Nada existe: Rui Chafes at Galeria Filomena Soares

The works in black

A moment of pause. Or perhaps the beginning of a journey: solitary, silent and spiritual, towards distant times. An experience of abandonment and bewilderment. An invitation to pilgrimage. The emergence of discomfort and doubt. The renunciation of entertainment. An unhealed scar. The works in black. The confrontation with death and the dream of resurrection. The call to freedom and resistance. The iron about to take off and the masks about to fall. In Nada existe – Rui Chafes’ solo exhibition at Galeria Filomena Soares until November 20 – there is everything that is expected and desirable (without affecting the astonishment) from the artist and his work, and from art in general.

The sculptures in this exhibition (sixteen in total, twelve created between 2020 and 2021) strengthen Chafes’ main traits: the sobriety of their forms, the perfectionism of their execution and the perfect smoothness of their surfaces. They reaffirm the fact that Rui Chafes’ works are always conceived with iron and painted black or grey. The use of iron stands out when the works have organic outlines. There is a challenging and illusory game with the spectator, between the awareness of the real (or approximate) weight of the pieces and the oddness and disbelief before the apparent lightness and the likelihood of mobility and elevation. In this exhibition, most of the sculptures are on the floor, which forces the spectator to bow, as a sign of reverence and surrender (never of resignation).

One of the most distinctive, surprising and attractive peculiarities of Chafes’ artistic output, underlined by the use of iron, is the timelessness invoked by his works. They are not easily datable. Their constitution (and alternately archaic and futuristic appearance) do not reveal the period of creation. In a way, they manage to pause the passage of time. The artist’s sculptures are prone to eternity, not only because of the capacity for resistance and regeneration associated with the material, but also because of the permanent and disturbing reflections they arouse, in particular the importance of rescuing a lost spirituality. Rui Chafes’ creations are not tied to their time, do not reflect reality or current affairs. They have the merit of being beyond that. According to Chafes, his work is about the melancholy of a lost place. In fact, the artist takes a critical stance and makes a conscious departure from contemporaneity, condemning its excessive materialism and massification – in a fictionalised autobiography (2011), Chafes claimed to have been born in 1266.

The colours (black or grey) with which he paints the sculptures, to conceal the material, allude to death and night. For Rui Chafes, those who make art cite death, always associating it with a moment of passage that should remind us of the amazing miracle of life. The artist argues that it is the awareness of death that keeps us awake and that beauty can only be expressed if it presents recollections of finitude. On the other hand, the mantle of night imposes itself on Chafes’ work, because it is during the night that sleep knocks us down, that oblivion finds a bed and revelations can finally awaken.

The artist’s influences are varied and assumed: German romanticism and idealism, the Middle Ages, the late Gothic, the baroque, humanism, minimalism and post-minimalism, as well as conceptual art. From modernism, Rui Chafes took the negation of the base/pedestal, the sense of verticality in most of his works, and an understanding of sculpture as «anti-monument».

Finally, many of Chafes’ creations – for instance, the four sculptures on show that, being from 2017, served as a study for the work La Nuit (part of Alberto Giacometti’s Le Nez) – seem to have been inhabited by bodies that fought fiercely for their liberation – from armour, traps, torture objects or battle devices that kept them sufferingly imprisoned. They seem to evoke the perpetual divergence between body and soul, a supposed dichotomy that interests the artist a great deal, always favouring the second dimension.

The confrontation with these works, in a differentiated room, reminded me of the child character Pinocchio (created at the end of the 19th century by Carlo Collodi), whose nose would grow whenever he told a lie. If, like the boy carved out of wood, we want to become fully human, we should have the courage to risk the wounds caused by our conscience, accepting the hard truth that, to quote Novalis (as Rui Chafes repeatedly does), «We are alone with everything we love».

Nada existe is on view at Galeria Filomena Soares until November 20.

Cristina Campos has a University Degree in Modern and Contemporary History, as well as two Post-graduate Degrees, one in Cultural Management and another in Journalism. She was a founder, coordinater and writer for Artecapital magazine. She was the main writer at Artes & Leilões magazine and a correspondent for Arte y Parte magazine. She currently works as a cultural mediator, mostly in Calouste Gulbenkian Museum.

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