Thursday, February 09, 2006

Angela de la Cruz at the Culturgest: of guts and canvas

I Suppose Angela de la Cruz's art is usually described as the questioning of painting and stretching the limits of canvas. This seems to me not only obvious, but also not-that-fascinating. On the other hand, if we go beyond this label, we might just find a sculptoric experience truly worthy of participation.
Participation, here, implies that the cold world of de la Cruz's objects has a life of its own; it is a process we can investigate and play with, using the wrecks just as the artist does - to transform our perception of... identity? purity? creation?
The idea of recycling being as old as modern art, it is still a challenge. After Duchamp's and Schwitters' collages, after Fontana's holes and Rauschenberg's manipulations, playing with the very material of a painting - i.e., treating it as a sculpture, might seem absurd.
Apparently, though, there is still a lot to be said. Maybe not "rethinking painting", but using it as any other sculpting material, considering the canvas, the frame, the paint, to be primary matter. The magic word here is convention. If we have a convention, we can express things. We can find ourselves in it and, if we feel the need (?), break it, or at least work our way beyond it. And painting, in its technical perspective, is a beautiful convention. It seems to be there just waiting to be distorted, abused or shred to pieces. So what happens when we consider the canvas a partner of a conversation, a performative matter, one that can act out just as a performer would? We get a world full of characters, semi-characters, objects as real as people.

Angela de la Cruz's most recent exhibition at the Culturgest in Lisbon is a voyage through despair. We begin with evidence of violence. Just as there are no perfect people, no painting here actually has a format. The very presence of dimensions next to the work seems ridiculous - they are living proof of the abandonment of dimensions, of the decay of form. Clearly, decay is far from absence. Decay is the period when something happens, the appearance of a form that comes from itself, not from the essential objects. Or maybe, decay, here, is the discovery of an essence previously unrecognized? The paintings hurt, they grow, they break and they hide. There are two, three works per room, and they sometimes resemble cartoon characters, trying to squeeze into a corner or hide on the ground.
But they can't. They are too easily identifiable, colorful, awefuly, frighteningly three-dimensional. In all their havoc, they cannot escape being themselves. Are they the remnants of something gone? That is the first impression, as their designs still recall some original shape. Look carefully, though. The origin is a myth. The danger, says Wittgenstein, is to try to go before the beginning. The beginning is here, in this state of somethingness, in these monstrous, lonely bodies.

As we move on, we discover a difference: someone has been trying to put things back to order. There are stitches, there is glue, there are screws putting it all back together. But try Heraclitus - you can never step in the same river twice. Try all the contemporary Homers - you never go back home. They look miserable, suffering, and strangely familiar, those paintings and objects (delightful chair on a stool, somewhat too surrealist-like yet attractive double piano) that try to remember what they were, or what they should have been.
We move yet further, to a new level. Here, reality is what it is. Things are affirmed. Old sculptures are recycled in new ones, without trying to find their soul. They live new lives, with all their imperfections, they are clustered and folded, they support others, they are the stuff that things are made of. This clean box has some old canvas sticking out behind it. That white sheet of canvas on the ground hides some old guts, some old stories. And it won't get any better than that. Not here, not in any other real world. So we might just as well find it damn attractive.
ps.: If possible, I'll try and take some pictures of the exhibition itself, as the ones above are sacked from the net.

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