the wise mutation
... a casa a casa é uma sapiente mutação.
(... the house the house is a wise mutation.)
(João Miguel Fernandes Jorge, Alguns Círculos )
1. House: its design
The construction and structuring of a thought, in its never definitive configuration, unfolds in accordance with and to the shifting rhythm of speech. This intuition is developed in a short essay by Heinrich von Kleist titled ‘On the Gradual Production of Thoughts Whilst Speaking’. The intention is not to arrive at a final meaning of the thought; the guiding principle is instead relational and open. At one point Kleist posits the idea that at the end of each spoken sentence a kind of clearing of understanding opens up — and the sentences of this writer are known for their complex, folding, yet clear and rigorous, syntactic construction, generally referred to in terms of the German concept of Verschachtelung — the image of nesting boxes, in other words. In constructing the phrase (and many of Carlos Nogueira’s constructive sequences are phrases, segments of
speech, produced with a highly personal visual vocabulary) Kleist describes processes that could quite easily be transposed to the method seemingly long followed by the artist, right back to his early performative interventions in the 1970s and 80s. The German writer explains: ‘I put in a few unarticulated sounds, dwell lengthily on the conjunctions, perhaps make use of apposition where it is not necessary and have recourse to other tricks which will spin out my speech, all to gain time for the fabrication of my ideas in the workshop of the mind.’1
In turn, a work (and the work of Carlos Nogueira in particular), which is never a universal and neutral form of expression, but always a particular and specific way of speaking, that ‘is not born, but made’, is configured as a gradual construction, in the unfolding from work to work and in the specific space and time of each installation or exhibition. The principle that sustains it, in the case to be considered here, is that of the ‘gentle shifting’ of a matrix or underlying archetype, which for Carlos Nogueira appears to have long been that of the house — in the many senses this can be understood, as a word and as an object: architectural structure, a place that is habitable (even if only by the gaze, a ‘white floor’, by light, or by a tree), a module, an element in a game or a puzzle, a frame, perimeter, even an ontological category... A house is, as a Portuguese poet
puts it, everything that ‘becomes centre and distance in us’, ‘the etching of time, at the edge / of already faded lines’, ‘the symmetry // rediscovered in what we saw / as dispersed...’ (Fernando Guimarães, in Casa: O Seu Desenho) — lines that could easily be applied to many of Carlos Nogueira’s works, as will become ever clearer.
With every work, Carlos Nogueira returns to the house that a world engulfed by an explosion of images is no longer able to see, filling it and showing it to us. His work restores meanings to the deserted house of the world, which Hölderlin, and in his wake Fiama Hasse Pais Brandão, saw as empty to the gaze, which is reconfigured by disperse and remote materials, the action of time and openness to being penetrated by new meanings. Likewise in Fiama’s poem ‘Aber das Haus ist öde mir’ [But the House is Deserted to Me Now], from the 1970 publication (Este) Rosto, there are again potential links to Carlos Nogueira:
Yet the house (place of the body), is emptiness,
the figures: here the outline of the stone, the interior, there (ambiguous place)
scattered pebbles. Such is the house, the sphere.
In its parameter there is time. It is immutable. Close or merely distant
lines move — a far‐off tree, and soon
its tangible fissure of sap; a mist rises,
the space is penetrable...
Each work by Carlos Nogueira seems to say that one must always build the house that the world does not provide. Yet the materials are there, available and abandoned, in that world that we have lost the ability to see. It is almost always to this ‘store of signs’ that have been forgotten (the house of Being, place of the There Is) that the artist turns in search of the — elemental or industrial, organic or already constructed — matter that will be used to make the work. Which may be called a house or a drawing, a landscape or a river; which will always be an ‘installation’, yet one unfettered by the more technical connotations of that term, resembling rather Maria Filomena Molder’s reading of the word (and of a work: chão de cal, from 1994)
when she wrote: ‘the installation radically re‐establishes the impurity particular to art, its magical power’ (and this could also mean: the enigma of its eternal incompletion), and it is ‘a way of preserving the ritual’, replacing it with ‘the various necessary objects’, overcoming the ephemeral nature of each of them (often found — or sought — objects), causing the matter of art to become a presence in the work. In the perceptible house that is the (unfinished) work each object, each vestige, each ruin comes into presence, necessarily alters its status, takes on a different meaning through its relationship with all the other objects. In this sense there is a ‘transcendental’ meaning in each work by Carlos Nogueira, if we take this term in the
sense it was used by the early German Romantics. Or as it exists in that art that is both so far removed and so close to our concern here: Sakutei‐ki, or the art of Japanese gardening, in which nothing is, everything is evoked, and everything that is there inhabits a distance. Looking at Carlos Nogueira’s works now, I am reminded of something I once wrote about that art:
the stones are arranged
in the places that await them
and they merge with the bog.
the rest —
the green water the islands
the dry trunks that pause
as if they were living things
the layer of leaves rising
up the make‐believe hill
the bonsai and the furrowed
sand of the banks —
is the plan of the whole.
an imaginary world
made of real stones.
the art of imitation
taken to extremes.
the petrified moment.
all as one whose
house is the universe
The design of that house is created, says Carlos Nogueira of his work, ‘from the light and geometry of time’.
Like Walter Benjamin, constructing history ‘against the grain’, knowing that for some reason ‘we have been expected upon this earth’ in order to look back and recuperate what is offered by the past (‘the existing patrimony’, as Carlos Nogueira would put it) but has been forgotten, and which may be decisive. It is important to understand this notion of limitless availability in order to understand how the construction of the work, of the house, is carried out so that a space emerges ‘between the tower and the well’ — in other words, light and depth, the visible and the invisible, ‘a geometric house with an upwards opening’, where
‘the higher the tower, the deeper and darker the well’, to quote the artist once more.
2. ‘I don’t collect anything. I gather everything’
This statement was made by Carlos Nogueira in 1981. Some of his most recent works — casa deitada [reclining house], at Fundação EDP, in 2012, and above all da natureza das coisas tudo acaba [on the nature of things all comes to an end], at Culturgest Porto in 2014 — lead me to reconsider the idea that underlies that ‘gathering’. One who gathers brings close what was distant. He brings together vestiges that existed before the work, and causes them to enter into a relationship in the work. The collector accumulates what he considers to be singular (and potentially valuable) works from the past; one who gathers vestiges and ruins causes them to act again in a relationship and in a living context, in compositions of his own. The idea of
com‐position, which in Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art, in the context of a search for a form of ‘truth’ as unconcealment (aletheia), is given the name of Ge‐Stell, is potentially very productive for Carlos Nogueira’s creative process. Heidegger’s notion (understood in the sense it has before being applied to the question of technique, which is not relevant here) refers to that which is specific to the work as something that emerges from a challenge (Herausstellen) and leads to a construction, to a ‘bringing forth’ (Hervorbringen): the work, seen as a construction of relations, encounters and new meanings, is a making (a poietic gesture) that aims to unconceal that which was concealed. Later, however, in Identity and Difference
(from 1957), Heidegger also defines this concept in terms that are relevant here, of relation and mutual acknowledgement: ‘The name for the gathering of this challenge which places man and Being face to face in such a way that they challenge each other by turns is “the framework.” [Ge‐Stell]’.2
Now, what was concealed in a work by Carlos Nogueira, in each piece that makes up that work, is precisely a (solitary) origin, and an openness to relation as a condition for creating (new) meanings. This is the challenge that is present in many of his works; this is the behavioural matrix that drives him. We might also say: the gesture or movement (often performative or pro‐formative) that leads to a work stage — that is not necessarily a finished work, given its (frequently mentioned) ephemeral character and above all openness to new configurations, of many manifestations of Carlos Nogueira’s po(i)etic tectonics. This applies to both a macro‐construction (the reclining house whose basic structure is shared by the casa quadrada com árvore
dentro [square house with tree inside]) and to a whole series of micro‐‘drawings’ or ‘project studies’, so characteristic of this artist, and that are repeated and develop without necessarily, or directly, leading from project to work to remain there eternally. It could be said that there is no pretence at eternity in this eternally unfolding work. It is enough that it creates geometries — of space and time — or constellations, assemblages marked by the rhythm of gentle tensions and gestures between disparate elements (or between the maker and the receiver): pieces that come from a past, but do not remain in the inert and
contemplative house of the collection — on the contrary, they offer themselves up to use and reuse, to a new and playful life, in the work that is so often made and remade. Objets trouvés (with or without personal memory), vestiges and ruins of other works, everything seems to be available for new encounters. It is in the relationship that the work is revealed — even when, as we saw, it consists of a single piece — and that it shows itself in its dual state of (formal) autonomy and as fragment wrenched from the flow of time (this can already be seen in the first street actions and in the postcards of paisagens de (man)dar [landscapes to be pre[sent]ed]).
Staying with the notion of the Ge‐Stell, as I understand it here, each piece, each vestige, by moving in place and time moves in position and meaning — it becomes a positioning‐with, it enters a new state, that of work, it undergoes a dis‐placement in space, in time, in perspective, in signification. The reclining house that came from another place and changed position exists now in its new state as a work, ‘in contrast to the landscape and the houses / that it knew until then’ (Carlos Nogueira). The process seems to be thus always that of a recuperation, a bringing to make new: bringing from a past to a present, from one place to another, from a probable death to a possible life, from an existence in and through itself to an existing‐with. On being
placed in a work, and thus snatched from the concealment to which they were condemned, and brought into presence, the materials, pieces or fragments shed an origin and gain a place (which is the place in which they, imbued with time and offering themselves to our gaze, establish themselves as new promises of meaning). And in this passage from the inert (ineffectual?) to the vibratile they created the path that leads from an ergon (static product) to an energeia (dynamic activity), as Wilhelm von Humboldt once described forms of language, believing that languages were not mere grammatical systems, but frameworks for a world view.
And thus ‘the things’ return with a new nature (which ultimately never ends) and the formwork of the solid white house, standing upright and inhabited by a large tree, in the park in Vila Nova da Barquinha, undergoes another ‘wise mutation’ on being revived in the guise of the open structure of the reclining house, which reveals what was concealed and merely changes position — in another place and time.
3. The project: rhythm and caesura
Each ‘piece’, each vestige, each fragment of the real, coming from outside, enters (or re‐enters) the work, as described, with another relational status, and this ineluctably changes its constitutive essence (‘an autonomous existence centred on itself’ as the philosopher Georg Simmel wrote a century ago). However, faced with work such as that produced by Carlos Nogueira, we ask ourselves: do they have an essence, since their constitutive trait, within the work, is that of this relational tension and functional mobility? If the answer is no, we must accept that here the essence has shifted from the objectivity of the work and its presumed centre to the mobile dynamic of the process itself and of a notion of the work as a ‘project’. At first glance one might say: this is simply a familiar postmodern trait. Yet others before this — Paul Valéry, for example — had already asked: ‘Why don’t we also see the process of making a work of art as a work of art?’
In the case of Carlos Nogueira — or of a work of language such as that of Maria Gabriela Llansol — the conclusion we must draw is that the work is essentially process and project, and is constantly unfolding, to a rhythm that continues ad infinitum, according to the principle of repetition in difference. And each individual work is the visible confirmation of that on the finite plane, with its echoes, its cross‐references, reutilisations and repetitions of the diverse. As Llansol would say, the principle of this work is that of the eternal return, not of the same, but of the mutual, that which corresponds and ‘is revealed in the gentle shifting’. In this process, the ‘sameness’, the always alikeness of the infinite rhythm, which could be fatal, are avoided by the
introduction of a series of effects of ‘imperfection’, or by what Benjamin, talking about Hölderlin, describes as the ‘effect of caesura’, and Blanchot (in L’écriture du désastre) sees as a restless pulse of something living, imperfect music with the power to break the regular cadence of a semantics of the continuous and to project meaning into the distance, confirming that the rhythm comes before the meaning. In Carlos Nogueira, the importance of rhythm as a structuring principle of the work is unquestionable, but so too is the need to make the rhythmic sequentiality vibrate through the ‘calculable law’ of ‘counter‐rhythmic interruptions’ (the terms are from Hölderlin). A calculable, but not mechanical or rational, law that Benjamin, talking about Hölderlin, discusses in the following terms: ‘one could not characterize this rhythm any more aptly than by asserting
that something beyond the poet interrupts the language of poetry’.3
In his group of ‘six drawings and sharp edges’ for the nem sombra nem vento [neither shadow nor wind] exhibition in 2002, Carlos Nogueira clearly shows this process of construction marked by the rhythm of caesuras. João Miguel Fernandes Jorge
interprets these six white drawings in terms of what he calls their ‘mystical sense’ of the ‘bottomless’ abyss, and the Suprematist concept of ‘excitement’ (proposed by Malevich). But perhaps, if we look at them in terms of Hölderlin’s ‘calculable law’, and what we know about Carlos Nogueira’s own working process, there is nothing more than a particular form of the pathos‐less sublime, of small epiphanies of the material in which the artist’s ‘gentle shifting’ introduces that more‐than‐language quality of the work, with its uncanny, strangely perturbing trait, discussed by Heidegger with respect to one of Hölderlin’s great hymns on ‘The Danube’.
What is also very visible in the ‘lightness and clarity’ particular to the ‘weight of things’ that make up this exhibition by Carlos Nogueira is this gentle tension between the infinite river of the rhythm and the dissonant and necessary music of the slight caesuras that punctuate it, in the alternation between black and white, in the small deviations in sequence and scale, in the subtle variations between the tones of paraffin, graphite and glass, cleverly measured out between transparency, reflectivity and opaque surface, and elements arranged vertically, horizontally or obliquely.
3. On the landscapes: games and tensions of times and spaces
Thus, within the space of the make‐up of the work itself, and of the times present within it, what we might call ‘landscapes’ are generated, a term that the artist has used on more than one occasion. Much as occurs in the work of a creator of landscapes and figures such as Maria Gabriela Llansol, landscape is not, for Carlos Nogueira, a filled, natural or constructed space, that stretches out between us and the horizon.
Landscape is something that happens within the work, through the interaction between textures, forms, colours — and the appeals to the imagination that emerge from it. Thus Carlos Nogueira, with his very particular instinct for titles (referred to by João Pinharanda as his ‘secret vice for naming’) often brings to his works terms such as ‘landscapes’, ‘river’, ‘forest’, ‘springs’, ‘all lands’, ‘the sea the stone’, ‘sea line’...
Llansol also sees the textual landscape as ‘a natural domain of silence’, and writes: ‘When I approach a landscape, I approach this silence; here, there is no abandoned landscape because a landscape does not respond like solitary houses. It is not sad, but serene in narrative. If I manage to position the text in harmony, the best‐of‐humanity is returned to me by the landscape.’ There is no abandonment in Carlos Nogueira’s landscapes either, since they are filled with the density of their materials and textures, humanised in the apparent coldness of the construction or the installation, with the lived time that they exude. It is still and always a ‘parcelling out of nature’ (to use Simmel’s definition), but now in the form of a second nature that has been humanised by the strata of time deposited upon it — in the different phases of the artist’s work and above all in the objects and materials that are part of it, frequently without concealing their status as refuse, vestige or ruin. However, unlike the ruin that in landscape generates a relationship with time that is nostalgic, here this nostalgia is annulled by the rehabilitation (which is mobilising and ennobling) of the vestiges that the repository of the past or the coincidence of encounter has to offer. The relationship with time is altered, because the past is no longer a scrapyard of nostalgia but a store of potential. And since the work cannot annul or reject its nature as a constructed thing (always seen as a violating or reversal of nature) it therefore
returns to its status as echo — a response but not a representation — of the world and the mark of the days upon it. Through this tensional equilibrium, Carlos Nogueira shows an affinity with a kind of classicism, clearly recognised by a writer such as Goethe (an atypical classicist) or by the early German Romantics (already heralding our modernity), as can be seen in these lines from a poem by the former on ‘Nature and Art’:
Nature and Art they go their separate ways,
It seems; yet all at once they find each other.
For pure perfection’s heights will strive in vain.
To achieve great things, we must be self‐confined:
Mastery is revealed in limitation
And law alone can set us free again.4
If we move from the temporal plane to the spatial dimension of Carlos Nogueira’s ‘landscapes’, everything becomes still more evident in his constructions, because they are structurally constituted on the basis of a principle of linking‐separation or closeness‐distance. Any construction (or ‘built drawing’, as Delfim Sardo puts it) by Carlos Nogueira objectively links what was separated — it constructs, within the work, a path that, with time, will become method (which is the same thing, if we recall the Greek sense of methodos). In the constitution of any work there is a sense of movement that is always associated with a path (even when it is labyrinthine, as evidenced by the common root of path, movement and labyrinth in German: Weg,
Bewegung, Irrweg); and also to all the method, since it is only with the method that things, pieces and fragments are activated and relate to each other.
With respect to this underlying principle (linking‐separating, close‐distant) we could again turn to thinkers such as Georg Simmel and Benjamin. In separating and linking, embodied by the image of the door, Simmel sees two sides of the same act and the same movement. Thus (in the essay ‘Bridge and Door’) the door presents him with more possibilities of meaning (and of passage: from outside to inside, and vice‐versa) than the bridge or the window. And discussing the exhibition desenhos de construção com casa. e céu [construction drawings with house. and sky] (2006), Álvaro Siza notes: ‘The house is the shelter... The main thing in the house is the door — to the world, or for fleeing from the world.’ And Simmel again: ‘The... [wall]
is mute but the door speaks... The teleological emotion with respect to the window is directed almost exclusively from inside to outside... it is one‐sided’.5
In Carlos Nogueira’s works many doors and portals open and close; actual doors and doors that are suggested to the imagination, opening up two‐way paths between work and viewer; or of coexistence between the diverse within the work, through relationships of greater or lesser closeness or distance between the constitutive elements — and here, in fact, the spatial and temporal planes intersect. In the relationships of proximity that are necessarily imposed on the objectively disparate elements of a work of synthesis such as the ‘installation’ of da natureza das coisas tudo acaba (Porto, 2014), closeness and distance enter into a bi‐univocal relationship that can only be addressed in terms of the dual perspective of the times of the
various objects that are part of the work (which will be unknown to the spectator, who, at best, vaguely intuits them) and of the relative positions that they occupy in the space of the structure where they are arranged and exhibited. To employ a concept from Walter Benjamin — that of the ‘aura’ — that is also concerned with notions of closeness and distance in relation to an object, whether artistic or not, it might be concluded that from the convergence of these two factors the greater or lesser ‘auratic’ content of each object or group of objects may also emerge. Aura is, for Benjamin, essentially a question of gazes and
correspondences — that may occur both between object and viewer, and between the objects that ‘gaze’ at each other, from different spaces and times, in an installation by Carlos Nogueira: Benjamin: ‘Inherent in the gaze, however, is the expectation that it will be returned by that on which it is bestowed. Where this expectation is met (which, in the case of thought processes, can apply equally to an intentional gaze of awareness and to a glance pure and simple), there is an experience of the aura in all its fullness... The person we look at, or who feels he is being looked at, looks at us in turn. To experience the aura of an object we look at means to invest it with the ability to look back at us.’6
This is the poetic, intersubjective and ‘transcendental’ side of Carlos Nogueira’s work.
4. Transcendental | poetic | project
In this sense (which is that of the Jena Romantics, at the end of the eighteenth century), all of Carlos Nogueira’s work is a transcendental poetic project. To demonstrate this, it is sufficient to quote three fragments from Friedrich Schlegel, from the magazine Athenäum (1798‐1800), and to understand the notion of ‘poetry’ in the broad and inclusive sense of all the arts (and also philosophy and criticism) bestowed on it by this first Romantic generation:
1. A project is the subjective germ of a developing object... The sense for projects — which could be called fragments of the future — differs from the sense for the fragments of the past only in direction. [Fragment 22]
2. Romantic poetry is a progressive universal poetry... On the wings of poetic reflection, it can raise things to a higher power and multiply them in an endless row of mirrors. [Fragment 116]
3. There is a poetry whose One and Only is the relation between the ideal and the real and which thus would have to be called transcendental poetry... [its aim is to] represent itself... and to be everywhere always poetry and at the same time poetry of poetry. [Fragment 238]
The project‐like quality and the poetic side of Carlos Nogueira’s interventions have generally been noted.
Perhaps less clear is the ‘transcendental’ sense that I ascribe to them here. As the last two fragments suggest, ‘transcendental’ refers here, on the one hand, to that which makes it possible to raise the common to a higher power and, on the other, to a process of self‐reflection. Carlos Nogueira’s work is therefore transcendental because in it everything is what it is (in the immanence of the materials, objects, fragments) to then become other — whether as a result of the effect of relation (with the rest of the vestiges, lessening its apparent autonomy) or of the effect of exponentiation (the necessary elevation to other meanings). And thus — to return to the underlying archetype with which this reflection began — a house is a house is not a
house, because it is merely and still and always an ongoing construction, or because it is now a receptacle, a place of shelter or of passage for a tree or a white floor or for the reflection of the sky or... or... This work, each work within this work is thus finished and unlimited, closed in on itself like a hedgehog (the image of the fragment for Schlegel), yet projecting numerous spines to the most diverse firmaments of meaning, which over time took on the form of a specific world. It is within this controlled dispersion that one can best understand ‘the place of things’ in the poetic, fragmentary and transcendental world of any ‘construction’, of the entire open construction that is the work of Carlos Nogueira.
tradução do original
Heinrich Von Kleist, Selected Writings, edited and translated by David Constantine (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2004), p. 406.
Martin Heidegger, Identity and Difference, translated by Joan Stambaugh (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1969), p. 35.
Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings: Volume I 1913‐1926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W Jennings (London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,
2002), p. 341.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Selected Poetry, translated by David Luke (London: Penguin Books, 1999).
Georg Simmel, ‘Bridge and Door’, translated by Mark Ritter, in Theory, Culture and Society (London: SAGE), Vol. II (1994), pp. 7‐8.
Walter Benjamin, Essays on Charles Baudelaire, edited by Michael Jennings (Cambridge and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), p. 204.