Portuguese Pavilionat the 53rd International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia
7 Jun >22 Nov 2009
Project Title • Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air
Artists • João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva
Curator • Natxo Checa
Commissioner • Directorate-General for Arts of the Portuguese Ministry of Culture
General Director for Arts, Jorge Barreto Xavier
Coordination and Production • Antonia Gaeta
Portuguese Pavilion • Fondaco dell’Arte • Calle del Traghetto Ca’ Garzoni • San Marco • 3415 Venice • Italy [Vaporetto 1 Sant Angelo; Vaporetto 82 San Samuele; Traghetto from San Tomà to the pier next to Pavilion]
Open to the Public • 7 June - 22 November; 10am - 6pm [closed on mondays]
For the 53rd International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Portugal will be represented by the artists João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva with an installation of their works at Fondaco dell’Arte curated by Natxo Checa. The pavilion is commissioned and produced by the Directorate-General for Arts of the Portuguese Ministry of Culture.
João Maria Gusmão (Lisbon, 1979) and Pedro Paiva (Lisbon, 1977) are artists of a new generation with a recent and unusually solid career. In the last decade the duo’s participation in international contexts such as the 27th Bienal de São Paulo, the 6th Mercosul Biennial, Manifesta 7, PHotoEspaña 08 along with exhibitions at CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco and Kunstverein Hanover, among others, has contributed to the consolidation of their work.
Natxo Checa (Barcelona, 1968) is Director of Zé dos Bois (ZDB) Center for creation, production and diffusion of contemporary art in Lisbon. In partnership with ZDB, the artists and curator have collaborated on several projects: DeParamnésia (2001- 2002), Magnetic Effluvium (2004-2006) and Abissology (2008).
Experiments And Observations On Different Kinds Of Air. 
by Natxo Checa
Experiments and Observations in Different Types of Air invokes three dimensions, within a regime of intention and coherence, to the filmic work of Pedro Paiva and João Maria Gusmão (JMG+PP). They are the following: the study of singular phenomena in an effort to understand the world, the affection of a scientific methodology, and the understanding of poetry as a possible means of capturing an only partially discernable world. Surprisingly, these same dimensions reflect the dilemma posed by the differing theses on the nature of oxygen posed by Lavoisier and Joseph Priestley. It is not by coincidence that the exhibition appropriates the name of Priestley’s best known scientific paper. As from the pre-Socratics (Empedocles, Anaximander and later Aristotle), the very idea of «air» was as metaphysical as it was material given it associated the concept of breath to respiration and the notion that «air», as entelechy, animated the fire of life. Nevertheless, in the research of Priestley, we do not encounter recognition of the combustive properties of oxygen, only identified later by Lavoisier. On the contrary, there is the belief that it is the combustible materials themselves that contain an inflammable fluid, inodorous and without mass – that which may be understood as the phlogistic property, released during burning and subsequently absorbed into the surrounding environment. This element is oxygen and does not belong to matter given its gaseous form. However, this is the thesis Lavoisier set out in opposition to alchemic traditions, whose memories JMG+PP rediscover with the objective of following in the footsteps of transmutation – while not meaning exactly the same as transitory nevertheless does border the concept and is indeed in close proximity.
In adopting nature and its respective manifestations as their material, the artists aggregate and propose entangled blocks of ideas and knowledge that together establish a complex scientificticious mirage. We are faced with a series of fictional scripts, literary in profile, rooted in the observation of particular phenomena and the design of a particular philosophical architecture. The formulation of these systems within the artistic processes of JMG+PP contains something of the scientifically obsolete, fairly similar to the phlogistic theory of Priestley. We discover that these processes compete to formulate an elaborate inquisitive study of the transitory. Within, the ongoing search is for clues revealing movement, anything that may be productive towards research. Thus a trail is traced in which the inaugural and temporal sequence of ideas shares a theoretical co-feasibility: hence, they form hypotheses that consider not only the foundations of but also how to develop, prove and demonstrate their postulates. The JMG+PP propositions, whether based on a certain type of empirical research or on delirious speculation, emerge out of a rationalist methodology aiming to explain the exceptions to phenomena. Given the overlapping of layers (fruit of the inter-penetration of the literal and metaphoric), throughout their work they set out accounts that cannot be assumed by any established code and frequently recalling a compilation of apparently unexplainable documented facts. Effectively, what we may find in the work of these two artists are episodes that lack any bond: they show us processes that deal with anomalous events, unexpected successes, examples of emerging phenomena whether at the microscopic or at the macroscopic level and above all in terms of phlogistic effects: hence, events whose causality is invisible but which nevertheless manage to explode, driving combustion – creating meanings that are subsequently revealed as analogical, through progressions in signifiers: the eye, the egg, the moon, the sun, etc.
Within the contingency of the artistic means, the artists stage a strategy that brings us closer to minimum evidence of their thinking. How to present an operation bearing the intention of introducing the unnameable without recourse to text? How to render viewable the invention of concepts and terminologies such as DeParamnésia, Eflúvio Magnético or Abissologia, given how these notions relate to a pataphysical ontology in which any understanding of being is constantly subject to the effects of eclipse?
The work of JMG+PP always unexpectedly throws up such complexity: in how it proposes resolution of the mirage created, a mirage which is essentially focused upon the hidden and the movement of phenomena. As the artists say: «Things always reveal themselves according to certain indiscernible aspects.» Thus, the object of their research is always in default and correspondingly hindering interpretation.
The work of this duo is inherently made up of experimental cinema, despite still sporadically incorporating recourses to sculpture, photography and other installation art devices. Irrespective, it is broadly through filmic means, and particularly through film in slow-motion that a relationship reminiscent of the look is established between the ephemeral and the transitory. The visual construction of the presentations is achieved through the deployment in circuit of various 16 mm projectors. The latent sound of these cinematic devices provides a counterbalance to the silence of the images. The attribution of an obscure beyond-time space is opened to recognition through the deficit of light within an introspective ambience. The projections, apparently alternating, show film either in isolation or in conjunction. Simple and interspersed narratives are presented as documents, unique experiments or unexplainable phenomena. In touring the exhibition, the attentive visitor is led into establishing connections and formulating ideas reencountering meanings within the field of possibilities.
This approach, rooted in an ambience of exception, utilises the instantaneous as a tool for organising movement in an analogical judgement. Within the work of JMG+PP, this beginning where each film provokes echoes in the others makes recourse to evidence of manipulation and of the construction of magic out of kindness. This always implies the production of an event, whether extended over the course of time or in the immediate.
It correspondingly becomes clear that the actual intention of JMG+PP is to produce something bordering on revolutionary science. Not in any sense that the artists have a definitive word to state on the truth but because they try essentially to respond to the unstable and exactly that which escapes from the definitive.
In unveiling the constant contradictions between being and non-being, the own and non-own, the imaginary of JMG+PP leads to the establishment of a corporeal relationship with the imagination, interconnecting the two dimensions in a cycle of material mutations. In their films, the human unconscious is channelled towards accepting that the absolute is extemporaneous and that this is diluted in the multiplicity of the world. That is, that the I assumes a greatly reduced scale in the importance of things: not because it is crushed by the absolute but because the margins as far as which one can organise the logos fall far beyond any such certainty.
Through their films and experiments, João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva also invoke this hypothesis of other metaphysical abysms with a rather particular sense of humour. Recognising the failure of approximations of the real, they unpeel scientific absurdities to trace new laws in poetry. An adventure in ‘pataphysics that presents what may be considered the greatest of all failures: the failure of the ego and its imprisonment, the impossibility of direct access to truth and a mocking and hallucinatory search, whose end is perceivably unreachable.
A title drawing on the work of the British chemist, physicist and theologian
Joseph Priestley (1733-1804). He carried out experiments with electricity and air and
for the first time isolated oxygen in a gaseous state. We would note that our objective
is to achieve an approximation of the hypothesis set out by Priestley on this
intangible and weightless fluid – the phlogistic entelechy –, and the methodology of artists.
«Entropic and meteorist vision», by João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, in Abyssology, Horizon of Events.
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