Trouble in Paradise by João Bragança Gil

Discussing the Azores is akin to exploring a romanticised idea of nature: the lagoons, the lush green fields, the cows grazing over dazzling landscapes, the ocean, so close, so huge and profound, the geological legacy, the hot springs and luscious muds… Such is the image that politics, marketing and capital have imbued in our minds, believing that this pastoral idyll is at our fingertips, that a certain idea of nature is still unspoilt, virgin, pure, when in reality, century after century, everything has been engineered, artificialized, subjected to the human will, ever so cunning and proverbially resourceful. The soils have been leached, the land turned over and over, the waters changed colour and the territory shaped to suit the whims of tourism, demographics, the military industry, etc. 

The news in the world’s media about the Lajes military base, used as an American military station, a key point in the east-west Cold War clash and the centrepiece of the military intervention in Iraq, is part of our collective memory.

The mainland imagines this insular, oceanic territory. The sea mists hanging over the islands, intermittently subsiding to let us see a seemingly marvellous spectacle. A veil over the flower, which, when revealed, is artificial, plastic, far too fake and bright to be naturally beautiful and, yet, in its factitious quality, never fails to enthral and weave flashes of glory into a similarly artificialized memory. 

Trouble in Paradise by João Bragança Gil is seen as an investigation into the technologies used to control and overcome nature and wildlife in this Azorean territory, after a residency and direct contact with the archipelago in 2022. The concrete, steel, tarmac and orthogonality of the constructions stand in stark contrast to the mental impression we hold (or have made) of the Azores. The title is clear: the paradise is compromised. 

Each photographic document may be seen as forensic evidence. Beneath the photographs, Gil’s lengthy research written down in words imparts an atypical noir ambience, as if we were facing a victimless and guilt-free crime. In a country with no accountability or way of ascertaining culpability, responsibility dies alone and unaccounted for: carelessness, an ill-fated necessity. Photography is used as evidence here – and paradoxically as an ally of the common cause and of the great surveillance capital.

This is a profoundly critical and political undertaking, in which the artist’s investigative aesthetic, with its almost mathematical scientific methods and tools, breaks down power structures, whether economic, military or social. 

With that said, notwithstanding the small scale, the conclusions drawn at the end of this research are part of a global setting that can easily be discerned: neoliberal policies, the greed of capital, the lust for power and geostrategic control, galloping tourism, anthropocentrism, which, while being challenged more and more by new forms of materialism and contemporary philosophy, is still a guiding principle for many local and global policies. The proximity between the natural and the artificial imposed by the artist, showing the amazement and phenomena of nature alongside the apollonian constructions of the human being, register this problematic coexistence, fraught with tensions, contradictions and blindness. 

Trouble in Paradise by João Bragança Gil is on show at the Projectspace of the Jahn und Jahn and Encounter galleries in Lisbon until March 23.

Trans Soleil by Alexi Tsioris is on show concurrently at both galleries, an exhibition that reveals Tsioris’ pictorial approach, the never-ending nature of painting and art, as well as the breaking down of barriers between media and artistic practices, namely the bridges built by the Greek artist between painting and sculpture, sculpture and drawing, drawing and calligraphy. This is an exhibition curated by Alexander Caspari (Encounter) and Tim Geissler (Jahn und Jahn).

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine. Curator of Dialogues (2018-), an editorial project that draws a bridge between artists and museums or scientific and cultural institutions with no connection to contemporary art.

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