Interview with Nuno Ramos in the context of the Opening exhibition at Francisco Fino Gallery
“Owing to the meagre uniformity of the plinth.
in the Florentine piazza where he had reigned for centuries,
cracks began to appear
in David’s legs and ankles”
I found the idea of monument curious. On the one hand, when you mention Musil in the piece you wrote for the exhibition, it seems that the monument is a way of acting on memory, either to remember or to forget. Today we find politically compromised interventions over monuments, erasing them, for instance. This leads us to think once again about the monument.
Traditional monuments are making sense again, which is somewhat bizarre. There is a huge counter-monument movement now, for example the Vietnam counter-monument in Washington. Germany has counter-monuments, one of them is progressively encroaching on the ground. It’s a lead monument where people wrote things and it sinks into the earth. There’s the Jewish fountain, where you only see a crack and the water is pouring in. All these are exercises in counter-monumentality. We assumed that these figurative symbols of memory, with the generals and their muses, had been exhausted. In the post-war period, this became abundantly clear. It seems that our time, with its obsession with liberality, has once again embodied that side. And then people knock them down and throw them in the river. It seems to me that there’s a desire for symbolisation that cannot be achieved by taking one down and putting another up.
I think there is a desire to revisit, bearing in mind the current situation.
Oddly enough through a language that art already thought to be outdated. The attribution of meaning through a figure. I have the feeling that we are in that significant gap. We need to attribute meaning and symbols, something that art is not being able to respond to. It’s not possible for us to go back to sitting gentlemen. But it’s curious that this Musil essay states, “if you want to forget someone, build them a monument” – it isn’t so. What seemed obvious to Musil in the 30s became non-obvious. People do not forget. They ask again “who is there?”. The monuments are alive, in a strange sense. And it seems that all the effort of art to propose a new monumentality has been left aside – the old monuments have come alive. I find that uncanny.
While thinking about the idea of opening and ceremony, I was reminded of the notions of centre and periphery. After all, that cloak which is covering something is quite political, it is veiling something. I also remembered a connection you made with City of Lights, that man sleeping on the statue. Considering the notion of inauguration, and also that scene, I wonder if there are people who weren’t made for that.
That scene is beautiful because the statue is alive for him. Only for him. He falls, he apologises, he cannot relinquish a system of relationships that only exists for him through the figures. The figures are alive. But they are dead to the one who inaugurates them. They only want him to leave. But he is the figure for whom the social codes are exaggeratedly present. He’s too polite. Even inside the machine, he remains absurdly social in Tempos Modernos. I find the statue scene especially strong, for its name “peace and prosperity”. That monument stinks, but it’s entirely connected, as if it’s alive. With the opposition, the point is that the thing opens and closes. Yes, there is the unveiling you mention, but there is also the veiling, something that perpetuates the ritual. As a rule, a ritual is a transition.
When we reflect on the idea of ritual, of opening or inauguration, I think that you brought together in this exhibition, particularly in David’s piece and in the soup plate, both a sense of humour and a sterner quality. You have unveiled what could be sacred, but which is based on something entirely surreal and comic.
David has something different. It’s as if he could talk about the very weariness of the works of art, as if they were exhausted – “that’s it”; “I’ve had enough”; “it’s been so many centuries”; “what do these people want from me? What do I provoke in them? I want to be alone in peace”; “I’m exhausted from my size and my weight, it’s too big”.
I organised an installation in a museum in Rio de Janeiro, which included some classic paintings like Tintorettos, and we placed a mirror in front of the portraits, facing them. As if they could see themselves. The audience could only see the back of the mirror. I found this kind of reflexivity of the work appropriate, as if they could think themselves. I can no longer bear to hear people saying the names of works, saying all the right things, wonderful stuff, in a very direct and obvious way, without there being any resistance from the works. I think that David possesses that kind of irony, because works need to reclaim their power when faced with the never-ending discursiveness of this era of ours.
I’ve had enough.
And the soup?
I pictured the soup as a charitable element. A bowl of soup, a sort of minimum unit of survival that someone gets and says “thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you”. Before thinking about the soup, I really wanted to do this text, I even pondered it as a film. I don’t know if I’m going to do it, but that’s basically it: a collage of thank-yous that lead nowhere. I even had an idea for a play. The actors would come in to thank the audience and they wouldn’t stop doing it. The play would go into that second part and not some other. But I considered the bowl of soup as a unit of humility. And I looked at the ice as something dying before the spectator.
It is a fusion of different genres and media. Your painting also has a need to go beyond matter. You add so much weight to it, so many layers, there is so much going on.
I have painter friends who work with sculptures and they achieve superb results. But for me, for Nuno, that doesn’t work, although I think there are great artists who fit those genres. I like a forgotten short story by Kafka called A Hunger Artist. The protagonist breaks all fasting records since he was forgotten and went for a long time without eating anything. And he is asked “why do you fast, why don’t you eat?”. He replies “because I have never found the food that could satisfy me. If I had found it, I would eat”. Although I am quite voracious and productive, I relate to these answers.
Is this your way of living, your way of being in the world?
Yes, but I feel the call of the genre. When I paint, I want to paint. When I write, I want to write. The call of each genre is different, and you have to listen to it fully.
I think it’s beautiful to keep on listening. There is something non-conformist in that.
It’s true. I think that’s the conundrum of my work. There is something happy in the paintings, in other works the approach is more quarrelsome. I always tell the story of when I did a retrospective, 20 years ago. It was visited by a French curator, I believe from Bordeaux, with whom I spent an afternoon. When it was time to say goodbye, he asked me “who is the other artist?”
And I said “what?”. He thought there were two artists. For me, knowing whether something is good or bad has always been ambivalent. That’s easy in the land of Fernando Pessoa. But I never arranged it as a kind of heteronomy or anything like that. I always thought there was a common melee somewhere, where discourse becomes matter, where matter becomes discourse, and everything blends. There is that common entity. Sometimes the parts get sharper. And then they come back.
 Andreia C. Faria, Vertical, em Alegria para o Fim do Mundo, Porto Editora: Porto, 2019, p. 76