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To see and be seen: The Dancing Followers by Luís Lázaro Matos

The over-exposed character of the new Combo space, in Milan, was the fuel behind the immersive installation The Dancing Followers by Luís Lázaro Matos. A small space, fully glazed, open to a large courtyard and a public garden. A sort of aquarium, perfect to see and be seen.

The small gallery is filled with three human figures drawn on transparent polyester, suspended by fishing lines and hung by fish-baits. They swing slightly as we pass by, showing their tones and reflections – in a permanent pose. We roam among them, studying their suspended gestures, their uneven traces, their undulating brightness. Their joyful and light-hearted exuberance is fascinating. We snap a photo, bitting the bait. On the glass walls, shoals of colourful eyes observe the interior of this aquarium, projecting their distorted shadows on it (and on us).

Luís Lázaro Matos attracts us to the interior of his drawings-installation with ease and mastery, with cheerful colours and friendly contours. But we invariably find that this seeming lightness unfolds into multiple layers of an incisive political sensitivity and biting humour. In the aquarium, three familiar sentences are floating, written on the same transparent material: “When they go low, we go high”; “Brazil, I’m devasted”; “What is a golden shower?”. For those who do not recognize them, these are viral tweets by Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and Jair Bolsonaro, respectively. As usual, Lázaro Matos’ drawing is accompanied by textual passages that reveal some clues about the deepest strata of each work.

Interested in the meaning of transparency in modern architecture and contemporary society, the artist associates the nature of this physical space with the essence of the digital space that we unremittingly navigate. The aquarium’s captivating environment, with these malleable and seductive figures, is comparable to the fictional and performative world of social media, where we voluntarily expose ourselves to a shoal of eyes that follow and analyse each pose, each sentence, each expression that we decide to project – or share. The boundaries between public and private are intentionally shattered in the name of apparent transparency, of forced intimacy with a shapeless group of followers, of a need for contact and control over the narrative.

But we are also talking about transparency in architecture, in this case, of an exhibition space. In his famous essay The Exhibitionary Complex (1988), Tony Bennett argues that the exhibition institution aggregates the mechanisms of control of a society of surveillance and a society of the spectacle, operationalized in the simple equation: to see and be seen. It is no coincidence that Bennett refers as its greatest example Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace: the massive iron and glass pavilion designed for the 1851 London Grand Exhibition, largely considered as the first modern building. At the Crystal Palace, everything was on display: the exhibition objects, the building itself and its visitors. The Dancing Followers are, then, all of us, on constant and mutual display, inside and outside the aquarium.

The installation The Dancing Followers, presented by Galeria Madragoa, is on view at Combo in Milan until December 31.

Joana Valsassina is a Portuguese curator, writer, and cultural producer based in Lisbon. Working as an independent curator and the co-curator of The Art Gate artspace in Lisbon, Joana has previously worked at MoMA and at the Drawing Center, in New York; and at MAAT, in Lisbon. Joana holds a master in Museum Studies from NYU and a master in Architecture from the University of Lisbon. Besides developing her curatorial practice, she writes regularly for Umbigo Magazine and produces the Lisbon-based arts iniciatives Bairro das Artes and Mapa das Artes.

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