The gates of the river await you
by José Augusto Mourão
Imagining, in art, is a remissive operation from the fictum to the reality from whence it emerges: the invention is fertilised by the data, and the data fertilised by the invention.
Love is a patch, writing is a line. The face is a patch, steps are a line.
1. As portas do rio te estão abertas [the gates of the river await you] is the name of Carlos Nogueira’s installation, which follows such works as entre duas águas, uma floresta como um rio and chão de cal. The art of this maker of forms has never abandoned the topic of fluidity and the use of poor materials, insistently returning to those objects that reconnect the world with language and the everyday. You are right: the more our everyday lives are based on images, the more visually insensitive we become. A rhetoric of blindness, you say. Between-two, or on the floor, the furrowed, dead paraffin rises as a summoning of the eye, an interlocution: the gates of the river await you. But the river, like any other flux, leaves in its wake sand formations, concavities, vats filled with water or plaster. It welcomes all kinds, both living (carps) and dead, in its passage. The auratic gates that once guarded the source of art are now closed. If the house darkens, it falls to the skylight to lead our irrepressible attraction towards brightness. Two skylights, and, in the same exact size, two ‘pieces’, a pair of iron vats, one containing carps (9) and the other paraffin and texts (9). Only the gates of the river that await you can ensure the aura’s persistence, since the pontifex who once monitored the bridges and fluxes is now dead. The emergence of pure aesthetics and the dogma of uselessness or of pleasure without a concept have forgotten the ritual of the institutionalisation of art and its cultural promotion. May, at least, our hands and head be free from control. Only through interaction, only through new ways of making and thinking can our personal touch manage to come up from diving to breathe. The figure’s fate lies in preserving the difference between diving and sinking. In the end, what is the figure’s use? To disturb the peaceful consciousness of the technological and rational world, as it acts in a world that no longer has a place for it. Or, maybe, to reorient our common search for light and the invisible through visible things. After all, the aura resides – not in the thing itself but in the originality of the moment when we see, hear, read, repeat, revise (1).
2. Infinity, permanence, eternity. On this conceptual triad, let us raise four-footed solids that sustain a steel tank. Let us then build two such pieces in the vertical of the skylights, exactly corresponding to their outlines. Since everything visible tends to become an enunciation, speaking of limit forces one to consider infinity. A border is more concrete, closer to physics. Art objects probably belong to the realm of the pheno-physical and intersubjective veridiction. Physis and Polis. Botho Strauss warns of the danger that lurks in seeing form simply as a marble feature or a finely crafted verse: ‘Form is also: that which escapes out of sight’ (2). When in the presence of certain forms, visible objects, enunciations, there are always vectors or tensors that inspire reactions of attraction or repulsion in us. A form swathed in an infinite power possesses the strength of the sacred, which can immobilise and fascinate. The artist’s intuition or syncretic, global vision demands a kind of hypnotic suspension, or else something Foucault called ‘dream transcendence’. The emission of forms is by nature endless, and their reception demands an open, infinite attention, leading to fatigue. But aesthetics, too, can become trivial and lethargic. Why else should a stone’s material reality touch, wound and awake us if not through its very availability?
3. The book’s end, more precisely: the book’s erosion. The ruin of reading, drained by the image. The transformational history of the book, or of the pathic page: from white to beige, to yellowish. Let us arrange nine rotting books, scratching away their texts. Let us add to this (potential) space nine dun carps. The magic of the formula. And of affection. What leads us to attribute a numinous power to the ‘ready made’, in the name of the tyranny of appearances? If all seeming is a promise of being (the promise carries in its heart a noetic obscurity that is co-essential to it), why should we remain locked in the prison of appearances? Does not art promise the impossible?
4. Impermeability. Mounds. Is it not thus that the farmer gathers hay? Return to the beginning. To what is washed, clean. What is the beginning? Art, the aesthetic stance, defines itself as a simple mode of our presence in the world. To create a body of work is more than simply adding up items: it is to open, to denounce a world. The task of enunciative praxis is to reorient, convert, convoke, transfigure. The identity, the first person ‘I’, can only define itself in terms of social interaction. Relationship has always preceded identity. It is between us that this iron base, this door, these books and that carp glitter, recommence, originate, correspond: the gates of the river await you…
5. Immanence. That is to say, the way the art works inhabit their material support. Aesthetic judgement always precedes and is exterior to the work. A form has neither centre nor periphery; the form of a skin or of a wrinkled sequence (the paraffin) in space or time never begins, and ends everywhere and nowhere at once. Form is immersed into an open possibility, while meaning keeps paradigmatic thought between an impossibility and a necessity, thus defining a path. The beautiful is what turns sense (meaning) into non-sense, replacing our syntaxes with parataxes. The beautiful is parataxical (Per Aage Brandt). Conciliating the limit with the limitless, the luminous with the dark, the breath with the form: such is the gesture that is expected from a creator of forms. Carlos Nogueira is an excellent master of conciliations, never resorting to facile solutions. The exactness of his installations owes nothing to improvisation or chance. There I find you, in the clear gesture of one who recreates the world out of the remaining matter.
6. To bring distance in, without losing track of the beginning. Art is, by definition, referential, expressive and self-reflexive. Through it, glimpses of the universe, of the artist’s point of view and of the technical and conceptual perplexities of his way of making can be achieved. Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol add nothing to the items they promote to art objects. The transfiguring intervention of the concept is all it takes to raise them to the status of art. I would not be exact to say that non-mimetic art ‘doesn’t look like anything’; its object exists, but it has a mode of existence that is different from the one of the visible world. Transposition work. These art objects are indistinguishable from everyday object, there being no perfect objects, nor failed objects. But they have, like fire or wind, the movement or discontinuity of a reality ungraspable by the eye. Only the forms of attention can configure them: a sequence of almost infinite interpretances.
7. Art lives on propensities; it stages protensivities, passions. Conflict, strong antagonistic impressions, actantial centres and questioning: these drive life forward. Art cannot breathe outside the tensional space of filtered, re-figured, fleeing light. A study of the passions’ subjective modulations is essential if we wish to confront the strange angels we are virtually becoming, because the invisibilisation of technological processes has disturbed the traditional mind-body separation, or the place of the body as the centre of emotion, intensity, violence and passion. A continuity connects today the real and the virtual, the human and the technological. This emerging place in our culture must be inquired into. Our culture will not have to embrace the purely technocratic meaning of the digital world, the endless forms that without degradation reproduce the same, until perfection is reached. It is not that kind of culture that emerges from these forms so near to us, through affection and touch. However, their disposition, which confronts side by side the living and the dead (books are closed tombs unless we open them to read), indicates the fissure that is opening between the natural and the artificial in art itself, which is not life.
8. Distractions: it is no longer so – the infinity of interpretance. Let us hold on to the principle that everything in the work of art is subject to interpretation. Criticism calls for discernment, against the seduction of the simulacrum, for courage, against forsaking truth in the name of an interest, against the disaster that is allowing oneself to be carried away by the extremities of Totality. ‘What darkens the world is its own totality’(3). Carlos Nogueira’s installations correspond to a moment in culture, to a moral-practical or aesthetic-expressive rationality, not to some absolute moment. If History is the designation, for each epoch, of its ‘allotment of the visible and the enunciable’ (Deleuze), that is to say, of its knowledge, installations such as these perform for us, today, the function of the archive, which is, according to Foucault, audio-visual. Their value lies in preparing us for a history of visibilities and enunciates. Now, what these installations allow us to see is, fundamentally, the history of the objects’ becoming, of their ephemerality in their plastic manipulation and their critical gesture. Beauty offers a plenitude that neither fills in nor floods, but disengages.
9. An operation of de-imagination. A de-realisation of reality, space as something available for all fictions. To not hold on to anything that has a name, therein lies the highest freedom: ‘he who comfortably clings to the sign will not reach inner freedom’ (Meister Eckhart). Minimalists were the last generation that still spoke of music in itself. Which was actually a limitation. Music is just a vehicle for what is beyond it (Wim Mertens). And the same goes for installations; we should talk about their metafunction, as it is usual to speak of metaphor, metabolism, metastability or metamorphosis. It is the passivity of our senses that makes us speak of the world, of objectivity, of the being and becoming of things. Objects are arranged according to a narrativity that groups them into significant constellations, ‘mounds’, like the ones children make when they play seriously, and in accordance with a temporality that has a very peculiar pulse connecting memory, the past and the virtual future we call anticipation. Spatiality and temporality in flight and in patches. Nothing in these landscapes by Carlos Nogueira ties us to a place, to a reason offended by the features of the world’s small elements. Carlos Nogueira’s world is simultaneously magical and transitional, free from the constitutional anguish that characterises the realm of the sublime (4). ‘The world of bridges loses itself in the sun’s milk. The world of bridges finds a new shore’ (Beuys). To leave the line and enter the field of force, from figure to figure, without a single of them ever displaying the passion of reductio ad unum. Paraffin invokes childhood, desert, distance, death, basically the long-gone myths of our careless infancy. Back then, reality possessed a structure that was at once canonical and open, deflagrated. The cybernetic angel had not yet stolen from us the power to reconfigure the world in accordance with our desire, which stretched broad and wide over the plaster-smelling or metallic-looking floor, the forest, between two waters. Before the door, we hesitate. As if the light were not enough to pass through the water tanks. Or as if we feared carps. Or as if the dust from the books kept us from searching between the lines for the wisdom that, in ancient times, was written or painted. If there are reasons for knocking on an empty house(5), there must be plenty of reasons for passing through the gates of the river that await you.
(1) Douglas Davis, «The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction», Leonardo, vol. 28, nº 5, p. 386.
(2) Botho Strauss, L´incommencement. Réflexions sur la tâche et la ligne, Paris, Gallimard, 1996, p. 71.
(3) Maria Filomena Molder, «Chão de Cal / Instalação», Carlos Nogueira, Permanência da Água, Lisbon, 1994, p. 54.
(4) Per Aage Brandt, «L´Esthétique du Temps», course notes: 10.
(5) Bill Viola, Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House, Cambridge MA, The MIT Press, 1995.
Translation by José Gabriel Flores