Escavar um Buraco
A project for an exhibition-installation by Paulo Mendes
Paulo Mendes’s most recent exhibition is held in Campanhã, at Espaço Mira, which is simultaneously the artist’s photography, video, study and research outcome.
The film-based depiction of that Porto area opens and closes the installation, using two projection panels that establish the limits within which the entire work is exhibited. On the back, facing the centre of the room, there are a couple of more documents, some short and intimate, others with longer shots, all of them detailing places and urban structures, also from other parts of the city. In an unremitting change, at a constant but ungainly rhythm, only photos emerge, on the one hand, and short-length videos on the other. The imaging projections are followed by one more element, the sound, matching the several recordings exhibited. This addition emerges as a decalage, a disparity that, instead of breaking and moving the pieces away, brings them closer, functioning as a bonding link throughout the work. Thus, it is more than an exhibition of several works by a single author, it works as a whole, which invades and transforms the gallery. The addition of the images in the very same space and time is something that fosters contrasts, relations, different dynamics and plural readings, in permanent development and trajectory.
Regarding the work’s content, Paulo Mendes’ visual records are presented in a clear, truthful, raw way, based on an outstanding formal and aesthetic simplicity, and as an approximation to the real, without any props or coverups, in what would be a senseless attempt to manufacture the beautiful. The artist’s goal is exactly to portray and show what he captures, with a scientific correspondence to the real, a sort of archaeological research and thoroughness that are his own. Using meticulously outlined plans to faithfully reveal the spaces, we can see ruins, open areas and industrial zones to which protagonists, residents of different areas of Oporto, are added.
In the first video, Escavar um buraco (2018), and in the last one, Capri (2009), in two distinct Campanhã settings, one can sense the urban and social changes that are occurring in the city. We also see the transition from day to night, a cycle that mirrors the artist’s own interest, in other words, space/time dynamics, elements of a perennial relationship that unite everything exhibited. It is the time of the work and what is represented there, the past and the present, and also the relationship with the audience, the moment of reception and the experience.
The work is displayed in a space construction that invites the viewer to step inside, in order to move to the centre of the room, the installation’s pivotal observation point, forcing the viewer to sense a double confrontation, a double reception that conglomerates itself in a moment of wide and dense experience. The viewer’s shadow is projected on the images, piercing, breaking and intercepting them, therefore establishing a somewhat hands-on and mutable situation, depending on the environment in which they immerse. Thus, it is a sensitive and susceptible work, something that may even be regarded as a reflection of the frailty of the objects and the subjects that are part of it. The gallery, occupied and surrounded by a green light, emerges as a “place suspended in reality”, an expression used by the young curator João Terras. Indeed, the colour refers to the grass, to the exterior and to the landscape that, in this way, joins the gallery, while contaminating and transforming it, as well as the projected images. The several documents and technical supports become intertwined.
With Paulo Mendes being a commissioner and a critic himself, and having, on this occasion, handed the curation of his work to the gifted José Maia and João Terras, the audience has been presented, since January 19, with something that has a higher degree of quality and complexity. In fact, the majority of the artist’s work can be described this way, whose creations and curatorial productions tend to surpass the expectations, the banal, and stand out for being uniquely singular. The title, Escavar um buraco, projeto para uma exposição-instalação, derives from an initial idea of the author, when he began to design the show, which matches the floor plan and the technical instructions currently projected at the end of the room, representative of this wing of Espaço Mira and of the model that will be presented on the last day of the exhibition, February 16. This other moment, a quite daring and singular project, very different from the current one, will provide another renewed aesthetic reception, which requires the visitors to go to the gallery two times. Right now, the process is being shown, as the exhibition name implies.
This exhibition celebrates Campanhã, Oporto, its residents and also commemorates Espaço Mira, which, just over five years ago, inaugurated its second exhibition, the first curated by José Maia, O vasto Espaço da Realidade. Paulo Mendes was precisely part of that collective, with Capri (2009), a video that is now revisiting such a remarkable moment for the gallery’s history and for both curators.
As we speak, several features of this post-industrial zone, once forgotten, are still there, although they have recently been a target of some revivalism, particularly through artistic and cultural efforts. Likewise, and because the work deserves it, it is important to visit the exhibition, a moment that simultaneously remembers and establishes itself as a new memory for those who contemplate it.