Nuno Nunes-Ferreira, Monsieur Valadares at Balcony

Nuno Nunes-Ferreira presents the exhibition Monsieur Valadares, at Balcony, Lisbon.

According to Nunes-Ferreira, the exhibition is the result of an energetic work that the artist carried out for months in an extensive archive, with thousands of articles and clippings. These came into his hands and were gathered by a person he never got to meet.

Nunes-Ferreira decided to give the archive the name Monsieur Valadares.

According to the artist, the archive belonged to a person who spent his whole life neatly archiving newspaper and magazine articles, by themes and sub-themes.

In the exhibition, we can see the diverse ways in which the artist uses the archive. He detaches newspaper pages and covers them in black, leaving some words or dates loose. He photographs the words handwritten by the archive’s previous owner, creating a video where we can see the endless sequence of themes and sub-themes. He takes advantage of the vast number of dividers and forms a multicoloured stack, pinning it to the wall.

He presents a video whose content shows a sequence of images associated with world conflicts. He positions the filers, which he has meanwhile emptied onto the floor, setting up a polychromatic effect.

The artist reveals us themes close to the world, to the key issues of art, society and politics. This proximity and acute awareness of international issues allows the artist to stimulate a reflection on art and discourse.

In Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, the author quotes Paul Valéry, saying that we lived in a time when we could no longer “subtract ourselves from modern knowledge and power”. The newspaper pages in Nuno Nunes-Ferreira’s video, some of them repeating the same news, but published in different newspaper pages, underpin this permanent urgency to document, record, compare events and critically evaluate the current world. Nunes-Ferreira’s video reveals a disturbing sample of the human condition, the accumulating social and political tensions. Although they manifest themselves uninterruptedly, they have no resolution. On the pages of the magazines photographed, exhibited in the artist’s video, history repeats itself. The news are lined up, but the difference is the ink dripping when writing them, the colour of the page where the news appears, and the layout of the different magazines. We are all spectators of this sequence of often bloody images, but we remain in disbelief and sometimes impotent when it comes to thinking up a strategy to change something.

For this reason, the images follow one another. The clippings announce the same news and we, the spectators, become variants of (graphic) forms, but not of contents.

Once again, and given the many elements, the extensive archive that the artist has taken hold of has allowed society’s constricting themes to be addressed and placed before our eyes, in a clear manner.

In the era of technical reproductivity, images began to emerge in greater numbers. Their (re)production, with the arrival of photography, became much faster. The hand, as Benjamin put it, “freed itself of the most important artistic duties in the process of image reproduction (…) The process of image reproduction has been so extraordinarily accelerated that it can be equated with speech”. With this speed of speech, made possible by the long and extensive thematic archive made available to the artist, Nuno Nunes-Ferreira constructed a discourse. Through various images and texts, the debate on inequalities, the social condition of the world, as well as the state of art can be brought into the gallery and the art space.

Therefore, there are two current and important artistic themes – not only the condition of art and the role of the artist in society, but also the extreme world political situation that affects everyone. The arts, on a global level, should be the naturally privileged means of expression, highlighting the existing gaps ignored by certain mechanisms of society, appointed to smooth out social issues.

On the one hand, the artist proposes to activate the reproductive side of art, which has led to the demeaning of the aura of the work of art. This is proven by what the video and the archive reveal, containing on the one hand news of the world that is repeated; and, on the other, mention of works of art. It also appears to try to recover that aura, like the pictures painted in black on magazine pages. And, consequently its perenniality, the property of physical presence, or, in other words, at least the idea that the work is unique.

Nunes-Ferreira’s paintings, covered first by pages of news, and then by a thick and opaque layer of black paint, allow one to see a word, a title, a date. Little more than that.

They recover some of the aura, mystery and awe of the work in its magic and uniqueness.

A wall on the right, just at the entrance to the gallery, is covered entirely by these paintings.

The detail and order on the wall create a rhythm but also a sense of unease. The way the pages of the articles are covered, and the colour used, do not allow the view to have delight or repose, but trigger a certain discomfort. What does the artist want to suggest? The corrosive action of time? The rhythmic death of days? Each painting covered with ink depicts the impossibility of absorbing the knowledge that lies in the texts under the black layer. This layer removes the meaning from the words or adds other meanings. Does the artist want us to debate the condition of art? Art is debated and its role today. Should the artist engage with politics?

In the black paintings, words have resisted the censorious action of the black. Words like “O Tríptico” in different languages, or titles like “Pintado de Fresco”, “Saber olhar para um quadro”, “Um quadro roubado três vezes”, “Les Énigmes de L’Art”, “Isto é Magritte”, “A preguiça como obra de arte”, “Sem título”, “Plus Noir que Noir”, “Irritou os críticos”, “O que se passa com a escultura?”, “Un Tintoret en Devenir”, “Um quadro Negro”, “Naturezas-Mortas”, “Naturezas Vivas”, “Mau Gosto”, “Isto é arte”, among many other titles, inevitably drag the visitor into a deeper reflection on art. One could even spend one’s days trying to work out connections and conceptual relationships between the phrases.

Other installations of this artist in the gallery prompt this confrontation with the idea of time, which is emptied out, to be then filled with other senses. In the gallery’s basement we find the empty filing cabinets, sequentially arranged along the floor, in one of the hollow spaces. On the spines, they have the titles that the original owner of the archive wrote. Some have been yellowed by time, revealing titles written with care. Others have a more hurried handwriting. These are boxes that follow one another, with distinct colours, resulting in a varied polychromatic expression.

Monsieur Valadares by Nuno Nunes-Ferreira is at Balcony until November 12.

Carla Carbone was born in Lisbon, 1971. She studied Drawing in and Design of Equipment at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon. Completed his Masters in Visual Arts Teaching. She writes about Design since 1999, first in the newspaper O Independente, then in editions like Anuário de Design, arq.a magazine, DIF, Parq. She also participates in editions such as FRAME, Diário Digital, Wrongwrong, and in the collection of Portuguese designers, edited by the newspaper Público. She collaborated with illustrations for Fanzine Flanzine and Gerador magazine. (photo: Eurico Lino Vale)

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