– “C’est quoi cette danse?” ­­– Cette danse.

In all forms of artistic expression, the opening up of screens and prioritising the virtual over what is generally referred to as reality or normalcy is a common denominator. Nevertheless, instead of dividing one plane from another, art cancels out the disjunction between the virtual and the real. As such, an artistic plane is responsible for either a cut, a veiling or an unveiling. A consensual plane is concealed to reveal comprehensive pictures of multiple directions, taking the multiple as a platform for understanding. The structuring splitting of space on the dramatic stage is, in some way or another, undertaken whenever art takes place and is exhibited. Diogo Bolota’s work is not an exception, with his latest exhibition C’est quoi cette danse?, at Dialogue Gallery, featuring a set of five paintings whose titles are classical ballet steps. The designation known as technique, as an element of learning and a watchword that the dancer incorporates, opens up the interrogative design about the whole: if the steps are, with nominative certainty, the rond de jambe, the arabesque, en dehors, grand battement, what dance is this? This is like saying: where is the movement? What name should we call it by and how can we live it in the reverse of a question that makes it ambiguous and perhaps, precisely in this creative gesture, renders it irresolvable? More than that: how do I make this movement my own? How can I seize this form? The spectator grapples with all these questions, at least unconsciously, during the aesthetic experience of bearing artistic witness. Alongside the paintings, there are poems by Diogo Bolota, bringing to mind more images, like stray correspondence with the main pictorial creation itself. A theatre against the leading role, a voice choir against solo singing. And where can we find authorship? Where can we expect an authority and a past duly responsible for the scenes imposed in the present?

The part(s) match the categorisation standard, the fixed word scheme, and the dance as a whole is what evades comprehension, but it is also what lends itself to a potentially empowering and instructive enquiry. Diogo Bolota’s approach in this exhibition is based on two key gears: on the one hand, we see organic forms, resembling tubers, genitals, intestines, but also processed goods such as sausages, fancy pastries, day-to-day items such as coat hangers, warning flags, gates similar to those we encounter at the entrance and exit of car parks. This is not, however, about putting natural and cultural elements into conflict, setting them against each other, and so it is not fitting to expect a surprising coming together of different worlds in this set of paintings. It would seem that C’est quoi cette danse? is dealing with apocryphal material – beneath or beyond dialectical pairs, such as dreams and revisited memory -, material certainly pertaining to other events (more than to past occurrences), coinciding in any case with current projections, in a permanent process of becoming; projections mediated by seemingly unrelated forms, but whose contours the viewer attempts to assemble, according to basic touchpoints of minute similarity to which the image, as an aesthetic call to mind, forces us to formally invest.

Indeed, there is an ethical exchange, focused on a witnessing duty that the artist assigns to the spectator, an exchange responsible for highlighting the reification in which the normative world operates. If in semantic or ontological terms art corresponds to its effects, this is not to say that it is bound by a universal medium and regulation constraining it. Rather, it is the role of revealing the rule and the underlying structures of our everyday and symbolic imagination that isolate it on an autonomous and deeply active footing. All this becomes quite clear in the way Bolota opts to divide the paintings between a scenic layout and an archaic exhibition – as in a laboratory window -, harking back to an earlier period when the artwork is assigned the invisible condition, like a shared secret. We should not forget that for a secret to be a secret, it needs to be revealed. If it remained hidden, it would be kept in the blind chamber of a parallel universe, as if pulled into the interior (with no exterior) of a black hole. What remains in storage is only concealed if someone sees, grasps and appropriates the fugitive matter through a breach.

During an interview with Carolina Trigueiros for Umbigo Magazine, the artist stated: “The work is the silence of a child who waits their turn to have their voice heard, like when they hold their finger up in the classroom to ask questions.” Mediating between the artist’s voice and the viewer’s perception is a tacit agreement of authorisation, which, using the artist’s metaphor, involves the teacher’s permission, i.e., that of the authority. The child or the artist, those who dwell in a silence brimming with an eagerness to speak, turning speech into an experiment against miscommunication, turning the name of the dance step into the ever-recurring dance conundrum. Silence, then, to which refereeing (or teaching) can only respond through repeating movements, through stubborn reliance on a rule and a word, the uses of which are responsible for a gradual, potential distortion. On the field – be it football or battle, the shop window of a pâtisserie or a butcher’s shop – the artist is the ultimate scene builder, the industrious inhabitant who cannot tolerate ocular distance and investment in an action (either a sporting, warlike or flânerie one) except through work that is as descriptive as it is of open imagistic association. There is a sort of confusion between the interruptive moment of artistic creation and the instance, no longer of conversion, but of conversation with the spectator, of which the artist is about to expound.

C’est quoi cette danse? is showing at Dialogue Gallery until 2 March, 2024.

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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