In the light beam under the door – Fernão Cruz at the Gulbenkian

Biting dust is the lovely title chosen by Fernão Cruz for his current solo exhibition at the Gulbenkian. It is the direct translation of an English saying to describe someone who falls with a bang, who dies or fails irreversibly. We will talk about this later. Still in the field of words and the images they unfurl, in Portuguese Morder o Pó contains a visual projection, as it does not have the same Anglophone connotation. I imagined a light beam breaking through the darkness, filled with millions of dancing particles, swallowed up by rage and despair. An inconsequential and heartbreaking gesture, in the image of everything that eludes us during a lifetime. Morder o Pó is perhaps the thing in which we waste the most time, before becoming dancing particles as well.

The Gulbenkian rooms have brevity, death and (obviously) fear. The artist presents a puzzle full of highly demanding symbols, images and objects. The rooms, especially the first one, squeeze and crush us. Those who have been following his career – I have been doing it since the FBAUL studios – will notice that the works now presented are only a tiny part of Fernão Cruz’s intense output. All of them are bitten dust. They are the result of an attempt to devour the world in a greedy appetite, digested by the hands.

The exhibition has two moments and a passage. The first comprises several large-scale canvases where cracks, holes and splinters stand out. The human figure (when present) is reduced to a fragment or sign. An eye in a hole; a silhouette that does not want to be a painting; a body that falls brutally on a stage with heavy, red curtains – ah, when de Chirico wanted to be a romantic! Fernão Cruz’s canvases have textures, paint, graphics, symbols and colours that explode simultaneously before the gaze, incapable of assimilating so much. Voyeurism is perhaps both illness and cure, the origin and consequence of the voracious impetus that derives from creative rapture. For this reason, they also convey impulses or fears: to fall, to die, others die and we remain alive.

The passage opens up behind a pitted, tiled wall where the snake strolls. The transition to the second room is made almost in the dark, where we find a group of sculptures in an enhanced scenographic environment. The passage from oil to bronze, from light to darkness, seems like an abrupt stop that makes us see things differently. We are led to gaze in wonder at the cardboard relics. These bronzes are an in memoriam of ideas – following on from Flying Tombstones that the artist presented at ARCO Madrid in 2020. They are small funeral constructions that petrify ideas. Those millions of dust particles that dance in freedom, in the beams of light that light up under the doors.

I remember a visit to the artist’s studio. Between paint and conversations, Fernão Cruz enthusiastically showed me an umbrella. He had coated it with glue or paste to make it more solid. However, he told me he was unable to keep the object in that state. He wanted to add bronze to it to make it immobile, so that it would keep the exact configuration that had fascinated him. The fear of ephemerality is symptomatic of the fear of disappearance. This is countered by the need to create/preserve. We know this from Pliny’s stories about the origin of drawing. But this lasting nothingness is a superpower capable of counteracting nature, even if only briefly.

Until January 17, 2022, at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Francisco Correia (b. 1996) lives and works in Lisbon. He studied Painting at Faculdade de Belas-Artes at Universidade de Lisboa and finished the post-graduation on Art Curatorship at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. He has been writing for and about exhibitions, while simultaneously developing his artistic project.

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