Espetáculo / Poder / Mass Media – Antoni Muntadas in Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art

Is a work of art, nowadays, anything more than a product of the most lucid cynicism, of the most cynical lucidity? There was a time when innocence was summoned, when disengagement was declared, a certain kind of distance. The creation without a cause, the possibility of resignation. There was a time when there was this belief that an image was just an image – unavoidable held in its square-angularity, nothing more than a careful distribution of pigment on the most polished surface, the stain, the impotence of that stain. In the meantime, everything is already some other thing – in potency, by excellence, in a certain way. This means that all and any image constitutes itself as a clue, always the outcome of a specific situation, the evidence of its own context. “What is happening is that I truly believe in the context […],” said Antoni Muntadas in response to José Cabrita Saraiva, at the exhibition that brings him to Lisbon, held at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art.

Espetáculo/Poder/Mass Media is the result of a recontextualization project of the image, the most powerful instrument of the spectacular society. After all, it contains in itself a whole system: it is the beginning, the middle and the end of the spectacle. This is, fundamentally, an image-cantered process of alienation: a person who is separated from his own body, who is juxtaposed with the image, who only exists through the image, producing and consuming under the paradigm of representation, consciously or unconsciously, permanently and with every so typical unrest of the spectacular dynamism. In all certainty, “that which appears is good, that which is good appears” – more than fifty years later, again and again, always Guy Debord.

Because the artist works based on this sedimentation imagery, refusing the creationist claim, believing that everything has already been invented. It happens that each job appears in the context of a particular research, a personal construction around a specific theme – in this case, the visual dimension of the mediatic device. Antoni Muntadas collects, analyses and relates the visual information that he conveys – and that dominates, as a matter of fact – the mediatic discourse. According to the artist, his intervention has to do, above all, with edition: the repositioning of an image always gathers a decision and, decision after decision, the work assumes its shape, in which a series appears to be what it is. “Editing makes the job […]”, he says in the same interview. Implying that there is an endless cycle of ownership, in which all and any image possesses the one that precedes it, corroborating or contradicting the message that underlies it and, thus, contributing for the construction of yet another narrative – more or less parodic, somehow subversive.

In the gallery, the exhibition itself. Portraits, before anything else: a serigraphic assembly of 1995, in which each print is the outcome of a zoom in a photographic record of any mediatic figure of this period, partially framed and, therefore, hardly identifiable; in front, a video projection of 1994, filmed in Marseille, which covers the gestural repertoire of some other anonymous figure, a politician “that profusely gesticulated”, throughout seven minutes, always idling, his voice dragging itself, an indecipherable growl, “from the erotic gesture to the gesture of negotiation”. It’s the enunciated gesture – or denounced, perhaps – as an artefact of power, at the service of a given structure of power. It is, in any case, the recontextualization of a speech necessarily mediatized – photographed, filmed, legitimized image-wise. But the artist proposes a reassessment of the spectacular setting, based on the reframing process of the mediatic figure, diverting the viewer’s attention to a sense that is different from the original one: the microphone as a symbol of the authority of the entertainer, the mouth, the hand that speaks, the resemblance annihilates what effectively is, live, this experience of the extraordinaire. On Translation, followed by On Translation: FIFA, a photographic composition of 2014; On Translation: Celebracions, a video projection of 2009; On Translation: Himnes, another audio-visual record, more recent, from 2016. Antoni Muntadas picks football, perhaps the most lucrative business of our mediatic landscape, in the plane of the spectacular. What matters here is the linguistic, ritualistic, identity, social and cultural dimension of this event: a whole system of codification, the chasm between man and the animal, the principle of civilization, the eternal quest for belonging, idolatry, fanaticism, violence, the origin of evil and the construction of fear, an exceptionally effective mechanism of control, the power of advertising, of marketing, the money in the field, the most euphoric celebration – the anthem, a goal, the spectacle everywhere.

In the acquis, an extension of the reflection. Architektur/Räume/Gesten II, a project developed between 1988 and 2017, the serial representation of the tripartite structure of a decision: an urban building, a decision-making space and a negotiating gesture, evoking architecture as a symbol of political, economic, corporate, institutional power, unavoidably mediatic. Again, a matter of context, the importance of framing, who is left out, who gets in, the imminence of action, of the fact, what is true and what is not, always a point of view, the part of a whole, a trace: under the spectacular logic, “The truth is a moment of false,” Guy Debord explains. Finally, and as a conclusion, the most direct interpellation to the viewer: How Much?, in 2013, and Para Quem?, in 2014.

Attenzione: la percezione richiede impegno”, the artist recalls.

Carolina Machado (Lisbon, 1993). Currently working as a researcher at Instituto de História da Arte with a fellowship granted by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia to attend the PhD in Art Studies - Art and Mediations at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas da Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Already holding a MA in Aesthetics and Art Studies - Art and Political Cultures and a PgD in Art Curatorship from the same institution, as well as a BA in Painting from Faculdade de Belas-Artes da Universidade de Lisboa. She is moving forward with her research project: «Genealogy of derivative practise: Study on the production, mediation and reception system of derivative work within the emerging art scene in the Portuguese context (2015-2025)» comes from «On the transgressive gesture under the aestheticising logic of the post-contemporary scene: An approach to emerging art practise in the Portuguese context (2016-2019)» and aims to scrutinise the ascendancy of a derivative force over the creative gesture, progressively nurtured by the youngest generation operating within this spatiotemporal framework.

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