Fornada by Ana Vidigal and Luís Rocha at Galeria Buraco

Fornada, the name of the exhibition featuring works by Ana Vidigal and Luís Rocha, uniting two artists from different generations and with highly diverse formal languages, semantically describes in Portuguese the material that enters the oven to be baked, forged, made, manufactured. Since this is also something baked together, in other words, a group of elements, the term recaptures a whole modernist tradition of art, in short, creation as a complex, inevitably collective process, weaving together many fabrics by excluding some, including others, whilst still safeguarding – by deduction or induction, surely surprisingly – the common root of the whole, of the multiple, of the varied. The first thread to be woven, or the first dough to be shaped and baked, is exactly the one that binds two works by two artists who, in a space as tiny as it is labyrinthine, at Buraco gallery, a surprisingly bright basement – or illuminated, as this effect is also manufactured – are ready to be seen, read and experienced together.

Luís Rocha’s works are shown as finished products, solidly painted lines, vertical strokes, like well-lit roads on a dark night. This combination of tones provides a mapping or coding illusion for the bewildered viewer or the aimless inhabitant. One painting, on a black background, with more or less thin green, red and lime-coloured lines, on the verge of a light cue, is, after all, a belated or simply useless signpost for anyone wandering, and hence being trapped by the night’s blackness and, from there, seemingly transient, in the background through which they stray. They are motionless pictorial paintings. Like seasons of the year, points at which some momentum is restored or the decision to end is made – but even the end is fleeting. Luís Rocha condenses these works into recalibration points, gradual changes of speed. But the movement is relentless and the overlapping layers of paint are mesmerising. In one painting coloured in shades of green, over what appear to be four reeds, the flash of two spotlights dazzles and cuts through the landscape background, implying the appearance of a different body coming into view: a car, a headlight simply snapped when the light hits it from the front, the moment extracted from an endless rotating game. Or could it be a reflected glance, interrupted this time by the green, the plants’ suggestive natural organicity?

Ana Vidigal’s pieces – in this exhibition she has opted for less vivid colours than usual – uncover the creative process as a scattered assembly of elements offered to her this time by the consistent order in which the artist always operates. The time before the artistic process and the time after the viewing of the piece converge by showing the seams of the work itself. Ana Vidigal seems to be sealing a pact, through the turbulent two-way coming together of creation, with memory, whose unsteady flow, fraught with arrhythmias and indecisiveness, no longer represents the ante-chamber of a suddenly darkened family room, but the amphora-chamber in which cartoon cut-outs emerge, as in a comic book, like active and present inputs of meaning. The first room houses a glazed plate with a leaf glued on top, bearing the apostrophic caption “Ma petite”, two vases similar to Ancient Greek clay pots, with cartoon cut-outs glued around them, opening up to different scenes of iconic significance – iconicity largely engendered by the critical and decisive gesture of cutting and pasting. One vase hangs from the ceiling, other rests on a bench, which in turn is supported by a similar upside-down stool on the floor: a pyramidal structure harking back to ancient civilisations, but in this case made of shabby materials, a far cry from any kind of luxury or splendour. Regarding the similar crossover between compositional elements from imagined primordial civilisations and the artist’s pieces, the title of her first piece must be noted: O que importa é a história (What matters is history), or the name of the second, Perdida no Louvre(Lost in the Louvre), suggest a clash with a present that is perhaps not as fragmentary as it seems and a past not as solid and whole as its ultimately whimsical monumentalisation (yet one more story, or the living agglomeration of many tales) pretends to be.

Both the artists in this show are working on the materials’ surface, on the possibilities of finding depth without dealing with a distant background, an abyssal, majestic height. But that does not mean that the works are not precisely layered. The obsession with an immediacy necessary to communicate with someone who, having come from outside and from a period that is inevitably subsequent – the viewer, the traveller, the man who reminisces and dreams – will have to read these maps so as to continue. The diffraction points between the clay of the pots and the cut-outs do not positively and predictably turn out to be compatibility points. Instead, they are textured folds, charged with meaning, pointing to the randomness that rules memory and history: be it of humanity, painting, sculpture or that of each person who visits the exhibition. The cut will be the sense closest to the nose; the one which, quintessentially, acknowledges without being acknowledged, dismissing the grandeur of monuments or complexity as a strategy for legitimising a work. This is why the materials are lacklustre, the collage imperfect, the lettering at times clear, at times unreadable, absorbed by the medium. With his unusual organic viaducts, Luís Rocha is open to questions on the possible dialogue between what belongs to the natural and human orders. Eventually, the assumption that what is natural is what simply and unexpectedly appears in space and time is dismissed, while what is human is everything that emerges from time to time through continuous work, appearing according to the ability and resourcefulness to switch machines on and off at the right moment. Likewise, the historical or civilisational aspects are not symmetrically opposed to an organicity that, if there is a creative witness, can become a screen for another story, other paintings and other lives. The ultimate redoubt of the landscape is to be a cartographic extension with no fixed destination: road or ditch, light or flash.

Working on the surface of things, mapping and signalling the possible archaeology of a piece of land, a body, a painting or a sculpture, as a fantasy investment of a vertigo yet to be uncovered and, in this sense, not automatically suggested, nor artificially boasted, nor materially authorised in the work itself. Lifting one layer and separating it from another, in both Ana Vidigal’s and Luís Rocha’s pieces, is to make them slide precisely one over the other, exactly as the second artist’s videos point out. But the pieces do not remain within themselves, sealed off from the endless nature of their manufacturing. The possibility of overflowing is expressed through a leap, through a bridge that can be a passage or a swing, a cane that is a spear, a funambulist’s balancing tool or fishing gear. Or as an opposing force, a stress point, the two trunks – by which we mean two of the artist’s pieces – like bridges, hanging in the air, attached by a thread, the extremities against the wall. But the leap is outwards, as art can only ever be a reverse and a lost replacement, of which only the archaic force of the batch remains. Gluing or cutting, manufacturing or picking. The pursuit of chance, such as the sculpture in which Ana Vidigal displays a set of objects caught on a beach along a fishing rod suspended in the air. After all, isn’t hunting chance the same as being hunted by it? The two artists’ fornada, our own – the most unpretentious belonging -, absorbed in the short and deep maze, at Buraco.

Fornada, by Ana Vidigal and Luís Rocha is on show at Galeria Buraco until December 16, 2023.

Master in Portuguese Studies, with the thesis “Modos de Cindir para Continuar: uma leitura de A Noite e o Riso e Estação, de Nuno Bragança”, from Nova University of Lisbon, where is currently pursuing her PhD and working on a thesis on Agustina Bessa-Luís and Manoel de Oliveira, from the concept of melancholia. FCT scholarship holder, having published poetry and essay in national and international magazines, she has published two poetry books: Hidrogénio (2020) and Rasura (2021). She is also co-editor of Lote magazine and writes literary criticism for Observador.

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