COSMO/POLÍTICA #4: Quando as Máquinas Param

The demise of modern souls arrives when machines come to a halt. 1 minute later, stock exchanges collapse; 2 minutes later, air traffic vanishes from crumbling skies; 10 minutes later, panic sets itself around the globe with looting, guerrillas and riots; 1 month later, there’s a state of worldwide emergency in a lawless world, without any principles, back to the basic and rudimentary devices of civilizations.

Modern society cannot be disassociated from machines. They are mutually interchangeable; one simply cannot fathom the ontology of modern man without the weight and omnipresence of the machine and its technological and algorithmic swings. We fall into despair without it, we delve into anguish in its absence. The machine is the extension of man – transhuman limbs of genetics edified in silica, metal and blood ores.

Man and machine are one and the same. The machine became a qualifying adjective of the human verb. We are machines within a massive oiled system – sometimes forced to cope with sporadic failures – the neoliberal state –, calculations and cogwheels of a cold gear beyond us.

The same state that has turned men into a productive and additive machine. To work, to compute, to produce, such has become the reason to be. Modern life is under the watchful hands of a Swiss machine: gestures must be accurate and expenditure must be minimal. Without work, the man-machine loses their existential purpose, diving into the slumber that fuels both depression and outrage.

The fourth exhibition of the cycle COSMO/POLÍTICA [COSMO/POLITICS] grabs the title of the telefilm directed by Pedro Belo and Luís Filipe Costa, Quando As Máquinas Param [When machines stop] (1985), a reinterpretation of the 1967 play by the Brazilian playwright Plínio Marcos, which conceives unemployment as a catalyst for action. A dramatic plot on the issues and causes of unemployment and how it affects men and married life. The body surrenders itself to apathy, to indifference and the male character wails in laxity. Sorrowful, he confesses, “he’s an owner; those who own things are always well off. (…) What I want is peace of mind. To feel safe, to have work, money, to get money, what everybody wants basically”. And such is also the daily problem of many men and women, whose social, labour and economic security is threatened by policies that foster the deregulation of these sectors, stigmatizing social exclusion and injustice.

Under this narrative and political context, a work written during the repressive Brazilian dictatorship, Catarina Botelho, Eduardo Matos and Vasco Costa work the exhibition Quando As Máquinas Param, curated by Sandra Vieira Jürgens and Paula Loura Batista. With an industrial landscape common to all, the works embrace the precarious condition of modernity, whose political projects have failed to implement transparent, fair and unbiased states and that are now beginning to reap the consequences of erratic policies nurtured by savage capitalism and neoliberalism.

In a work that shares its titles with the exhibition, Catarina Botelho plunges into the personal photographic archive as an inexhaustible constructor of discursive lines. Photographs of barren industrial landscapes are displayed alongside popular demonstrations. If, in other cases, the characters are the most important, in this the weight of a women-only manifestation is impossible to ignore. As a matter of fact, they are the weakest link of capitalism and its supporting force, which leads one to suppose that this capitalism is really, as many theorists have postulated, an invention of man, for man.

The lugubrious atmosphere of rusty and decayed landscapes presents a shark contrast with an uprising roar, quite similar to the recent need for an alternative economic model, possibly one born of women, encompassing life systems and their fragile fabric. After all, and as properly shown by biopolitics theories, politics cannot be detached from biology, nor economics and high finance. One just has to consider that markets are driven by testosterone peaks locked in Wall Street or City offices, and the crises are fuelled by a chemical and hormonal breakdown.

Nevertheless, and without neglecting her work, Botelho approaches the fragility of the woman in Plínio Marcos’s play, who is confronted with the man’s caprices and the old narrative of a threatened masculinity that becomes possessive and irascible. Locked up in a cellular and individual reality, the man fails to overcome his own trauma, dragging the woman into his own slumber.

Mirroring the landscapes of Botelho, but also those of Eduardo Matos, the installation of Vasco Costa matches the haptic qualities of art, while reconciling its uselessness with the sense of pointlessness experienced by the male character in Plínio Marcos’ play. The concrete mixer only exists in its sculptural component and the skin that covers it is nothing more than an organic spoil of a butchered body. Amid these striking contrasts, between cold metal and warm fur, between animal and machine, Um Camelo no Alaska conceives “a pre-machine universe, a natural cosmology, which leads us to a vague memory of origin and some idea of ​​purity and warmth”.

Finally, in Desvio_O Intervalo, Eduardo Matos emphasizes the power of water as a tranquilizing force, capable of restoring a natural balance to the territories built, occupied and then abandoned by man. With the water rumbling and bubbling as a soundtrack, Matos displays an apparent stillness of abandoned industrial buildings. Water is time turned fluid, a river flowing indifferent to everything; water consumes, washes and decomposes man-made objects and it has all the time in the world and history to do it. Still, in this installation, the artist adds another power to water: the power of transformation and, with it, the possibility of attaining everything. Such is the presentation of the muddy objects scattered on the table: the emptying of their purpose uncovers a new perspective on the human constructions that have witnessed sediments of a historical period made of humanity and civilizations.

Like in every moment of the cycle COSMO/POLÍTICA, Quando as Máquinas Param is a demanding exhibition that proposes reflection and debate, without neglecting the interesting characteristics of an exhibition. Between mystery and divagations, the viewer is challenged to redefine their political stance – detached from any partisan hogwash – on the world and collective life. And, albeit the gloomy nature of its concept, it appears to have hope in the great active forces of society, time and nature. After all, when machines stop, a new era begins. Surely with plenty of questions. Anxiety-driven. But betting on a new and much-needed ontological revision of man, the cosmos and politics.

Until 29 September, at Museu do Neo-Realismo.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine.

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