Gonçalo Barreiros "então aquilo que"
Galeria Vera Cortês
A Whistle from Above
One can stumble, lose balance. A fall might be imminent. We experience mixed feelings, somewhere between confusion and astonishment, and we try to quickly make the fall a natural movement by means of any improvised gesture. And, in all seriousness we end up laughing at ourselves, embarrassed of having been caught off guard, of being disarmed in that moment.
For certain, we all know this feeling. The jolt, the hands in the air looking for support, the agitated feet, the gangling choreography in trying to regain our balance. However, despite its clear familiarity, this sudden feeling of confusion, bafflement, and disorientation, is a feeling that we insistently try to suppress throughout life. We try to eradicate it through being constantly anxious about being prepared and attentive. It involves not only thinking thoroughly about which road to take, but about arriving with safety and caution at any situation presented to us, at any dialogue that includes us, at any question asked of us. Due to uncertainty and hesitation, silence can become overwhelming and sometimes make us decide hastily ahead of time, because we don’t know exactly how to proceed. And we end up making our decisions with this apparent confidence, this unquestionable certainty, while carrying immense caution so not to stumble, so not to fall.
About this confusion that we experience in the particular and abrupt encounter with the rigour and demands of language — and, mainly, with its apparent failure with which we permanently battle with —, Maria Filomena Molder tells us that “one of the original signs of our confusion is to worry about words, when suddenly we realise we don’t understand what we are talking about”. Regarding the work of [Hermann] Broch, and what he described as tragic element in a time of crisis, Molder says that that “original gesture” of language, a gesture of serious responsibility and commitment, proves this singular phenomenon: “looking for what we are saying means that, in its most authentic form, what we are talking about and have no knowledge of (not knowing it yet or already without the knowledge) may become something we are looking for, the matter of an inquiry in which our words are converted and we with them”.
So, this quest for the way of presenting what is said by us, without us knowing exactly what we are saying, is an undaunted demand once it is realised in the inevitable confrontation with our own limits, and with the norms under which our condition and determination in the world is ruled. This search for all we want to know, what we can’t anticipate, what we don’t know how to say, what seems difficult to name, when words fail us and we don’t know which road to take — that stumble that hinders us, that jolt between the absurd and the recognizable, that contradiction and conformity, is distinctly made tangible in the work of art. As Donald Barthelme saw it, “Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention.” “The not-knowing is crucial to art”, says the author, it’s “what permits art to be made”.
This exhibition by Gonçalo Barreiros seems to be based in the power and dimension of this experience of complexity and failure in articulating language, in the meeting between us and the other, or between us and ourselves — a dialogue or a non-dialogue with someone, a monologue directed to others or a soliloquy directed to ourselves. This is the search to dismantle what we know is the aporia of the real, or perhaps, better yet, the understanding of the meaning of the real and the world that surrounds us, always dealing with certain feelings of perplexity between laughter and anguish, when faced with the unexpected.
This exhibition suggests another way of reading, as if we were supposed to solve an enigma or a complex riddle. The sculptures, of various sizes and formats, fill the walls and are arranged in different groups. Almost immediately the image of boxes of text on a screen or on a page of a comic book come to mind, from which words and expressions have been subtracted. Over us, between us, an acute sound, melodic, with a wavy, steady beat, as if it was a “whistle from above”.
We then realise that the room is a stage and we are part of the mise-en-scène. The sculptures, carefully painted and polished, closer and further away from us, higher or lower on the walls of the gallery, establish subtle plays with shine and opacity due to irregularities characteristic of the way they are shaped. Our own reflexion on them appears and disappears, serpent-like, as we peer in and out. And if we recognize text boxes in these sculptures, perhaps the image of messages that were exchanged, clues that were given, notes that were sent, shared secrets, written, erased, rewritten words, that are left pending, forgotten — it seems clear that we can also recognize the apparent materialization and concreteness of such a strange form of speech that we know to be abstract and imprecise but that usually seems so clear, obvious, and indisputable. We end up questioning ourselves about what was said and what was left unsaid. After all, what did we want to say? In the end, what are we talking about? To whom are we speaking? Where are our words, our voices, directed at? What are these grey clouds that show a certain intention and motivation in addressing someone? What is this silence, that has a space and is gaining substance in the dialogue?
Apparently it seems, when the question is raised, confusion sets in, and we no longer know how to answer. And it is still curious that the periodic steady-beat whistle, that echoes above us and that keeps us company during the exhibition, seems to precisely suggest that feeling of confusion, like a cartoon character that for some reason stumbles, falls, gets dizzy, stunned, and many little birds fly in a circle, in-between very tiny clouds, over their head.
This other way of reading this exhibition starts with a good-humoured promise — an invitation and incentive to a challenge through a “wink”, in the words of Umberto Eco. According to Eco, between the reader and the text, or between the viewer and the work, a “relationship of challenge” can be established through an experimental game that incites the discovery of a “dialogical element”, a strategy Eco called intertextual irony. But this strategy, the author says, isn’t really a form of irony, as such, because “irony becomes simply a lie when the addressee is not aware of the game” — rather, it’s something that is closer to a mechanism that triggers a déjà vu sensation by alluding to a certain corresponding image, or images. And, in effect, through the display of the sculptures in the room and the repetition of the sound, this show evokes first of all a immediately recognisable familiar image but soon we realise that because we were set on stage by the artist, that familiar image can take us a lot further in the feeling of surprise that it triggers, after a while. We are therefore aware of that confusing familiar feeling of not finding the words — maybe it is a substance of ethereal nature that gains significance through sculpture —, and that disconcerting silence broken by melodic whistles, that surrounds us and startles us.
Well, after the stumble, we need to gain our balance back. And, like Eco shows us, it is precisely in that dynamic game between assumptions and expectations that we inattentive naturally reckless viewers, overcome the frustration of that feeling of confusion and, finally we end up laughing at ourselves, admiring how they played a prank on us.
Filipa Correia de Sousa
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