Matisse and Friends
text by Maria do Mar Fazenda
During the 80’s, Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) stated his artistic vocabulary in the multiplicity of techniques that he dominated (was endowed with an unusual aptitude for drawing), at the crossroads of the sources he used (taken out of high or low culture, the facilities, kitsch and erudite culture) and the various processes of the conception and presentation that consequently altered the reception and criticism of the artwork. The artistic practice in Kippenberger was complete, in the sense that his life was inseparable from its work and its oeuvre, program and the battlefield are still undeniably present. The most recent presentation of the work of Fernando Mesquita (Santarém, 1976) the gap between participation in EDP Awards 2007 and their next show at the Sopro Gallery – consist in the reunion of pieces produced in recent months, occupying an alternative exhibition space (RentaGallery # 24). The profusion of materials – old furniture, a laptop, measure tapes, walking wood sticks, leaves of gold, blankets, ironed white shirts – is structured in a conceptual framework that translates into contrasting binomials: the ironic and the romantic, the raw and friendly, the drunkard and forcefully. In response to the statement “Everyone is an artist” of Beuys, Kippenberger challenged with the ironic “Every artist is an human being,” whose echoes and sum are the memory of this exhibition, from the practice and the meaning given to art by Fernando Mesquita.
“I returned to work and started with drawings taken from me,” wrote Henry Matisse on his diary on June 4, 1941. The centerpiece of the exhibition cites a drawing of the French artist: reproduction, repetition and unfolding of the bodylines are in-script with ink on the warm texture of several blankets. The continuous presence of a tactile sense and detail, generating a conductor line to confrontation, dialogue and relationship with a silent and intimate speech. The temporal and genealogic arc follows scattered until Giotto – that beginning of painting and color, drawing and architecture, of an art and a human religiosity.
-Fazenda, Maria do Mar. “Matisse and Friends”, L+Arte, Lisbon,(PT) 2008
Fernando Mesquita, A distant music
text by João Pinharanda
Certain works presented by Fernando Mesquita in this exhibition unobtrusively place themselves in front of (or within) works by some of the other participants. Thus, we too find ourselves unobtrusively placed in front of (or within) the works of the other participants.
The benches play exactly the same role as any other common museum bench: they provide visitors with a place to rest and contemplation. This approach (repeated in various contexts within the exhibition) allows the artist to perform two opposite operations: to turn an object devoid of aura into a work of art, while turning a work of art into an object devoid of aura. The object (part of an artistic/non-artistic/artistic again (or vice versa) chain of meaning) on which the spectator sits is used as a “place for contemplation”. Through it, Mesquita puts the spectator in contact with the work of another (or with on of his own works). He disturbs and complexifies each one of the contemplated works, interfering with the space in which they are displayed.
Fernando Mesquita’s benches encompass a vast range of meaning, either acting on or defining the status each context or offers them/us. While behaving as simple museum benches in front of more classically-presented works (André Cepeda’s photos for instance), more complex display situations (the intervention/installation by the artistic collective Pizz Buin, for instance) turn them into household objects. Yet, given that the aforementioned collective installation (Projecto Casa, 2007) is a repository of “fake-art”, the bench ends up as the only piece that is not imitating some other work; it is, indeed, the real work-of-art here, even though it insists on concealing that status under the cloak of serial production and functionality.
On these benches, some pair of mufflers, such as the ones used by construction workers, introduces a jarring note of color (orange) in an otherwise sober piece of furniture. Besides bringing in an element of surprise, they are supposed to be worn by the sitters, thus altering their perception of reality; this unusual complement assures that these works are connected to an “artistic” reality, rather than a merely functional one. Once their “stage-props” are in place, spectators reinforce their status as observers (being now subject to new sensorial-intellectual stimuli), while becoming explicitly performers.
Having instructed us as to our choreographic placement in space (we are made to sit at a certain angle or point in relation to the objects to be observed), and after making us feel the bench under our body/weight and hands, Mesquita leads us to the action of not-hearing, obliterating the information that comes to us through one of the most important senses for perceiving the world. All these actions are intended to exacerbate (by isolating it) a single sense: sight.
The large painting (Sketch for the Cathedral’s reconstruction #4, 2007), which completes the artist contribution to the exhibition, sticks out almost like a second wall, presenting itself like an object, too. Like a bench, a painting both belongs and belongs not to the location on which is placed – it is a movable commodity. This vocation for mobility is combined, here, with a play of volumes that seems to indicate a desire to overcome mere sculptural reality and achieve the superior condition of architecture, along with a chromatic decoration that, evoking the walls of a traditional museum, envelops the painting in a dark, solemn red.
The painting itself could almost be called a drawing on canvas, since its image consists of a series of lines on a blank background. The piece is basically a set of parallel lines that come across as an obsessive and dysfunctional version of the measurement lines on the walls of a building under construction. Artistic freedom allows the artist to create a picture that may be either lead to limitless filling-in, eventually resulting in a monochromatic surface, or in a surface of vibratile lines, between simple Op-Art-influenced illusion and the filled-in/void spirituality of Agnes Martin’s paintings, or, finally, in a kind of yet unfilled lined not book or music sheet.
What we have just written, along with the global orientation of Fernando Mesquita’s previous works, leads us to in his present contribution a blend of meanings and images that are associated to the logic of architecture, design and musical notation. Indeed, a bench with mufflers also faces this painting-wall allowing us to contemplate the piece in conditions specifically controlled by the artist.
While we sit down, deaf but not blind (and hence with our sight strengthened over the other senses), we are given the possibility of, during our contemplation, carry to an extreme the experience of listening to John Cage’s 4’33’’ (premiered on 29 August 1952): instead of listening to the silence of that piece of music under the noise of our surroundings, we look at the silence of the painting under a much deeper enveloping silence – which may be prolonged indefinitely.
Pinharanda, João Lima. Fernando Mesquita, “A distant music”. The 7th EDP New Artists Prize catalog. Porto (PT): Almedina e Fundação EDP, January 2008.
text by Diana Baldon for the occasion of the solo show in giefart, lisbon, 2010
There is a long history of geographic locations of religious significance. Among these, sacred mountains play a special role for a collective imaginary seduced by their magnetic symbolism and their political and cultural value. According to biblical books, Mount Sinai is the mountain where God gave laws to the Israelites; at the beginning of the twentieth century, a hill in Ascona, Switzerland, was re-baptised Monte Verità (Mountain of Truth) turning into the headquarters of a community in search of an anti-capitalist reformist lifestyle, healthier and closer to nature; in 1933 a radical, liberal and interdisciplinary university was founded near Asheville, North Carolina in the United States, and designated Black Mountain College, a name chosen to highlight the progressive and communitarian character of this educational experiment.
The title of Mesquita’s latest series of drawings – Holy Mountain – represents somehow the antonym of the utopianism rooted in such illustrious examples, bred by “ideal” micro-societies in the shade of the sacredness of an elevated landform. Instead, for the artist the term refers to artists’ struggle to confront themselves with the pragmatism of alchemic processes at play in artistic production. Alchemy is traditionally identified with the attempt to change base metals into substances with unusual properties in order to discover the elixir of eternity. Yet, this ancient philosophy is associated, similarly to art, with one practical necessity: to test out different kinds of materials and procedures. Like his previous works, this one is indicative of Mesquita’s polyhedral approach of realising works different in nature by means of a range of various media. Nevertheless, they share an extensive process of gathering, sorting, collating, associating and patterning of whatever materials are at hand so that the images, objects, even musical notes are able to respond to given spatial and temporary constrictions and are thus transformed into malleable working tools. These drawings result from a reiteration of the same motif again and again – the silhouette of an anonymous mountain – that in the process becomes an abstract composition of lines and single colour fields.
Such sequence of stylistic simplifications, the transformation of which is evidently revealed in each image, involves even a plaster cast of a section of the wall of the artist’s studio in Vienna, used as a mould to transcribe the “blessed mountain” onto paper and glassine. Whereas this latter is used as a packing material for artworks, a reference, perhaps, to the now historicised critique of today’s consumption and circulation of art, the presence of the colour gold in some of the drawings could allude to one of the supreme quests of alchemy: the transmutation of lead into gold, the master of all elements as ancient manuscripts describe it.
Mysticism and symbolism are somewhat remote from the Western modernist canon to making art, in particular from an art movement such as Fluxus whose works Mesquita’s heterogeneous and time-based practice reminds us of. Like much art produced by Fluxus and Conceptual artists throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Mesquita is often concerned with process, simplicity and humour. For instance, in 2009, on occasion of an exhibition curated by fellow Portuguese artist Hugo Canoilas that opened simultaneously in several art spaces throughout Europe, he realised the performance Love Song on Easter Sunday consisting of two rabbits put inside a box of clear transparent Perspex in the same size of a midi-keyboard piano, the whole wired up to a camera, PA system and projector. While the animals moved along the keyboard (or sat passively), they involuntarily played notes that resembled those of an experimental composition of avant-garde music. Similarly to the spirit of Fluxus, this piece values simplicity over complexity: the set is minimal, the performance is brief, the whole is governed by “improvisation”. Likewise in the “Holy Mountain” series the graphite lines and strokes of paint are fast, and at first sight could be perceived as anti-naturalist and carelessly executed. Both works seek to elevate the banal to be conscious of the everyday, to insolently make irony at the seriousness of significant art movements that emerged in the second half of last century. The apparent dialogue of Mesquita’s works with those by Dieter Roth or Robert Motherwell, to name some pertinent examples, is based on an “energy” and “intensity” coefficient that was typical of Abstract Expressionist, Fluxus and Conceptual art. In his landmark 1969 exhibition When Attitudes Become Form at Bern Kunsthalle, Harald Szeemann, the most well-known curator of the second half of last century, brought together Minimalist and Conceptual artists according to the principle that artworks depend on the artist’s gesture, that their energy and intensity can be so powerful as to break down institutions. He had the intuition that art made freely and imaginatively isn’t necessarily oppositional to form, that even the most formalist and conceptual artworks are matters of personal and emotional engagement; this finding is demonstrated by the pronouncement that certain objects are art, by the shift of interest away from the product towards the artistic process and by the interaction with materials.
In 1972 Alejandro Jodorowsky’s psychedelic cult film The Holy Mountain narrated the discovery of a mountain where humans would attain everlasting longevity. Like the allegorical challenge of a group of individuals who get rid of all their possessions to start climbing “the Alchemist’s mountain”, the aspiration of Mesquita’s “mountains” is to free themselves from theirrationalist condition of flat pictorial figures, to deepen their meaning behind their material appearance, in the very metabolism that allows them to come into existence as pictures. They don’t happen as a chemical process occurring in order to preserve life as in Jodorowsky’s film, but rather as aimless, frivolous and yet holistic stages that take place to keep the potentialities of fantasy and play alive after the many difficult tests by the laws of today’s artistic production. These images reveal how the invisible function of the imagination and mysticism have slowly become involved in certain elements of modernity, such as utopianism and symbolism, to transform their meaning. “Holy mountains” are no longer relegated to a marginal position in culture and society as in the past century, but their familiarity has now contaminated us even with their most obscure alchemic value.
Desde o Finito
text by João Miguel Fernandes Jorge, for The Garden series
Fernando Mesquita’s Gardens, Dead Trees and Sketches for the Birth bring intersection of a variety of sensorial modalities into a grouping of wildly different forms of drawing. The set of these series collectively known as The Garden ceaselessly invite the senses to combine the botanic world with stones, insects and other small animals. These, though not present in the image, are attracted by a spontaneous convergence that is able to conceptualize distances so out of the reach of drawing as termite-gnawed trunks – their action is not hard to surmise in Dead Trees – snow-capped peaks or the smell of burning leaves. However, the opaque dwelling where the(withdrawn) elements inscribe themselves is an infinite vision, within the limits of its finitude. Both the dark tangle wraps Dead Trees and the roseate plasma that darkens Sketches for the Birth are intended to convey the mark of a finish and (the same) ontological perfection. The finite (Gr. péras) as opposed to the indefinite (apeiron), as something unfinished or indeterminate, is the realm in which the sequencing of Fernando Mesquita’s series develops. The “finite” carries in itself the perpetuity of destruction and ensures the energy needed for continuity (in nature and in the drawing’s sequencing). And, in a certain way, these dead trees, exposed in their temporality of being partake of finitude, being exiled from a perfection only an (perfect or absolute) indefinite could contain. The drawing carries in itself (human) reason, exiled in its sensitive condition.
Oil, acrylic and chalk make up the effective commerce (by means of exchange mechanics), which he employed to make declarative a perceptive (and observational) drawn time.
The dark contains a dimension of pathos, which leads from attraction to repulsion. It is as if from the trees in The Garden we could hear a strange dialogue:
“Are you drunk?”
“Disturbed, then? What happened tonight? What happened?”
“Nothing. I came across an old friend who was on some sentimental trip and wanted me to share it. Now he’s just a ghost. He’s part of the past that has returned to haunt me. A clatter of bones in the night.”
In the blackest areas of The Garden, thick trunks (fragments of them) look like heavy fossilized reptiles, misshapen torsos torn out of a life. In pain, they are still falling, in spite of their viscous flowing through death’s vegetable territory. The drawing evokes fallen, tumefied human limbs. And then colour suggests, via a soft earthly red, a vegetable ground cover of fallen leaves, in which nature knows how to preserve the most secret geometry of vegetable turbulence. And then a dendritic blue of roots and alveoli, like a neuronal life in drawing, spreads through the blackness of the fertile earth, rotting with humus. Like a search, via a creative process of immanence, for an intensive and implosive fractality. Beneath the imaginary world of the drawing.
Abstraction makes inroads into these pictures from The Garden, reducing to a curved lineament the circular motion of miniscule elements, vestiges of an ephemeral vegetable passage. Traced on the earth’s humus, on the earth’s mud, on humid sand, these tiny traces appear, rather than be caused by tree branches scraping, to have fallen from the thatched roof of an old hut, like the one in Paul Celan’s “Todtnauberg”. Verses from this poem tell us of orchids, of humus from the forest, of isolated (wild) orchids and raw things (“Waldwasen, uneingeebnet,/ Orchis und orchis, einzein, // Krudes, später, im fahren, deutlich”), all so similar to the itinerary of those fragments of rawness, which, however, lack not “heart” (“auf eines Denkenden / kommendes / Wort / im Herzen”), traced in calligraphic veins on a purplish-black-blue background.
In its larger drawings, The Garden is evocative of the writings of a lost civilization. Its dark ground opens, as if looking at it we were gazing into a distant intimacy of a long lost world. And, in a certain way, the gesturality that is inscribed and the utter darkness of those drawings leaps out, moving with the eloquence of marks on the white of snow (though it is black here). Language, but not words. Sparse ramifications that develop themselves in a kind of cursive calligraphy for reading the mutable forms of the world.
Jorge, João Miguel Fernandes. Desde o Finito. Carmona e Costa Foundation. Lisbon (PT): Assírio&Alvim, edition 1504, November 2011.
text by Yuki Higashino for the occasion of the solo show in new jörg, vienna, 2019
It is inaccurate to describe Fernando Mesquita as a “painter”. Ever active in performative and curatorial projects (the distinction of these two are often blurred in his works), painting does not even constitute the majority of his output. Yet, I’d like to insist on the centrality of painting in his practice. As numerous events, exhibitions, performances, and social gatherings testify, Mesquita has boundless interest in the dynamic of temporal actions and their resonances, both artistic and human. His paintings give tangible form to this interest. In other words, painting is the focal point of his diverse artistic engagements. It is the illuminated spot in a large tableau that keeps the clamouring elements together.
What is crucial to all of his paintings is the fact of them being worked on. These pictures ostensibly testify to the worked-on-ness of their surfaces, though they also possess considerable pictorial qualities. The gestures that brought these worked-on surfaces into existence have nothing to do with the heroic gestures and brushstrokes of Abstract Expressionism or Neo-Expressionism that celebrate the artist’s inflated sense of individuality. In contrast, Mesquita’s gestures strike one as acknowledgements of the extreme briefness of the actions that begot his pictures, and fragile attempts to capture these moments. In this regard, his paintings have something in common with “Last Date” by Eric Dolphy, a live recording by Dolphy shortly before his untimely death at the age of 36 in 1964, where he famously said: “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone in the air. You can never capture it again.” It is this delicate immediacy and its extreme elusiveness that Mesquita strives for.
This evanescent nature of mark making is eloquently demonstrated in the two works from the “Composition” series included in this exhibition. In this ongoing series, Mesquita puts a piece of synthetic fabric with a napped, velvet-like texture on a stretcher and gently rubs the fabric’s surface against its hairs to leave a trace of his hand movement. These traces can easily be erased by rubbing the fabric in the opposite direction, creating works of exquisite subtlety and fragility. The marks are temporal in their essence, hairs on a piece of textile standing toward a wrong direction, and can be made to disappear without any effort. Mesquita suspends their temporal state and turn them into a painting, permanently on the cusp of erasure.
Other works in the show also rejoice in the pleasure of mark making, in the act of capturing the moment when an artistic intention came into contact with the surface. The title of this exhibition offers a key to understanding how Mesquita works. Escuro means “dark” in Portuguese, and in darkness, touch replaces vision. To move in darkness, we fumble. We carefully stretch our hands forward to figure out what’s ahead of us, the world is suddenly dominated by the nowness of contact that offers neither future nor the past. It is a state dominated by tactility and the present. This is an apt metaphor for Mesquita’s practice. His paintings and drawings demonstrate what pictures could emerge from a commitment to the momentary contact with pictorial planes. Neither consumed by the zeal for progress nor haunted by the art history, his is radical abstraction not overburdened by vision.