The game of duplication begins on entering the exhibition space.
ShutterMyDarkBrownEyes (2018), a macquette encased in a Perspex box and based on photographs of SE8 Gallery taken by the artist, is fixed to one of the walls. The frontal view presents a series of slim openings in the form of a door standing ajar, and a series of partially open shutters through which the interior of the space can be glimpsed, while lateral views into the box reveal a reconstructed space in which the spectator is faced with an impossible view: to be inside the space looking out, whilst simultaneously looking in.
The work of Portuguese artist Nuno Sousa Vieira draws an analogy between architecture and the human body. Its elements – walls, doors, window frames, chairs, heaters, lights and so on – outline the most prosaic functions of the urban environment layered with physical use. Built space offers the most basic evidence of human existence. It is the theatre or backdrop against which our stories unfold. The body is the end-user, seeking shelter, opening doors and windows, turning switches, loitering and sitting down. These ordinary actions are mostly perfunctory, having been undertaken countless times, but they are important in specifying space as they are identified with the memory of our habitat.
‘A window without shutters is like an eye without eyelids’, writes seminal designer Eileen Gray. A window illuminates an interior and, reciprocally, frames an external reality, while a shutter is the means of controlling the relationship between inner and outer flow. It concerns the control of light by the hinged articulation of panels. It introduces shade and shadow, a key feature of Sousa Vieira’s black and white inkjet photographs Left in Side (2018) that document the play of light – controlled by a system of wooden shutters – on one of the gallery walls.
This sense of experimentation and play typifies the artist’s approach.Though his practice does not explicitly invite the audience to interact with its elements, the very presence of these architectural details suggests a potential for action, and thus agency. It is no matter that such an action is not performed, save through the particular demonstrations undertaken by the artist from time to time as performances and events. What is at stake here, is the audience’s ability to project, that is, to make choices and prognostications of what is to come, rather than blindly piecing together an obscured past. According to art historian Caroline A. Jones projection provides ‘the model unifying perceiving, imagining, inspecting and comprehending.’ If a work’s origins are difficult to verify and remain the provide of the artist, the viewers’ projection puts them in charge of its destination, its becoming.
Architecture has a unique kinship with the body, since the body dwells in it. The built environment is an expression of human habitation, tailored to fit around the needs of the body. But when a building is divested of its everyday function its purpose becomes less distinct and perception must define its new role as experience. Sousa Vieira states:
I was not interested in the representation of architecture, but in architecture as a physical experience. I was interested in the physicality, the presence, the approach, and the distance that the viewer has in relation to objects and works in the space, and how they articulate with each other within the exhibition space.
The rise of installation art in the late 20thand early 21stCenturies has resulted in artists working directly on the fabric and the specific concerns of the exhibition space. Accordingly, Sousa Vieira mines the site of production for significance, but the artist’s studio remains crucial in the origination of the material. In this way, the studio is present as a place of origin and as a separate temporal entity, which critic João Silvério calls a ‘diachronic and duplicitous proposition’. In fact, the studio occupies a central position in the entire oeuvre of Sousa Vieira. The vast defunct plastics factory, which was once his father’s workplace has served as his material repository for over a decade. It is an inexhaustible store of architectural elements, furniture, and objects. Sometimes the works incorporate actual details of the factory, and at other times the artist recreates parts from new materials. The act of creating a new work elsewhere may then be directly linked to the factory’s gradual dereliction, as elements are removed from its fabric. The commonplace features of this place usually have no visibility and are largely defined by function. The artist activates the thing’s potential as an object by replacing its use value with what philosopher Walter Benjamin termed ‘exhibition value’.
The series All Colours will agree in the Dark (2017), a title borrowed from 16thCentury philosopher Francis Bacon – seven monochrome paintings on paper, torn simultaneously and collated together in new colour configurations, each hue corresponding to a particular room in his factory – underlines the artist’s commitment to an ongoing process. Process is not seamless since it requires a degree of flow, of continuity to smooth over the temporal and spatial ruptures. The artist accepts the minor inconsistencies inherent in repetitive gestures; the edges of the paintings torn as a stack in a single gesture never fit perfectly back together again when aligned with a new segment. Indeed, the act of taking an object apart means that its reconstitution can never quite produce the same object. It is arguable that the artist seeks out precisely these material, temporal and philosophically incongruities.
The sculpture Double/Double (2018), which gives the title to the exhibition at SE8 Gallery, is composed of four separate elements, displayed in pairs: one combination -made of hardwood – is shown in the gallery space, while the other – in MDF – is placed in the yard outside. At the end of the exhibition the formally identical pairs are brought back together to verify the effects of exposure to the different environmental conditions.
The artist’s works are closely linked to the action of mapping space. The use of lines and flat planes in his constructions and drawings are redolent of Paul Cézanne’s methods, whose celebrated pre-Cubist paintings break up the surfaces of the visible by seemingly offering simultaneous points of view of constantly repeated scenes. Theorist Jonathan Crary writes:
The world for Cézanne is conceivable only as an indeterminate series of decenterings.[…] that he is not accumulating different or multiple points of view of the same unified field. Rather it is an apprehension of a multiplicity in which points and relations are transformed qualitatively with each shift of his head, dissolving and reorganizing the world like the turn of a kaleidoscope.
In other words, the perception of the world is conditioned by a series of relationships. It is not a question of a plurality of ‘perspectives but of experiencing how each perspective is a particular lived relation of forces, of intensities’. In this way, the work exceeds the optical, showing a world that resolves itself ‘into numberless vibrations, all linked together in uninterrupted continuity, all bound up with each other, and traveling in every direction like shivers through an immense body.’
But such an immensity of dimensions can be overwhelming. After all, our current epoch is determined by the very speed and simultaneity described by Paul Virilio and others. However, capitalism seeks to eradicate the unruly undulations of complexity, ushering in a flattened representation that facilitates communication and consumption. Flatness is a way of taking control of space – when the world is levelled into an image it loses its immensity, and enters the realm of abstraction. Flat, planar surfaces are ubiquitous today as markers of a simplified and ordered world in architecture, planning, and especially in virtual reality. Theorist B.W.Higman argues that‘flatness is fundamental to the Anthropocene, the recently recognized era in which human beings have taken a leading role in the shaping of the earth.’
The artist’s employment of different folding techniques in his use of paper, wood, plastic and metal renders space more malleable, but it also underscores the binary nature of a space or material exemplified by the dialectics of front/back, inner/outer, and above/below. A drawing or painting usually has a single usable side on which marks are made. By turning over and folding the surface, the front and verso become conflated as a single image. Moreover, the methodology proposes that a plane diverges from a single-dimensional line into two dimensions, which is immediately doubled by considering its back. Folding then results in further spatial duplication. The technique, developed and refined through the collages of Constructivists and Suprematists continues to be used by subsequent generations of artists as they tackle the delaminations of contemporary images.
Sousa Vieira continues the ‘conceptual orientation for art as a mode of discovery and expression intended to both generate and direct a sense of being-in-the-world as matter-of-fact’ by seeking to ‘sustain a contemporary perspective from the momentum of a continuative moment; the generation of this present world in its transposition from concept to context. The Double/Double.
Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley
The title of the essay refers to: Jonathan Crary, Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle and Modern Culture,October Books, MIT Press, Camb.Mass, 1999, p.354.
David Bellman, Non-Objective Art and Its Prospects: 1900-Now, in Fron Concept to Context: Robert Barry, Stanley Brouwn, Daniel Buren, Lawrence Weiner, Art Gallery of York University, Toronto, Ontario, 1989, p.11.
Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley are London-based curators and writers. Currently they co-direct SE8, a project gallery with a programme of exhibitions that develop exhibition projects, publications and vinyl records with established and emerging artists. They were founding directors of Unit 7 Gallery (1986-89), the Museum of Installation (1990-2003), and Notice Gallery (2005-8), curating over 200 individual and collective international installation projects. Their major exhibition ‘A Book of Burning Matches: Collecting Installation Art Documents’ was shown at Me-Collection, Olbricht Foundation Berlin in 2015. Their books include Installation art, and Installation art in the New Millennium: Empire of the Senses, (both Thames & Hudson, 1994 and 2003), two major international surveys of the practice. They co-wrote a series of artist’s books and monographs on Hans Op de Beeck (Belgium),Stefan Brüggemann (Mexico) and Patrick Jolley(Ireland). Their first novella, entitled ‘Sand’ was published in 2011 by Ludion as part of the book Hans Op de Beeck: Sea of Tranquillity. They authored the monograph Vocabulary (2018) and the publication Text Pieces 1997-2014, (2014), both on artist Stefan Brüggemann. Other major catalogue texts include Freedom Village:MOON Kyungwon & JEON Joonho, Frieze London Projects, Workroom Press, (2017), and Keith Tyson: Large Field Array, Zabludowicz Collection, London (2016). Their short fiction book on Antonin Artaud, The Door Ajar, and the monograph Patrick Jolley: All that Fallswere published by Gandon Editions in 2012 and 2013. They have contributed texts to several anthologies including The Anti-Museum (Mathieu Copeland ed., 2017), Fast Forward, Goetz Collection (2010), and Appleton Square (2018), as well as writing numerous essays for exhibition catalogues including Ole Jorgen Ness and Lewis Baltz, among others. Their imprint ‘Mulberry Tree Press’, begun in 2010, specializes in publications and vinyl editions on contemporary artists.
Featured Image: Nuno Sousa Vieira, ShutterMyDarkBrownEyes (2018). Courtesy of the artist and SE8 Gallery.
The first solo exhibition of Nuno Sousa Viera in the UK, entitled Double/Double, will be on display at SE8 Gallery, London, from the 26th of May to the 23rd of June 2018. In conjunction with the opening (25 May, 6:30-8:30pm), there will be the launch of a new publication on the artist’s work by Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley.