Início permanente: Rui Chafes at Galeria da Casa A. Molder

Rui Chafes’ exhibition at Galeria da Casa A. Molder begins, without us knowing it, in the intense light and buzz of the urban fabric, even before we approach the work on show. Walking down the street, entering the building, going through the venue’s atmosphere, all these bodily movements and the assumption of a reality around the visitor delineate more than an immense frame for those who enter the exhibition room. And the gallery’s hospitality is adjusted.

An important moment in the encounter with Rui Chafes’ work takes place as we pass through the small corridor before entering the exhibition. In this intermediate place, between the outside and the inside, we sense the luminosity diminished to a minimum, in the environment where a sculpture eventually emerges. But this is perhaps too cold an interpretation of the event. It is more as if the world was sensorially extinguished the closer we are to the work. Until the point where, slightly disorientated, and already inside the gallery, we identify another body that is not ours: it is the body of the work. Then, it entirely takes on the form through the luminosity that establishes the limits of perception and dominates the sensitive relationship. For some time, while the vision tries to adapt, it is impossible to perceive the surroundings because as they are immersed in darkness. The sculpture is the only point of reference. The first look seems to hide more than to show and we must play the game, circling the work as if we were looking for an entrance door. Whoever stars at it belongs and clings to it, while fighting against the loss of the world.

Like a cocoon or a shell, the iron sculpture, with the black tone typical of Rui Chafes’ works, opens itself enough for us to imagine ourselves discovering its entrails. Nevertheless, it maintains its almost inviolability, a magnetic wholeness. And the more we look for it, the more it lures. The more the gaze examines the bowels of darkness, the more impenetrable the sculpture becomes. There is no weight: the sculpture just rests there on the little visible ground, where it waits. Like a pure sphinx, the work presents itself so that the observer realises that it is only possible to feel its touch in the anguish of loss. Then, little by little, it is the sculpture that closes itself and abandons the other bodies in the gallery. What happens in this encounter, the dimension of the experience, is up to those who accept to join the game, returning the enigma to themselves.

The environment, as if it were a fracture in the world, has something solemn about it. And, for those who know Rui Chafes’ work and his admiration for the medieval sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider, this solemnity is coherent. But it is interesting to note how the sense of any anthropomorphism reveals itself as essence. Georges Didi-Huberman, in the book O que nós vemos, o que nos olha[1], is perhaps a tool to understand what takes place by recovering what he calls the outline of an anthropology of form in Carl Einstein’s shrewd perspective, where the opposition between abstraction and organicity would be criteria alien to art, and «transcendence is always immanent to form, in the specificity of its presentation».

At this point, it is important to consider the distance, which may seem odd, between Einstein’s research into African sculpture and the work of Rui Chafes. But it will not be if this movement of recovery relies on Didi-Huberman’s observation about the German historian’s work in the sense of thinking of form not as something static, but as a dynamic process of formation and deformation. «[…] every form is forming, because it is capable of organically and dialectically deforming other already formed forms». Einstein’s work would belong to those who resorted to a real dialectic of the image by proposing the overcoming of antithesis. Faced with the decline of belief in the image, what would be an evident attribute of religious art it would be up to art to recover its lost efficacy, in its specificity or abstraction. A crucial unfurling of that thought would be the stimulus to constantly seek in the form (as formation and presentation) the principle of its efficacy, where the spectator would be an essential part of the process, a presence in the interval between the bodies, in that obscure area.

The exhibition Início permanente, as time (a suspended time, according to the artist), an ephemerality, can be understood in this possible encounter. However, that encounter may be disconcerting, obscure, and powerful, whose resonances are equivalent to the intensity of the enigma that is established in its form, space and visibility.

Início permanente, by Rui Chafes, is on view at Galeria da Casa A. Molder, in Lisbon, until July 2.


[1] This text refers to the Portuguese translation of Georges Didi-Huberman’s Ce que nous voyons, ce qui nous regarde, published by Dafne Editora.

Curator. Currently living in Lisbon. Master in Letters from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), he is currently pursuing a PhD in Contemporary Art at Colégio das Artes, at the University of Coimbra. At the National Museum of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, he was responsible for the Sculpture, African Art and New Languages collections, as well as being involved in various curatorial projects.

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