The Moustache Hidden in the Beard: The Heart and the Lungs, by Francisco Tropa

At night, two palisades, two police officers, a piece of meat and a gas lamp, with two hanging posters advertising medical imaging processes. These are the elements of the piece entitled The Heart and The Lungs by Francisco Tropa, at the Galeria Quadrado Azul, in Lisbon, which incorporates the last part of the project The Moustache Hidden in the Beard, started in 2017.

The title refers to two entities found around the mouth: the moustache and the beard. And it is an assertive choice for the project, which focuses on how language acts in the construction of the work of art. According to the artist, these two elements have an implicit idea of perpetual motion, referring to Paul Scheerbart and the book The Perpetual Motion Machine. “The moustache and the beard merge into each other forever, in a continuous movement. One ends in the other and vice versa”. A Russellian idea, inspired by the work of Marcel Duchamp, evident in the body of work of Francisco Tropa.

The Moustache Hidden in the Beard is the thread of three moments that originated a working group. The first, Coleção, took place in 2017 at the Fundação Carmona e Costa and fuelled the entire project. In the second moment, in 2018, Café, at the Le grand café centre d’art contemporain in Saint-Nazaire, Francisco Tropa used the idea of “an old-fashioned café” to create thirty pieces laid out in the café’s space, which was once the centre of contemporary art, recreating a daytime atmosphere.

The third and last moment, now on exhibition at the Galeria Quadrado Azul, in Lisbon, recreates a night ambience and focuses on issues related to the body. The title, The Heart and The Lungs, refers to the two essential organs in movement. It is a reference to a kind of machinery, the body machine. It is a “sculpture-mechanism” with several elements, clues that build a discourse, an enigma with numerous subjects and different directions.

The protagonists of the piece are two sculptures resembling two anthropomorphic figures. They watch, they are two sentries or two police officers, as the artist called them. Their heads are two helmets designed in the image of the colonial helmet, which rotate from a device and engines. Their bodies are structured by brass branches of eucalyptus, painted with the colors of the flags of Portugal and Germany. Both characters were taken from the film Les Mâitres Fous by Jean Rouch, a documentary about the ceremonies of the Hauka movement, where young workers in Africa are owned by colonial administrators.

This scene, clearly set in Africa, is immediately associated with post-colonialist issues. It is also possible to establish an association between the advertising posters of medical imaging, whose colours were edited by the artist, and the large pharmaceutical industries. On the other hand, the interior of the body is suggested not only by the structure of the eucalyptus branches, which recalls the ramifications of the lungs, or by the medical specialty that allows visualizing the interior of the body, but also by the brass piece of meat painted in oil, suspended from the ceiling. At the same time, it may be a bait used in big-game hunting, presented here as a still life species.

There are several possibilities to build images from the piece of Francisco Tropa, which is supposed to be hidden behind two palisades. In fact, they hide little – on the contrary, they reveal. They reveal not only by showing. This also happens in the photographic sense of producing images in the studio, when the red light is switched on.

In the previous room, we see only one piece, Mask. It is the interior of a bronze mask, the part that touches the face, normally not visible when used to hide the face. Presented here is the side of the mask that hides nothing and “not that which is given, nor that which is hidden, but that which is touched”, as Francisco Tropa says. Mask is a clue for the visitor about what is in the next room.

As often happens in the artist’s work, particularly in previous exhibitions that integrate the same project, The Heart and the Lungs has clues that allow the construction of discourses that are quickly destroyed and reformulated, triggered by other clues. We enter the continuous movement, where one clue flows into the other, and then into another, successively. In the common points between them, there is a thread. An implicit entity. In this third moment, there is the body or the look inside the body.

Although apparently distinct, the three moments of The Moustache Hidden in the Beard have the same structure. In each, there are overlapping entities. There is always a moustache and a beard. They are enigmatic and incorporate a kind of interplay of clues that must be unveiled. Clues that suggest movement, they are a kind of machine capable of producing relationships and images. The artist is interested in the way we relate to images in general, and to works of art in particular. And, also, in the way images are produced and consumed, and how this influences our perception of reality.

The Heart and the Lungs is a tragicomic charade, full of references to current topics, whose burden is heavy and sad, albeit ironically presented through enigmatic elements. Nothing is revealed immediately. The observation requires time, so that we can unveil this “cat hidden with its tail showing”, as the artist says.

Francisco Tropa’s work is at the Galeria Quadrado Azul, in Lisbon, until March 21, preferably from 5 pm, when the light of the gas lamp, the piece’s only lighting source, is turned on and the melancholic night ambience emerges.

Joana Duarte (Lisbon, 1988), architect and curator, lives and works in Lisbon. She concluded her master in architecture at Faculdade de Arquitectura of Universidade de Lisboa in 2011, she attended the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands and did her professional internship in Shanghai, China. She collaborated with several national and international architects and artists developing a practice between architecture and art. In 2018 she founds her own studio, concludes the postgraduate degree in curatorial studies at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa and starts collaborating with Umbigo magazine.

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