On a Mollusc as an Exhibition space
Did you know that Albert Einstein used to describe the space as ‘a gigantic mollusc’? The exhibition 10 000 years later between Venus and Mars may be seen as that mollusc space; it is alive, trembling, vibrating, thinking of itself, and thinking outside itself. A video of intimately interacting snails, blown up on a large screen, titled Wild beings of various sexes by Francisco Queimadela and Mariana Caló (video HD, 2017), could stand for a metonym of Einstein’s thought, although it was not in the artists’ intention.
The show borrows its title from the 1978 album by José Cid. Google translates the song’s lyrics in the following way: You can see / 10,000 years later / On the radar screen / Between Venus and Mars / An empty planet / Waiting for you to find out / Where to start over / Another civilization.
Thinking about 10 000 years later on the radar screen, and about time more generally, one might think about the concept of the ‘extended present’, that I’d like to borrow from Reality is not what it seems. The journey to quantum gravity, a book by Carlo Rovelli (Penguin Books, 2017), which accompanied my trip to Porto. According to Rovelli, the so called ‘extended present’ is an intermediate zone which is neither past nor future. Albert Einstein made the discovery of ‘extended present’ while researching for the relativity theory. The duration of the zone is very small and depends where the space-time event is taking place in relation to you. The greater the distance it is from you, the longer the duration of the extended present will be. For example, on the Moon it would take only a few seconds while on Mars it would take up to 15 minutes. In the Andromeda galaxy the expanded present would be 2 million years, in relation to us. The events that take places during this time are neither in the past nor the future: they are elsewhere. This would imply that the ‘just now’ does not exist. The present is like the flatness of the earth, just an illusion. If our brain was more precise, if we would be able to perceive time in nanoseconds, writes Rovelli, we would never have made the idea of present extending everywhere.
By visiting the exhibition, one could easily be overwhelmed by the understanding that we live in a multidimensional polygonal texture of reality which is constantly multiplied and (re)produced. The artworks keep referring to the constant struggle of rediscovering space and rediscovering time, of the need “to start over another civilisation”.
The film Isle (video HD, 2013) by Diogo Evangelista is hypnotising with the mating dance of, a whispering female voice, and zoomed in particles of dust that look like the snowy background of instagrammed atomic fields. The sculptural work by Andreia Santana entitled Barter (2017), appears as a series of metal discs frozen in an orbital dance. Another work by the same artist titled New skin, old stone (2017) may be described as metal curtains that hinge like a nebula. Sublime sculptural objects titled I forgot to go to School Yesterday (Extended) by Joana Escoval (brass, copper, 2016) – made of wavy arches, circles, fragile structures – seem to be as sensitive as cat whiskers that interact with various electromagnetic fields making you think of invisible intuitive streams, inconspicuous poetic flows.
Many works appear counterintuitive, to use the same adjective prescribed to quantum physics, and this quality is used for poetic or speculative purposes. For example, if the world is infinite, as some theories suggest, somewhere there should be a galaxy where Loch Ness’s monster is playing tennis, as presented in the large scale drawing Messy Nessie All Over the Place (When You Play Alone, You always Lose) – # 1 US Open by Luis Lazáro Matos (drawing on paper and wall, 2017).
As the title suggests, The pudic relation between machine and a plant by Pedro Neves Marques (video, 2016) shows the choreographed interaction between a machine and a plant blurring the line between what may be seen as programmed by man and natural selection. The reclining sculptural group by Musa paradisíaca, which looks like a holm wood with animal tail with popping heads meets you in the main hall. Humans literally interact with the geological layers of our planet on some mystical, ritualistic, pagan or pseudo-scientific levels. In Von Calhau! film Avesso which could be loosely translated as Reverse (2011), the artist duo are theatrically walking one another in a Martian looking rocky, volcanic environment. The Paleolithic Spring by João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva (color photography, 2006) brings you to a cave full of scientists (archaeologists?) who pose for some sensational photography with a found ‘ancient’ spiral. The question “what exactly was discovered there?” may be easily transformed into “what this photo reveals about our notion of discovery?”. And, thinking further, what is it that makes our understanding of reality more complicated than it already is? Is it our scepticism to positivist sciences? Is it the overflow of commentary, the total loss of coordinates?
In this new world which is becoming increasingly counterintuitive and post-human, which is being taken over by the so called big data, populist policies, crypto-currencies, and other shady global algorithms, this rather problematic undertaking of defining ourselves is a very valid one. “Only when we need to find ourselves we become obsessed with cardinal points”, points out the narrator of The Opening Monologue, a video by Pedro Barateiro (2017), which was screened early in the morning at the cinema/club Passos Manuel as part of the performative event that celebrated the opening of the exhibition. The video could be understood as a comment on the contemporary artists’ preoccupation with both the new and the unknown, but it could also explain the abundance of commentary and return to classical forms of art that include modernist sculpture, drawing, and poetic writing.
To finish this review, to revoke the (im)possibility of the common ‘here’ and ‘now’ in this gigantic mollusc space we all find ourselves in, I’d like to quote The Opening Monologue again:
The time you spend writing.
The time I spend drawing.
Writing what is necessary.
Drawing as an endurance test.
Saving on words, sentences.Titles.
The task of the translator. The sea.
Only when we need to find ourselves
we become obsessed with cardinal points.
 Podes ver / 10.000 anos depois / No ecrã do radar / Entre Vénus e Marte / Um planeta vazio / À espera que o descubram / Onde recomeçar / Outra civilização