Dois anos e meio
The title of Nuno Nunes-Ferreira’s exhibition at the Balcony Contemporary Art Gallery (on display until May 20) is entitled dois anos e meio [two years and a half] and it represents the period that the artist devoted both to research efforts and to their materialization, deeply obstinate and detailed, culminating in this project, which reflects an expressive, minimalist and performative expressive matrix. This exhibition, curated by Luísa Santos, gathers ten unprecedented pieces (split between mixed techniques, sculptural installations, an artist’s book and a video), prompting the viewer’s active engagement and reaffirming the archival effort as the pivotal element in his body of work.
In “dois anos e meio”, the author conducts a critical reflection (with titbits of irony and sarcasm) on the passage of time and on preservation of memory, looking at the archives – which he himself builds from news and printed ads – as loyal, but not always reliable, guardians of those two elements. If, on the one hand, time measurement is not linear, memory is assumedly selective and manipulative. As a matter of fact, the act of manipulating archives is consciously assuming the thoughtful and subliminal manipulation of which we are the primary targets. Throughout this exhibition, Nuno Nunes-Ferreira turns the headlights of his research, mathematically strict, to the present-day society, the eternal spectacle, the never-ending speed, the immediate and unquenchable consumerism, the unjustified melodrama and the numbing voyeurism. In a flash before our eyes, it points to the self-awareness of sensationalism and the inconsequential emptiness of many of the contents published by the newspapers, news for the most part, that we encounter every morning, some made-up, forcing us to be addicted to a dangerous estrangement from our own selves.
Nuno Nunes-Ferreira visited his usual café to collect yesterday’s newspapers for approximately 365 days. Taking into consideration that the controversial Correio da Manhã is the most widely read daily newspaper in the country, it was probably the main raw material source for the four large screens that open the exhibition (on the gallery’s top floor). The artist compiled, cut and pasted hundreds of letters from the main headlines of different newspapers sections to conceive “Primavera”, “Verão”, “Outono” and “Inverno” (titles included in each screen, motivating the reader to discover each). Perhaps a reference to times gone by, where the passage of time was still partly dictated by the cycles of nature and not by fallacious and supposedly cutting-edge technologies. Back when we had to wind the clock to know the time. Maybe an attempt to summon the periods when the habit of buying and reading newspapers was an effective reality and the hypothetical death of the written press an unfathomable reality.
Likewise, “Arquivo VII”, “Arquivo VIII” e “Arquivo IX” rely on the same activity of gathering newspapers clippings, with, respectively, 7, 12 and 24 files (in which the clippings carefully are arranged in a sequential and chronological order). The files are placed on shelves, next to which there is a table to prompt the visitor to have a look at them. For instance, “Arquivo VIII” has twelve files, each representing a month of the year and each page corresponding to a day of the month. The artist’s book “Chegar aos 100” is a 100-page file, where each page is dedicated to a clipping of an anniversary, encompassing a chronological arc from the first to the hundredth. Tennis Match consists of 365 amateur videos (thus, corresponding to a year) and focuses on “sabrage”, a Napoleonic technique to uncork bottles of champagne using a sabre.
When visiting “dois anos e meio” and reflecting on the proliferous relationship of contemporary art with archives, we have to refer the 2008 exhibition Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art”, curated by the recently deceased Okwui Enwezor, at ICP (NYC). The exhibition, cantered on photography, explored the different practices through which different artists have appropriated, researched, reconfigured and even built content and archival structures from scratch, simultaneously playing with the notion of time, enacting a historical memory and, consequently, self-knowledgeability. The title given by the curator (who, in 2006, was accountable for the 2nd edition of the Seville Biennial) refers to Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, as well as to Michel Foucault’s reflections on The Archeology of Knowledge. The archive is also perceived as an instrument at the service of a normative and regulatory discursive system, with a tendency to legitimate rather than questioning or transgressing – to a certain extent, it is at the service of the instituted power and the ideals perpetuated by it. Nuno Nunes-Ferreira also includes these reflections in dois anos e meio, where the last decades reside, in one of the most interesting and unmissable exhibitions that we have seen in recent times.