Vivian Suter, at the Camden Arts Centre

Wanting to know the formula of art is as prepotent as wanting to know the formula of life. This does not mean that there are no patterns, behaviours or unknowns capable of being revealed by calculation and logic – a poetic and comprehensive logic, capable of revealing beauty beyond the apparent disorder, the conundrum of circumstances not particularly circumstantial. There is a reciprocity in the way life and art feed the sciences and how the sciences remind art (and life) of its spirit – amoral, immense, thoughtful and chaotic.

Truth in the beauty of things – the object of the sciences – happens between balance and disorder. Art is in this vector axis of directions and oscillating forces, in this always restless balance. If the artistic and creative process is more related to entropy – dominated by unpredictability, accident and disorder – the final result, the procedural consubstantiation of the various agents, comes from clairvoyance and harmony – regardless of its place: on the canvas, on paper, in the exhibition space, in the mind.

In the field of art, with the various agents and reagents, the artistic process is often analogous to a chain reaction: a reactive sequence of products that provoke new reactions, regardless of the duration and the chain of events. And, because they are cumulative, the chain reactions have a series of positive feedbacks, which successively amplify the previous action. The artist is one of the agents by default. The other agent varies: time, space, time-space, nature, society, politics, etc. In the meeting of the two, the work happens, which often originates another and then another, etc.

In 2005, Vivian Suter (b. 1949) was confronted with two scenarios after her studio was devastated by a tropical storm in Panajachel, Guatemala: either she chose to surrender to the weeping of starting all over again, or she embraced the entropy of life and art, accepting the inevitability of natural elements as another process in a chain of events capable of relaunching her work. And that is what the artist decided to do: Suter rescued the wet, dirty and muddy works, stored them and started a new phase of projects that underwent the same natural processes. In the background, the dense Guatemalan forest, the volcanic mountains and the wild fauna and flora. Nature, for Vivian Suter, is the entropic agent she needed to have a new work – the lightning that falls without asking permission, that creates and transforms. There is something Thoreaunian about this.

Tintin’s Sofa, at Camden Arts Centre, London, is a massive production with oils on canvas, exposed to wind, rain, sun, a bed for crawling animals, dry leaves and recreation for the artist’s pets (Bonzo, Nina and Tintin). Chance completes the work, at the same time establishing the full link between life and art. The painting expands in an environment that reminds us of the chthonic and beautiful forces of nature: on the outside, several canvases dance in the air flows, in saturated colours over London’s soothing green and grey; inside, the movements are not so intense, but the almost tactile and sculptural quality of the work is emphasized. Canvases are suspended from the ceiling, they lie on the floor, fold in incessant folds, overlap or follow each other in wooden pergolas. Although finite, this landscape seems volatile, with several paths – a forest trail continuously bifurcated in varied images, a peripatetic wandering that always has something new to show and teach. “A document of moments”, as the artist says. Yes, there is something Thoreaunian in all this: isolation, solitude, reconnection with nature, the ecological parable, a certain animism in the forms or the dissolution of man in the green, in the trees, in the wind, the reconfiguration of life and the simplification of daily life.

From an artistic and formal standpoint, the idea of chain reaction is yet again retrieved. The fact that one thing provokes something different, in an explosive and controlled artistic production. The exhibition space is a nuclear and reactive laboratory, where abstract pictorial propositions are rehearsed, which gravitate between colour contrast, complementarity or similarities in tones or vaguely represented objects. Vaguely and never objectively, because we are dealing with a sensory or sensitive representation and not with defined and identifiable forms. There are similarities with the neo-expressionist painting of the 1980s, but also with the reconceptualization of the pictorial field of expanded painting. Taking into account the dimensions of the canvases and their spatial arrangement, the works acquire a physicality similar to sculpture, where the back of the canvas is as interesting as the front. The maximalist will of the exhibition is also a neo-expressionist derivation, in opposition to the conservative and minimalist formalism and many institutional exhibitions. Very similar to the motives he evokes, Tintin’s Sofa prefers profusion to ponderation.

Tintin’s Sofa is an impressive exhibition. Between the imagined choreography of Vivian Suter painting and the patina of time added by nature, this is a case where painting has the immensity of life. It takes several hours to fully see the exhibition. And yet, the creative and inspiring germ is noticed right at the first moment when we see Vivian Suter’s work. In the placid stillness of the galleries, there is a palpable vibration and joy. What may seem like a heavy and overcrowded space at first becomes a comforting gesture of the artist’s generosity, which envelops and tightens us. A gesture that most likely only the female nature of the woman can offer.

The chain reaction is now passed on to the spectator.

Until April 5, at Camden Arts Centre, London.

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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