Ballad of Today, by André Cepeda
Let’s start with the beginning and the first form of contact with this exhibition, its title: Ballad of Today. There are many titles, figurative or literal, more participant or determinant than others, concerning the projects in question. In this one, I think it is important to start at the beginning, with the title, because it is the rhythmic motto for the exhibition.
The ballad, a mostly pluralistic artifice due to the continuous service provided to music and literature, is originally a poem with narrative characteristics, consummated through singing. Over time, like any other artistic modality or genre, it has undergone mutations, but maintaining its original qualities (of course, in some cases more than in others). It is not so much a mutation of its original core as the emergence of affluents – the term ballad has been embracing more senses or has begun to be the definition for more than one poem (narrative) sung. There are variants, often distinguished according to historical periods: from medieval to classical, to romantic ballads, to contemporary understanding of the sentimental song, with a slow rhythm.
Given the laconic definition of ballad, we can trace André Cepeda’s first intentions. Or, at least, the way the artist sees and proposes to see this set of photographs – and it’s one of both (and perhaps the two simultaneously): either we assume a more contemporary perspective of the term ballad, and look at this exhibition as a slow (and intimate) dance, with its own choreography, through Lisbon; or we can opt for the classical way, looking at the exhibition as a corner of that same city, made at a relatively retrospective distance. In either option, the structure remains poetic, without linear ideas. Throughout the exhibition, we see verses or aphorisms, with their own universes that can be crossed or included in a larger plan (and that they are! Ultimately, in the Lisbon universe).
By contemplating this considerable set of ballad photographs of today, or of the present, Cepeda assumes that there is something universal about them. A claim that appears fitting to me. Even because, according to the exhibition text, we know that these photographs were all made (and in some way are about) in Lisbon, there is almost no evidence of the city itself in them. There are no strong or singular traces that lead us to immediately recognise the city. We recognize that it is a city, but we don’t know which one. Even if, according to the text, Cepeda’s recent move to Lisbon seems to be a significant landmark for the artist, this change does not lead him to make a portrait of the city, but to go deeper, going beyond the first layers of the city – the eye-catching, the touristic and the referenced – going straight to the core. He announces a need and desire to get close, translated into this slow dance, in this corner, with a reserved and taciturn tone, but categorically sober and eloquent.
Some images are more framed than others.
In black and white, in colour; rough and ephemeral footbridges, solid and robust reinforced concrete bridges; abandoned spaces, occupied spaces; interior and exterior; with or without life (or on the razor’s edge); nightly notes of façades, stagnant house interiors; on the edge of the abstract, the expressly figurative – living beings, dead nature – with or without planning – with or without light (some of blue light and green light!); together with the photographs, there are two small rooms which, closed and kept dark by a thick black curtain, with sound (noisy and sometimes agonizing), and a luminous focus, are another tool for the experimentation of this city (the songs are by Gabriel Ferrandini and Maria Reis).
There is no strict subject or interest, but a whirlwind of empathy. It is not an exultation of everyday life, nor a stamp on the things that pass us by unnoticed. Nor is it necessarily a story of tangencies.
In fact, everything has a rather circumstantial aspect.
It is about going towards it.
At this point, we can identify the sniffer dog that is sniffing and continuing the journey with no purpose, nor a specific place as a destination. Without hierarchies. No matter how, neither before nor after. Things are not consecutive (voluntarily, at least). There is a smell that leads us to go in that direction – there or someplace else; and so, the journey is made, and we see the city.
Ballad of Today, curated by Urs Stahel, at MAAT, until January 25, 2021.