“This drive, that the title of another work correctly designates as Condensed People, becomes a dominant key and as some have written, can assume decorative values, relative to a pagan adherence to painting (oriental and occidental) and seen as a collective ritual or result of baroque euphoria.
In Padrões he insists again on the modular nature of what becomes a visual proposal built as a pattern of theme in a decorative form, like interwoven Arabic threads, geometrically and as a full surface, that tautologically announces itself as a wall filler.
The mannequin on show in this exhibition presents a textile pattern of a suit where this reality is emphasized by an exercise of unthinkable detail. The same figure, of human size and volume, mostly exhibits its surface – the fabric that envelops it – an anthropomorphic and microscopic piet de poule.
This is our next perplexity: why three dimensions to insist on flatness and surface? With the several layers of plastic and fortified glass, the vast majority of the works displayed here (both those on the wall as well as the smaller ones set on plinths), acquire a thickness and volume relevant to three-dimensionality.
But even these last works, trimmed and assembled to form swarms imprisoned in the translucence of a container they seem determined to surpass and despite the freezing to which their movement is submitted, the figures are flatter than ever, portraying no secrets or layers, and can be observed from all angles as simple cut out paper.
In the case of Enciclopédia Tridimensional , animals, machines, monuments, classical sculptures, a baby inside the uterus, faces and busts, are all chaotically distributed, attributing to them an absent point of view and space structure.
The thickness of the piece is the ground on which the absence of thickness in the drawings becomes transparent. The colourless but dense atmosphere of the glass and acrylic sheets exude the openness of the background of a canvas and the restraint of successive layers of pigment, but offers a supplementary form or illusion: as we can walk around the piece and observe it sideways, it promises a sculptural character that the fragmented painting dwelling in it further denies. If painting is painterly delusion, in this case volume is doubly delusional; drawing and painting totally disappear, as if we are facing a diabolic machine.
Thus, as in walls of cathedrals, all sides celebrate painting. The small figures supply a continuous flow, multiplying and dividing itself just as in biological reproduction. Rocha da Silva mentions “neurological cells” . They recall something catastrophic yet natural, demographically unpredictable waves of human being. As minimal units, they express the Renaissance concept of Man being the measure of all things, despite sarcasm – today Man is the measure of his own dehumanized urbanism, the globalisation of consumerism, a terrorist or viral threat, the horizon of human cloning, or maybe even silent and deaf revolution.
Large shapes require the presence of a world, using their beauty or their bluntness, without reflection but degradation in a manner of ritualistic desecration.
At a certain point in The Trial of Kafka, we come across the following description:
K. let himself be led by him, and it turned out that there was - surprisingly in a densely packed crowd of people moving to and fro - anarrow passage which may have been the division between two factions;
this idea was reinforced by the fact that in the first few rows to the left and the right of him there was hardly any face looking in his direction, he saw nothing but the backs of people directing their speech and their movements only towards members of their own side. Most of them were dressed in black, in old, long, formal frock coats that hung down loosely around them. These clothes were the only thing that puzzled K., as he would otherwise have taken the whole assembly for a local political meeting.
The even yet anonymous shape of this human ant-farm is the same as any large congregation on our planet, be it a political, sporting or media event - apocalyptic in its informal, absurd and unpredictable meaning. What the artist achieves in these paintings is at the same time a form of pointillism.
What from does the individual, or his Self (title of this exhibition), liberate from, or what possesses him when using this form of figuration?
Not by accident, Jardim Botânico , the only landscape painting in this group (in the arboreal sense), is also the singular work in which the human figure is not shown. The trees, a roof, the arches, an aqueduct and the fluorescent flora in general are rendered trough a tumultuous and quick brushstroke, incompatible with any form of micro-definition. On the glass that overlaps the wood, a surface dedicated to drawing, are visible black contours, delimiting forms that find an echo on other painterly surfaces. These are figures that stand out from a chromatically intense background of green and yellow hues but as plants, are expressive and individual entities, neither repetitive nor repeated.
The same process of creating distance between the surface of contour lines and of the daubs is also apparent in another work where small pieces of broken (imploded) painted glass are glued to create agglomerations, as the artist always does with the paintbrush. Above them, the drawn lines create apparent boundaries of drifting territories in imaginary maps.
On these surfaces, gesture allows itself a degree of freedom that not even the repetition of stylized signs (like stamps) or large figures can achieve. The price is paid however, through a high degree of abstraction, driving this work away from the compulsive confrontation with human appearance.
The two videos where a Columbian couple are dancing to kitsch South-American music in the eighties (an old recording recently edited due to a magnification of the presence of time and the ritualistic function of dance), ostensibly enhance and isolate the human figure, giving it a face, warmth and realistic identity; grotesque in its stereotyped typology, as many figures that he paints, without depth (this time a psychological one).
The same has been previously seen with the mannequin Piet de Poule, as well as in some paintings, but real people (actors) appear to be proposing to us a world into which the remaining work was never introduced. They zoom in on emotions, private history, individuality, even if not being specific about almost anything. Here we are face to face with them, finally as beings of the same scale and measure, images that the mirror effect displayed in the glass set in front of the paintings has already given back to us in the moment of exercising that physical and critical distance in which we observe.
Perhaps this couple will know how to give us clues for several questions asked in this text:
Reality is three–dimensional and painting lives in two. The representation of space relies on the fascination of illusion.
The individual, or the Self, control the invasion of the Other with difficulty; they have moments when liberated from it and others when voluntarily associated to it; they breathe the immersion in the collective and (in)differentiation.
Expression is a search conditioned by many codes and acquisitions, but finds its more or less repressed ways of making itself felt.
In narrative, time is short; in life, in-transmissible. But time in History is vertiginous.
Filipe Rocha da Silva’s artwork attempts to manage these difficult truths.
Lisboa, 25th January 2009, Leonor Nazaré