WAIT or envying the wild beasts

The truth is that patience is not always a virtue. The moment of waiting can turn into such a distressing pause that inertia clouds our thinking and acting abilities, forcing us to feel that time has frozen and we have petrified ourselves with it (even if our heart’s throbbing is in the brink of explosion). Waiting can mean literally mean having one’s life suspended, depending on the seriousness of the (expected) revelation that always follows. Nevertheless, waiting may also involve having to simply wait placidly; as a matter of fact, the day-to-day life is made up of constant, often unnoticeable waiting moments, during which the minutes, one after the other, seem like the world’s most natural thing.

Winnie, in Happy Days (Samuel Beckett, 1961), repeats daily gestures to the point of exhaustion, until despair sets in, tainting a superficial normality, and circumventing the wait for the inevitable end. The protagonist has been plunged into a stalemate, he prefers postponing something than to take a definitive resolution and, from the beginning to the end, in the play, the worst appears to have yet to happen – a recurring sensation throughout Beckett’s artistic output. The author, present in the show with NOT I (1972-77), ends up hovering all over the exhibition, contributing to trigger reflections on what can still be expected of art, even if the context is not the aftermath of the Second World War, in which every atrocity appeared to irreparably compromise the possibilities of humanity representation.

The curatorial concept established by Orlando Franco in WAIT, a collective exhibition at the Museu Coleção Berardo available until 14 April, in which he assumes the role of curator and artist, gravitates around the notion of waiting. The concept is original and comprehensive enough to fuel more or less unexpected crosses between works that were not specifically conceived for an exhibition context. About twenty artists wrote it, mainly Portuguese and men (André Banha, Andres Serrano, António Júlio Duarte, António Olaio, Carla Cabanas, Dalila Gonçalves, Eugenio Ampudia, Gonçalo Barreiros, João Ferro Martins, João Pombeiro, Luísa Jacinto, Orlando Franco, Paulo Mendes, Pedro Cabral Santo, Rodrigo Tavarela Peixoto, Samuel Beckett, Sara & André, Susana Anágua e Tiago Baptista), the works exhibited use different media: from video to photography, from video to photography, from film to photography, and also sculpture, painting and installation. Many of the dialogues staged by Orlando Franco, most of which are blatantly successful, are based on the speech multiplicity that the assumption of the waiting can awaken. Death, desire, ambition, escape, love or frustration are some of the privileged interlocutors summoned.

Pedro Cabral Santo’s sculpture, Pinocchio è malato, follows the tendency (more or less explicit) of the artist’s body of work, relying on the assumption of political activism, in which the existentialist component takes on the leading role. This Pinocchio is clearly ill (uneven, atrophied), closed on himself. He seems to be grounded, facing a wall, or perhaps he is desperate, since he has no possibility of escape. Clearly, he is waiting; and those who wait sometimes fall into despair. The work is a metaphor for truth and lies in the contemporary world, whose differentiation has become extremely difficult and challenging.

In RED POWER, a Paulo Mendes’ sculptural installation, presents itself to the public for the fourth time (the first time happened in the now-extinct exhibition spot Pêssego prá Semana in Porto), ironically invoking the phallocentric capitalist system in which an uncontrolled consumerism forges relations of power and affectivity through the possession of fetish-like objects (that may even have a certain mystical/sacred aura). A Ferrari indicates a potential, latent and also manifestly sexual reading. The masculinity of man, and his ability to hook up with girls, are supposedly reinforced if he is behind the wheel of a vehicle like this; even more when it is red. The red color, particularly summoned in the title of the works, suggests not only a sexual connotation, but also invokes the red paradox, since it is also the revolution color, the one used by the anticapitalistic left.

The exhibition is helpful when it comes to rethinking the artist-curator role who, despite having been recurrently assumed throughout art history, it almost always appears as a trigger of controversy and contestation in contemporaneity. Opinions are divided on the legitimacy of the fleeting accumulation of roles. In the most recent national context, some artists, more or less different, and with dissimilar stimuli, have assumed this duplicity of roles. It is not out of luck that that two of them were invited to this exhibition: Paulo Mendes (who looks at the exhibitions he commissions as artistic objects, authorial installations) and Pedro Cabral Santo (who is particularly interested in contributing to give visibility to young artists who are still outside the circuit). “WAIT” is not Orlando Franco’s first endeavor in the exhibition commission, but it is clearly the first to take place in an area with the institutional and empowering character of the Berardo Collection Museum.

One of Orlando Franco’s virtues, in WAIT, as a curator, was the ability to withstand the enticement to excessively populate the challenging exhibition space; the pieces breathe effectively and establish suggestive relationships between them. The possibility of integrating artists who are usually part of more hermetic and alternative contexts is another successful option. The chosen subject contributed to creating an exhibition as “oeuvre ouverte”, retrieving the Umberto Eco’s concept, with all the divergent and enriching interpretation possibilities that come from it. The decision to close the exhibition with a second work of his own, less powerful, may seem questionable, but it does not jeopardize the meaningfulness of the curatorial options. It must be emphasized that the catalog contains a small questionnaire answered by almost every artist, something that may be an interesting tool to think, for instance, about the role of a 21st-century artistic institution, the digital impact or the references clearly assumed by the artists exhibited.

“And if, for obscure reasons, no further effort is possible, just close the eyes – (close your eyes) – and wait for the day to come – (open your eyes) – the happy day to come, where all flesh will melt under a certain temperature, and the moon night will last for hundreds of hours. (Pause). That is what comforts me, whenever I lose my spirit and envy the wild beasts”.

Samuel Beckett, Happy Days, 1961

Cristina Campos has a University Degree in Modern and Contemporary History, as well as two Post-graduate Degrees, one in Cultural Management and another in Journalism. She was a founder, coordinater and writer for Artecapital magazine. She was the main writer at Artes & Leilões magazine and a correspondent for Arte y Parte magazine. She currently works as a cultural mediator, mostly in Calouste Gulbenkian Museum.

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