Conversation of João Mourão & Luis Silva with Susanne Themlitz
JM & LS _Your work has been gradually moving in the direction of what seems to be a certain formal impulse. While previously we felt directly confronted by the possibility of parallel worlds, where never-ending landscapes, inhabited by strange creatures in constant movement, seemed to invite us to inhabit them as well, now it seems that narrative has given way to form. Do you feel more attracted to the expressive possibilities of painting and drawing than their potential to create fictions?
ST _Well I am still doing landscapes, where the principal figures have disappeared. I never thought of my works as narratives, I saw them more as states or moments. Now the inhabitation takes place in the moment of perception, as if the gaze had become a main character of the piece. This could seem like a reduction to form, it could be taken as an absence, and in fact this focus fascinates me and allows me to make a deeper reflection. It is a more like intense voyage. Any being whatsoever would disturb the concentrated quality of the site. Or perhaps a being would be replaced by other beings, mere existences of one or another feature, reference or form. I don’t know if this is less fictitious and more real. I think microscopically and feel attracted to use drawing to dissect the thought of sculpture or installation.
This notion of the landscape as a state or a moment is rather interesting, especially if we view it as a mental state or moment. From this perspective, there is a direct relationship between interiority (subjectivity) and exteriority (what surrounds us). If we were to be a bit more radical about this, it could be said that your work ends up moving from one side to the other of the same thing, so that there is really no distinction between what is yours and what belongs to the world. Does that make sense?
Of course, nothing is mine. I simply gather, attempt, name, connect, separate, find and even state. What I gather rests on a very subtle levitation. Around it there is only space, emptiness, the abyss, without gravity. All I do is try to perceive and name what I have harvested. Sometimes what could be called landscape appears. It is fine if they call this, as they say, the world and not just a parallel world, merged again into a system. I like the idea where we say that my work is setting out on a walk. In fact, I see it as something autonomous. I like the idea/image of my work as an independent being that is walking on its own, walking along a path somewhere in the landscape, with everything around it and where it stumbles. It is me along this path by mere chance.
You speak of the idea of empty space, which is quite present in your new paintings and drawings. So does this also removing characters until there is nothing left but to become a landscape, also take place with your new sculptures?
Indeed. I understand a support (in the case of sculpture it will be space or a site, for which I think of a sculpture or installation, or paper for a drawing, for example) for one form rather similar to any other support. I define how it is all held together, and how it is shaped. This is the case for these sculptures as well: they already have their own support-features, as well as their moulding into the space of the gallery and in relation to the other pieces. As layers, as a network, system or landscape. I do not understand the void so much as void, but rather as the necessary space that is as valid and existent as any other space expressed by other existences. They might be equally introverted. This is why I spoke of a void or abyss without gravity, without the ground below, where everything exists in a moment of suspension. It is clear that in the exhibition, the montage of sculptures and drawing will be consistent with this way of viewing, with this norm, just as the works are in relation to each other.
You speak of the design of the show as a reproduction of what the work itself seeks to attain. From this point of view do you see the exhibition as a large installation where the constituent features (the characters, we might say) are your very works? Do you think that we can speak of scenography, where your pieces are staged in the exhibition space? Would they then be the characters which at one point in time began to disappear?
There was no reason for them to be there, they weren’t necessary. I don’t think of staging or of scenography, perhaps I think of silence and resonance, of the connections, of the ambivalent network. I seek to express a hybrid kind of logic.
What do you mean that it involves the search for a hybrid kind of logic? Something is always more than what we can see, and what draws our attention in your comments is what appears to be a certain distancing, however momentary and non-linear, like in everything that you do, relative to an idea of installation that seems very close to your way of working artistically. Is this the right way to see things?
Yes, in fact this fascinates me: my working/thinking/seeing can be largely seen as an installation, even when I work with two dimensional supports. I do not feel this is like scenography. I work with each feature, every detail, with everything, in the alteration of perspectives. That’s why I referred to hybrid logic. At that moment there is perhaps this momentary distancing, of a non-linear character, as you say, as an expansion of a tentacular microcosm, which has to do with the title of one of my installations from 2004 (Oh la la,… oh la balançoire / Microcosmos tentacular [Oh la la …oh the Swing / Tentacular Microcosm). I also love the moment I see a space for an installation, to see how the project begins to grow, taking on form, how it is transformed up to the moment of its very installation.
The narrative of the installation is fundamental for your work, just as thinking in terms of the space that it will end up occupying. It is also related to the idea of the installation as an organising principle, of the way you create your work, especially three-dimensional pieces, based on everyday elements, those that would not be automatically associated with a sculptural or installation practice. The sculptures you are here presenting are an example of this. What is it that interests you about these everyday objects? An example of this, and one that is quite clear, is the tripod, which appears repeatedly in your work.
With this tripod what happens is this: first I thought back on the condition and history of sculpture and monument, in general terms. Then of the possibilities of physically raising an object. Afterwards I defined the support, which always, unconditionally, must make up part of the sculpture. I ended up choosing this tripod for its shape, materiality and lightness. I was not at all altered by the fact that there is this suggestion of insect legs, of a part spider. I also like the idea that the tripod can be adjusted to various heights and that this feature is inherent to it. It means the possibility of a shifting perspective, a questioning of sizes, and of our own size and dimension, a subject I like to explore. The brass features on the tripod also link in to the memory of sculptures (for example certain modernist pieces), while the thin lines of the tripod legs remind me of line drawings in pencil or ink. And then there had to be a connection with ceramics, like that matt grey stoneware-like glaze, or oyster shell. I’m thinking of a hermaphrodite oyster that at times was an oyster, at times its shell, structured in three layers, an excuse for a life, outside its environment, like an absence—but in truth I am not entirely comfortable speaking about these ideas. If the sculpture can work without them, all the better, especially since later on, one or another reading of the piece can be added to this puzzle I’ve put together out of these decision points.