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The melancholy of arrival

Response to work by Rui Calçada Bastos

Kathrin Becker

Rui Calçada Bastos’ piece Ten Years Looking Forward To See You from 1999 consists of two video projections facing one another. On both walls people of different ages, sexes and from varied ethnic groups can be seen looking into the camera. For this, he used video material taken over almost a decade. During this period he temporarily spent time in Asia, incidentally, above all in Macau. The shots of people looking into the camera were separated into two large groups that form the basis for the two projections: into persons acquainted with him; and those entirely unknown. As a result the gazes also exhibit a variety of emotional involvement with the subject (standing behind the camera) of their regard. They range from indifference or neutral attentiveness through sympathy all the way to joyful encounter. Thus what resembles, in a first glance at the video projection, a series of individual portraits is actually a self-portrait of the artist, in which he employs other people’s perceptions as a mirror. And in truth: isn’t the self continually reconstituted in its thousandfold reflections within the flows of communication with others?

This thought contains a suggestion of that which occupies a central place in Calçada Bastos’ works: within a fictional space bearing biographical features and intertwined with personal memories, his work circles around the complex substance of identity and the melancholy of isolation. The video piece Casting Thoughts from 2000, which Calçada Bastos considers as the beginning of a poetic direction in his work, likewise takes up the idea of constructing identity through the human gaze, but with the tables turned. Casting Thoughts shows a close up of the face of a young woman whom he filmed during a trip on the subway. The protagonist appears not to be aware of being filmed (and also in fact is not). While in Ten Years Looking Forward To See You the center of observation is located behind the camera, in Casting Thoughts the attention is directed upon the gaze of the woman and everything that this gaze, directed mainly into emptiness, carries within it.(1)

Finally in the video series Quadrifoglio, which in its aesthetic character sometimes recalls the early Jim Jarmusch (Permanent Vacation), a third form of construction for the relationship between author, camera and observed subject comes to light, where the artist is simultaneously director, performer and cameraman. Calçada Bastos thereby operates with a more complex narration that he recruits from the four autonomous scenes in the series. We observe a man who carries out a series of strange, isolated actions, which give an account of the presence or absence of things or persons, and of the human ability to view oneself both from the outside as well as by looking at oneself from within, as Doris von Drahten writes.(2)

So far this text has dealt solely with Calçada Bastos’ video work, however he also works in the media of photography and installation. Ambos from 2002, for example, consists of a bed under which a video monitor is placed such that its screen can only be seen in a mirror lying on the floor. The screen itself is divided horizontally into two halves, each showing a landscape filmed from a moving train, whereby the first runs from left to right, and the second from right to left. In the room one can also hear a male and a female voice, these voices clearly belonging to two older people who – as it turns out – report common experiences which lie far in the past. The two are both over 90 years old and have been together for 66 years, and for this piece Calçada Bastos questioned them separately about the stages of their lives. The work revolves around the question of collective memory, but also about divergence and shifts of perspective in memory, and about intimacy. The narrative is embedded in a complex system of meaning-loaded installation elements. Firstly there is the nostalgia of the marital bed with gold-colored bedspread and pillow roll, embodying the place of intimacy in wedlock. Then there is the monitor under the bed. In many cases bulky articles as well as precious objects were kept under the bed. In Ambos these are the landscapes, which can be read as a metaphor for a common journey through life. The divergence of the memories, on the other hand, is suggested by the landscape sequences running in opposite directions. And finally there is the mirror, which serves as a reference to the reconstruction of the shared lifetimes now only from memory, whereby the mirror is interpreted art historically both as an attribute of self-knowledge (‘prudentia’) as well as a vanitas symbol. Thereby Rui Calçada Bastos has succeeded in creating a convincing space for one’s own sensual memories and imagination.

(1) See Arte Ibérica No. 44, March 2001, p. 30 ff.
(2) von Drahten, Doris, Rui Calçada Bastos. Quadrifoglio, in: Rui Calçada Bastos [Cat.], Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Pub.), Berlin, 2003, p. XX-XX.



Kathrin Becker

"Overexposed", 2003, consists of a fur-trimmed hood installed with the opening facing the wall where there is a circle of neon light; from time to time a male voice echoes, repeating the phrase "I'm overexposed". This talking head - wich emphatically marked the entrance area to Rui Calçada Bastos's exhibition "It's not romantic to be romantic" in the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, in Berlin - moves within the spectrumranging from irony to melancholy, wich is typical for a series of works by this author.

What predominates here is above all the phrase "I'm overexposed", repeated like a formula for self-invocation. In theart world it is generally stated that someone is overexposed in the context of excessive presence at exhibitions,that is, when an artistic career - normally of a young artist - is started in a dizzingly rapid manner in advance anticipation of the market laws, often making the zenith of this sudden sucess go by very quickly, plunging the artist into a no man's land of public oblivion. And it is a cynical statement in the sense that the art world, in all of its hierarchies and functions (exhibitions of an institutional nature, gallerieactivity, art criticism), on the one hand may feverishly promote this dynamics of swift success yet on the other, in its permanent search for new names, soon loses its pleasure for last season's toy. Over the last decade there has been even less constancy in this area than what has been practised in the field of fashion or pop music, wich are equally voracious sectors, of wich it is said that they have remain faithful at least to one name and only demand to be permanently supplied with new artefacts.

However, in the case of the repeated phrase in "Overexposed", the voice is in first person, so it is not the art world that we are hearing but the artist. This statement guives a voice to the disquiet of the artistic subject metaphorically created by Rui Calçada Bastos. Consequently we are iin the presence of the voice of the superimposition of the identity of this artist with that of the critic who is the adversary of his career, for whom he has become irredeemably lost in the sense of the "Stockholm Syndrome", designating the emergence of a positive emotional relationship between the kidnapper and the hostage. Just as the artistic subject previously - during the building of the success - followed the demands of the art world through incessant obedience and compliance with the plans, now he also carries out his own decline with equal discipline, wich is brought forward in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. The phrase that is repeated from time to time thus simultaneously takes on the character of a confession and a mantra.

This ironic comment on the artist's self perception and the perception of others in the art world is over-emphasised through the formal elements in the isntallation "Overexposed". In the first place we have the hood's function of representation as it takes place of the head of the artistic subject it symbolises, one the one hand a disappointed distancing from the world, in the sense that it directs the face opening toward the wall; on the other hand, in a second reading, it may also be taken as an expression of shame in relation to this capitulation itself.

The hood itself already points towards this, as both the hiding one's head and turning away one's face are also historically expressions of sadness, shame and recognition of one's own guilt. Finally, the choice of the material for the hood - a heavy, warm cloth - and the application of fur around it symbolises the cold and hostility of the surrounding atmosphere, wich has removed its attention and complacency from the artistic subject.

Another element full of meaning is the circle of cold neon light set up on the wall towards wich the face-hole on the hood is turned. Light represents knowledge and is responsible for clarity; thus, the imaginary artistic subject has his face turned to the light and is analysing his situation with cold clarity. But this light may also intend to insinuate, as an elementof elevation and of the beyond, that the artistic subject disappears into nothingness in it.

Kathrin Becker for Anamnese