There are no vanishing points in poetry (and in life): João Motta Guedes at Galeria NAVE

Pardon my indiscretion, but perhaps under the influence of the existential burden cast by the question that João Motta Guedes raises with the title of his first solo exhibition at Galeria NAVE, How to live?, my first encounter with the exhibition venue had, as opposed to what the installation suggests, a very clear purpose. I entered the room and, not paying careful attention, walked across the gravel, foot by foot, between the gaps formed by the six rail boards, and headed for an improvised counter in a side room to order a glass of wine.

Having accomplished my mission, I spotted, behind this counter, the piece We follow the road, a photograph in a light box of a railway track somewhere in South America, but its geographical location hardly matters. The two parallel lines forming it have no choice but to surrender to the laws of perspective, to which the lens – just like a look at a specific moment – binds them. They will meet and intertwine somewhere on the horizon, but perhaps I’m oversimplifying things.

Do you know if the way is safe until the horizon[1]

Encountering this piece, before devoting the appropriate attention to the rest of the exhibition, allows me not only to pinpoint the content of the installation in Motta Guedes’ artistic career, but also in his personal journey in a more clear-sighted way, assigning a reference that is not limited – in any way – to the strictly visual element.

Whilst referring to photography, the subject was the encounter of lines – and consequently their end -, the theme and motif of both the photo and the installation is the belief not in their endlessness – in the sense that the notion of an end is still present – but in the possibility of a “disruption of linearity – both temporal and spatial – that fosters experimentation along the way”.[2]

It reminds me of an unanswered Iranian documentary[3] – from 1967 – where, on a stormy day, someone brought a train to a halt, averting a terrible accident which would have been caused by damage to the railway several kilometres down the road. Different theories have sprung up about who was responsible for this heroic act. Every newspaper, individual and politician in the region has told a different story. There is wide debate, from the logical to the preposterous, about what caused the train to stop. A scenario is created from a real event and a question is raised, individually answered by each person’s subjectivity.

João Motta Guedes also provides us with a place (scenery) – which is the most perfect visual representation of the penchant for contemplating the infinite, as far as its possibilities are concerned, which I believe is the work’s main feature – but it excludes a particular time, since these “portals” are not travelling to any time, but rather are mirrors for those who search for the horizon with their eyes turned inwards. The main poetics of the work lies in this indeterminacy.

The seven LED panels, which individually display a poem peppered with questions, emphasise this superimposition of perspectives and absence of clear answers, whilst also making a visual plea for a return to the notion of the horizon. Yet another question came to mind.

On the inauguration day, I simply checked the printed poem and a specific line stood out: “Who are the 7,983,947,056 people on this planet“. Out of innocence or ignorance, I assumed I would find the same number on a loop and walked out of the gallery before verifying it.

This question hounded me for the next two days, as I believed that one of the most beautiful poetic features of the installation would be the indeterminacy of time, but this figure would expose and give away its date – the world’s population reached 8 billion in the middle of last year.

Such a blatantly outdated figure could dismiss the impression of a lucid dream, and would instead be positioned in the realm of memory, a memory that does not belong to us. This could mean the world to the artist, but it would be a story with a beginning, middle and end for the viewer. As in photography, it would end where the eye reaches the intersection of the lines.

I ended up going back to the gallery to make sure that this was the same number that would be on the panels. The number now was 8,061,328,702.

The exhibition How to live is at Galeria NAVE in Lisbon until November 11, 2023.


[1] João Motta Guedes. Untitled Poem (Horizon). 2023. Poem displayed in a loop on the boards.

[2] Eva Mendes. Text of the exhibtion O jardim dos caminhos que se bifurcam in which João Motta Guedes took part. Buraco

[3] Kamran Shirdel. An shab ke barun amad. 1967

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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