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Focus at FOCO: Pau Duro Coração Mole

Pau Duro Coração Mole [Hard Cock Soft Heart] has been unleashed this 4 October, at FOCO gallery, in Lisbon, with a collective comprised of 4 emerging artists: Christophe dos Santos, João Gabriel, Rui Palma and Thomas Mendonça. They talk us about queer topics, whose works approach and mirror different issues, from sexuality to gender.

In the words of the artist, and also the exhibition’s curator, Thomas Mendonça, “this exhibition talks about sex, love, sexless love and loveless sex. It talks about sensitivity and beauty. It talks about brutality, strength, resistance, militancy”.

We wanted to know more about an exhibition that crosses our path with a title that has to do with promiscuity, in the same manner that it has to do with effervescence and love’s reluctance. An art show that strengthens and discourses on subjects that have been crackling all over the globe; which gets closer to a reality and a time that sometimes appear to be an unparalleled and exclusive territory of the artistic field, which, nonetheless, tend to tear us our conscience and stress our perception in the plane of reasoning.

Above all, we wanted to unveil what is hiding or peeking behind the vision of a young artist and curator who released such an eloquent exhibition which ended on 28 October. We’ve talked to Thomás Mendonça.

Marco d’Oliveira – Tell us us about the experience of being an artist and a curator at the same time.

Thomas Mendonça – I’m a plastic artist before anything else. The role of a curator – which to me appears to be perennially implicit – only emerges as if it was a need to be on several fronts at the same time. I do not love the title of curator, but I partially assume it because it specifies that my contribution is not limited to the one of artist-curator, it also encompasses production, communication, etc. In this case, I’ve idealized this exhibition and invited this group of artists/guys/friends whose works fit the criteria for this idea that steadily started to shape itself in my mind. I introduced the proposal of the exhibition to Benjamin Gonthier, the gallerist of FOCO, who gave me some advice on a couple of things and, then, with the help of this gorgeous team of artists, I did everything to ensure that the inauguration would be a nice part bursting with people.

MO – What is the significance and the contribution you want to emphasize when, in the year 2017, you take the step to do an exhibition on sex, love, sexless love and loveless sex?

TM – I want to reiterate that love and sex, even if passionate, are not always intertwined. It seems relevant to me to talk about loveless sex and sexless love, as much as it would be relevant to talk about sex with love and vice-versa. More than relevant, it comes to me as natural. I do think that sex – so often disguised as love – feeds the most different areas of human’s social activity. But there is this gloomy tendency to castrate/repress/ignore sex, sidelining it and picking love as the most beautiful of the classroom. It’s both deeply stupid and fascinating the way we all were so well taught to rely so much on the perfect little love of monogamy. All this to say that talking about our sex, our love, our sexless love and our loveless sex is natural, legitimate and – from my point of view – if not even more relevant than to talk about concepts such as movement, space or time. To talk about one’s experience – personal, biological and human – is what appears to me as the most relevant.

MO – We know that contemporary art may be witnessed and consumed in different ways. The whole lot is so vast that, sometimes, it almost seems impossible for us to think that art is still able to shock people, literally speaking. Tell us what your stance is, as a curator, on the impact of this exhibition.

TM – Well, this exhibition emerged from a sudden urge to listen to Boys by Sabrina in the inauguration of the Queer exhibition. I wanted it to be gay, festive and conscious. I do think that contemporary art does not need to shock per se, nor to cause any raucous for that matter. Sometimes it can simply be kind, or soft or mild, or sexy, or banal. Sometimes Sundays are banal and (sometimes) we lack those. I tried not to concern myself too much with the impact that the exhibition would have, because its impact is something that is beyond us (me and the other artists). Our role is to have/raise questions and it finishes right when we open the gallery’s doors. The way that these very same issues are perceived can add another array of layers to the initial intent. My ambition was never to shock, it was only to listen to Boys by Sabrina in the inauguration of a Queer exhibition.

MO – Talking about topics like sexuality, queer society or simply the visceral pleasures of the night is something that requires some precaution, now that subjects like these are currently going through unsettling moments. It was something that certainly you were confronted with, both as an artist and as the exhibition’s curator. What is the relevance that you give to these topics?

TM – The subjects approached in this exhibition are indeed recurring in art. This exhibition talks about them, period. I think that the most important things often go unnoticed. We have the ambition to be critics, revolutionaries, relentless and, deep down, we are not that at all. These topics have the significance that they have and I opted to emphasize them in this moment. Next time I’ll do something different. And that’s it, down the line the most important thing is to do what we want just because we want it. There is no time for wars when we want to be big.

MO – Christophe dos Santos, João Gabriel, Rui Palma and yourself. Four emerging artists, whose names are familiar to the most attentive. Video, painting, photography and sculpture. What does the artistic work of this gathering of artists with a hard cock and a soft heart is capable of telling us?

TM – It tells you what is crossing our minds when we talk about the queer world. It tells you – in Christophe’s video – that is crucial to keep talking about these issues when, in 2017, there are still concentration camps for homosexuals in Chechnya. It tells you – through João’s painting – how erotic and soft porno can be and how beautiful the relationships of attraction between artists are. It tells you – with Rui’s photos – that the hook-up song spreads itself to the darkest corners of the gay subculture, and how poetic and decaying the beauty of a made-up ruin is. It tells you, through my ceramics, that male genitalia can also be pink, golden and sacred. It tells you, at last, that hard cocks are instruments of quarrel and that soft hearts will never bend.

Marco d'Oliveira (1992), born in Viseu and based in Lisbon, studied graphic design (2010), and graduated in 2013 in History of Art at FCSH. He attends a postgraduate degree in Art Curatorship and highlights, as one of his main interests, the global panorama of contemporary art.