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Half Empty: Diogo Gama and Eduardo Fonseca e Silva at Buraco

Diogo Gama and Eduardo Fonseca e Silva move in opposing directions. Diogo resembles an erupting volcano, trialling in all directions, devouring forgettable images for the outside world, storing and replicating them. Eduardo is like a river running down a mountain, gliding between its banks, aware of exactly where he is heading, soaking up the images he finds along the way. Both encounter lost sensations, forgotten songs, suspended spaces in the memory, cast-off fantasies in the objects’ iridescence. Their routes cross at Buraco with the exhibition Half Empty, where kitsch is a catalyst, part-dream, part-reality, part-cute, part-bizarre, part-full, part-empty.

Their practice consists of collecting, rescuing lost objects from the street or from idle shops, from places alien to the world, shrouded in silence and dust. Encountering these objects sparks the reemergence of memories, as kitsch extols the sadness of lost things. Or, as Celeste Olalquiaga puts it, ” Kitsch is getting lost in an image, wandering into it as through one of Alice in Wonderland ‘s magic mirrors, crossing the threshold of a parallel dimension that is always there, a shadow world, an invisible Siamese twin[1]. With Diogo Gama and Eduardo Fonseca e Silva, there is this unconscious longing to reclaim what has been lost, to recover familiarity, the house, the home. For this reason we see the nightstand, the vacuum cleaner bag, the eggs, the toys, the knife, the fabrics, the embroidery, the iron or the nightlight.

Diogo Gama is looking for comfort in warm materials, from traditions such as embroidery or children’s stories. An attempt is made to find the familiar and the domestic, even if this is not acknowledged or conscious. In Half Empty (2024)[2], we feel the punishment of embroidery, the needle driving into the fabric over and over again and the drawing arising from this labour. Diogo accepts the error and, without hiding the back of the fabric, lets us see how restless his process is. He also uses scraps of leather within the fabrics to make a cross that is both body and crucifixion. He creates a body-cross, which, in place of a face, has a shoe sole with plastic eyes, one of which holds rainwater, or a teardrop that holds itself without shedding. An erupting volcano is painted in the centre of the cross, spewing lava and hearts, a fiery volcano devoured by its tempest. The crucifixion, as a prime symbol of suffering, is where soul and body dance in despair in the final moments before death. The work is entitled Temper Tantrums (2024), an expression used to describe children’s emotional outbursts. All this symbolism is smothered by the naïve character with which Diogo presents the signs we see, in a staging that makes the weight of the cross levitate.

The profound relationship he forges with the images surrounding him arises from a process of collecting, appropriating and collaging. These are symbols and compositions that touch his innermost self and reverberate through different materials and supports. He finds a resonance in bells that connects him to the spiritual world; in rabbits, the seduction, the intimate, touch and fertility. As part of this process of appropriation, he recovers bygone narratives such as “História duma Princesa Macaca”, a children’s tale popular in Portugal in the 50s. The allure of the main character is echoed because Diogo sees himself in Princess Macaca, a strong, feminine androgynous figure. In One Two One (2023), however, he paints her as a fragile and vulnerable boy being immobilised, and in Henry (2024) he has her beheaded. Like a surreptitious rabbit, Diogo knows how to captivate the viewer. The first work’s intense pink hypnotises the scene; in the second, the embroidery on the vacuum cleaner bag is so delicate that it blends in with the surface itself. If we do not look carefully, the agony of both scenes fades away, rendering invisible what is happening in front of our eyes.

With Alarme dos Cruzados (2024), he replicates the image of an alarm business, common in the borough where he lives, Tower Hamlets, London, by painting it on a wall at Buraco. Against a yellow artificial background, chance paints the pink letters in different shades, transforming Crusader Alarms into a jumble of meanings that gives origin to other words: crua, sad, lar or arms. To colour the walls of a room is to turn the house into our own, to imprint the presence that settles us in that space. For Diogo Gama, finding warmth outside is about surviving, as the fire of the volcano, albeit enormous, never quite fills the foreign houses in which you find yourself when you move to another country.

Eduardo Fonseca e Silva’s pursuit of the familiar is apparently conscious and targeted: he captures the domestic with food, asks his relatives for help, returns home, to his roots. In Spirited away (2024), Eduardo takes his child’s spirit by the hand, letting it guide him to the other shore. During this journey, he abandons the strictness of painting to which he is accustomed and accepts the unpredictable. This is where motherhood is at its core. There is the bedside table that holds and hides, the cage that protects and holds, the fabric that keeps things covered, the light that switches on. Eduardo’s mother has sewn the fabric to the cage; the fabric that cleans the brushes, lost in his mother’s house, where he no longer lives. There is the liquour on the bedside table, both purifying and tantalising. Unseen by strangers, yet available to anyone who notices it. Our child’s spirit is always keen to know when to return, always anticipating when we need help. Consolation and warmth come from that homecoming. This is why we switch on the night light, so that the child can find its way to us. And, to ensure that none of this is seen, none of this is felt, Eduardo crafts the work without any compromise, displaying it in a place where it can go unnoticed, drowned out by the vastness of the image of Alarme dos Cruzados. Yet a river can never escape its original source.

Eduardo quickly returns to his customary language, prompted by the urge to transform the real into two-dimensional images, picking up the impression of objects and food, inserting them into an almost virtual scenario that is nothing and belongs to nothing. The artificial light haunting the painted eggs strips the pleasure and warmth from the cooked food in Bell Ball Boiled Egg (2024) and Boiled Egg Fortune God (2024). The egg as origin, as promise, as incubator. And the carpet’s yellow embracing the painting, which could be a star, the sun and the divine, but which is a traitorous and bogus yellow.

He once again paints the egg in morro por acabar, acabo por morrer (2024). This is the tragedy of a scrambled egg enveloped by the carpet’s grey. A scrambled and treacherous egg preventing the white horse from achieving its potential. The white horse, the supreme paragon of escapism, lifts its front legs, plunging its rear ones into the egg’s shifting surface. The horse’s freedom is nothing but a mirage, and the fly’s timing announces the abyss. On the other hand, he paints Três golfinhos (2024), the perfect image to entertain the audience, to deceive them of its true meaning. In fact, what else could banana-dolphins be but exactly what they are? Lurking in the unconscious depths, the artist knows it, but does not reveal it.

The whole essence of Half Empty is found in an altar, in a shared work: the artificial, fantasy, love, the abyss, the bizarre, the domestic, pain, make-believe. This domestic shrine, with the title We were so happy it was miserable (2024), features an accretion of bizarre and ordinary objects trivialising the pain and suffering of the messages and symbols they bear. All the décor acts as camouflage, from the artificial flowers and coral to the toy rabbit and the Carnival mask. The other objects bear the spell of language and the burden it holds. A masquerade of details, textures, colours and artificiality.

The hole, the cellar, the egg or the nest provide the opportunity for incubation, an isolation and healing period offering the promise of rebirth. Diogo Gama and Eduardo Fonseca e Silva harness the seductive and the immediate, allied to the willingness to pretend, deceive and amuse the viewer. They found an empty house in Buraco and tried to fill it, but the long search for a home is a never-ending task fraught with loss, a loss immediately recognised in the show’s title, or in the cold, artificial light radiating through every room in the exhibition. But they did try and, with childlike delight, they have carved out a bewitching zone to conceal the abyss and the weight of the ghosts they carry.

Half Empty is on show at Buraco until March 23, 2024.

 

[1] Olalquiaga, Celeste. (1998). The Artificial Kingdom. Pantheon, p. 98.
[2] The embroidered drawing comes from Mark Matcho’s illustration for the cover of David Rakoff’s book Half Empty.

Laurinda Marques (Portimão, 1996) has a degree in Multimedia Art - Audiovisuals from the Faculty of Fine Arts of Universidade de Lisboa. She did an internship in the Lisbon Municipal Archive Video Library, where she collaborated with the project TRAÇA in the digitization of family videos in film format. She recently finished her postgraduate degree in Art Curatorship at NOVA/FCSH, where she was part of the collective of curators responsible for the exhibition “Na margem da paisagem vem o mundo” and began collaborating with the Umbigo magazine.

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