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Quadrifoglio

Doris von Drathen

Few artists are able to reduce video to its essential means of expression. Rui Calçada Bastos goes further, using video and its possibilities in a similar way to pencil drawing. With a minimum of technical effects he creates a lively iconography, which does not simply unfold itself on the screen, but uses the screen as its starting point.

Quadrifoglio assembles four short black-and-white scenes. Though independent from each other, they seem as a whole to deal with a common topic. The protagonist is always the artist himself. A man runs across a park, approaching the spectator, then trips and falls down. He slowly gets up, clutching his apparently sore knee, then drags himself onto a bench. As he recovers, his figure slowly starts to detach from its contours, giving birth to a body double. The twin figure turns around to face the man on the bench, and looks at him in amazement before returning into the body, thus reconstituting an entity. Calçada Bastos uses the simplest means to illustrate a mental capacity familiar to everyone, which Valéry described in the following terms: "Les hommes sont faits d’une maison et d’une abeille." ["Men are made of a house and a bee."] (1) We have the capacity of stepping out of our bodies and contemplating ourselves from the outside. Indeed, we live at once inside and outside.

This split, this mirror effect, is precisely what defines our human condition. Calçada Bastos actually uses superimposition as an iconologic vehicle rather than a mere playful element. Consequently, all his images are consistent and meaningful. A man climbs a staircase, takes a key from his pocket – an object we carry concealed in our pockets, only brought to the fore to be used as a connecting device between the inside and outside – opens an apartment door, walks in, locks the door and peers through the spyhole at the space outside, from where he just came. Is he afraid of a stalker? The rhythm of the sequence does not suggest it. Placidly, quietly, the man looks back; a change of perspective, as though he were retrospectively observing himself crossing a timespace. The light from outside casts a bright spot in his eye. In another sequence the outside becomes a person, it turns into the Other, "qui déborde la capacité du Moi" ["which exceeds the capacity of the I"]. (2)

Everyone is the Other. Again, Rui Calçada Bastos demonstrates this through simple techniques. A man stands in an empty, dim apartment, with his back to the eye of the camera. Light shines through a crack in the door, pouring onto the floor. A sheet of paper crosses the light beams. While the man bends down, a woman’s hand, barely distinguishable from his own, picks up the letter. Shifting between his and her hand, the letter is opened and slowly unfolds, revealing a luminous white sheet filling the entire screen, which is eventually replaced by a shot of a woman's back in a girded blouse. The woman, in turn, stands at the window with her back to the camera. Both protagonists' backs recall the silent white sheet of paper and the shut door between them, which spectators instinctively sense.

In the fourth and final sequence, the outside takes an unexpected turn. Similar to a Piranesi etching, images of a moving elevator fuse into a labyrinth combining inside and outside, above and below. While the camera adopts the perspective of the man entering the lift – focussing on the grid bars as they cross the grid of the elevator shaft, progressively densifying to complete opacity – it also scans the outside of both the shaft and the lift, accompanying its progression from one floor to the next, exploring the railings, following the vertical metal beams on which the cabin climbs, rising higher and higher until it becomes apparent that the house has in fact no roof. A bright white void sets in, swallowing the elevator and its image. Here, the threshold of everyday life is crossed.

The outside has turned into something transcendental, something no longer fathomable, something the artist is hinting at in a deliberately undramatic, unsophisticated way, as being the part lying beyond our boundaries. Here lies Rui Calçada Bastos' art: rather than staging the other side, he draws it inside the mind of the viewer.

Notes:

(1) Paul Valéry, Eupalinos ou l'Architecte, Paris, 1923.
(2) Emmanuel Lévinas, Totalité et Infini. Essai sur l'extériorité, Paris, 1961.