Studio 94 1108

Nuno Crespo

Studio 94

Filipe Cortez’s work departs from the experience – especially intense among the modern and heightened in our times – that history is chaos, it is irrational, unpredictable, incomprehensible. An experience which is rooted not only in the ascertainment of the impossibility of a historical purpose or design towards an end – the negation of any teleological claim –, but also in the fact that the human tools for the restoration of time, of memory, of history are always doomed to fail. We depart from vestigial traces and marks, and we cannot but produce vestigial traces and marks.

Although this exhibition departs from that critical ascertainment it also unfolds from a specific idea (which is a praxis and a dynamics) of the doing of painting. A doing acknowledged not as an established formula, but as a field where the artist attempts – physically and technically – to find an efficient way of materializing his critical conception of human history and memory.

This does not mean that Filipe Cortez’s work is about memory, but rather that from his pictorial practice – which, as we will see, is extremely dynamic and physical – stems a particular relation with memories of places, spaces, and gestures. It is a relation that unfolds from a very particular attention to vestiges, marks, traces, signs. Not that the artist entertains any type of archaeological and/or ethnographical aspiration, but this process began to interest him when, around 2015 in New York, he took notice of the scraps of paint which started to peel off from the subway pillars. For the artist, these layers of paint did not establish a direct relation with the history of this architecture, but rather they allowed access to certain temporalities (which do not truly make up a story), which is to say material fragments with the potential of functioning as elements that bring about temporal transformations, pieces of paint torn from a wall which potentially could disturb time.

This looking at space through the layers of paint which compose it and which function as its skin allowed the artist to identify the transitions and mutations to which the different architectures are subjected. The paint, aside from its decorative, and in many cases functional capacities (it isolates, it waterproofs), also holds in it that potential to serve as a sign of past actions, a kind of masked history, hidden by the materiality of the paint.

It should be highlighted that the key aspect is to understand how it is not through the contemplation of the painted walls that this awareness is created, but rather through the active gesture, energetic and quite vital, of tearing these layers of paint as if they were the skin of those places. An experience which Cortez repeated, for instance, in projects he carried out in Taipei (2017) or in the São Roque Slaughterhouse in the city of Porto (2016). It is as if the layers of the plastic matter of paint could establish themselves as central elements of an unexpected archaeology.

This archaeology of the history of a building is not taken on literally by the artist: his intent is not didactic or illustrative of a narrative; but those qualities of traces, marks, and signs are a consequence of the very materiality of the work he has come to engage in. Which is to say that the plastic paint and the latex that the artist removes, manipulates, and tears from surfaces – which may be the walls of buildings or the floor of his studio – bring with them traces, marks, and signs of another time and another place, different from that of the experience that the viewer may have at a given moment.

In the case of this exhibition, we find no city or architecture as references – it is the artist’s studio itself which functions as a catalyst of this archaeological capability held by the paint and the latex which the artist uses. But in this case it is the artist’s studio itself that is established as the place of happening of these artworks, and it is the happenings of that space that transit from the sphere of the private happening of artistic doing to the field of a visual work formally defined as painting.

To understand the internal dynamics of Cortez’s piece we may think of the idea of happening, since even though there is intentionality, preparation, and some anticipation of what the pieces will be, their final formulation is unexpected because we are dealing with a process which possesses an inherent gestural nature, in which up to the final moment – the vital gesture of tearing the layer of pigmented latex from the floor or from a wall – the artist is guided through the point of view of a blindness. As Derrida states regarding his recognition of all the doing of drawing as the doing of a blind person, but a blindness which is transformed into sight and the blind person into visionary, it is precisely that blindness that is the condition of all drawing. To speak of blindness is not only to speak of a recurring theme in art history, but likewise (and this is what interests us here) to speak of that place of sight which can’t be seen, of that central invisible and unrepresentable point which does not allow itself to be seen. Derrida says it by affirming that there lies in all points of view something invisible, a vision of nothing, which is constitutive and is the condition of all sight (cf. Jacques Derrida, Memórias de Cego, Ed. Gulbenkian, 2010).

In Filipe Cortez’s case, aside from all the problematization which lies between the doing and the seeing of painting (or the non-seeing), there is in the pieces that make up this exhibition a fundamental relation with the ground. A relation which determines the happening of these paintings through a process which is not exclusively compositional, but rather entails the development of a set of private micro-performances which are the originating phenomenon of these paintings.

Even though we are dealing with entirely distinct universes, we may think of these pieces as being a modality of the action paintings by Jackson Pollock. Not that there are any formal, visual, or conceptual similarities with the North American artist, but the fact that both use the surface of the floor as a place of work and on it carry out a kind of pictorial choreography, random and improvised, and the fact that both depart from the geography and spatiality of their studio as a place of happening of their artworks, draws them close and makes them familiar. A closeness which helps to understand some of the dynamics and energies latent in Cortez’s pieces.

In both cases their artworks entail actions which summon a muscular dynamics, more physical than that commonly present in the contemplative experience of painting. A dynamism which is not exactly performative in the sense of western art history, since his choreographies are exclusively private: they belong to the intimate space of the artist’s sensitivity, in the solitude of his studio. In that sense we cannot exactly speak of a performance, but rather a private physical dynamics which is the condition of the existence of these pieces.

The attention to the process of construction of painting, not as the place of an effort of figuration or representation, as I have been highlighting, but as a place built departing from the actions of layering and accumulating does not void or even upset their existence as paintings, because in the central formulation of Cortez’s pieces (be they blots on a wall, objects, the ruins of a house, etc.) what is always at stake is the taking on of a stance within the field of painting.

There is in this exhibition – as in the whole of the artworks of this artist – a happy and challenging game between the matter of painting and the building of memory, and the challenge lies in understanding in what way this relation does not really unfold through the construction of a mimetic mirror of the world, but rather through the acknowledging of painting as a place where several pieces of the world’s physiognomy are brought together and condensed.

Nuno Crespo

Studio 94
09.09 – 30.10.2021

Curated by : Nuno Crespo
Photography : Bruno Lopes
Video : João Silva
Translation : Henrique Frederico
Production Assistant : Diana Carvalho
With the support : Compete2020 / Portugal 2020

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