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Loving as the Road Begins, by João Pedro Vale and Nuno Alexandre Ferreira

Those who are familiar with the work of João Pedro Vale and Nuno Alexandre Ferreira (JPV&NAF) know that it questions the mechanisms of control and codification of the individual, based on their social stratification – codes that protect them, but, on the other hand, contribute to their own destruction. (Portuguese) emigrants abroad and (Portuguese) homosexuals on the fringes of society are two recurrent components of this research.

Whoever saw the duo’s last solo exhibition at the Cristina Guerra gallery, A Mão na Coisa, A Coisa na Boca, A Boca na Coisa, A Coisa na Mão, came across an unusual structure in the middle of the exhibition space, a “urinal” on a “life size” scale. It was an installation that aimed to embody the unspeakable, at least according to more sensitive souls and power structures; the transgressive (but always undeniable), through its institutional manifestation (a public toilet). The corpus is the psychosis is the corpus. The repressed that has a tendency to occupy the dead corners of physical space. It was certainly interesting. However, I found the materialisation too literal – perhaps for a boy who forged a good deal of his sexual identity in public toilets in Britain and Paris during the 80s. My reaction was… and then what?

However, I completely surrendered to the ‘charms’ of this Ama Como a Estrada, at MAAT, curated by Inês Grosso. More ambitious, it is the first major work of this artistic duo created specifically in a museum setting. Naturally, this is an amplification of everything that had been attempted before at Galeria Cristina Guerra, on a larger scale.

But not only that.

The structure has two levels, almost reaching the ceiling; it has several different environments, in a space that has been conceived down to the last detail, but which is also very loose; it engages not only our eyes, but also touch, smell, our hearing as well. It is up to visitors to find this out for themselves and I recommend they do so.

In much of the literature that accompanies this work one can read about the symbolic importance of Mario Cesariny to Portuguese surrealism, about the Saint Jacques tower found in Le Marais, Paris (which served as a ‘compass’ during the pilgrimage/investigation made by the artists during a residency at the Cité International des Arts) and the incarceration of Cesariny in Fresnes for ‘indecent exposure’, when he allegedly tried to hook up with a plainclothes police officer in a Paris cinema.

While we are on this subject, I truly wonder what prompts the forces of law, bastions of morality of our society, to stage these complex, realistic tableaux (a subject that refers back to that same solo exhibition of this artistic duo) for the sole purpose of catching homosexuals in the act?

The (lovely) title Ama Como a Estrada Começa was taken from Cesariny’s (one line) poem. It’s a surprisingly romantic title for these artists, who usually regard everything – sex, society and propriety – with a fun but cynical eye (the unexpected tenderness of the beautiful trees sculptures made from pairs of jeans in A Mão na Coisa… also springs to mind). The poem suggests the open road and the possibilities of love; but, in the exhibition, we end up in a dense, claustrophobic, stuffy and humid space full of forbidden, entrapped desires, with unannounced performances that also remind us of Jean Genet’s imagery, such as from the film: Un Chant d’Amour.

Curiously, I felt at peace here. I recognised many of the codes and symbols being portrayed. It even resembled the atmosphere found in some of Lisbon’s (seediest) bars. In almost total pitch blackness, I sought out the light emitted at the different stages of this journey into three fundamental aspects of the work of these artists: – crime (institution/prison); disease (and its cure); and (homosexual) sin.

And there I recognized myself, as its prisoner.

A long road lay before me, still to be travelled.

If this work leaves you indifferent, then you too are probably on the side of my jailer, and as such, my enemy.

 

by Colin Ginks

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