Dissonance and fragility in José Maçãs de Carvalho’s Contratempo

Looking at the counterpoint of images seems to be José Maçãs de Carvalho’s proposal in the exhibition Contratempo, at Carlos Carvalho Arte Contemporânea gallery curated by Ana Rito, is part of the parallel programme of the IMAGO Lisboa photo festival.

While the idea that each image has a fixed temporal axis, freezing the instant, the artist adds a distinct approach, with multiple times in movement inside and outside the images. The outside is the viewpoint of the observer of the images, who is in a place fraught with dissonance, which we can designate as the territory of the real.

The exhibition presents that which often precedes the display of the images. Places, times, and framings that include the invisible and the out-of-field of the images, allowing a renewed temporality to be generated. With this exhibition, José Maçãs de Carvalho shows the place that is left out, granting it legibility and visibility. Images that are not (de)limited by the traditional mode of presentation, that is, the frame created by the artist. But by the duplicity of framings and times within the images, letting these real times spill over, as we shall see; and the framing of the image given by the artist, yet another creative frame.

The series (after gerhard r.), 2022, is based on a relationship with the photographs from the painting series that Gerhard Richter made in 1972, during the German representation at the Venice Biennale.

Maçãs de Carvalho updates these images. The term “updating” respects Walter Benjamin’s approach, especially in Theses on the Philosophy of History.

The images in this series have a horizontal orientation, as opposed to Richter’s vertical axis. In Maçãs de Carvalho’s choice, there is a subversive thrust in the time of the images, associated with their performative nature. The images appear without their usual context, a ‘finished’ process resting on the walls of the white cube or the museum, to be seen in another time that also concerns them – the real time of dissonance. According to Nietzsche, this is synonymous with joy: “The joy caused by tragic myth comes from the same source as the sense of pleasure caused by musical dissonance [1].

In the musical notion of counterpoint, musical dissonance differs from harmony. According to the German philosopher, this has more to say than the linearity in musical harmony. This dissonance can also be seen in these images. They confuse us.

Also, in the series (after gerhard r.), there is another frame besides the one created by the hands of those who are invisible in the images, but who stand on the reverse.

The image within the image is something addressed in works (S/ Título bouguerneau), 2016, from the series Arquivo e Dispositivo – the frame of a painted portrait appears inside the frame of another portrait captured by the artist. This generates a confrontation not only of images – two portraits – but also of two times. This is also addressed in the work Video killed the painting stars (m. ray), 2021.

The video work presents a painting by Velázquez on a confrontation of images in La Vénus del Espejo. In this case, Thecounterpoint emphasises the out-of-field in Venus’ figure, her body in opposition to the image reflected in the mirror. In this work we are faced with a double confrontation – to Velázquez’s painting, which already has this clash, another layer is added: the action of a hand that draws on that image, recalling another work – Le Violon d’Ingres by Man Ray. There is a temporal side – the time a drawing takes to be made -, which shows us not only the notion of time, but its experience, allied to the medium in question – video. As the title “killed the painting stars” suggests, for now these figures are forced by Maçãs de Carvalho’s gesture to integrate the real, sharing it with us, in the present.

See also the works (S/título borboletas) and (S/título (ciência), both from 2016, where we find the other side of what could be in a natural history museum. However, it is presented here in the most fragile way.

One of the aspects to consider in José Maçãs de Carvalho’s notion of counterpoint is a fragility that the artist addresses as affirmative. Paraphrasing Didi-Huberman, the images that are part of the world before looking at us, sharing the same flesh with us and our eyes.

On a foggy window, the name Warburg appears. Technically, the magic of this image is in the overlap. The inscription is added to the set of flats. This causes a visual illusion for those with a strong imagination. It looks as if this inscription was made on the image – something to do with the video of Velázquez’s Venus. But it was not so. The word is on top of the elements of the housing landscape. The notion of fragility is also present, due to the inscription’s ephemerality. The air will again cover the window, leaving only the landscape visible. An image that almost takes our words away, as it reminds us of infinitude, as proposed by Aby Warburg in his constellation of images. The relationships and connections are endless, just like the air behind the images in counterpoint.

Contratempo by José Maçãs de Carvalho, curated by Ana Rito is on view at Carlos Carvalho Arte Contemporânea gallery until December 10.

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, Origem da Tragédia, Trad., Álvaro Ribeiro, Guimarães Ed.: Lisbon, p. 125

Rita Anuar (Vila Franca de Xira, 1994), is an interdisciplinary researcher, graduated in Communication Sciences, Postgraduate in Philosophy (Aesthetics) and Master in History of Contemporary Art, from the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of Universidade Nova de Lisboa. She has been part of the research group in Literature, Philosophy and Arts (FCSH / IELT), since 2020. She is interested in the intersections between visual arts, philosophy and literature, indiscipline and wind. Apart from her activity as a researcher, she writes poetry.

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