Γεωγραφίες in art

Geography has been an implicit and an ever-present representation in art and, if we want, in the art history. As an objective science, or one that aims to be that, geography measures the physical aspects – spatial and temporal – of places. But these places are attached to para-physical phenomena, which are beyond them, such is the case of human intervention and actions. And, amid this context, discipline presupposes two crucial vectors: the one of the measurable, physical things, of meteorology, of topography, of the environment and; the one of the vaguely measurable things, like human geography.

Notwithstanding, there is a whole other para-physical dimension, which is not necessarily contemplated by human geography, and that is the one of immaterial productions. That is been the business of history and its several ramifications (science, arts, etc.), or the parallel branches, tangents or perpendiculars to it, like anthropology or ethnology.

In the 20th century, under the initiative of art historians, geography deployed a brand new investigative line in art history, suggesting that the study of works should be based on their geographic positioning and the idiosyncrasies of the place where they art conceived. And the concept of place is decisive for this discussion. However, one must emphasize the need to overcome any sort of ideologic pretension that may stand in the way of a thorough study of any object. After all, one should bear in mind, the history of Kunstgeographie, the geography of art, cannot be read without an early interest marked by a nationalist and ethnic trait, and its methodology lacks some clarity. With a strong Germanic genesis, of Nazi appropriation, Kunstgeographie neglected a parallel perspective proposed by Kubler, one that was closer to human geography, perceiving cartography and human masses as entities more liquid than static, changed by the course of time, and that its artistic productions should be read based on these criteria.

So, the following question appears: how can geography add new foundations and perspectives to the artistic object and art history? Alternatively, how can art draw a fresh look at geography? Kaufmann tries to address the first question, reshaping a considerable amount of what has been unfurled here, using a single expression that tries to settle the best that there is in Kunstgeographie and Kubler’s teachings – a geo-history of art. The second would be better addressed in an essayistic, inconclusive way, through the work of art. Art offers – or it can, speaking in an exhortatory way – a new perspective not only on the physical phenomena, but also on the humans contemplated by the study of geography. In other words, it can be yet another tool to measure certain geographies, therefore apt to detect, as Thomas da Costa Kaufmann wrote, “the spirit of one place”, beyond its merely descriptive or analytical kernel.

Clinamen, by Francisco Pinheiro, uses physical concepts to study the landscape and the territory, in a dense and complex exhibition that goes way beyond the elementary evidence. Akin to the territory, which can be read through an endless palimpsest, of layers of time and transformations that densify and accumulate unending signs and signifiers, this exhibition also unfolds itself into multiple interpretations assigned to geography, art, human production, the scale of museums, the physical and the digital, the inner mental landscape, the large-scaled, delimited landscape, of national and political, cultural, social and economic contours.

The term clinamen has Greek roots and was coined by Lucretius. However, the designation throws back to the Epicurean teachings, which established the cosmos in its atomic dimension. From the initial mass, several deviations were produced, and so the diversity in nature was born.

Clinamen defines that deviation and thickens Epicurus’ doctrine, which, as matter of fact, and according to Karl Jaspers, and his theory Axial Age, is in tune with the eastern and archaic philosophies of a perpetual dance of the atoms, in which the world and the harmony find bedrock.

The first part of the exhibition mirrors precisely the elementality of these teachings which, despite the staggering and remote scientific valences of Epicurus, also marks a cosmologic understanding of the worldly things. Meteorito is a piece whose obvious interpretation positions us in mining. But something immanent warns us about an odd, displaced object, diverted from a spot that is not the one of the gallery, having a unique plasticity in it, without being lifeless. The folds of the object conceive a sack of cement which was offered to time as prey, so that operations could be conducted, to the point where it was covered by moss, akin to what happened with other epidemic surfaces in that compact mass. O Jardim de Epicuro is the desideratum of an inner, atomized mental landscape. The several pieces of the installation give clues about an abstract construction, made of several images. As a matter of fact, the components of the installation were gathered from Parque Florestal de Monsanto, but the artist’s composition appears to enhance not so much the vegetable element, rather the mineral or the dehydration that follows death and that solidifies and fossilizes shapes that once were alive: dried leaves, stems, and even bits of Barbary fig.

The second part of the exhibition forces us to take a peripatetic stroll through installation Dragão branco. In a certain way, this is the work that gathers all forms of matter already mentioned. A meandering harmony unfurls itself throughout the room, forming spaces, contouring the tiny room, quivering in it. Printed, satellite images establish an immediate parallelism as a way to see and understand the increasingly present territories: to see from above, at distance, the geographic immensity, terrestrial, envisioned according to a supra-celestial point of view, like a bird, like a god. Here, Pinheiro introduces the principle of the apparent close reality, made possibly by technology, but one that is detached from all that comprises a mediation of the body in space, of the sensitive organism that contemplates the landscape, the territory and, from it, then extracts knowledge, based on the natural, biologic stance of the individual in the world. The convenience of technology detaches us from the weight and the work of the transformed landscapes: it is a merely plastic interplay of shapes, of an earth without history nor symbols.

From high above, like fluctuating beings, we perceive the mentioned places: mines – locations of hard and strenuous work, in which the earth is violently transformed to present the deeply treasured ore. Overlaid, images of several artifacts add new layers of understanding. Extending the work of recollection of the previous pieces, the artist now looks for objects found in the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection, related to the exhibited nation-places (Arizona, Mozambique and Iraq). This establishes a discourse that again meets the subject of proximity-distance. Additionally, the work makes us recall that museums have geographies that go beyond their walls, and a scale founded in an uncertain, imprecise cartography, which depends on the pieces and works laying inside, of global origins and sources, of artists and artisans of several corners of the planet. Those are objects coated by a specific time and space, worked by the hands of the terrestrial body, hands that touch the earth, working it, and extracting from it cultural and artistical forms of incommensurable wealth.

Generally speaking, Clinamen is an exhibition that establishes itself in the logic of the geo- prefixation, which forces us to look at the concepts of landscape, cartography and nation-states, always with a vision of multiple scales (microscopic and macroscopic). But, more than that, it represents the possibility of a mishmash of disciplines, whose radically different methodologies are narrowed to produce works of art.

Watch it until 30 January, at Águas Livres 8 gallery.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine.

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