Having the freedom to do what is required: Paulo Nozolino’s Oracle

How to write about a work in which nothing is thought, but everything is felt? A restless glance trapped in the truth; guided by the artist’s intuition. A glance that, when it encounters something for the first time, establishes a state of isolation, followed by a momentary interest – as “one more step in the sand and the photo becomes impossible”[1]. This enigmatic look, owner of all the author’s thought and culture, makes each photograph possible. I can only write about the confrontation with the result of the process, which is almost automatic for the one who does it but seems so meticulous. It is as if Nozolino saw more than us and decided to prove it.

The primary difficulty of this task is the attempt to avoid being one of those “guys who take a work of art and write, write and write, and then everything becomes flat, flat, flat”[2], as Rui Nunes says in a conversation with Paulo Nozolino, in a book published last year by Alexandra Carita, a kind of preamble to this exhibition.

Imposing and speculative, but above all contemplative, to preserve themselves, as he says. These are the nine photos – four diptychs and a beautiful Mediterranean landscape – that mark the return of Paulo Nozolino to Lisbon, after the great exhibition at the Pompidou, together with Rui Chafes and Pedro Costa. But let’s start with the title.

The Oracle, which “imposes moderation on man, while he is immoderate, exhorts him to dominate himself, while it manifests itself through an uncontrolled pathos”[3], has more in common with Nozolino’s work – which expresses a problematic, tragic, and diabolical reality in a dialectical and poetic way – than we suppose. But this Oracle has more questions than answers.

The use of this word is reminiscent of a journey to a distant past when the artist’s work had not yet been visited. It is in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, in mythology and Christianity, that Nozolino seeks answers without promising anything other than the record of that quest.

Each image is a ruin – even if it does not represent it literally – because it is the look of the present over different times. And “the present is the root of the past and not the reverse”[4].

We enter the room painted in dry green and find the Mediterranean landscape; the return to the sky and sea, a rare horizon line. This divides the exhibition into two moments: The spiritual on the left side and the material, or “the ruins in which we find ourselves” [5] on the right side.

The ancient sea that binds the homes of ancient civilisations is also a declaration of freedom. That freedom is to start something new, to visit places without the picture set up in one’s head, to leave with questions instead of answers. But those who believe that the concerns and the ethical side of Nozolino’s photography have not been retained are deluded. Nothing is the result of chance. Consider the case of the photograph that opens the exhibition.

The Goat of Agrigento – an image that made Rui Nunes insomniac – is unexpected. Nozolino did not aim to photograph it. But it recalls the whole Greek culture, it has a mythological, beautiful, and diabolical significance. A ruin in motion.

We read the exhibition as if each photograph were a word. This idea is imposed by verticality, through images that are signs. When we walk out of the exhibition, and no matter how light the photographs are, we think of the past and fear the future.

Oracle by Paulo Nozolino is at Galeria Quadrado Azul until December 10.




[1] Carita, Alexandra. Dizer o Mundo. Coversas com Rui Nunes e Paulo Nozolino. Lisbon: Relógio D´Àgua, 2021

[2] Ibidem

[3] Colli, Giorgio. O Nascimento da Filosofia. Edições 70, 2019.

[4] Carita, Alexandra. Dizer o Mundo. Coversas com Rui Nunes e Paulo Nozolino. Lisbon: Relógio D´Àgua, 2021

[5]Nozolino, Paulo, interview by Sérgio B. Gomes. Paulo Nozolino: “Prefiro mil vezes estar numa igreja a estar num jardim” (September 16, 2022): Publico

Tiago Leonardo (Lisbon, 2000) graduated in Art and Heritage Sciences (FBAUL) and attended the Cultural Journalism course (SNBA). He is currently finishing his master's degree in Aesthetics and Artistic Studies, specializing in cinema and photography (NOVA/FSSH) where he focuses his research on post-photography within the Portuguese artistic context. In his work as a writer, he collaborates with several publications; such as the CineBlog of the Philosophy Institute of the UNL, FITA Magazine, among others.

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