By way of Life – Waiting Around to Die, by Henrique Pavão

Henrique Pavão’s exhibition Waiting Around to Die, curated by Adriana Molder, on display at Galeria Casa A. Molder is, before any cultural reference – the title is the name of a 1968 song by Townes Van Zandt -, an allusion to music as a way of interrupting silence without ever letting it go. To put it another way: music is steeped in silence, just as, crudely analogising, life is steeped in death. Two sculptures – or is it just one? – are arranged in two adjoining rooms in this gallery in downtown Lisbon. Emptiness prevails. There is no longer any question of going out or coming into a house. It’s about dwelling in or vacating a space. It may be a manifesto for eviction, a condition to which so many people are subjected, and in so many cities around the world, as participants in a ferocious and unbridled capitalism, of which we are, in any case, the unavoidable consumers and, therefore, the faithful practitioners. Henrique Pavão’s suggested movement is beyond or below, or ultimately avoids, a specific epochal issue that puts the crisis, and its specific effects, in relation to a particular time.

We have just said that it is not a matter of going in or out of a space. Well, through music, an element that is as much a source of congregation as it is responsible for the recollection of other times that bisect the present and turn it into a watered-down snapshot, the artist is attempting to conceive of the present moment as a complex, heterogeneous, manifold and, above all, indecipherable palimpsest. The present is essentially planned as a time span, not as a period in which there is an appeal for temporary solutions to pass the time – to wait for death – but the present as a playground, where we are the body and the writing that renders legible – momentarily legible, in fact, like all writing – the incidents occurring in that same playground. Unlike what one would first assume, we find ourselves in a crowded area, which is not paradoxically forced upon us by Pavão’s stripped-back staging.

The emptiness lingers on – much like a symphony whose instruments are at a standstill, but still vibrating. This is a painstakingly crafted void, striking in the sober architecture of the objects contained in the space. A hundred metre cable is rolled up and apparently dropped at random on the floor in a room. In the adjoining division, a cow’s skull wrapped in bronze. Between the two bodies present – cable and skull – and the elements inherent to the gallery’s architecture – floor, walls, windows, ceiling – there is only a shattering contiguity that renders the boundaries of the forms in the space moveable, reassigned according to a poetical logic of waiting. And waiting for nothing. As waiting is never an act univocally geared towards something you want. It is always what one longs for, experienced from its negative perspective, i.e., by holding on to everything that one does not want. In this way, the act of waiting – as the title of the exhibition points out – can never prevent the most curious subject from knowing what they are waiting for. Waiting for death is a especially sagacious way of phrasing it: those waiting for death, those who simply say they are waiting for death, are so profoundly committed to the profane act of pushing it away – since waiting can only bring death closer – that they can only reveal the words, not in their inadequacy, but rather in their excess as clinging ways of holding on to life, revealing death and life as the perpetually disjointed heads and tails of a game that remains a game. Can dying be a goal? Can dying be a goal that is achieved? A more or less well-done job? The performance grade lies, quite insidiously, on life. That is the infinitesimal gap separating will, desire, from its materialisation. This is the secret on which every act will be a way of resisting as a form of forgiveness, forgiveness of life over death, specifically the forgiveness of being unable to say anything, of not wanting to mean anything other than what is said, what is done, in other words, what is lived, the negative of death, which is nevertheless brimming with death, its vision, its shared but undisclosed secret.

Humans cannot help but have a musical score, even more so than the broadcast sound – if music is riddled with silence, this can only be conveyed by contrast, in other words, with a symphony playing from within. One way of achieving this is by reading a score, musically unfolding the objects we are faced with. The cable and the skull are a score for a lost symphony that has yet to be located. This quest makes any similarity with the previous symphony virtual and merely hypothetical. The current symphony will always be another symphony. The death of the form that was supposed to be one and the same, and which now makes way for a new one. The cable on the floor was used to amplify an electric guitar left by the artist in the countryside, exposed to nature’s movements, stimulating the strings and generating a melody audible throughout the room. Within a gallery, one witnesses the loss of an amplification, albeit a loss that cannot resist, by way of life, originating new amplifications. The cable is different, the skull is different, and the vibrating field and the still hot-blooded animal can no longer be pictured other than humming that song that we are still waiting to be written in the air, standing against the silence, a song that is no longer just a sound channel, a trace of a past life, but an empty room, even on the way out of life, should the world be a station and the body an inn.

Waiting Around to Die by Henrique Pavão is on show at Galeria Casa A. Molder until March 8.

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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