Francisco Tropa, O Pirgo de Chaves
Dialogues: Pirgo de Chaves, an object obtained from an archaeological excavation lends the title to Francisco Tropa’s exhibition at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. However, it’s the dialogues that are the true dynamo of the exhibition. Not only the dialogue that Tropa perennially establishes between the old and the contemporary, between archaeology and art, but also the one created between one of the curators, Sérgio Carneiro, an archaeologist, and the artist himself (long-time friends), both joined by Penélope Curtis, director of the Gulbenkian Museum and also curator of this exhibition.
The game, like the conversation, is an activity always developed between friends and works as a motto. As we can observe in the explanation found the plinth itself, Pirgo is a small bronze tower that prevented any sort of cheating when throwing dice. Based on this, Tropa assembles different pieces helped by the logic of game and manipulation, the movement that we can see or feel in some of the works exhibited through memories that Tropa relinquishes to the displacements of translation, rotation or even simple slips as in Quad (2008), a work based on a television play by Samuel Beckett. Here, the movement of black cubes on a black flannel is marked by the presence of sand, which creates a trace of the cubes’ four positions. This trace left in the sand forms an anthropomorphic drawing.
It is the artist himself who arranges his pieces. It is something that emphasizes his authorship, but, at the same time, it removes the element of randomness, essential to the game. And this thoughtful and chosen presentation is also a performative act of the artist with his work.
Gigante, a bronze skeleton, which, from Tropa’s perspective, is the work from which the whole exhibition derives, more than Pirgo, establishes the connection to the two figures found playing in the excavations of Chaves hot springs. Tropa assumes that he has already chosen different arrangements for the bones that constitute this skeleton. And, although ancient civilizations used bones as dice in games of chance, every bone in this sculpture is thoroughly and calculatedly positioned.
He does the same with the different components of the Scripta series, in which fruit pieces are arranged on a textile surface, as if it were a table cloth set for lunchtime, some sort of three-dimensional still life. Randomness seems to be present yet again, the way the fruits have rolled over the table as a consequence of a game of chance, but we are sure that they have been meticulously arranged on the stripes of the coloured canvas.
Archaeology is important in the modern art world. Until the middle of the 20th century, whenever there are phases of major archaeological discoveries (Herculaneum and Pompeii, Tutankhamun’s Tomb, etc.), we encounter these moments embodied in different History of Art manifestations. Even today, any artefact from the most recent archaeological excavation gives rise to events and has social and artistic repercussions all over the world. We are still fascinated by the past. But, with Tropa, archaeology is a recurrent starting point for a new work. And his works are joint efforts and his thinking is done in exhibitive terms.
Besides archaeology, Tropa gathers countless artistic, cinematographic and literary references, such as Beckett, Lygia Clark or Giorgio Morandi, honouring these artists while creating narrative layers in his pieces.
Therefore, as he instils doubt in the visitor regarding the notion of an archaeological artefact or the work of art created by himself, he is perpetuating that movement of game or dialogue between artist and visitor. And the jest goes even further with the complicity of the Gulbenkian Museum itself, trespassing its hosting spot on the lower floor with two of his works exhibited in the Greco-Roman room of the Founder’s Collection.