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Thank you João!

Essay for the exhibition Timeline, Galeria 111, Lisbon, April 2009

João Leonardo's work is always associated with some sort of obsession: his body, his life, including his acts and the things that surround him. This kind of collector methodology takes the artist to the extreme:  if, on one hand, the minimalist subtlety is emphasized in the rigorous assembly of his solo exhibitions; on the other hand, the violence of the acts and presented images that, promoted by that same subtlety, evoke something more troubling about his own life and, above all, about the way he relates with others.

The photographs presented in the exhibition Timeline, in the Galeria 111, are taken from a comprehensive photographic diary developed by the artist in the past five years. These images follow his life and the consequences of his choices. Journeys, places, landscapes, portraits, animals and still-lifes are categories were all types of photographs could be included. If photography can be defined as the freezing of an event for a future memory - the "this-was" of Roland Barthes (Camera Lucida, 1980)* - João Leonardo's work is constructed in a different way. Unknown images, almost indecipherable - of strange places, of animals, anonymous people, of suspicious events - carry with them a desire to gather information not about the photographed object but, above all, about who is behind the camera, about who is seeing, about the author. These are not autobiographic images - because of no apparent references - when chosen and, or enlarged, they reveal the artist as an ordinary person. Thus, allowing his own life to be devastated by the spectator, even when he lives lonely and isolated.

The timeline - which gives the title to the exhibition - can be explored throughout all the exhibition space. This path assumes the "passing" of time - always so much present in João Leonardo's work - is particularly alien to the discipline of photography: since one is always limited to a certain period of past time. The time that the artist proposes is frustrating because it slips beyond the memory that each personal image allows access to. In setting this heavy time, quickly each viewer determines the life of the author and at the same time, is faced with his own life. The permissiveness that we allow ourselves to be affected by these intimate images is revealed by a terrifying simplicity that lulls us to other places and other memories. It is through the repetition of small gestures and light actions deferred from the exterior that we are alerted to the nameless interior of each of us.

In the end, the artist proposes the video Autointerview, using a reverse strategy but pointing sharply in the same direction. When the pictures expose the exterior - what the artist sees - the video comes from the interior - what the artist thinks about himself. The self-interview, based  on a text by the Greek artist Lucas Samaras** (1936), it’s not an innocent choice. The text deals with personal issues of artistic creation: Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing? Why are you doing? Some questions are constantly repeated, invading the individuality of the artist, not only as a producer of art but also as a person and as a man. This interference unites man and the artist, maybe as Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) formulated: EVERY HUMAN BEING IS AN ARTIST (1973***). Art and life or life and art, makes the artistic project to become inseparable of the personal life of its producer. Is it possible to distinguish the man from the man-artist? Is it possible to separate the life of João Leonardo from his artistic life? This will be the core of his work and, therefore put the viewer between a rock and a hard place. Is the viewer able to recognize the work or is he constantly projecting onto what he sees? And narcissisticly, am I able to write without being invaded by my personal life? Maybe we should not answer... avoiding both the rock and the hard place. In presenting such a degree of intimacy, the artist chooses the rock. What about the viewer?

As possible conclusion, as it is not always easy to end when we long for the beginning of an extended discussion, the work of João Leonardo allows access to that which is most intimate and individual. The artist’s anxious life is scrutinized by the eyes of those who are there to see it.  The path that Timeline draws may sound false, imaginary or fictional, but by the sensitivity of each photograph, the spontaneous crop, the blurring of the images, by the sheer quantity of the collected and presented images, we are led to believe this measureless sincerity. And we shudder with such generosity when we look in the mirror of a life other than ours.

Thank you very much!

Hugo Dinis
Artist and Curator, holds a BA (honours) degree in Fine Arts - Painting and a MA in Curatorial Studies - Faculty of Fine Arts Lisbon / Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation with a thesis on  Political Strategies of Sexual Identity in Contemporary Art

Roland Barthes, La Chambre Claire: Note sur la photographie, Gallimard /Seuil/Cahiers du Cinéma, Paris, 1980
** Lucas Samaras, "Another Autointerview," in Samaras Album; Autointerview, Autobiography, Autopolaroid, Whitney Museum of American Art and Pace Editions, New York, 1971, pp. 5-7
*** in Caroline Tisdall, Art into Society, Society into Art, ICA, London, 1974, p.48.