Not being anymore – the exhibition intitled ALBO, by Rui Aleixo, at Casa Azul

«Death for me is the difference between being and not being anymore». This quote by José Saramago is apparently a good reflection of the spirit of ALBO, by Rui Aleixo, curated by Jorge Reis, which was inaugurated on September 28 at EMERGE’s Casa Azul. Alongside aesthetic and conceptual research and experimentation, the artist was driven to an almost obsessive and perhaps therapeutic output that ended up in this show of more than 50 works – the death of his father, reflected in the presence/absence binary, abstractly drawing on family memories (with a more spiritual dimension) and taking part in the process of mourning and honouring his father, whose image once filled some of the frames featured in the exhibition. This binary is explored in the body of work and further explained in the curatorial text and in the conversation between the artist and the curator before ALBO was assembled. Mentioning important psychoanalytic theorists such as Thomas Fuchs and William James, Jorge Reis outlines a cause-effect relationship between the presence of a body in space and time, at times in contact with the other, the experience generated from this intersubjectivity and the memory that is produced from it, potentiating a blurring of the ensuing physical absence – «In this duality, the absence of the body appears to bend time in its sensitive traces, emphasising the feeling of presence through the intense evocation of memories. (…) With this, it becomes clear that, paradoxically, absence can be a frequent presence in our lives and in Art.» (curatorial text).

The title ALBO itself, which the curator chose and means both “book of memories” (album) and something blank, white, empty, is a kind of etymological metaphor for the exhibition’s conceptual construct. Originally intended to present just one series, as it developed organically and dynamically, this exhibition/installation ended up generating cascading metaphors based on the image of a family album with blank pages, which in turn also rhymes with the family home as a living organism (a three-dimensional album) in which photographs are added, removed and stored, and within which the different branches of the family tree are kept (just like the different series that make up the exhibition). This imagination of the old house with paintings (frames and photographs) dating from various eras, with its sunburnt walls and the marks of the paintings that are or were there, gives way to the white walls of Casa Azul, a house-gallery that stands in contrast to the detachment and rawness sometimes found in galleries built exclusively for exhibitions and whose appearance as a previously inhabited house boosts the aforementioned metaphors and transforms abstract works into site-specific works. Within this house, we see a formally eclectic but harmonious genealogy of series and sub-series made up of a diversity of forms, materials, dimensions and eras, which are in many cases parallel or mirrored. This entire chain of metaphors and meanings came together when ALBO was put together, encompassing the dynamic way in which pictures are added to a (family) house, lending it a historical and organic weight that is explored in Rui Aleixo’s artistic experimentation with abstractionism, rather than the obvious use of archive photography. While the objects used (frames and passepartouts) and the shapes explored are related to photography, not a single picture was used – Rui Aleixo refused to work directly on the source/origin, wanting instead to extract this content, referring to it only through more distant images, a hidden citation. Those who come across the images will not see the photograph that is usually framed by a picture frame and a passepartout, but they may have a reminiscence/memory of that other image. Absence becomes almost presence through the memory and experience of each subject. The option for this creative philosophy, as well as being consistent with the artist’s previous work, strengthens his handling of the presence/absence binary and formally distinguishes him from contemporary artists referenced in the curatorial text, such as Anish Kapoor, who have worked on this same subject.

In ALBO, abstractionism is partly used as a metaphor for physical non-presence and imagistic non-presence to reinforce the absence being felt, with psychological and spiritual effects that bring us back to the origins and development of abstractionist trends in the first half of the 20th century. Although the systematic use of different geometries of passepartouts and frames, with lines and stains – almost charting the history of these objects, which once had a wider variety of shapes, in contrast to today’s more minimalist ones – is close to the research favoured by currents such as Suprematism, belonging to Geometric Abstractionism, which in turn was part of Russian Constructivism; in contrast to the radical quest for a «ground zero» in painting, through the primacy given to geometric shapes and pure colours, which meant the Suprematists and Constructivists advocated the autonomy of Art and Painting in relation to other arts and to life/the real world, Rui Aleixo never gives up on the playful and lyrical side of creativity, steeped in the experimentation that comes with artwork production – starting them without entirely knowing how they will turn out, being led by the process itself, by intuition, rather than by the rational aspect, but in balance with it. This feature and the reminiscences of reality and memory present in ALBO’s works seem to be closer, formally and conceptually, to Lyrical Abstractionism, a movement pioneered by Kandinsky, where a greater balance can be seen between exploring the means of Painting and what could be adapted to that language from other arts and fields, but also, and especially, a bridge between outside and inside, between abstract forms and spiritual qualities, which must necessarily come from nature, above all from human nature, from its inner urge, even if the expression that will provide the best connection is the abstract one.

From a conceptual perspective, Aleixo’s work can also be equated with certain Surrealist premises, such as the invocation of memory, the presence and absence of the body in the subconscious, and the inner depth reflected in the abstract forms – the relationship between what is painted on the canvas, which is something external, and the core of the human being. However, in the case of Surrealism, there is a movement from the interior to the exterior, which evidently implies a strong subjective character, and whose focus is not on using figuration or abstraction. As for Kandinsky’s theory, the “interior” corresponds to the spiritual, with philosophical and other ramifications, and there is a passage from the artist’s inner urges to the exterior of their materialisation on the canvas, and equally a bridge from the outside to the inside, which happens when the pictorial work is perceived by the viewer. As such, this theory strives to attain a kind of universalism, born of the different subjectivities of the artist and the audience, taking us back to the intersubjectivity championed by Kantian aesthetic theory and referred to at the beginning of this article, empowered by the path towards abstraction, where shapes and colours trigger psychological and spiritual effects on their own, using the eye’s language to communicate to the spirit the resonance and vibrations of what it observes.

Like Kandinsky’s research and experimentation, Aleixo has dealt with several issues in his search for the essential nature of art and its progressive detachment from the figurative, using different materials to examine the medium of painting, such as glass and the passepartouts and frames themselves (from several eras and formats), used as a support for creating and no longer a simple ornament. As a collector and explorer, he transforms, amends and changes these elements, expressing the idea of a landmark, of a margin, of hiding and unveiling, of concealing, of memory – of what was there before. The resulting geometric shapes – among them circles, squares, rectangles and the ever-recurring oval shape – result in variations with rhyming between the works on show, but also with works from the artist’s previous series, in some cases being used as a mask, both as absence and presence, and generating a balance between geometry and an organic side, one example of such is the sub-series that stands out the most in the exhibition and has its own room, Rameau, whose concept arises from the print of a rose and is based on showing nature without actually having it there – the foliage was used as masks, but then taken away, once more reinforcing the idea of absence and referring to the dried leaves and flowers kept in the albums. Amongst this range of proposals, we can also find the overlapping of pre-existing images in small oval frames with new images designed by the artist, making only part of them visible and, finally, with a greater impact on the house space, three plastic sleeves above the human scale with geometric designs, reminiscent of the almost transparent and protective leaves of the albums, in this large 3D album.

The visual poetry of ALBO, by Rui Aleixo, is on show until October 28, at EMERGE’s Casa Azul.

Inês Joaquim (Torres Vedras, 1990) lives in her hometown and has been transiting between Torres Vedras and Lisbon. After a brief incursion into design at FBAUL, she graduated in Art History (FCSH - UNL) and finished the master's degree in Management and Cultural Studies (ISCTE-IUL) with the dissertation “«Inter-arts» organizations: innovation or reinvention? The case of Cooperativa de Comunicação e Cultura”. It was in this cultural association that she began her professional career, which includes working in organizations of various artistic areas, from the visual arts (at CCC) to cinema (at Leopardo Filmes), passing through performing arts such as music, animation cinema and theater (at Bang Venue and In Impetus - Acting School). In these cultural spaces, she acted in several areas, including the assistance for curatorship, cultural production and management, support for communication and the management of cultural projects’ applications for financial support.

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