Alto Nível Baixo, at Galeria Zé dos Bois
Alto Nível Baixo announces the absence of a measure (perhaps even a metric impossibility). But, more importantly, the idea of paradox that echoes in Galeria ZDB. It is possible to affirm that these two exhibitions were merged into one – Invention Cinema, Brazil (1968-78) and War Drawings by Manoel Barbosa, Angola (1973-75). The crossing is abrupt and defined; the geometric rigidity of the drawings contrasts with the organicity of the audio-visuals. But the strangest thing is the ability to communicate between the two blocks, which blend together throughout the rooms, and share the disruptive force of the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. The videos and drawings show marginal paths, at a time when the social-political contexts (different from each other) threatened the central matter of art: freedom.
If marginality is the point of contact, the forms of expression are distinct. On the one hand, Manoel Barbosa’s drawings, made between 1973-75 in the solitude of the colonial war – which he shared with António Palolo – are metamorphosed lines sheet after sheet, in forms similar to crystals or ships. The oscillations between the detailed representation and the mapping of large structures allow us a brief access to the artist’s innerness, disturbed by war and depressurized by the use of psychotropics. This set of drawings symbolizes the attempt of inner evasion. They are an exit “inwards”, right in the middle of a shooting range.
On the opposite side, the audio-visuals of the Brazilian authors can be seen as actions on the social fabric. The promulgation of the AI-5 (Institutional Act no.5) marked the five most complex years of the military dictatorship. It imposed censorship on Brazil and fuelled bold and precarious artistic proposals, which defied political power, even in the artistic realm itself. For instance, the “mouth of garbage” film, which brutally dissociated itself from tradition, showing everything that was not “supposed”. The cinematographic narrative itself – historically based on the relationship of power between those who film and those who are filmed – was shattered by the democratization of the technical means of shooting. By changing the one who could film, what could be filmed was also altered. The poor, the ugly, the political oppression, the woman, the sexuality or the homosexuality became visible on the screen, as in this exhibition, in contrast to the filtered society proposed by the new cinema.
The organicity of the videos – some quite rudimentary, created by artists with intermittent paths – underlines the challenging tone of a dark period in Brazilian history. They are cries of revolt shrouded in joy and irreverence. Volcanic life defied the threat to individual rights.
Drawings and videos intersect each other throughout the exhibition, opening space for various interpretations through the crossing of two lines. These, despite being paradoxical from a formal point of view, share the force of marginality. Their confluence is unexpected but powerful.
One of the most surprising points of the curatorship, shared between Marta Mestre and Natxo Checa, is the fusion of the different types of discourse, deconstructing the opacity imposed on certain subjects.
Alto Nivel Baixo, in line with ZDB’s exhibitions dedicated to the works of research and dissemination of authors and key moments, not only reveals what is not shown, but outlines a reflection on the attitude associate with non-dominant discourses. Giving voice to divergent authors is always an important issue. It becomes even more relevant in the present moment when, as mentioned by Marta Mestre in the text, marginality was aestheticized and works in favor of social numbness, reducing its potentially disruptive force.
That is why we feel uncomfortable in these two productions. Without a defined agenda, much less an illustrative pretentiousness, they challenged their time, and now touch ours. Above all, they are the seed of critical thinking; they are witnesses to the incessant search for individual freedom.
Alto Nível Baixo is on view until January 11 at Galeria Zé dos Bois, in Lisbon.