In my opinion
by Maria do Carmo Pontes
Almost everywhere – and often for purely technical problems – the operation of taking sides, of taking position for or against, has replaced the obligation to think. This leprosy of the mind began in political circles then spread throughout the country to almost all thinking.”Simone Weil (1909-1943), On the Abolition of All Political Parties
The above reflection, made by Weil in London in 1943 – at the end of her short life and in the middle of the Second World War –, has unfortunately not lost its pertinence or topicality through time. On the contrary, perhaps more than ever, the act of thinking in the modern world is subjugated to that of propagating without reflecting, as the incredible access to information enabled by new media necessarily carries within the access to disinformation. IN MY OPINION, an exhibition by Raul Mourão on show at the Plutschow Gallery (Zurich, Switzerland) during the summer of 2017, proposes a discussion about the profusion of certainties that assails the planet.
The anti-authoritarian posture announced with humour and irony in the exhibition’s title is also evident in the choice of works – which include media such as painting, sculpture, film and drawing –,a variety of techniques that points to a rather horizontal understanding of the world. Right at the entrance of the gallery, the visitor encounters a canvas from the series Fenestra (“Window”, in Latin), which the artist began to develop during a period he lived in New York, in the mid-2010s. These windows initially entered his vocabulary through drawings; after producing dozens of them, Mourão went on to paint them using acrylic on canvas, thus experimenting with painting as a medium for the first time. Invariably black and white, they are inspired by real windows both in scale and in the number of squares they contain. Such squares form grids – perhaps the most recognisable of Mourão’s marks, present since his early works in which he photographed street railings, a common sight in Rio since the 1980s – and sometimes grids within grids, creating endless optical illusions. Mirroring this Fenestra, on the diametrically opposite wall, the visitor finds the work Caveira (Skull) (2017), from his well-known series of kinetic swings.
The exhibition’s main space presents a previously unseen series of sculptures that the artist has been working on since 2017. They encompass the geometric steel structures, also present in the sculptures of railings and kinetic swings, but here balanced on bottles or glasses. The introduction of these glass elements confers a pop aspect on the works, while maintaining the distinct humour of the swings: as of them, the bottles can and should be manipulated by the visitors, in a constant disrupture of their symmetries. However, unlike many swings that bear monumental proportions, the series of bottles introduces not only a domestic scale but a domestic material; in their fragility, these are necessarily sculptures of interior spaces. The beauty of these works is intimately related to their ludic nature: they represent harmonious combinations of balance, form, colour and weight; that is, an anti-conceptual work by nature. In addition to other pieces from the Fenestra series, the walls of this room are further populated by two works in laser-cut paper (Podium and Grid, both from 2017). The choice of raw material, combined with the precise cutting technique, place these papers in a certain limbo, at a mid-point between the artisanal and the industrial. With small folds that add volume to the thin flat surfaces of the sheets, the angles and lines of these pieces formally invoke Mourão’s swings. In the same main exhibition space, the visitor encounters the work that gives the exhibition its title – IN MY OPINION (2017). It consists of eleven A2 sheets of paper (59.4 x 42 cm), each of which bears one of the letters that compose the title-phrase. These prints, in white letters against a vivid red background, are displayed in two lines.
The final exhibition room contains the video Bang Bang # 1 (2017). In it, we see six sculptures of bottles and swings being destroyed, one by one, by bullets; the assassin’s hand, however, is never on the frame,. Despite the visitor’s having to cross the entire exhibition space to reach this work, its sound is audible right from the entrance door; the soundtrack, composed by musician Ricardo Imperatore, highlights the shattering sound of the bullets, increasing the drama of the narrative. Curiously, the violence against the artistic object epitomised in Bang Bang # 1 has returned to the agenda in recent months – a lamentable fact, if not particularly unforeseen in the authoritarian ecology of opinions in which we live. Above all, this work invites us to think.