the conception of a set of drawings and constructions which interact across the four rooms of the espaço arte contemporânea, forming an itinerary to which only the spectator can confer full meaning. The future spectator’s direct experiencing of it is, indeed, the axle around which Carlos Nogueira’s work develops. Everything is consecrated to him, from the spatial concept to the smallest details in the settingup (drawings displayed at precisely eye level or slightly above or below it; displaying of constructions in space in scales that use the spectator’s physical body and gaze as references, etc.).
The following text attempts to express one among the many views that can be achieved by those who are willing to wholeheartedly inhabit the dwellings that make up the itinerary created by the artist. Prior to anything else, it presents the complex intervention following its stages of materialisation in space. In his drawings of built landscapes and in the large constructions, the artist combines materials that are humble and insignificant in themselves, taken from the banal everyday life that is omnipresent in the contemporary world, creating powerful tensions by their very heterogeneity. The paradoxical effect of this confrontation is conveyed by elements that try to bring into light the consciousness that is imprisoned in these materials (sometimes that task falls to light itself), suddenly opening the eye to the beauty and countless dimensions which inhabit the essence of Being in its most minuscule expressions. The text, too, finds itself seduced by the delightful titles given to the drawings, in which the artist consciously plays with the inborn human need to name things and thus give them meaning. The obvious disparity between immediate perception and the titles inspires anxiety and doubt, dismantling and, perhaps, briefly suspending the ceaseless mental activity before it can again proceed to the sourgent integration of the perceived thing through its comparison with memory‑stored experiences. While precisely putting into question the automatic nature of this mental mechanism, Carlos Nogueira equates what is with what we perceive of reality, opening, in the interval of perception as it wanders between one and the other, our eyes to what could be called the haiku quality that is intrinsic to the high‑risk aesthetic operation through which the artist challenges the limits of his own making, between the ephemeral and casual qualities of the materials employed and the permanence to which his work aspires. His language of uncertainty and dissimilitude, which allows him to work thus, is permanently open to chance and accident, reacting seismographer‑like to the energetic forces present in the intervention spaces, leading the viewer into directly experiencing possibly unknown inner territories. It comes as no surprise, then, that silence is always intensely present in the artist’s interventions, and that these convey the freshness and clarity of the “first time”, of an inaugural moment. However, like the artist, the text is unable to fully resist the universe the titles suggest, yielding to the irrepressible human desire to tell stories or, rather, to tell his own story and world view.
The scheme of a construction is a combination of
lines and the planes and forms which they define.
It is a system of forces.
Anything can be painted without representation.
Cloud drawing. Stair drawing.
An aluminium plate, pounded by the artist into a roughly circular shape, hovers high on the wall. The light glows over its irregular surface, while the darkness in its indentations prolongs itself in the shadow it casts on the white wall. An industrial material is turned, in this context of the here and now, into a “cloud” by the will and hand of the artist – who has all the reason to see himself as both an artisan and an aesthetic operator. Beneath stands, on two legs on the floor and two against the wall, an old iron stepladder, with that intense colouring rust lends to things. In its fragile balance, this “stair” could not take the weight of feet that would try to climb it. Light, in its descent, lingers in the void spaces between the beams that once held the seven steps.
Twelve rounded, rusty iron bars of different lengths come out of the same wall, prolonging themselves in energetic waves across the space. “You have a line, you know a little bit about where it begins, and you know a little about how it travels through space. But where does it end? A new way of travelling across space, combining origin and movement.”(3) Or maybe, as the title suggests, twelve breaths of life, awakened by the morning breeze, launching themselves, under different signs, at the storms of the world. Their roots are horizontally aligned at regular intervals on the walls.
Built landscape drawings (house blueprint drawing. dark house drawing.)
Framed in structures of rough iron, six drawings are displayed in pairs of growing size, on two walls of the same room. Drawings made over twenty years ago, which remind the artist of his first adolescent drawings. They express the same desire of delimiting planes through lines, creating bior tripartite spaces, or that are otherwise articulated into multiples of two and three, through the application, discreet though it may be, of a predetermined rule. Once, I suppose, they were realized in play on the floor, using easytofind everyday materials to build drawings of bipartite houses that already at the time were equating the tensions between opposites. Nowadays, the artist uses industrial materials – pieces of old cardboard, corrugated sheet, timbers, which he sometimes covers with white or black industrial paint, thus altering their original rough textures. House blueprints, foundations that are perhaps the bases for future, more solid constructions, ephemeral landscapes, built now and ever in the interstices of the physical platform of continuous spacetime. They seem to obey, almost secretly, in terms of the drawing’s overall measurements and of its internal construction, the so‑called Rule of Three. This law, according to ancient tradition, rules all creation, conciliating opposites, that tension of duality ever‑present in the real world.(4) Conveying the intense living experiences the house shelters, these tensions are indicated in the drawings through the opposition of black and white on the pages of an open book in one of them, or also by the subtle distinction of white planes in another one. The third element sometimes intensifies the antagonisms, by bringing in greater disorder, or dissolves them, in other cases, generating harmony and balance.
I find that art which doesn’t tell you anything about what things are – but rather the opposite – is the door to seeing some thing as it is.
The three other rooms of the eac are occupied by an equal number of constructions, made in harmony with the dimensions of the human body. Articulated in iron structures, they superimpose panes of frosted glass on mirrored surfaces, which in turn conceal old window shutters, still in their original faded colours. Under the shutters, another iron structure lends the constructions an illusory lightness, as if they were floating above the floor or in front of the wall. There is an obvious connection between these three built sets, who share the same depth (0,34 mt), though there are variations in the number of elements they combine and the respective heights and widths of the overlapping glass plates, mirrors and shutters. The first construction combines four long and narrow elements, whose surfaces of milky mirror‑glass, with their 2,20 mt length, surpass human height and, in combination with their 0,50 mt width, could easily accommodate a prone human body. Placed on the floor close to each other, they keep secret most of the shutters that sustain them. Flooded by light, which completely obfuscates their mirroring effect, the four greenish plates lie immobile, unperturbed by reflections from their surroundings. The other constructions combine two elements each, and these are visibly smaller and wider than the ones in the first construction (0,63x1,25/0,53x1,25mt and 0,45x0,83/0,45x0,83mt, respectively). Hanging on the walls of the last two rooms, they slowly reveal their founding layer of shutters. In the first of these constructions, the mirror‑glass has been removed from the right element. Leaning against the iron structure of its frame, it discloses part of its underlying shutter. In the second, the mirrorglass that covered the shutter on the left has been placed on the floor to the right of the construction, so that the mirror behind the glass can be seen. The completely revealed shutter, slightly more to the back, finds itself opposed by the milky mirrorglass surface on its side.
Carlos Nogueira innovatively revisits in these three constructions the problem of the representation of reality, which occurs in Western Art at the beginning of the past century, curiously the time from which the shutters date. These door‑like elements were originally used to cover windows and, when opened, revealed the outside world. Now, as part of the construction, they conceal the emblematic location that, over the centuries, has been reserved, first in the houses of noblemen and burghers, and then in the white cube of museums and galleries, to those “windows to the world”. That is to say, they substitute paintings, which, from the Renaissance until Modernity, have tried to simulate, through the use of perspective, the vision of the human being, who places himself and his perspective on things at the centre of the world. By concealing them under mirrored surfaces, the artist alludes, on the superimposed layer, to the mirror, which until Modernity had stood as a metaphor for self‑discovery and a selfrepresentation instrument for the painters operating inside that same worldview. Duchamp was the first to introduce an ironic stance regarding the mirrored image as a representation of the reality it reflects. Painters like Rainer Fetting or Francesco Clemente, for instance, would later put the mirror into question on their self‑portraits, while Pistoletto thoroughly sabotaged its double role in art, by including it as a real object in his pictures, once and for all mixing up the conventional separation between real and depicted space by bringing the spectator into the image. To these two “historical layers” of the constructions are added plates of frosted glass, which cancel the mirroring effect or reduce the reflected image to a mere shadow. In a contemporary gesture, the artist refuses to the mirror‑glass the ability of being an illusory image of reality, by keeping its old location empty. Limited, once again, to his own act of perception, the spectator is reduced to the interval between the frustrated expectation of finding his own image and the image of his surroundings projected on the mirror‑glass, and the contemplation of the intact surface’s intrinsic nature. Once the simulacrum has been abolished, what appears behind it? A shutter that once opened to reveal reality, but is now closed. And, to the side, the silence of an empty surface. Could it be that, to attain a vision of reality, it is necessary to move oneself and one’s projections from the centre of the image’s surface, thus relinquishing the protagonist role human beings always claim for themselves in all events? The question of the relation between representation and real space acquires a new virulence, once it is transferred to the conditioning to which the human eye is subjected, since, practically from birth, it is oriented by the convention of central perspective. The three constructions and the experience they offer induce a possible transformation in perception, which may emancipate us from overly concentrating on a single, selfcentred point of view, thanks to its dissolution of our projection of fictitious Selves on reality. The abolition of the perspective‑based (self)image means the return to a vision that had always been present in all of us, but is simply forgotten or lies dormant deeper down. Once brought to the light, it can establish, as the spectator moves across the real space, a direct and free relationship with the surrounding energetic field around him, which will reveal the nature of that ceaseless flow of reality, to which he fully belongs.
House drawing. water drawing.
By resorting to a scale and a position on the wall that makes them look as if the eye had discovered them from a great height above the Earth, the four drawings at the end of the exhibition further increase the lightness already noticeable in the last two constructions, which seem about to free themselves from gravity’s pull. The house drawing is a simple construction of thin wooden boards, painted in white with two rooms, one closed, the other opening skywards. The whole, placed on a small metallic prop, hovers in front of the wall. While the dark house drawing in the first room, an identical structure, only painted black, is stuck to a kind of thick, rough material, here the house appears in its solar incarnation, even though, beneath the white, some inklings of its former nature still manage to emerge. Its company piece is the water drawing, a tiny structure consisting of a mass of wires painted bright red. At first, they look like scattered roots, but then come together, tied with another wire, and start running parallel to each other, before separating in an estuary of filigreed transparency with delicate joints. Here, the structure is displayed horizontally, floating against the wall. But it could also rise vertically as a small tree, or maybe as a human being, the inhabitant of the neighbouring house. Be these drawings metaphors for a water course, a tree, or a human being, through all of them runs the same vital energy flux, a nourishment that irradiates as much from Heaven as from Earth.
House drawing. Dark‑keeper drawing.
In the last room, the house drawing is a tiny bird’s nest, a fragile organic construction of dry grass and cotton tufts that, via a Duchampian gesture, was taken from its natural environment and included in the exhibition’s itinerary. Beside it is the dark‑keeper drawing, a small structure of thin wooden boards painted white, with an articulated lid that is open. The small elongated rectangle cannot fail to evoke the classic shape for the human body’s last dwellingplace. It is no longer used to keep the dark, as its title implies, since the light is free to enter it. On its inside walls, a shiny blackness evokes that fate and, on close inspection, the traces of darkness reveal other kinds of colour: a blue intense as a dawning sky and a red as bright as if it now held the secret treasure of a new life. According to the artist, a visit to the exhibition could also begin with these two drawings, and then proceed to the drawings which open it here. And Carlos Nogueira also mentions that, in that case, the exhibition would become a vicious circle, that is to say, a closed circuit, in which beginning and end become confused and from which there is no way out. It would then look like the never ending time cycle symbolised by the Ouroboros, the emblematic serpent that bites its own tail. The abandoned house‑nest, built by the survival instinct as a shelter for the reproduction of life, is a memory of the annual migrating journey to which its birds took, after a short flight practice. Could it be that the empty dark‑keeper drawing is telling us a similar story, which only our conventional perception fails to recognise?
Lisbon, November 2008
1 Interviewed by Maria João Seixas, Pública, 9 September 2001
2 Kasimir Malevitch, Écrits 1. De Cézanne au Suprématisme, Lausanne, Éditions L’Âge d’Homme, 1974.
3 Richard Tuttle.
4 This law from ancient initiatic tradition was, to give one example from among many, revived in the early 20th century by physician and priest George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff in his search for a universal knowledge of reality. “Everything obeys to the Law of Three, everything existing came into being in accordance to this law. Combinations of positive and negative principles can produce new results, different from the first and the second, only if a third force comes in.” Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973, p. 195.
Translated by José Gabriel Flores