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Canil: Henrique Biatto at Belo Campo

The basement is found at the very bottom of a building, a place to descend into the ground. These are areas where secrets are kept, where hiding places and isolation are sought. We find them a safe harbour from an early age for storing food or essential tools that sustain life outside. However, to live in such a place, deprived of light, odours or any reference to time and space, can lead to deep feelings of abandonment, exhaustion and separation from the world. Prisons or dog kennels are connected to the basement – they are places of inertia, lack of freedom and punishment.

In Belo Campo’s basement, Henrique Biatto finds a place to investigate the duality between the finesse of his pieces and this crude setting. This dialogue is born out of careful observation of the animal world, as looking at animals means acknowledging our own humanity. The things we find in common with them are also what sets us apart and vice versa, whilst never overlooking the fact that animals also look at us – especially the dog, an animal we directly associate with Canil (kennel), which is the title of Henrique Biatto’s first solo exhibition, curated by Ana Grebler.

A guide is always needed to help us navigate the darkness, and the dog is the one helping us find our way, whether physical or spiritual, right from the start. We find in a dog the direction and sense of smell to guide us through the unknown. We domesticated it to be our guide, hunter or detective (guide dog, hunting dog, police dog). The Egyptian dog god Anubis used to lead us to the world of the dead, but never before having weighed our hearts and thus assessed our goodness. Henrique Biatto appears to draw on the mysticism of the dog, also adopting the role of this animal, guiding us through this basement’s secrets. The artist burrows, buries and hides countless objects with magical powers that eagerly await our presence and detection.

Henrique Biatto’s work often makes reference to animal issues, the processes of domesticating or controlling nature, and the practical tools for this purpose. In O pau e a poda (2023), we encounter a series of objects referring to the act of pruning, a technique used in gardening or agriculture to renew a plant or make it more productive. We notice an inert but action-oriented area in the gloves, utensils, sticks, string or rubbish bags. The same happens in Garrafa [Gênesis] (2023), a direct reference to Belo Campo’s past as a winery. The tension between the wine bottle and the hammer striking its neck without any support from human hands implies an abandonment motion, an action lost in time, because the cellar is always melancholy and oblivion. It is devoid of human presence and, therefore, a magnet for clandestine visits. Mus musculus (2022), a series of tiny ceramic pieces resembling a rat community. Eight curious rodents interact with a Belo Campo generator. Dodgy by nature, agile and difficult to catch, they display tenacity through their ability to chew through any surface and survive in the most hostile environments.

Whilst rats live as outcasts within the human world, dogs are the opposite. Domesticated, docile and loyal, they navigate our world perfectly; we want them in our home, intimate and close to us. Without ever losing sight of the fact that their ancestry is the wolf, that their roots are wild, Henrique shows Canines (2023), leading us to the images of teeth, their ferocity and sharpness. These pieces allude to a potential for danger, whether in the ceramics depicting canine teeth, or in the nails, shells and pointed glass. Teeth and cutting materials remind us of aggression, survival and hunting. And each ceramic has a small hole pointing to ancient times when animal teeth were used as necklace ornaments. On the other hand, the title of the work points to all the animals in the dog family, from foxes and jackals to wolves, reminding us that these were among the first groups of animals to be domesticated by humans[1].

Weapons and tools are how humans control the environment around them. In Escape (2021), the artist sets a trap for the viewer with a work obstructing the passageway to the exhibition’s last room. The audience has the choice of entering or not, of falling into or escaping the trap. If up until this point the spectator had been a docile and curious dog, this is when we are brought a step closer to the wild animal, on the verge of falling into a danger zone. The threat intensifies beyond this barrier with the works Focinheiras (2023), Garras (2023) and Rédea (2023), ceramic pieces featuring animal domestication tools.

On looking at animals, John Berger wrote: “The eyes of an animal when they consider a man are attentive and wary. The same animal may well look at other species in the same way. He does not reserve a special look for man. But by no other species except man will the animal’s look be recognized as familiar. Other animals are held by the look. Man becomes aware of himself returning the look.”[2] Henrique Biatto’s practice is inspired by this reflection, where to look closely at animals is to find in oneself an essence that leads us back to a primordial condition.

Canil is a place of domestication that reveals the tension within human-animal relations, a dualistic bond of both worship and sacrifice. The magic of the animal world’s structures, its autonomous nature, loaded with variables beyond human control, can be found in our observations of the animal world. Their silence leaves them outside the realm of human beings, but, by looking at them, we know that they are born and die, and that this is why they are similar to us. They are and are not like us; different, but the same. To stare into an animal’s eyes is to know that we cross paths in death, that we ultimately return to earth with them. Henrique Biatto knows this, and that is why he looks at them.

The exhibition is on show at Belo Campo until April 20, 2024.

 

[1] Lariviere, Serge. (2019). “Canine | Mammal.” In Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/animal/canine.[2] Berger, John. (1980/2009). Why Look at Animals?. London: Penguin Books, p. 13.

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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