Four lines, two marks: for cn
by Diogo Seixas Lopes
At the onset, an obstacle. The text comes to a halt and wonders: how can one write about poetry, how can one avoid eventually writing against it? «Excess poetry, excess gibberish, excess metaphors, excess nobility…», as the Pole Witold Gombrowicz complained in his text Against Poets. None of this can be said of what Carlos Nogueira does. However, such is his intention: poetry in an expanded field of action. To take it as the first rule to the detriment of art is not obvious but the text makes the decision and advances in that direction.
In fact, the titles and descriptions of his works venture determinedly into the lyrical genre, even taking on the form of verses and stanzas. Very seldom are these verses, which Carlos Nogueira himself refers to as details, to be mentioned in the essays written on his work. The details are, in effect, technical, as are the drawings and studies that accompany the production process of his sculptures and installations. All of these materials are equivalent and cannot be distinguished: this is an indivisible project. It would be possible to imagine a retrospective that, in an exercise of radical condensation, would be no more than this collection of poems where, for once, words are used related to spaces, structures and surfaces that seem to do away with any kind of sound. They emerge as aphorisms or as a prelude to the rendezvous with the work, and their interpretation obliges to a kind of solemnity.
The fact that these writings and their meaning have never before been broached may be due to a reluctance to pierce the ultimate boundary of what can no longer be spelt out. Only a poetic state could risk such a leap in the dark, at the mercy of anything, even the ridiculous («through courtliness, I lost my life», Arthur Rimbaud). Hence, we are confronted with the discomfort of literariness, the gibberish, the metaphors, nobility. The poems of Carlos Nogueira are the most critical point of his work, where everything is suspended between the flight and fall of his creations. They are also the emancipation of “an art for art’s sake”, self-conscious of its formal and theoretical systems. With the apparent courtliness of one who is losing his life, a powerful independence of these same systems is proclaimed. The universe cannot be measured within four walls.
from an olive tree, a hill down to the street, a forest/ like a river
Two rows of white poles ran along the path beginning at the olive tree and descending to the lanes of one of Lisbon’s highways. «An army of shining masts»1 was positioned on a no-man’s-land for a public art programme (1993): its units saluted with metronomic rhythm and the poles tore through the sky behind the knoll. In black and white photographs the suggestion of a drawing is conveyed, not only due to the line on the horizon but also because of the angle formed between the vertical lines and the land’s slope.
In an insertion plan the circumferential arcs and triangulations were marked out in Indian ink like a military map. It is a very accurate drawing, lining up, in absolute measurements, the aqueduct further ahead. However, the solitary tree contrasting with the constant flow of cars on the road completely shattered any possibility of it being merely a geometrical exercise. With the army of shining masts in the background, the tree founded a place, in the middle of nowhere, based on the very time it bore. Totally oblivious to the surrounding bustle, its presence was felt in the light and air that breezed between the plumb lines. The sparkling of the leaves and the rustling in the wind were amplified by such an iridescent and sibilant transmission. More than a monument, it was an atmosphere or even a microclimate (an olive tree...a forest...a river).
A gateway is another possibility. It could be crossed (the path had been set) and inhabited (beneath the tree top); it was immersed in a junction and built separately yet it hovered alongside these things, and at its highest point this entire world was transfigured. However, there wasn’t even room for analogies, nor could the author’s mark be found, merely a series of elements placed there which responded to a particular nature. A reality that seemed to precede its surroundings as it was out of date, a nature before time.
Nevertheless, later on, in a room at the Natural History Museum there was an introspective movement. Liquid whitewash was poured over the floor, around which it was possible to circulate since, on top of this white mantle, there was a deck of metallic contours and plywood. From here the geological occurrence in the compartment could be analysed, the tiny but irreversible transformation: as the days passed by the mantle dried out and, in a state of petrification, began to cleave and crack until it was returned to dust.
The context was appropriate to the phenomenon: a place where mineral specimens are deposited. However, its impact was not merely contained within those roughly plastered walls; it spilt over into limitless space and time. Similar to a laboratory, conditions for the prefiguration of a universal order were created, that of matter restricted to the pre-Socratic cycle of the earth, air, water and fire.
The encounter between the existent architecture and the shapeless mass that filled it brought to mind New York Earth Room (1977) by Walter de Maria, who deposited a thick layer of soil on the floor of one of the city’s buildings. Its appearance in an urban interior gave rise to ecology between the natural and the artificial, which may still be found today. To make the land a measurement of time is, in these cases, to proclaim its permanence as a support of our existence, going far beyond all constructions. As in chão de cal (1994), the land prevails over them and anticipates their dissolution. It has been framed in a short instant of its life so as to highlight that law.
However, rather than an aphorism, what we are left with is a drawing that is capable of outlining itself. The deck from which it was observed could be no more than its vibrant passe-partout, a slight hint of colour in an atonal piece as found in Kazimir Malevitch or Piero Manzoni. The page imprisoned itself, tearing lines through it. Gradually, the burning light projected on it was sucked in by the lines until, completely drained, it was denied entry.
Constructing a place, one part inside, the other, on the other side
Let us imagine that the white mantle had undergone such high pressure and temperatures that, by a metamorphic process, the whitewash had become marble. Instead of faults, it now displayed veins and the trowel marks had become a strict frame that divided it into modules. This space would be a crystallization of the previous one, a virtual quartz, having been immersed in the real. The stone bed on which its reconnaissance was born immediately produced an effect of levitation on the visitor. Fittingly, this field of zero gravity was accessed through a crack, a narrow passage to “the other side”. It was, indeed, very different to the sloping processional climb to the deck of the whitewashed mantle.
The white marble mantle - a ver (1998-2002) – was a mental, incorporeal thing, with little more than what has already been mentioned: twenty-seven additional units of stone in a nine-by-three position, two double-sided transparent mirrors on opposite ends and different sides of the room, the latter divided by a longitudinal furrow with pieces of coal and ashes. The depth of this black streak in such a white casement was not measurable, neither was the extension of the plane marked out. Once again it seemed to go beyond the surrounding walls, even beyond the building itself (another museum, this time of modern art).
What could previously have been interpreted as the celebration of a primitive soul was put face to face, here, with a more than finely tuned orchestration of parts in the tension between the antechamber (empty) and, on “the other side”, the chamber (empty). To quote Le Corbusier, it was a “box of miracles”, the fruit of conjuring, stereotomy and optics. It also came from the organic that had carbonized and become mineral, a bed running beneath the mantle, a ballast of what was left behind in its ascension to a state beyond the material. Redounding and contradicting: this is a minute artistic form that does not forsake the aesthetic experience of the sublime.
With the light that was still left/ a floor was made
The journey ends in a house. In this itinerary of archetypes this is, perhaps, the most poignant, so flimsy is its constitution. The foundations in iron and glass form a rectangle whose length is double the width; the planes are raised in a single spiral movement with overlaying wooden boards at each end. From the skylight a glimpse may be caught of the interior and the light that is shed from within. They are more than walls, they are curtains erecting a volatile dwelling.
In the event of having to incorporate this construção para lugar nenhum (construction to nowhere) (2002-2003) in terms of architecture, parallelisms should be immediately dismissed since its existence precedes the technical and significant systems of this subject. The starry sky as a roof is all this house needs, and its scale is indeterminable. Rather than tectonic reductionism, a topological cohesion is the result of the extreme precision with which its materials are assembled. Hence, it is not subordinated to a domesticated, Cartesian space but belongs to the territories of mythical space.
The relationship established by Minimalism with certain architectonic structures, particularly a self-referential and tautological condition, is marginal to this identity. Blood ties are more easily beheld in the work of the North American Richard Tuttle where, with a disconcerting economy of means, small artefacts remind us as much of the molecular as they do of the galactic. In both cases, the enigma is preferred over the axiom and, through its opposition with the minimalistic canon, the symbol is activated in order to release the energy imbibed in its foundations.
The house is, thus, enkindled by a primitive magic, the fire of poetry to which this text returns: «andava um homem à procura de si / quando reparou que as searas tinham sido incendiadas / o mar se desregulara / e o sol ardia de outra maneira / com as mão que pôde dedicou-se a juntar pedras / e o que restava / a construir uma casa geométrica com abertura para cima / no sentido ao contrário da paisagem e das casas / que até então conhecera.»2 This is its indomitable language: without adjectives, without rhetoric, without language. This is also its architecture: without nomenclatures, without conventions, without architecture.
It can be simplified by saying they are merely texts, drawings, sculptures and that a mysticism which permeates them cohabits subtly with variations on land art or arte povera, for instance. Innocence and intentionality are interlaced in the ethics of an art that has always been and will always be. In his “author’s books” this progression, a totally biographical reinforcement of independence and integrity, is being documented: his books of hours. Further developing this notion, their format is fixed, portable like a shrine that pressuposes their previous and posthumous in memoriam edition. Sparse letters and images follow in monocromatic austerity, contradicted by the tactibility of the pages; embossed or varnished on matt or glossy paper. The result of this combination is a palpable and sequential chiaroscuro object. Works of art in their own right, equal to the rest, they enclose within themselves other texts, other drawings, other sculptures. In one case, a silvery card was placed on a left page and a black and white photograph on the right. It is the view of Cabo Espichel from a stone bench, its bridgehead. The scenery is reflected upside-down on the card as is our face. The seam of the pages is like the bisector of a vertiginous self-portrait of ourselves and Carlos Nogueira in that place. All that remains to be said of this encounter is the word that led us there: here.
1 João Luís Carrilho da Graça, «Travei o meu Ford Fiesta» in Carlos Nogueira, Permanência da Água, Lisboa, 1994
2 Texto de Carlos Nogueira afixado na antecâmara da exposição construção para lugar nenhum.