Grand beginnings, small deaths: Taking the light out of the prism and 4 years of Duplex
The opening of the exhibition Taking the light out of the prism on November 4 also signalled the celebration of 4 years of Duplex | Artists in Residence. Curated by Susana Rocha, artist and founder of this experimentation and creative research facility, the exhibition’s aim reflects Duplex’s dynamic and primary motivation: to provide fertile ground for dialogue between artists and their manifold paths and endeavours. Drawing on the figure of the prism as an aggregating motto, able to “simultaneously emphasise the cohesive energy (that runs through the glass surface) and the magnified intensity of individual forces” , the group show brings together, ambitiously, approximately 80 pieces by 52 artists, divided between three pavilions of the Oficinas Gerais de Fardamento e Equipamento do Exército, in Graça.
Last opened to the public three years ago for the 2020 Moda Lisboa, the venue is certainly an added bonus when it comes to appreciating the works. Similar to biennials or art fairs, the exhibition is spread over the well-worn walls and long rooms of the former Fábrica Militar de Santa Clara, established in 1927, in a successful counterpoint between the facilities’ own features – somewhat crude and, to a certain degree, austere – and the creative ground carved out when the pieces presented there come together. The narrative and aesthetic possibilities of this vast ensemble are arranged around five conceptual nuclei, providing a reading that, depending on the visitor, may or may not seem linear: from the start to the metaphysical end of a life, tracking the shaping and fading of a body; or merely the unfolding of playful, rhizomatic stories which open up and contaminate in unexpected ways. Both perspectives are, for me, thrilling.
The ground floor of the Oficinas opens onto paintings, installations and sculptures that could have come from the heavens or the depths of the ocean, as suggested by the first nucleus’ name. Flooded with pink light, smelling of wine and berries, the pavilion takes us back to a mythological, original time, plunged into contemporary fantasies about the natural and the supernatural. On entering, I am immediately enticed by the fiery waters of the Spanish artist Sheila Cañestro, whose vibrant and elemental painting – Seguimos la noche, buscando la luz (2023) – sets the tone for the eerie universe boiling there. With Francisco Trêpa and Pedro Moreira’s alien glazed ceramics – Dripping stage and Macrobioma vi (flattered simulacrum), respectively, both from this year – and Paula König’s wet installation – the water that flows through my body also flows through yours (2021) – we come to recognise ourselves in those soft, damp bodies, allegedly outsiders, but which actually inhabit and build us up.
The visit continues to the next pavilion, located on the second floor, where absurdity, illogic and the breakdown of language become standard themes. I am welcomed into the room by almost four metre high legs in Cold Feet (2023), Hugo Brazão’s textile installation from which two feet slip into the sculptural level. This pavilion is also filled with heat, capable of melting bodies and blurring vision. Capable of dissolving the world and leaving only paraffin, coins and plastic.
Later on, we come across the echoes of these lost structures in the same corridor, the motto of the exhibition’s third section. The works appear to be mourning the loss of something, in an attempt to yet capture traces of lives and ways of living that have already gone – and perhaps now seem as ephemeral as the record of an untitled Polaroid, as in Tjitske Oosterholt, or the sun streaks on our worn (too worn) mattresses, as in Gabriel Ribeiro’s piece. Trees grow and wither on the tripod skeletons, no longer supporting cameras to portray the world (what images could this barren future hold?) – as imagined in Hugo Cantegrel’s pieces Blues II and Blues III (2022). Nathalie Mei is also showing us fungi networks which take in all organic and inorganic matter, wood and 3D polyester prints, and may become, who knows, the next generation of contemporary sculptors using objets trouvés.
Death and the future become key issues in this journey, calling for reflection on nature and its creative and destructive power. The fourth and penultimate concept group, entitled Spirituality and nature’s drifts, features ten artists revolving around this elusive yet very tangible force, offering us their capsules and lucky charms to contact other dimensions, beings and ecosystems (although these ecosystems are more like an artificially constructed Oasis (2023), by Natalie Feldesman, than the old and untainted idea of nature). Taking the light out of the prism draws to a close with an ode to these impure territories – body and earth -, which have always and forever been subject to countless and unpredictable clashes, connections and transmutations. A prayer to a little death (2023, Catarina Moura) is all that remains for us to do.
The exhibition is still open only on November 10 and 11. The Lisbon Art Weekend will include daily guided tours, which are free to the public.
 Introductory text available on the website http://duplexair.com.