A poem to guess in Rui Pinheiro’s Picos e Lombos

By Maria Fernandes

Through which perspective can one see a new geographical reality and what are the eyes looking for, in the newly captured surroundings, when an endless torrent of odours and sounds take control of the senses of the stranger in the parish of Prazeres, Madeira? This question assaulted me as I kept moving towards Galeria dos Prazeres to see Picos e Lombos [Peaks and Hills], a photo exhibition by Rui Pinheiro, who had the first real contact with the island in the highland parish of Calheta.

The exhibition’s poster image reveals a mattress attached to a pine tree (the subtleness of the reference to the author’s surname – Pinheiro is the Portuguese for pine tree) in the middle of the forest (a location that is then discovered as a motocross circuit, including one of the protections rails against contorted necks and broken spines) makes me wonder about the irony involved and also a caustic and provocative perspective ingrained in the imaginary set that was waiting for me. But the guessing came to an end when I stepped into the next room, where the photo set is accompanied by the sound of running water (João Ricardo’s composition) and follows the projection of that same element on the space’s floor. One can then extend our glances around, gazing at the surrounding images and, at the same time, walk alongside the water, which I interpret as a bonding element and connecting thread, not only of the images that I consider to be familiar, and whose reinterpretation by Rui Pinheiro I will now learn about, but also of the parish of Prazeres, a water-logged setting.

The visual narrative then presented, split between different chapters that swing between the place’s overtone, dialogues on colour and shape, and the unique mark of someone who understand the surroundings as a creative base, can be understood as the author’s very own script of sensations and questions.

Using once more the aforementioned poster image as an example, one can also feel this in the woman’s headscarf on her back, which, due to its color, makes us think that she is single and perhaps young, even though we cannot see her face; in which she is holding the garden hose in her hands (is that the origin of the water sound?); in the marvellous things that grow at the base of a drainpipe. Who will water such an array of colour? What is the shape of the bulky legs that appear from behind a wall, sunbathing in a terrace?

In addition to being a record of the site per se, and when the different aspects of the area are interpretively implied – issues such as emigration, desertification, blatant in the image of the angel trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens), the impact of the human action in the parish’s rural area, either related to large-scale infrastructures, such as the recent access roads or domestic issues, or to the impact of vernacular architecture, as opposed to the traditional form, visually and identity-wise – one can possibly feel the identity of Prazeres in Rui Pinheiro’s Picos e Lombos.

The dialogue of the haystacks, which were dwellings in the past, besides the blatant summoning of the main activity of a rural parish, agriculture, and the spiritual and ornamental quarrel of roofs and their details, also provides the evocation of the images captured by Victor Mestre for the book Arquitectura Popular da Madeira. Although an important record in its context, but limited in its purpose, Rui Pinheiro’s vision, while also showing us what we already know, points to a world made of ironies, subtleties and counterpoints that take the interlocutor into an internal dialogue of questions, whose answers are continuously guessed, based on the cues provided by the images.

More important than this, with all its symbolic and documentary worth, a decisive contribution to the local collective identity, we have the reflection of the one who interprets the place through the eyes – either “at the distance from which one can [from Prazeres] see the mountain and the sea”, or through oddness within us, assessing the way the others see what we, individually, recognize as familiar. In this regard, I must mention Marcel Proust in his In Search of Lost Time: “Through art alone are we able to emerge from ourselves, to know what another person sees of a universe which is not the same as our own and of which, without art, the landscapes would remain as unknown to us as those that may exist on the moon”. This Atlantic cliff has so many different landscapes that each one of them could be moonlike, or even contain a moon in itself, a world in itself, a new story in itself, a new poem in itself, like those seen through Rui Pinheiro’s eyes (who perhaps may have seen a pine tree protected by a mattress?). And quoting the same author for concluding purposes: “Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists, worlds more different one from the other than those which revolve in infinite space”.

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