A Moment Apart, by Vasco Araújo
Vasco Araújo (born in 1975) is one of the most important Portuguese artists of his generation. His work is vast and consistent. His themes are centred on issues of sexual, racial or social identity. Vasco has a refined sense of humour, which runs through his entire work, requiring some insight and complicity from the viewer. His references are cinematographic, literary, musical and mythological. They require time and attention.
Aside is a dramaturgical resource where a character shares a secret with the audience, without other characters listening. A Moment Apart, the title of this anthological exhibition, is a reference to this theatrical resource, widely used in Renaissance theatre. The voices of Perruque (2005) come to us as an aside, an installation of eight wigs supported by apparent candlesticks, placed on high tables. Each wig has a voice that tells the reason for wearing the wig. These stories are related to social issues or vanity, intimately revealed. In order to listen to them, we have to lean our heads, listening in secrecy to the narrations told by these wigs, all different, similar to the Tsantsa heads shrunk by the Shuar Indians, increasing our resistance to approximation. But this work is far from frightening. With texts full of the idiosyncrasies of Humanity, it’s a perfect example of Vasco Araújo’s twisted and delightful sense of humour.
His cinematographic references wander between fiction and the documentary, which he masterly shuffles in Sabine / Brunilde (2003), where, in a double video installation, we see the same person portraying two different characters. One of them, Brunilde, inspired by the fictional character of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung. Both videos are shown simultaneously and make us question where fiction is and where reality is. But that’s not the most important thing. That’s the doubt Vasco Araújo intends to install, only in this way can we see and hear without prejudice.
One of the great questions of documentary cinema concerns the presence of the director. There is a constant worry when the director (inevitably intervening) doesn’t want to appear or be heard, even when off-screen. Vasco Araújo is not afraid of making himself visible. This is a characteristic of his work. We can see him in the photographic series Telefonema (2011) and listen to him in Eco (2008) but, in other significant works, present in other exhibitions, the artist also embodies different characters. In this anthological exhibition, we end up missing these works, with that typical characteristic of Vasco, which refer us to artists like Cindy Sherman, where Vasco uses transfiguration as part of the work and the questions he brings.
A Moment Apart encompasses twenty years of Vasco Araújo’s career. Inevitably, we end up considering him a herald of a generation, reflecting the concerns of a “young” generation, which today is about 40 years old. We grew up with the colonial longing of our parents or grandparents. Some of us were pridefully born in Africa. We talk (almost) openly about our sexual orientations, we have won some rights that we now consider natural. Vasco Araújo’s art, albeit not explicitly political, raises, in many works of the last twenty years, questions about freedom of expression and our place in society. In Perruque, several dissonant voices speak softly, Sabine / Brunilde mixes fiction and reality with music and its stories. In Protocolo, a diary allows itself to be read and, in Telefonema, we only see the conversations. A Moment Apart provides an overall look into Vasco Araújo’s work, based on a reflection on the performance and, specifically, on the voice as a vehicle for artistic expression. And political expression.
Until 9 September, at MAAT.