To be born or die of rottenness or the metaphysics of soft bones: Mattia Denisse at Rialto6

Pau-podre is putrid wood, weakened, perhaps colonised. A sickly log, on the verge of disappearing, fragile or even toppled. Less well known, Pau-podre is also the popular name of the species Caryodendron Grandifolium, a leafy plant that grows on riverbanks, rather bitter and astringent, slightly aromatic, whose leaves and fruit have multiple healing properties [1]. By Mattia Denisse and curated by João Maria Gusmão, Pau-podre is the title of a new exhibition of painting-drawings which, between something scientific and esoteric, primordial and terminal, offer us images of a possible or probable cosmology.

At the Rialto6 gallery, the French-Portuguese artist – after more than two decades living in Portugal, can we define him this way? Or is it fairer not to entrench an alien and wandering creator? – opens 17 windows to the world he discovered, either through his dreams or in his trans-temporal, trans-real journeys. Overflowing with colour and sinewy curves, the images nod to the pictorial tradition of art history while experimenting with the textures of an anatomical illustration and a children’s fairy tale. Evoking René Magritte’s still life and silhouettes in negative for example, they rouse us to the known and the unknown, play with light and intense flavours, and open spaces that are both sweet and dark at the same time.

In Pau-podre, the bones are soft, flowing like water through the fingers or leaching from the bags. The walls too seem unfinished, fragile, in ruins. It is as if they lost their verticality and could not sustain or structure this universe. Perhaps the sticks, at the beginning or end of the world, have always and forever been rotten. As expected, humans, with all their hard phallocentrism and obsessive asepsis, have no place in this fantasy. But in this “kind of future memory without people and history” [2], where everything has already been and will be de-re-composed, there is life. Metamorphosis. Magic. Mushrooms, rivers and, perhaps, the medicinal leafy sticks. We acknowledge the harmony of a spectral presence that seems to be in all the works, something whose form eludes the mirror, inapt to capture it. A strange “gaze that penetrates the layers of the world”, walks “under the skin” shaking off “dreams” – “[m]ultiple, disjointed, in the middle of nowhere” [3] and, at the same time very, extremely close.

Who is watching from the rear-view mirrors? Me? Are these the reflections of what is behind me and yet not there when I turn my back? Am I the divine and omnipresent consciousness I can feel in these pieces? Or am I a fungus watching the slow movement of existence? What am I missing? If these are the kinds of questions that also invade your mind during the exhibition, best take a sip of the malt elixir offered on the table.

In either answer, there is an overwhelming praise for freedom – one that transcends the body and individuation; that comprises risk, instability, the transitory and, above all, the unknowable. Not coincidentally, Denisse is surgically described as a “stevedore of metaphysical works”, through which the remembrance (or, an interpretation I like even better, the foreshadowing) of humanity, which blows across our faces “like a moving breeze of revolutionary hope” [4]. Ultimately, this is the drawing’s boldness, appearing more overtly in the encyclopedia displayed alongside the magic alcoholic potion and, indeed, more discreetly among the acrylic or oil paint hanging on the walls. But nothing extinguishes the artist’s intimacy with the carbon of the pencil on the cellulose or the canvas fibre, a humble relationship, and with a certain simplicity, which is like saying: make yourself at home! Don’t be afraid! You can come closer… Let yourself be softened and rotten… And what do you see now?!

Tell me after visiting Pau-podre, by Mattia Denisse, at Rialto6 in Lisbon until July 21.


[1] <>.

[2] Exhibition text. Available in <>.

[3] Song by Malazarte, poem by Murilo Mendes. Available in <>.

[4] Exhibition presentation text. Available in <>

Laila Algaves Nuñez (Rio de Janeiro, 1997) is an independent researcher, writer and project manager in cultural communication, particularly interested in the future studies developed in philosophy and the arts, as well as in trans-feminist contributions to imagination and social and ecological thought. With a BA in Social Communication with a major in Cinema (PUC-Rio) and a MA in Aesthetics and Artistic Studies (NOVA FCSH), she collaborates professionally with various national and international initiatives and institutions, such as BoCA - Biennial of Contemporary Arts, Futurama - Cultural and Artistic Ecosystem of Baixo Alentejo and Terra Batida / Rita Natálio.

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