The in/visible landscapes of Tito Mouraz
“if doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”
Tito Mouraz (Portugal, 1977) has always accustomed us to a thoughtful, meticulous compositional framework, with its mystique, exuding method and (pre)meditation, in a kind of existential discomfort. In the beginning, I remember the imposing formalism of Open Space Office, or the realistic restlessness of Rua da Cabine. Casa das Sete Senhoras sent shivers down one’s spine and prompted an anxious reading. And in Fluvial the authenticity of the real was explored, which, despite being open to different interpretations, clearly explained what to expect from the documentary; many say that Mergulho is a turning point in that customary approach, another way of seeing. If we consider its introductory premise, the work hints at it from the start. Let’s not assume, but dive in; if we do, we will find the same Tito, who tells us that images are not always what they seem, that narrative (like any good one) is built from a whole, from a story that is not static or surmisable. But one that constantly questions us in its fluidity.
Mergulho is about the Azores. Or rather, it is made in the Azores; the result of a stay in the archipelago, during which the artist established a deep connection with the territory. From here we could even assume the result; the expected frivolity from a motto that proposes a photographic work about Azorean landscapes. A territory invariably known for its vigorous and involving greenery, so often converted into postcards, turning any questioning about into something banal. Much has been said and written about the islands, but this “fragmented and fluctuating” geography is special because it “challenges the sense of volatility of things and their perceptibility”, said Sérgio Mah. That’s what Mergulho does – in a shifting terrain, all assumptions are unexpected, and it goes further. Or, should I say, deeper.
If we dive deep, we are absorbed, abstracted, delivered to a space that becomes intimately ours. On the wall, the images are marked by the rigour of a formal and translucent sequence that challenges the atypical, cleavage and unpredictable morphology of the islands. So does the scale. If the insular settings remind us of the typical magnitude of a volcanic geology, rough and prominent, the truth is that, before us, there is no defined opposition, but a soft call for a one-to-one encounter. To its silence. Oddly, a stillness that reminds us of the world in which we are forced to live today. And, as we approach the unobtrusive and immaculate images, we suspend time and space in this relationship that, because it is so close, materialises right there a plunge into an intimate and personal experience. As for the landscape materialised in front of us, let us make no mistake: it is of the same order of magnitude as the Azorean scenario, “as powerful as that which emerges when we are in its presence”.
Besides the conceptual symbology uttered by the project and strengthened by the curatorship that adds a sober privacy to it, the exhibited images are the originals of a technique that introduces even more meaning in this immersion. The series, developed in instant film, introduces a character to the project beyond its sheer physicality. Because it is the result of the chemistry involved and the transfer of negative film into a positive image, “imperfections” and “mistakes” are visible, but conceptually these are additions that enrich the content, its meaning and depth.
And, suddenly, there is the same Tito again, surprisingly different: no longer offering the unquestionable veracity of a predictable landscape, but fearless in challenging the setting’s loyalty, in transforming the visible into the abstract, the oneiric, the almost untouchable. And if, by doing so, the artist questions the photographic language, he also makes us do this exercise on our notion of reality. Do we know the place in which we live? Do we know how to portray it absolutely? Have we seen everything we think we know about that place? What would be obvious for those who know the island so well, or think they know it, opens up different readings, capable of stimulating the memory and imagination, generating a (new) understanding of the place. This is what is most special about Mergulho: a reconfiguration of the landscape just as a child would do – the best way, the most expanded, in an inevitable return to simpler forms, in a mixture of colours and superimpositions. More than photographs, they look like paintings, drawings, dreams or imagined visions. These, although revealed by the author, explore our imaginations. A reflection beyond the territory, in the infinite possibilities of the photographic medium, in a constant trance of relationships and influences, not only of materials and support, but of aesthetics and ways of seeing. Metamorphosing the notion of landscape allows us to find narrative potentials and endless visual representations for the creator and even more for the reader. We can say: we always start from the known objective, to reach the plural and rich fertility of all that is subjective.
The exhibition is at Salut au Monde!, in Oporto, until May 8.