Deep Line, by Nuno Sousa Vieira

The death of the gods starts with the birth of the sciences as founding, factual and fundamental disciplines of the being.

Meanwhile, the death of magical thought bifurcated in the death of the gods and an approach to the poetic and phenomenological thought – here, no longer the case an obscure product of what we experience but a hermeneutical exercise of an experience, an astonishing synthesis of reality, which immaculately translates facts.

But it is in that collision, in that bloody harbinger between gods and facts, that magical thought becomes omnipresent on both sides of the barricade: the ancient god, veiled and unveiled idiosyncratically, was magical; and magical was also the enlightened thought, capable of revealing the structures and infrastructures that animate and found the world. In the clarification of science and technology, the celestial creatures that populated the night sky were magical, but so were the representations of stellar and astrophysical maps for scientific purposes.

This is evident with the invention of photography or the devices for capturing reality – for example, the daguerreotypes, the magic lanterns, the heliotype or calotype (image-capture devices; the embryonic phase of photography). Tiphaigne de la Roche summarised this reality with accuracy, between the magical thought – the new one, the poetic – and the physical-chemical scientific thought, in Giphantie, “The Storm”. In this work, photography was a hallucinatory window to reality, a painting or a drawing so real that it seemed impossible. It is not by chance that Massimo Tortelli, at the end of the 19th century, compared photography to a “magic pencil” that draws and translates everyday images.

In Deep Line, Nuno Sousa Vieira presents these tensions between poetic and scientific thought. But the various works and their almost encyclopaedic dimension allow other ways of meditation – particularly regarding the separation of two forms of reflection on the stars and the celestial map, which separates astrology and astronomy. Sousa Vieira opens the doors to the contemporization and reactivation of an 18th/19th century discourse, under the light of art, which rescues the magic of science and the science of magic – i.e., of poetics. In an allusion to Tortelli’s expression, Sousa Vieira’s drawing is the reinterpretation of a thinking “magic pencil”, which uses the beginnings of the technology of “fixating fleeting images” to reflect on the cosmos, the subject, art and its perception.

Extremely important for the understanding of this exhibition is the piece Atlas Der Bonner Durchmusterung, a small box with glass slides for a magic lantern, which measures and surveys the skies, stars and nebulae. Scientific, reductive and essentialist thought often hides the metaphysical, romantic, poetic and subjective questions of this small portable object, which has in itself the measure of the cosmos, but also of the history of science. The artist, with his objects, is responsible for bringing back to life the context of a time when minds vibrated feverishly between poetry and science. We recall Mary Shelley’s atmospheric and raptured writing in Frankenstein – an allegory that used the revelations of science to reflect on the mysticism and magic of the Promethean myth.

In the separation between astrology and astronomy, a deep line is dug, simultaneously to the line that moves anthropocentrism away from heliocentrism, simultaneously to the line that marks cosmogonic narratives of factual and cosmological construction. But both have a human and individual implication, for they exist to explain the life of man on earth. This is the argument of Deep Line, especially when the accident compromises the understanding of the fact. When uncertainty, misunderstanding and doubt assail science, they offer a substitute explanation.

In the promenade created by Sousa Vieira by reactivating the glass slides, we perceive all this confluence of visions under the action of graphite. The fixation of the frames and the grids of latitudes and longitudes printed on the slides are poured onto the paper through the drawing and graphite, which, in their argentine darkness, reflect the observer. The subject sees himself under the glare of graphite and through scientific information, having the possibility to measure and map the starry sky. Our reflection emerges like a larval image, analysing the constellations and nebulae represented, and completes the information lost by time and randomness.

This mediation of the body and the subject covers the whole exhibition, between the concepts analysed and the images and objects constructed and conceived. The personal objects that the artist adds to the exhibition are revealing – the exhibition is a tautological exercise on the activity and life of its author, full of layers that are posed, superimposed and juxtaposed, akin to the formation of a consciousness, a culture and individuation. But it is also a meditation on the gaze, on contemplation. Or on how the very construction of images takes place in different layers and times.

The exhibition’s circularity, ending with people looking at the sky and (re)starting with others looking at the sky as well, is a two-way helicoidal line, a spiral path that allows us to question at different depths. At each depth, at each level, there is a new understanding of it.

In this context, we notice that the works in the art racks and screens of Fundação Carmona e Costa are a reshaping of the slide box that works as a starting point for Deep Line; that the orange filter of the glasses protecting some drawings are manifestations of a celestial temperature; that, because I have been busy, the last time I looked at the sky – such a banal thing, such a ridiculous thing – was in this exhibition; that this is a complex, dense project, as it contains the metric and spiritual dimension of man and the universe; that physical effort is inculcated in each of the works, trace on trace, line on line, graphite on graphite, meaning that the act of drawing has a corporeality far beyond an agile hand; that art has the magic of being able to reveal what science conceals through processes.

Deep Line, by Nuno Sousa Vieira, curated by Sérgio Fazenda Rodrigues, at Fundação Carmona e Costa until December 12. The catalogue edited by Documenta is an extension of the exhibition, and a companion guide the thought process of the artist and the curator.

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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