A ÚLTIMA LUZ DO DIA
António Bolota’s exhibition at Lisbon City Museum was coloured by his fascination with George Perec, more specifically with his novel Life: A User’s Manual.The rooms were filled with large-scale sculptures, corresponding to geometric forms (parallelepiped, prism, cylinder) which were also identifiable as architectural elements (boundary wall, roof, internal wall) and demonstrative of the materials that created them, from the vernacular connotations of the tile to the paradox of the use of paper in the large cylindrical structure. These were visible from outside, but only while there was daylight, because the exhibition was deliberately not lighted.The wall, however, perhaps because it is a crude typology of architectural language and the most interesting area of confrontation with the sculpture and its capacity to produce gestures of delimitation, warrants special attention. Bolota had been working with the ‘wall’ typology in diverse ways: suspending it, turning it into an internal wall, or into a building, or just making the ‘wall’ a wall. A mere wall.At this point we should mention the sculpture presented in the City Museum. The sculpture, finished in sprayed concrete (like the lane separators and barriers often seen on motorways), massive and ostentatious, crossed the internal space of the White Pavillion, going through the window glass and extending outside. This notion of sculptures crossing spaces like ghosts is recurrent in António Bolota’s work. They become liquid, or merge with the walls, or sink into the ground.But this wall went right through the glass of the façade so that, on the outside, it blocked the path of the peacocks strutting around the garden.The most interesting thing, however, is that, when crossing the wall, the glass was diverted from the axis. I suppose most visitors would have taken this deflection as an error of parallax, the effect of refraction. But that type of deflection would, in fact, only be processed that way if it was refraction due to immersion in water. The sculpture, in this sense, did not cross from the inside of the White Pavillion to the outside, but did precisely the opposite, turning the interior of the exhibition space into an aquarium.The poetic beauty of that gesture, the process of conversion of state that the sculpture proposes is a theory on the density of space, on how the way in which the space is used gives it different densities. Yes, we all know that space has different densities.But we needed a wall turned into a sculpture to show it to us.
Guided tour. The Speech
Let us retain the title of this exhibition, for it will be of use a little later on. a Ultima luz do dia (the last light of the day) is AntOnio Bolota’s widest–ranging individual exhibition to date and has been undertaken in the sequence of two significant interventions produced by the artist, in 2010, in the city of Porto, respectively in the independent space A Certain Lack of Coherence and in the Galeria Quadrado Azul. The propositions that AntOrli° Bolota has been carrying out place him in a position of radical singularity within the contemporary art scene in Portugal.The use of industrial construction materials, the adoption of the large scale, and the constant dialogue which he has been entertaining with architecture are recurrent and distinctive elements. Always unique and unrepeatable, the artist’s interventions establish a dialogue with the structure of the buildings in which they are installed, in a rigorous design of demarcation and mediation of the physical limits of the space. They are thus affirmed in the concrete space and are immediately projected beyond it, turning it into an abstract entity, like another element of the intervention.
For the particular vitreous architecture of the Pavilhao Branco, which opens onto the gardens of the Palacio Pimenta, the artist conceived a series of interventions which are articulated, in a logic of disclosure and concealment, with both the scale and the symbolic nature of the building and the place.
The three sculptures set up in the Pavilhao Branco establish a game of geometry around the three basic forms – the prism, the cylinder and the parallelepiped – without losing a material connection to the elements of the architectural grammar to which they originally refer; namely: the roof, the interior building wall and the exterior boundary wall.
These fundamental and archetypical figures define a dialogue among themselves in terms of volumetric density, of scale and texture, in the way they create passages, divert or bar the viewer’s access and experiencing of the space, or how they constantly resonate and reflect each other.
Yet, as frequently occurs with António Bolota’s work, neither the key to the meaning nor the identity of the interventions lies in their monumentality. Living exclusively on the natural light that comes in from the exterior – captured, elided, redeployed in a game of minute and almost imperceptible differences and nuances -, a Ultima luz do dia proposes architecture’s space as a place of affections, of memories and revelation. In essence, it is about providing a perceptive experience whose culmination takes place at nightfall, precisely at the time when luminosity is at its lowest, on the verge of disappearance. There, the richness of the visit for which each viewer is summoned, whose ephemeral and fleeting nature establishes it as a unique, non conveyable moment, becomes tangible and integral. We perceive with greater clarity that the title of the exhibition is not rhetorical or poetic, but rather sensorial and material, both primitive and metaphysical at the same time, like the space that Bolota creates. After all, the subject of architecture is light and bodies.
Fold. The Writing
Like all important art, Antonio Bolota’s interventions are elementary in the way they present themselves and complex in the way they resist interpretation or, to use a psychoanalytic term, internalisation.
Taken from fundamental geometric forms, Bolota’s sculptural vocabulary integrates the space, the scale of architecture and the projection of the human body (the viewer’s body) within that space as primordial and immutable elements.Those geometric forms unfold, generically in his work and specifically in this intervention, into architectural structural elements, such as the exterior boundary wall, the interior building wall, the roof, the pillar or the beam. And this is the visible, immanent grammar of his work.
However, what really gives it meaning is a negative or interstitial semantic logic that runs through all of his interventions, comparable to the way in which the obvious conceals the obtuse in the realm of poetry, words so often referring to a meaning/ a sound/a place/a body that lies beyond them, the presence enunciating in itself an absence.
One could say that António Bolota’s interventions are, in thesis, devices that activate the unconscious mind. Notice the way in which the use of the above–mentioned archetypical elements brings to light, induces the questioning of inertias acquired in the experiencing of or the inhabiting of a certain space through a process of memory activation, as empiric–emotional faculty and, paradoxically, becomes a process of progressive loss.
The strangeness which these architectural elements convoke, even if familiar and immediately recognisable, has both more obvious reasons — the scale, that clearly refers more to a disturbing presence or invasion of the space than to an element consistent with the surrounding context, the way in which they are diverted from a more direct function, the duplication and/or the marking of the limits of the space, installing a new order within the prevailing order (like a rewriting, a redrawing) — and more invisible, yet more palpable reasons.
It is at this point that we return to memory as a factor that unleashes the conditions of perception of this intervention: firstly, to the memory of a body, more organic and animal (we move within this space like cats in an unfamiliar context); secondly, to intellectual memory, both plastic and geometrical at the same time, that places on a same reflexive platform the two fields, the two languages that AntOnio Bolota converges, as a fold, in the physical and emotional space of the viewer: architecture and art.
This fold, which at first seems to be easily taken apart as a problem of context (it concerns de–contextualised architectural elements) and code, or, better still, of the suspension of the incredulity characteristic of the codes of hermeneutics of art (it concerns works of art which are sustained by a tradition of breaking the codes of the subjects with which it dialogues), has, however, a density.
By proposing a relation of constant tension with the limits of the space, in a logic of rigorous demarcation of a kind of imaginary limit, Bolota places the pieces in another dimension which is not that of the space of the exhibition or museum, bringing the ephemeral and fleeting experience of the city to the interior of architecture or, mutatis mutandis, the exhibition space to its own exterior, establishing the aesthetic experience as a space of alterity.
To transcend the space of the museum is a political gesture, refractory to any state of dialectic representation, to impose the plurality of reality. In order to stress to the limit that porosity or impurity of the space that is proposed to the viewer, Bolota superimposes one last limit: the fading of the light up to the limit of visibility.The last light of the day that remains impregnated on the white, rough-textured wall of the most mysterious and challenging piece of the exhibition. Like a circular, utopian vision of the world.
To Recreate Spaces
Over a high and wide wall of concrete, a peacock balances itself while strolling over the whole extension of the wall. The wall rips through the glass window of the building and bursts into the pavilion (Pavilhão Branco) at the Museu da Cidade. Like the peacock, we also have to go around the wall to go into a place we already know but that we have to rediscover. It is common that the artists, when using this space, have the temptation to manipulating it, in order to maximise what it offers (it’s an architecture of metal and glass, rich in light and reflexions) or simply, to project that light over the works, but few have changed it so radically as António Bolota. His sculpture works are frequently close to an architectural formal vocabulary, used in projects with an ambitious scale that are, mainly, platforms to experience the space. Unlike other proposals, in which the mere hedonist fruition of walking around is an end in itself, “A última luz do dia” [The last light of the day] is an installation that makes the viewer acutely and physically aware of their position and role in activating the space. The structures that Bolota has used – an enormous concrete parallelepiped/rectangle and a large plaster and metal cylinder covered by a humid paper pulp – do not make the space bigger, rather they put pressure on it, forcing the viewer to make their own way in the remaining available space. On the second floor, the experience is the opposite. A gigantic roof, that we can climb, covers a big part of the space, leaning over the light of the garden. The house and its exterior skin, the roof, reverse positions; the body of the passer-by becomes the retracted body of the observer that for a moment is connected to the exterior in an operation that is, in itself, the transformation of architecture into sculpture. Combining the inside and the outside, the big and the small, António Bolota creates conditions in order for the body to be felt, and its contingencies, and at the same time it makes clear how that condition participates in the construction of the gaze. Based in processes and premises that echo the influence of minimalism, “A última luz do dia” [The last light of the day] articulates air, light, mass, matter, form, in a sculptural display that has no other function than to bring to life, through the nature of walking, the viewer’s circumstances.
Celso Martins in Revista Atual nº1988, December 4th 2010, newspaper Expresso, p.30.
A house in a pavilion
Sometimes forgotten or evenunknown to the public, it is one of the simplest and most gracious gifts thatart can give the viewer: experiencing the work with our body and its gestures, andwhatever play derives from it. To walk around it, to follow its steps, to getup on stage (with it). Or to face it physically, take its space. To search forit. All of this can be experienced in “A última luz do dia” [The last light ofthe day], a solo show by António Bolota (Benguela, Angola, 1962) at Pavilhão Branco (Museu daCidade), the artist’s largest solo show to date, that follows exhibitions made inPorto in 2010, at the non-profit space A Certain Lack of Coherence and atQuadrado Azul gallery. This exhibition contains three interventions made in thebuilding that show António Bolota’s essence when it comes to the production ofworks: because of their monumental scale, the vigorous character of hissculptures (they are gigantic), the relationship with architecture (this showis part of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale) and the use of industrial buildingmaterials (concrete, steel, plaster and wood).
So, let us go in “A última luz do dia” [The last light of the day], as ifwe were a character on one long continuous take. On our left, a rectangular-shapedwall that blocks our passage, irrupting from the pavilion with no signs ofviolence, only just kissing the bare glasswindow (which dominates the architecture of the building). After retreating, wetry to find another way in, before finally entering. Then, in one of the roomsof the ground floor, a construction in the shape of a cylinder rises from thefloor to the ceiling. White, monumental. And, forced against the wall wecirculate around it, curious, restless, as if at any moment a secret passage, ahiding place, was going to be revealed to us. Nothing or everything: areas of lightand shadow. And the challenge to be in contact with the physical materiality ofsculpture: the surface is soft (made of paper pulp over metal and plaster), andit contrasts with the imposing shape.
On the first floor, a roof, suspended with wood beams, receives and bounces offthe light, inviting us to lower our body and notice other spaces, usually outof reach. The dry and pungent smell of the wood (saturated with burnt oil) andthe “chalked” texture that covers the beams seems to suggest a constructionwith or after a fire. But beyond that terrible image (“destruction”, “ruin”, asÓscar Faria wrote about the work exhibited at “A certain lackof coherence”), it is the intimate experience of the place that prevails: ahalf-lit attic transformed in a mysterious walk, “risen” here and there by raysof light, and by relationships between gravity and weight.
Let’s go back to the ground floor and, especially, to thewall and its grey surface where the effects of time have created differentshades. And instead of a barrier we imagine a bridge or (why not?) andentrance. An entrance to everyday life – interior and exterior are connected – thereis no outside or inside. We leave, we move away a few meters, into the gardenand for a moment looking back at “A última luz do dia” [The last light of the day] we see a house with a roofand its wall being drawn. Brand new, sculpted in the pavilion by António Bolota.It could be our house.
in Ípsilon, January 14th 2011, newspaper Público, p40.
To Build Art
Followinga particular path, António Bolota has won a space of his own in Portuguese sculpture.
Hewas always a maker. In Benguela, his place of birth, the wood, the clay and thezinc were António Bolota’s favourite materials to make toys. A privilege and arichness that he brought back at 13 years old to a rural Portugal after the April25th revolution. Nothing had changed in the small village in BeiraAlta where he went to live with his grandmother. Only fried eggs with chips andthe sweet care of a lady with white hair, aging skin and a black cloak alwayscovering her body. Drawing was his escape. Always. Even when, already settledin Lisbon to continue his studies, he had to give up art school and opt forcivil engineering. “I felt it would be criminal to enrol in art school when wedidn’t even have soup to eat”.
Real labour followed, after sixteen months of military service as a topographer.He started working in a construction company. His two children were born, Diogoand Joana, and he worked from sunrise to sunset. He slowly left behind the drawings,the comics, the cartoons, the paintings. “It was as if he was turning to stone”,observed his wife. Replying to an ad for painting classes in Cascais was thefirst step towards change. A kind of occupational therapy that wasn’t nearly enough.“With no fear of the sheet of paper”, he joined Isa Duarte Ribeiro and HenriqueAlbuquerque in the Bicesse Group. Experiences with painting multiplied, discoveriesintensified and the pure pleasure of drawing was flowing. And Zart was born, agroup that fought for the “alternative thing”, a particular way to try to experimentin the midst of the art scene. He made exhibitions in non-conventional spaces likethe Hospital Júlio de Matos, and also opened it to other artists, mainly youngpeople in need of support, his actions could be characterized as obsessive (inhis own name, his patronage continued in Lisbon, at his studio at RuaBartolomeu 5, in the shops for sale at Terraços de Bragança, and today at Avenidada Liberdade, 211). But it deterred his artistic development. The Sculpturecourse at Ar.Co was a decisive step.
“There was a clear separation between wanting to be a painter and engineer, unlikewhat happens with sculpture and engineering”. And, he highlights, the points ofcontact relate to his natural, strong and direct connection to geometry and apermanent engagement with architecture. “The pieces happen daily while I am ata building site”, he says bluntly. And in fact, the paradigm of construction isone of the essences of his work. To that we can add a particular poetic qualityand the warmth of a well-defined sensory line. Scale and space are always in adialogue, in a measurement of forces between their limits, in an allegory withthe physical capacity of human work. And it is that pouring of strength that offerseach piece an artistic dimension that combines the profane and the sacred, theephemeral and the perennial.
“A última luz do dia” [The last light of the day],is his most recent exhibition. Three pieces built around the volumetry of thespace in its direct relationship with light. Roof, wall and wall/roof tiles,paper and concrete, function both as a path for the viewer as a deterrence fromwalking – as we know, the relation of body and sculpture is the theme of Bolota’swork: “Even though they are monumental, there is something in my pieces that isprojected over the body of the viewer, making them very small”.
in Revista Atual nº1986, November 20th 2010, newspaper Expresso, p.26.