Alexandre Baptista’s Landscapes at Galeria Sete

Where is the landscape? and What can a landscape be? These are questions the visitor is prompted with right when the exhibition begins. Each of these is set against a background where perceptions are called into question, inviting us to search for an inner landscape, prior to pondering Alexandre Baptista’s oil-painted landscapes, a few steps further on in the venue. This is where the word is of great interest, especially if we bear in mind the seeing/saying the things we see dichotomy. In one way, and from a certain gregarious standpoint, we only reach as far as the word allows us to. Describing a landscape will always involve a specific semantics to allow the other person to at least draw near. It should also be noted that this partly topographical account is influenced by a question of great interest to contemporary artists: the landscape as the painting’s primary subject, no longer as the backdrop to an event.

We therefore move through a series of speculative paintings on different visual fields. Ranging from sharpness to its absence, the elements contained in the pictorial area allude to a certain dualism between nature/man, dominated by the former. The palette is equally diverse, which may lead one to believe that the artist resorted to some code to reinforce this likely polarisation. They are above all blurred, splintered landscapes, derivatives of a kind of sense of loss revived by our remembering abilities. The last work, before moving on to another section of the exhibition, is where we clearly perceive the artist’s intention behind the use of tension. With a landscape destroyed by a blunt human gesture, the artist adds a passage from Georg Simmel’s The Philosophy of Landscape, intended to answer the questions raised in the exhibition’s foreword. Including the word in Alexandre Baptista’s work is not meant to be aphoristic, but quite the opposite. The intent is to offer a possibility of reflection, of relocating the artistic object on a certain vocabulary map bordering on the visitor’s field of reference: “Nature, in its deepest being and meaning, knows nothing of individuality, but, through human eyes breaking it down and forming individual units out of its parts, is rearranged to represent the corresponding individuality that we call ‘landscape’.”[1]

We are therefore entrusted with some of this responsibility, despite its simultaneously unintentional side. Nature is unfathomable in its entirety and that is why, when we see, we inevitably decide which landscape is shaped before us. Clearly, a political sense is emerging here, picking up steam in the exhibition’s second half, with the installation From Where We Stand To Nowhere.

When we arrive there, on the gallery’s lower floor, we are brought back to the reasoning behind the exhibition’s first stage: an awareness of how potential destruction is inextricably tied to the human gesture and is more and more pervasive, bearing in mind the most recent historical events. Or, if one prefers, the state of the world.

The approach is diversified and unmistakable: we see on the wall some records of areas where plastic has been piled up, which, ironically and formally, resemble painting. When projected onto a composite video, we see a sharp destructive sequence that moulds the idea of landscape. While at first we take it for granted, as the violence depicted escalates we gradually grasp the identity of the horizon we are looking at, until we spot Ukrainian flags, screams and warlike commotions.

There is a clear relationship between the Landscape series – the landscapes portrayed in the previous area – and those shown here. A scene from Luis Buñuel’s film The Phantom of Liberty is shown in between, where the characters at a conference table discuss overpopulation on the planet while sitting on toilets, an object that mockingly takes the place of the traditional office chairs. Including this film excerpt is strengthened when expanded into the installation’s three-dimensional setting, bringing with it obvious cinematic[2] qualities, in an enhanced double scatology: a table, with two toilets, is inscribed after André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto: “The only mark of freedom is whatever still exalts me. I believe it right to maintain forever, our oldest human fanaticism. Indeed that reflects my sole legitimate aspiration.”[3]

This reflection on the word freedom, combined with the remaining exhibition, inevitably leads us to think about evident threshold concerns, which come to the surface nourished by the seemingly relentless drive towards destruction. As someone once said, freedom’s conditioning began the first time it was named, the moment it was wrapped up in a term.

Alexandre Baptista’s Landscapes is at Galeria Sete until June 29 and is part of the Convergent Programme of Anozero’24 – Coimbra Biennial.


[1] Simmel, Georg. (2009). The Philosophy of Landscape. Covilhã: Universidade da Beira Interior, p. 7. In the piece under discussion, the artist opted to include the quote in English.
[2] Cf. Delfim Sardo. In his work O Exercício Experimental da Liberdade, the critic and curator pits the terms cinematic and cinematographic against each other.
[3] “Breton, André. (1929). Manifestoes of Surrealism. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, p. 4.

Daniel Madeira (Coimbra, 1992) has a degree in Artistic Studies from the Faculty of Arts of the University of Coimbra and a Master's in Curatorial Studies from the Colégio das Artes at the same university. Between 2018 and 2021, he coordinated the Exhibition Space and the Educational Project of the Águeda Arts Center. Currently, he collaborates with the Círculo de Artes Plásticas de Coimbra (CAPC).

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