João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva through the works 3 Suns, Falling Trees and Papagaio (djambi)

It is beautiful (…) like the chance encounter on a dissecting table between a sewing machine and an umbrella!

Count of Lautréamont

I started my research on installation for the institutional fabric and its possibilities when the reference is installation, montage and curatorship with Lautréamont, which later became a dissertation on João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva.

The works 3 Suns, Falling Trees and Papagaio (djambi) presented in Papagaio, Lua Cão, with Alexandre Estrela, and Terçolho were analysed, illustrating a study of the eight shows. When analysing the works and exhibitions, by studying the curatorial method, I sought an aesthetic relationship between the context and the artistic method up to the reconceptualisation of the space and pieces. The mutability in the work, through its interaction with the other pieces and factors, makes us think is it the same piece or a new, different one, where reconstruction and adaptation establish a basis of meaning that bargains and regulates the space according to the aesthetic experience.

Gusmão e Paiva develop their artistic projects in the field of photography and 16mm film, in a satirical critique of scientific positivism. Their projections explore the filmic language through the history of cinema, video and film camera, illustrated through systems of projectors, lenses and mechanisms in synchrony. On the work and the projector, multi-layered images represent the language created through fantastical and unlikely episodes.

Their work addresses aspects such as Daumals Abyssology1, the mise en abyme – from the French to put into abyss – the International Society of Abyssology created by the artists, and Alfred Jarrys Pataphysics, which illustrates the science of imaginable solutions.2 For the duo, the use of obsolete processes of reproduction underpins an aesthetic discourse with philosophical references to Nietzsche, Daumal and Newton through a fantastic and sci-fi literature.

The mise en abyme is here a sign, whose meaning, identification and decoding reveal that each corresponds to a piece and not only to the reference it creates. The work interpretation is intensified by the allusion created by the mise en abyme, i.e., it always depends on the interactions created for the exhibition, but also between works. This notion is corroborated by Dällenbachs theory that places viewers and artists in the relationship that the sign sets up as a narrative unit3. This is the continuity of the signified, contributing with a signifier that absorbs the story and becomes the subject. The ability to illustrate itself shows the duos aptitude to transcend the exhibition beyond its physical and sensory mechanisms.

3 Suns is a static image about movement and an analysis of memory and process to construct a mise en abyme. It suggests the idea of abyss and exhibitions within exhibitions themselves, with new and different analyses. 3 Suns is the duos will and dedication to the International Abyssology Society, an introduction, an unchanging space, the reflection of this between real and unreal. In this apparent immutability, 3 Suns varies in form, place, medium and interaction, but forming a continuous identity of itself and of what it offers to each exhibition. But the works mutability is visible in Terçolho. The notion of immutable things being mutable was illustrated before, but here this transformation is relevant, not only because of its difference in the duos way of performing, but also because it builds an introduction to the exhibition within the exhibition, showing the artistic game on the articulation of memory and mise en abyme.

Falling Trees, which was not part of the Terçolho exhibition, is for the artists the return to the source, to the sound that has created the audible echo. By cutting down a tree, an illusory image is drawn on the violence imposed by the action. In this illusion, the duo communicates through a premeditated and conscious image of what they witness. The work has a quite different analysis from the Papagaio exhibitions to the Lua Cão sessions. Where before the sublime was perpetuated, it is here challenged by sounds foreign to the scene. The image is based on a triangulation of the senses of the other works that tamper with the piece. During the Papagaio sessions, the work is perceived according to construction and destruction, together with the projectors continuous sound. In Lua Cão another means of association and “recombination” of signs is used. Through the works of Estrela, the way the work carries out a return to the origin of exhibitions is visible, whose theme reflects the shows temporary, transitory and preparatory character.

Parrot (djambi), almost documental by recording a ritual, approaches notions such as being and “non-being”, ventriloquism and the concepts of faith and belief. It also makes a comparison between Western and sub-Saharan societies, showing body and mind medical methods. The work does a mind reading through Papagaio’s sessions, unlike in Lua Cão. The duos ventriloquist action is mimicked through the interactions created with Estrelas works, whose ability to penetrate visual and sonic space has a great influence on the work. The viewer is turned towards what is supposed to be the sound of the film, creating the fantasy that the image is real and testing the viewers belief. The same happens in Terçolho. Through the site – the garage – the visitor is placed in an earthly space, aware of its capacities and limits.

Although the piece interpretation in the Papagaio exhibitions is mental, this notion is destroyed in Lua Cão. It becomes impossible to read the works without the sound abstraction of the first exhibitions, where they re-read themselves, not through space, but through sound. At the same time, in Lua Cão, the interaction of works is altered. There is a difference between the first exhibitions and the last ones. In Walk&Talk, the dialogue happens inside the works, in Kunstverein and La Casa Encendida this happens inside the spectator, a mental process that happens by “recombination”4 and memory. In Terçolho, the projectors perception and the human action unfolding on the site take the viewer back to an earthly reality, in a guide to the abysmal trajectory throughout the exhibition.

Gusmão and Paiva leverage the narrative construction in favour of this action. They creatively illustrate a continuation action of the exhibition, an exhibition about the exhibition, reflected through memory as mise en abyme. This is an identifying notion of the duos creativity, through a linguistic and pictorial dictionary that is constructed in the mind.


1. Daumal, René, 2020, A Grande Bebedeira, trad. por Lurdes Júdice, Lisboa: Dois Dias edições.

2. Alfred Jarry, “Book Two: Elements of Pataphisics to Thadée Natanson: Definition”, in Jarry, Alfred 1996, Exploits & Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician: A Neo-Scientific Novel by Alfred Jarry, trad. Por Watson Taylor, Boston: Exact Change, pp. 21-23

3. Lucien Dällenbach, “Mise en Abyme and reflexivity: 1. Typology and Immediate Analysis Dällenbach”, “Basic Properties: The Reflected Narrative”, in Lucien, 1989 orig. 1971, The Mirror in the Text. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 41-43.

4. Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author”, in Barthes, Roland, 1977 orig. 1968, Image-MusicText, trad. por Stephen Heath, London: Fontana, pp. 142-148.

José Pedro Ralha (Chaves, 1994) has a degree in History of Art, with a specialisation in Philosophy of Art obtained at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Coimbra. He also has a Masters in Curatorial Studies, obtained with the dissertation A Instalação Artística através da obra de João Maria Gusmão e Pedro Paiva: Análise às obras 3 Suns, Falling Trees e Papagaio (djambi), by the College of Arts of the University of Coimbra. He has collaborated in several projects such as LAND.FILL, 2019, with Gabriela Albergaria for Laboratório de Curadoria, Anozero ‘19 Biennial of Coimbra - A Terceira Margem, Terçolho, 2021, with João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, at the Serralves Foundation. He has collaborated with Serralves Foundation and is currently contributing with articles and essays for Umbigo, as well as working at the Museum and Libraries of Porto as Executive Producer of Museum Projects.

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