Nature according to Jorge Santos, at Abreu Advogados

The plant growing through the concrete cracks is a triumph of the cosmos. As time advances, the inert gives way to wear; the wind adds the dust needed for germination; chance, carried by a bird, kicked by the foot, pushed by water, places the seed that germinates the greenish of life over the greyish of the artifice.

The Vita activa conditions our contemplative gaze, rejecting any sort of contemplation and imagination. The riot of production and activity, of flows and schedules, is something that depresses and exhausts. There is no room for idleness, for slowness. They all escape us: the plant that grows through the cracks in the concrete, the tree that lurks between the buildings, the flower that emerges through the holes in the sidewalk. Indifferent to foreign bodies and existences different from ours, the touching indifference of nature to everything that is produced by man also escapes us. The drama of ecology is that man forgets that he is part of nature.

In Walden; or, Life in the Woods, Henry David Thoreau writes about his ascetic and symbiotic experience with nature. Initially, Thoreau establishes the most domestic economy of survival in the woods and on the shores of Walden Pond, talking about work and life in the countryside. But his critical view of the time of nature and the time of man are what stimulate the reader. Walden does what Byung-Chul Han may call the pedagogy of vision. Under Thoreau’s attentive and vivid gaze, we recall the pleasure of nature and the true possibility of freedom.

Jorge Santos’ work has explored this tension between nature and culture, between the organic and the inorganic, between countryside and city. It is in line with Thoreau’s romantic thinking, but modernity also places him in the contemporary vision of the universe and of what can be rescued from the past to be reflected again in the present and the future.

The plastic language of painting is also the language of today: forms are only the strictly necessary and suggestion has more power than the tangible – increasing some of the sensuality of the forms and themes represented. In this suggestion, lies the fascination for the botanic realm and for the places; there is room for surprise when turning the corner and the meticulous study of cuts and clippings, of the full and the empty; there is room for time and space flattened on paper and, therefore, the duration of a moment, either fleeting or slow. Drawing wins in the profusion that could be painting. Colour is the element that differentiates materiality and the gradation of tones on the same plane is a recent effort. The work lives on this ambiguity in the plastic fields, of not knowing if it is more like a drawing or more like a painting. But that is where the interest of his work lies.

The exhibition that Santos presents in Abreu Advogados’ new space is a summary of the languages, grammars and lexicons that he has explored. In Flower Ornament, we recall the approach to decorative arts and the dialogue with Fundação Ricardo Espírito Santo; in Sun Around the House, the improvised room in the gallery space A Montanha. But these are details of a larger portfolio, beyond the planarity of paper or the quietness of forms. The Trepadeira series is a three-dimensional composition of several paintings. In Bucólico, there is a curious video experience, which, despite the expression of the moving image, is closer to painting (and then drawing) than any other film project.

What stands out is the beauty of the atmospheres: the warmth over the reeds, the windows that open to the dense vegetation, the mystery of the plants, the trees, the nature; the idle pleasure that allows to see the sun and the time passing by; the indulgence of the natural order that forgives and blurs human negligence. In this way, the works of Jorge Santos are, for the spectator, a guide to the gaze, an invitation to meditation, which inspires, like all art, the turning from vita activa into vita contemplativa. In the end, his work is what Nietzsche said in Twilight of the Idols, and what the aforementioned Byung-Chul Han recycled: “accustom the eye to calmness, to patience, and to allow things to come up to it”.

Under the theme of Natureza, and already in the third show of 2019, the exhibition of Jorge Santos, curated by Lourenço Egreja, is a collaboration between Carpe Diem Arte e Pesquisa and Abreu Advogados. It can be visited until February 28.

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. Curator of Dialogues (2018-), an editorial project that draws a bridge between artists and museums or scientific and cultural institutions with no connection to contemporary art.

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