The D.E.A.D. Man, by Henrique Pavão
The D.E.A.D. Man by Henrique Pavão is a performance and a record that takes place on several planes.
The most obvious is the quotation itself. By using Neil Young’s sound composition for Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film – something recurrent in the artist’s work, which resorts to areas such as Cinema, Architecture, Archaeology and History in his projects – Henrique Pavão places The D.E.A.D. Man between re-enactment, reinterpretation and emotional connection with Neil Young’s work. The quotation is a starting point, a fuse for a deep, cerebral and detailed reflection on the subjects he analyses, also being archaeological, redemptive exercises. Removed from the visual and cinematic context, the musical composition is a soundscape for individual memories, lending some romantic melancholy to the reminiscing and, in the first instance, to the performance of 3 February 2022 at the Appleton BOX and then to the pedal on the plinth, which recorded that presentation. The atmosphere of the performative and exhibition venue and the music contribute to an eerie and absorbed ambience, both in Pavão’s reinterpretation and in Jarmusch’s black and white film, filled with sombre but ironic moments.
The background is the performance’s very nature. The body in a repetitive cycle for six hours and one minute is a perfect quotation to the body’s variously rehearsed limits in art, its presence and absence, its resistance and tolerance, its faltering and overcoming. Art happens in that borderline state between prostration and transcendence, as if it were meditation or the first stage towards trance. When the fingers start to miss the strings after that tremendous effort, when the tempos become disjointed, when the legs and back give way before the guitar’s weight. The artist is present, but what matters is the vacant stool that the spotlight illuminates and that becomes the protagonist; the artist is present, but only in a spectral and expectant realm, waiting for someone to accompany him in the rhythmic part of the music or during the solo.
The third plane is the music and the notion of loop, of repetition. Repetition is a path to trance, an abstract state to which the mind opens and overcomes the body’s mechanics. But it is also a path to exhaustion. Henrique Pavão empties the music and repeats it until exhaustion. He even admits later to being tired of the music. (This repetition could fit into the modernity of cultural consumption, of instant gratification, played for hours on end, then falling into fatigue and oblivion.) New quotes: Ragnar Kjartansson and the band The National, with the song The Sorrow, played for 6 hours at MoMA PS1; Max Richter at the Wellcome Collection for an entire evening; John Cage with Organ2/ASLSP (As SLow aS Possible). It is with them that Pavão measures himself, trying to get through the Kjartansson/The National loop in a minute.
Finally: the archive. With the two musical components overlapping – rhythm and solo – the performance recording lasts 3 hours and 30 seconds. The loop is illuminated on the pedal installed on the plinth, which symbolises the immortalisation of memory and fragility. The work on memory is recurrent in Pavão’s work, not only its immortalization or fragility, but also its rescue, oblivion or obliteration. A single touch on the pedal can cause the loss of the performance recording. The pedal is the performance’s stronghold, a black box inside another black box which is the space where it is installed.
Altogether, The D.E.A.D Man is a cerebral and physically strong exercise, without overlooking the feeling and emotion in the small details of the recorded music, in the neglect caused by darkness, by the faint light illuminating a simple plinth it is only memory and sound of a performance that we no longer see, an overtaken body, a transposed border.