Notes on Perception: Xavier Ovídio and his reflection on what is oftentimes unconsidered

Xavier Ovídio, a cross-disciplinary artist, has kept a sort of resistance to technological development in his artistic – and day-to-day – practice, even though he is unable to avoid it on a daily basis to attentively capture the environment around him. Many of these recordings, taken on his mobile phone, give his work its dimension through a recurring process of memory, in which routine, everyday life and the city are frequently the main players in the setting that is the world – in which we are all actors.

Sofia Marçal curated Notes on Perception, which testifies to this creative process, proposing an expanded view of the landscape, both visual and sonic, from the perception angle – based on Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception[1]. This approach, trialled through around a dozen works, brings the relationship between the natural and the urban into sharp tension, resorting to logical and ironic games reflecting on the tempo of everyday city life. In two acts – Floresta and City Birds – the symbiotic relationship between the two is nevertheless obvious, contaminating the soundscape of one with the environment of the visual landscape of the other, creating a multidimensional, immersive and scenic aesthetic experience that unfolds in the relationship with space and how we are forced to move around and enter a simulated landscape through multiple images – given that “the perceptual experience (…) is indeed a bodily experience[2].

When we enter the former Pyrotechnics Laboratory of the Geology Department at the National Museum of Natural History and Science (MUHNAC), we come across an encapsulated landscape, kept in a setting that, owing to the natural light, reminds us of an imagined winter garden. It is difficult for us, however, to tell at various moments whether we are inside or outside that garden – for example, the painting S. Tomé outside the room, visible only through the window, or Floresta, seen from the room’s window where City Birds is located – permanently in a tension depending on each person’s perception, where windows (familiar elements in Xavier’s artistic imagination) are key pieces in this dialogue.

This perception process is pushed to the extreme throughout the exhibition, whether with the materials used for the sculpture-structures (plastic waste that looks like wood at first glance); in the sound materialisation of the birds in musical score drawings derived from the artist’s personal perception (as exemplified by Oiseaux Heureux or Oiseaux Mystérieux); in extended paintings where the front and back are almost indistinguishable (as illustrated by Raízes); or, above all, in the digital, humanised and urban sounds of City Birds, which uncannily resemble the atmosphere of a tropical forest, where noise and sound pollution acquire a poetic edge by transposing meanings and senses – a reminder that nature is often the only thing we can behold in hectic urban spaces, or how it can go almost unnoticed (such as left over), and therefore non-reflected.

While the sounds of Lisbon’s Alameda can be heard here, other geographies pepper the entire exhibition project in annotations or pictorial representations, drawing on Xavier’s daily and emotional reality through a memory effort that mimics a utopian time-space gathered there – surely this project is the embodiment of a patchwork of personal memories? Only perception can provide the answer. But this is a greenhouse-place, coloured by the natural-human tension, viewed with a certain detachment and distance, which is only possible through subjective perception, expanding and increasing the size and complexity of an ever-growing landscape.

Amid all this simulation, fantasy, utopia and (un)reality, there appears a real specimen of Nymphicus Hollandicus, commonly known as the Cockatoo, from the museum’s taxidermy laboratory, ironically housed in the birdless structure (Pas d’oiseaux). Is it the only “real” element? Or is it the only point of unreality in this landscape, given the inert and distant nature of it and the impossibility of truly fantasising about it? The line between real and unreal is increasingly tenuous. Everything is a matter of perception. The fact remains that it symbolises the crystallisation of time, something that this place also intends to be more present than past, in a permanent collective construction illustrating how each and every one of us is part of and influences this intricate system of relationships and tensions – which the visitors’ footprints bear witness to.

Speaking of which, that same day, shortly after visiting the exhibition, a friend of mine shared with me, for no apparent reason, a quote that had been brought to mind by a famous and clichéd astrology app: “Your perception is overly affected by your recurring thoughts“. It would seem, then, that the stars wanted to align to help remind me that, indeed, perception bears within it the bias of personal and collective experiences and the thoughts of each person’s own reflection. It is subjective. This is how the time and space crystallised and simulated by Xavier Ovídio, in this exhibition venture, appear to be impossibly watertight: they depend on each person’s perception of them.

And this was my perception. And that is how I came to inhabit this landscape. And this essay records my notes on that encounter.

Notes on Perception, by Xavier Ovídio, can be seen at MUHNAC until February 29, 2024.


[1] Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945). Phénoménologie de la perception. Paris: Éditions Gallimard.

[2] According to Merleau-Ponty, quoted by Nóbrega, T. P. (2008). Body, perception and knowledge in Merleau-Ponty, in Estudos de Psicologia, 13(2). Natal: Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte. p. 142.

Cultural Mediator, Curator and Researcher. Master’s in History and Heritage and Degree in Cultural Heritage, by the University of Algarve. He holds a research scholarship at DINÂMIA'CET-ISCTE. He has been working mainly in Cultural Mediation, Heritage Education and Cultural Project Management, with special focus on the intersection between art, culture and education. He has taken part in several national and international initiatives related to cultural projects in the area of arts and innovation, such as ILUCIDARE, European Creative Rooftop Network, and Faro 2027. He was one of the 2022 MACE Young Ambassadors and has a special interest in contemporary creation, currently completing a postgraduate degree in Art Curatorship at NOVA FCSH. He believes that 'there is a future in the past'!

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