Fumos e Espelhos, de Hernâni Reis Baptista

Skin – physical and psychic – unites and separates. It is seductive and repulsive. It protects and hides. It is an immense organ, with changing hues and densities. However, it is primarily an undetachable surface, registering and recording – as if it were a proof of contact – the body’s life.

A mole is a benign – or malignant – manifestation of the environment within us; the scar, the random imponderability of the suffering to which we are subjected from birth, leaving subtle and intriguing streaks on the arm, leg, wrist; a stretch mark, the resignation to a plastic body that swells and deflates with time, anxiety, illness; the birthmark, the imprint of a unique existence for the rest of life.

And the lipstick stain on the neck, the coloured shadow on the eyelid, the opalescent sheen on the delicate skin of the neck? External signs of a transformative will and an experimentation that requires liberation and urgency.

In this way, the skin is both a mirror and an illusion.

Fumos e Espelhos [Smoke and Mirrors] by Hernâni Reis Baptista is a pictorial and sculptural essay on skin, its social and anthropological contours, and its natural or biological behaviours – an exhibition on the human, the non-human and the way living beings interact through this enormous surface, between the visible and the deep. In Fumos e Espelhos, it is hardly amiss to recollect the mental images and associations to vitiligo in humans, to the evolutionary apparatus of camouflage in animals, to the nervy dermis of lichens on rocks and trees, to the complex and dazzling Begonia that blends and blurs into the surrounding landscape.

The pictorial compositions resemble the chromatic adventures of make-up – between feigning, camouflage and transformation -, while the three-dimensional objects point to the question of survival, protection or Lacanian interpretations on the reflected image and mirrors. The skin becomes a large canvas amenable to formation and transformation, a questioning and exploratory medium subjected to the generative and aesthetic side of Art.

Despite the material and formal weight, the larval discourse on beauty and interpretation over time, there is something intuitive and even magical about the exhibition: the hazy evanescence of colours on old fabrics has Proustian remnants in the haunting childhood moments when, and as described by the artist, we experience, with adult rejection or acceptance, the wonder of an interior, sometimes maladjusted, oppressed and hidden, suddenly brightened and bursting with joy – the rouge on the cheekbone, the outpouring of varnish in the air, the tiny, shiny particles in the dust of the highlighter.

Ultimately, Fumos e Espelhos is about building identity, individuation and subjectivity through these more or less natural, artificial mechanisms, according to which we become aware of our body, of its communicative, performative, sexual and expressive power.

Fumos e Espelhos by Hernâni Reis Baptista is on show at Kubik Gallery until May 6, in Porto.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine. Curator of Dialogues (2018-), an editorial project that draws a bridge between artists and museums or scientific and cultural institutions with no connection to contemporary art.

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