An open dialogue with Carlos Nogueira Construction and memory
Do we know where we live? Ever since their earliest evolutionary stages and the formation of the species, human beings have always looked for places to take shelter and find protection — whether impermanent, throughout the millennia when nomadic tribes roamed about in groups of hunter-gatherers, or allegedly stable, after the development of agriculture and herding gave rise to urban settlements. That search has continued to this day, leading to the highly complex urban conglomerates of our time and to the rise of a telepolis, where we find ourselves adrift amidst an increasingly global digital city. This protected, furrowed space is what we broadly call home.
To us, humans, living involves charting or building a space to inhabit, where we can keep our dreams of permanence and stability. There, at the core of human existence, is where Carlos Nogueira’s exemplary artistic tension is located. He has said so himself: “my work focuses on tectonic and poetic issues”. Tectonics:
pertaining to building. Poetics: plastic interrogation.
Carlos Nogueira’s work, with its diverse configurations and materials, makes us wonder about the places that humankind builds to make earth inhabitable. Thus, plastic construction becomes intertwined with memory. Where do we place those living spaces? How much nature and culture do they have? Where do the spaces that we inhabit come from?
Having come so far, it is important to remember that space is but an abstraction. At first glance, space is transparent, invisible — we can see things, people, objects, but not space itself. Grasping space requires a process of abstraction. That is how geometry arose, as an abstraction of nature and natural forms. Like many other aspects of our cultural tradition, our notion of space is indebted to Greek thought.
Ingrained in the origins of Greek philosophy and science, this notion was probably first defined by Pythagoras (570-497 BC), which is indeed a relevant fact due to the essential role played by numbers and mathematics in the Pythagorean school. It later called the attention of Zeno of Elea (born c. 490/485 BC), best known for his paradoxes of motion. Its first precise categorial formulation may be found in one of Plato’s late, and possibly more influential, dialogues — Timaeus, arguably written around the second half of the 4th century BC.
What is the origin of the universe? It is within this cosmological context that Plato made precise categorial use of the term space [jóra], when stating that «there are Being and Space and Becoming, three in number with threefold nature, even before the heavens were created» (Timaeus, 52 d)1. For Plato, Being corresponded to divine Forms or Ideas, which he described as «the unchanging idea, unbegotten and imperishable, neither receiving aught into itself from without nor itself entering into aught else, invisible, nor in any wise perceptible». Conversely, Becoming was «sensible, created, ever in motion, coming to be in a
certain place and again from thence perishing, apprehensible by opinion with sensation» (Timaeus, 52 a).
Between these two opposite planes, Ideas or Forms beyond the world, on the one hand, and Becoming, within the world of the senses, on the other, there is also a third nature - that of space, «everlasting, admitting not destruction, but affording place for all things that come into being, itself apprehensible without sensation by a sort of bastard reasoning, hardly matter of belief. It is with this in view that dreaming we say that all which exists must be in some place and filling some space, and that what is neither on earth nor in heaven anywhere is nought.» (Timaeus, 52 b).
Plato, therefore, conceived space not only as “mediator” between the essential fixity of being and the changing nature of the sensory world, but as an eternal and indestructible singularity that provides a vessel to all that has been generated. In other words, space is a receptacle or container, where all things and beings are located. As it can only be perceived by a kind of «bastard reasoning», Plato distinguishes between space and Forms, the latter only apprehended by “true reason”. But space is also «apprehensible without sensation», which sets it apart from Becoming, apprehended not through reason but the senses. Therefore, between reason and the senses, as well as outside both planes, space is such an abstract idea that, as Plato himself pointed out, is «hardly matter of belief».
That which human beings chart and demarcate in order to inhabit, however, is a construction in space.
When I first saw Carlos Nogueir’s remarkable sculpture Casa comprida com árvores dentro (2012) in Santo Tirso’s Sculpture Park, I immediately felt that difficulty mentioned by Plato to believe in the existence of space. The piece itself is the expression of a paradox, as it is simultaneously culture and nature. Depending on his/her position, the viewer can see either two trees within the construction, or one inside and the other one outside.
Plastic construction: a concrete prism resting on four pillars allows us to be outside and inside at the same time, in nature and in culture, as nomads and as urban dwellers. In his notes to the design, Carlos Nogueira pointed out that the construction is made of white concrete, poured into the formwork at different stages,
so that its “slices” (fatias) may be seen, namely the phases of its production. Literally: construction and memory.
This is a key issue in Carlos Nogueira’s artistic endeavour. In Paisagem (1983), for instance, an oscillating rectangle in black acrylic paint is superimposed on a white surface. The phrases “branco sobre branco”2 and “ficar quieto então como é diz lá”3 are written on it. Staying still before the superimposition, before black sliding over white, or my own body sliding over space. Everything in life, and that is what art teaches us, is superimposition and contrast — white on white, outside/inside, nature/human construction.
What truly matters in this construction is keeping the traces of memory, the record of its stages, so that the piece makes us understand that there are no homogeneous or excluding spaces: everything is blend and synthesis. I would like to conclude by quoting Carlos Nogueira’s own words, taken, like the previous ones, from his catalogue o lugar das coisas (2013): “BUILDING A PLACE A PART INSIDE THE OTHER ONE ON THE OTHER SIDE”.
translation LAURA TALLONE