The essence of a wall
To erect a wall, to make it art: the new installation by António Bolota (Benguela, Angola, 1962) is a rare moment in the context of Portuguese galleries. The piece can be described in a few words: a steel beam sustains a wall made of stones that makes a barrier in the space of the gallery, making it difficult for someone to go beyond that barrier; the only way is underneath, in the narrow opening between the floor and the structure. The first visual contact with the work makes us think the wall is upside down, defying its own existence: it’s no longer about separating, or protecting but rather escaping its utilitarian function. With that purpose, the wall of stones challenges the involving architecture – the gallery’s “white cube” –, clinging to it until reaching the ceiling, only leaving free a baseboard, capable of being crossed. This is one of the paradoxes of this wall – in a gallery it also acquires the definition of sculpture. There is, therefore, several territories that are crossed in the same object: the one that comes from a popular architectural tradition – the stone masonry, for instance – the heir of steelwork, and also the one that has its origins in the art history of the 20th century, namely what is connected with the historical vanguards, from Tatlin to Jannis Kounellis – we might remember the stone wall-door created by this artist in 1969. This curious collision of worlds – we can also refer the evocation, through this wall, of shared experiences between the country and the city – it is enhanced by the way the piece asserts itself in the space of the gallery: the suspension reveals itself little by little. The proximity between the viewer and the work ends up making the work’s extension visible, which was hidden in an initial perspective – the part of the wall made of stone at first hidden from our gaze is also an area of shadow, that contrasts with the one immediately perceived by whoever comes in the gallery. The wall also has its flaws, spaces left free between the stones, imperfections that give a different vibration to the work itself – and there is also moss, small roots and sticks, which tell us about the material provenance of this work. These are details that project the visitor into memories of other places, far from this one bounded by art. António Bolota’s work underlines not only its pre-existence but also the gesture of transference made by the artist – foreseeing that that group of stones was potentially a sculpture. Another “landscape” is given to those that actually cross the piece: on the other side, the wall is put together with a kind of clay and lime mortar – areas of shadow and light are inverted here. If the first view is of one similar plane, an unexpected roughness is now clear, as if the object was made of two geographies. In 1964, in a text read during the opening of an exhibition by Bernhard Heiliger, in St. Gallen, Switzerland, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger stated: “More philosophical than scientific and more rigorous, which is to say, closer to the essence of the thing itself – that is art.”
In the case of António Bolota, that proximity to the essence of things and humans is clear. The wall, now visible, doesn’t separate, doesn’t protect. It is itself a manifestation of beauty: which, according to Kant, “pleases universally, unrelated to any concept”. From both sides of the stone and steal piece, while we observe the passage of bodies through the space between the beam and the floor, we realize there is a space of freedom designed by sculpture: in that interval, each viewer can try their own capacity in crossing obstacles and, who knows, touch something new, another one, another part of themselves.
Óscar Faria in Ípsilon, September 24th 2010, newspaper Público, p.41.