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Map to the stars: Do Inesgotável, an exhibition by Pedro Calhau

Pedro Calhau’s exhibition, Do Inesgotável, curated by Mariana Marin Gaspar, is the latest enterprise of Campo Aberto/Campo Abierto, a cross-border cooperation program developed in the last triennium between Centro de Arte e Cultura da Fundação Eugénio de Almeida (FEA) and Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo (MEIAC). This program aimed to spark the closeness and promote the work of the artist born or inhabiting their respective regions: Alentejo and Extremadura.

However, António Franco Dominguez (1955-2020), would not witness the conclusion of this project, as well as MEIAC’s 25th years celebration. We take this opportunity to pay tribute to the person he was, as MEIAC’s director and founder of one of the most extensive collections of Ibero-American art, composed with more than 1300 pieces. It is also the largest Portuguese contemporary art collection abroad and in it can be found artist such as: Julião Sarmento, Cabrita, Jorge Molder, Fernanda Fragateiro, Helena Almeida, Daniel Blaufuks, Eduardo Batarda, João Vieira, Calapez, Chafes, Alberto Carneiro, Ângela Ferreira, Álvaro Lapa and Paulo Mendes.

In a way, Map to the stars is a statement of a journey, but it can also be the documental registry of this event, with revealing clues that decode a rapprochement to Pedro Calhau’s speech (Évora, 1983).

Thus I introduce you to this genuine force of creation. Present in private and corporate collections, national and international, Pedro Calhau displays consistently since 2013 in the institutional framework., although Do Inesgotável is his first solo institutional exhibition.

Centro de Arte e Cultura’s 2nd floor invites you to a body of work carried out in the last four years: this selection comes from five different series, composed of drawings, paintings, engravings, sculptures, photographs, and text and image installations. Throughout the exhibition rooms, the path is deliberately free, where each series are organized in clusters. However, the contamination between the series is latent, and the unity of the exhibition is perceived as a whole.

NOUS

Intelligence or the force of thought

The first contact with the exhibition starts on the way to it. In the staircase, between floors, there’s a 200×180 canvas, an oil painting depicts a car under a starry night. Nothing unusual, at first, except the usage of these elements: muscle cars and galaxies.

One of them, the virile sovereigns, production of a specific era[1], yet they take a place in the American culture, printed in the common imagination, for example, through cinema: road movies. The search and escape – to escape – are very often associated with reason and existential issues. Lastly, the speed vertigo, which warps the road (even more), as a reality one most cover: a full reality distortion.

The other, the reference to the celestial body that is the galaxies. Its representation invokes the idea of immeasurability and tolerance before the unknown (universe). We need to go back to the first literary reference or influence speech that Pedro Calhau uses: Siderius Nancius, published in 1610 by Galileu Galilei. Considered the first scientific treaty based on astronomical observations by using a telescope, he registered extraordinary scientific shreds of evidence, that in time would the basis of modern Astronomy studies, and the increment and approval of observing objects as auscultation tools.

It’s in this “free relation” of references that Pedro Calhau’s work happens. Imaginary grounds, with no commitment to rewrite History.

We – the observers – are all by default, structured to find comfort in the meaning, and it’s that deconstruction that is wanted. The quaint association of familiar objects – disconnected – and to observe their intersections: “Eureka”[2].

At last, we enter the exhibition and are welcomed with a diagrammatic image[3] that drives us to this thought, chance. The artist coming clean in all honesty with his bystanders.

At some point, one can read the following:

“1999 – 2004.

A period marked by imagination. There’s a clear and unquestionable empathy between what I was feeling and my drawings as if one could not exist without the others knowledge (…)”

“2013 – 2016

It emerges as an intent to move away from the “oneself” of creating. For that, the “world” is organized by familiarities and affinities based on circumstances. Above all connected by insights and creative perceptions. Aristoteles said to be free, one must have rules, and that’s where I’m heading. When I establish these claims, I’m freeing myself more than I’m constraining.”

OUR FOUNDING FATHERS (O.F.F.)

This series came out of the interest in the expression that coins the group of the political leaders that signed the Declaration of Independence (1776) as well as the American Constitution. This fascination in the founding roots, of that which is considered THE global superpower, proves Pedro Calhau’s political conscience, something natural to him. The year was 2015 and Donald Trump was running for the US Presidential election.

We were far from imagining how absurd the Future would become.

That same year, Pedro Calhau creates a series of clay busts that represent themselves the vague idea of O.F.F. These tridimensional objects become part of “the studios’ landscape” a way to test their resilience. They are then submitted to a process of dimensional record, with photographs and drawings from 2018.

All that resulted in a gallery of headless portraits. Recalling Deleuze when he refers to Francis Bacon “body without organs”, which disowns the exercise of graphic, narrative and figurative integrity. There are three of those busts and fifteen of the forty-four drawings that complete the series in this exhibition.

COSMOS

Map to nowhere

This time the influence speech comes from a comprehensive transcript of Karl Popper’ book Conjectures and Refutations. A dissertation on truth as a synonym of knowledge, as opposed to ignorance. The idea of shelter, as Man-made construction, is recurrent, as well; and to the book with an extremely suggestive and adequate to Pedro Calhau’s context: Cabin Porn: Inspiration for your quiet place somewhere. Of this, the artist extracts the necessary visual lexica for the artistic exploration, gathering the necessary conditions to start a new play of artistic exploit. Gouache, acrylic, markers, pencils and collage on paper create this series of drawings with variable dimensions.

The text blurb is the unifying element across the series, and this composition is one of many possibilities. The art pieces can be exhibited on their own, that they would not lose their artistic and conceptual value. Instead, it enhances the multiplicity of meanings. For example, other drawings from this series were shown in Porto[4] and Lisbon[5] in collective shows.

In the eco of Pedro Calhau’s work, we are drawn in occasional imagery with strong symbiotic and formal roots. It’s that strange sensation that the artist wants the observer to feel, the comprehension deceit and empathy with the referral. In this series, for example, Pedro Calhau states “They look like maps, but they aren’t. They are just drawings on paper”.

Renegade thus far the classic idea of an Atlas and the capitulate ordinance.

FIAT LUX

Let there be light

Inside a black box, we will find a moment of deconstruction and the genesis of the artist’s creative method. Let’s call it the starting line.

In the middle, a vertical axis divides the room in half: one side, a video loop projection; in its back, two projections draw hypnotically and sensually with light the idea of the Venn diagram.

“Search in you, what you don’t find anywhere else.”[6]

Rephrasing Mariana Marim Gaspar: “(…) In Pedro Calhau’s body of work, what can now be seen and thought about, we can see a great and insatiable curiosity along with a simplicity that, while not completely innocent, is profoundly spontaneous and instinctive, making his statement in the practice of his art, as an act of (un)committed expression and communication, necessity, right and freedom.

We conclude that the Map to the stars is on its own a slow, but steady, tour. Looking for the natural fit of all pieces, as we continue to observe Do Inesgotável.

This free admission exhibition is on view until July 4th, at Fundação Eugénio de Almeida, every Thursday to Sunday, from 10 am to 1 pm and from 2 pm to 7 pm.

On July 15th, the exhibition is relocated to MEIAC, where it will be reinvented with a new exhibition path.

 

[1] High-cylinder vehicles for common use, produced between 1964 and 1975, in USA.

[2] Arquimedes de Siracusa (287 – 212 a.C).

[3] John Venn (1834-1923). The Venn Diagram, dates back to the 19th century, and serves as a graphic representation of intersecting sets, that is, a method of understanding coincident spaces.

[4] Complexo Mota Galiza Galeria de Arte, Porto. TRUE NODE – Parte II Cabeça. Diogo Bolota, Hugo Bernardo e Rita Senra; Curator: Carolina Trigueiros. February 7th – March 3rd, 2020.

[5] Duplex AIR, Lisboa. LES AMIS DU CAVAVRE EXQUIS. Catarina Silva, Consta Arouca, Francisca Carvalho, Hugo Bernardo, Nuno Henrique, Pedro Calhau, Roger Paulino; Text: Carolina Quintela. April 23th – May 14th, 2021.

[6] Ribeiro, Mariano Alejandro. (2016). «Haiku da Paz» in Antes da Iluminação. Lisboa: Mariposa Azual.

Denise Cunha Silva has 13 years of experience in managing art collections, producing art show and directing specialty publications. Currently, works as a producer and advisor for the private market and as well as being independent curator.

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