The world is seen better in the twilight: João Maria Gusmão at Cristina Guerra Gallery

Lusco-fusco (twilight) is one of the most evocative Portuguese words: it indicates the moment of the day when the sky turns dark – it is the transformation of daylight into darkness. Just as it describes nightfall, it also points to the opposite moment of the day, i.e., dawn. Lusco-fusco is the instant in which we squint our eyes to see with utmost acuity.

In fact, art has always forced us to sharpen our senses to understand it. Only in this way does it reveal its mystery. And we are lucky when this happens because it means that art carries with it its deepest meaning, capturing our attention and stirring our curiosity.

This happens when we enter a show where, besides the artefacts, we also find a poetry that speaks to us enigmatically – a fascinating, curious, and properly exposed poetry. After all, beauty never forgets to put on an aesthetic profile.

This is the prologue to João Maria Gusmão’s exhibition, Lusque-Fusque Arrebol, which hovers perfectly over perceptions.

On entering the Cristina Guerra gallery, in Lisbon, we must see the leaflet the artist has written: the perfect guide to a series of photographs that come “from a land where you don’t write with pencil, nib, pen, but with black charcoal ink and brush”. João Maria’s words also shed light on the meaning of a wheel “stuck on a wall’s axle, going nowhere, carrying neither provisions nor passengers, goods nor products” – the perfect physical description of his enigmatic sculptures.

In turn, this tale is a “lusque-fusque”, a mirage. The one who speaks in it is not the artist, but a face that appears every evening before the young protagonist of these pages, the young alchemist Faust. The figure tells him miraculous stories of landscapes and weird objects, among them a “house-cinematograph built on a terrace on the edge of a cliff”. This, without a screen, projects cinema onto the cliffside view: clouds, birds, storms…

Considering that the face appears at each twilight, it falls silent with the arrival of morning. The boy is fascinated to have heard such good and unusual stories. The darkness renews itself at each dawn, promising an even better tale.

It would be easy to speak of Lusque-Fusque Arrebol as materials from the artist’s practice – the films made with slides, the bronze sculptures, the photographs. But it is much more than that: João Maria Gusmão materialises a nocturnal imaginary that also has caustic traits and a fine irony.

While we recall the labyrinths of the tales of the Thousand and One Nights or the adventures of the most famous alchemist of Portuguese literature – Paulo Coelho – we discover in the artist’s writing traces of humanity, of vices and instruments that serve as a compass for life. They are all reflections of time and fate.

Gusmão clarifies these points. For instance, he describes the consequences of using the meridian [the moment of most intense heat or siesta] as a unit to measure time. Without a string or a battery, without a bell or an alarm clock, without even counting the minutes, it has a characteristic: “If it’s sunny, it’s shadowy; if it’s rainy, we’re late”, writes João Maria.

Legends, magical sensations, astonishment follow the spectators on their walk through Lusque-Fusque Arrebol. Another must-read passage is dedicated to the lamps, which reveal the selfish and shameless attitude of men: “There is one that rubs himself with excrement to make a dirty, generous genie appear, while others are cheapskates, all in all, nobody is happy with what they have, and that is why there are lamps”. This is the reason why we see so many people rubbing shit in the genie lamps, or rather defying luck, even without being able to change it.

The show at Cristina Guerra is a Wunderkammer, where the artist shows his sculptures and contour photographs on orange walls, as if on a film. The whole exhibition takes place in a phantasmatic movie, through which Gusmão amplifies the perception of being in a peculiar fiction that tells us about an alien world.

The mnemonic and spectral origin of the moving image and the research that makes up the artist’s work are seen here poetically.

The exhibition Lusque-Fusque Arrebol by João Maria Gusmão is open until April 9 at the Cristina Guerra gallery, Lisbon.

Matteo Bergamini is a journalist and art critic. He’s the Director of the Italian magazine and also a collaborator in the weekly journal D La Repubblica. Besides journalist he’s also the editor and curator of several books, such as Un Musée après, by the photographer Luca Gilli, Vanilla Edizioni, 2018; Francesca Alinovi (with Veronica Santi), by Postmedia books, 2019; Prisa Mata. Diario Marocchino, by Sartoria Editoriale, 2020. The lattest published book is L'involuzione del pensiero libero, 2021, also by Postmedia books. He’s the curator of the exhibitions Marcella Vanzo. To wake up the living, to wake up the dead, at Berengo Foundation, Venezia, 2019; Luca Gilli, Di-stanze, Museo Diocesano, Milan, 2018; Aldo Runfola, Galeria Michela Rizzo, Venezia, 2018, and the co-curator of the first, 2019 edition of BienNoLo, the peripheries biennial, in Milan. He’s a professor assistant in several Fine Arts Academies and specialized courses. Lives and works in Milan, Italy.

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