As time goes by...
in: Exhibition Leaflet, Galeria 111, Lisbon, September 2006
1. "As Time Goes By ..." *
The relationship humans have with the notion of time is perhaps one of their most distinctive features. If its natural that today we think of time as a kind of technology in which instruments allow us to measure moments at different scales – for example, from the nanosecond to the millennium. We also know that time is truly the opportunity of life that each of these different periods encompasses. If we move from the particular to the general, it's even possible to read the whole effort of human evolution as a systematic struggle for the expansion of this real opportunity – the opportunity to live more.
The fact that all the mental structures we use to address the notion of time are associated with a sense of rhythm, is something that comes, if not from conscious observation of the natural movements and their constant renewal (or repetition), then a tacit communion between them and the pulse of our own body. One day can only be understood as such when a new day dawns – it is through repetition that we perceive the days, and we learn also that the days are unrecoverable. Thus, if time is not the measure of our loneliness, it is at least the consciousness of our ephemeral condition. To be able to think of time leads us sooner or later, to the observation of our own mortality, and this, in turn, is the basis of some of the more complex questions our human intelligence debates. The broader concept of time and its implications are the nerve center of this exhibition, and this is why the encounter with the works presented by João Leonardo appears as a multi-faceted challenge, which seems to invite us to an exercise in ontology.
2. "The fundamental things apply..." *
Although it occupies a dubious space, the habit or addiction has been increasingly more an image of counter-culture in contemporary society. The ongoing search for the new – that modern chimera that extends to the present day – pushes the habit to a point where it only dissolves when it questions or causes disturbances that are impossible to ignore. Furthermore, habits are always actions that enjoy a significant recurrence –exercises that are so turned in upon themselves, and so pointedly repeated, that they seem to become independent from the perpetrator, to become entities that describe and qualify him. There is therefore a frightening dose of intimacy involved in the exposure of habits – those who disarm us, to those who disguise us – and it is with this advantage that we encounter the pieces "Calendar" and "List of Verbs."
If the imposing dimension is insufficient to make us take two steps back, then the uncertainty about what is seen and experienced in these works forces us to approach the two works as one force, so that, face to face, they appear to announce one battle. If we stop first at the wide range of games, crosswords puzzles, which the artist suggestively called "Calendars", we feel, through the meshwork of composition, between open and closed spaces, the feeling that we are facing a body that is witness of both Relapse and Perseverance. In one unexpected model, we have before us the giant map of an effort of memory - the mapping of some of the concepts that one day we went through and which left a mark on us, an impression that lasts, as evidence of its recurrent utility. If the notion of time has not yet stormed us – for example, an impulse to count all the puzzles you can see and deduct the days to complete the work – it becomes inevitable when the memory factor is constituted in evidence. Because the memory always involves the act of bringing to this a reverberation of the past, and through this simple movement time gains an almost palpable thickness.
3. "Hearts full of passion - jealousy and hate..." *
After satisfying the voyeuristic impulse of which we presume to know what Leonardo knows and he does not know of one particular game of language, we look with other eyes to the second work in question. Again, the grid creates a formal cohesion, when we discover it drawn in the tight spaces between the hundreds of empty cigarette packets, strictly packed in wooden boxes built to perfection. And again also returns the figure of time to overshadow a work that lives on an exercise in repetition, which this time, and while absent and exhausted, leave out abandoned and (now) useless bodies as evidence of its occurrence. From this moment, if not before, the close relationship between the two works is clear. Suddenly they become the two inseparable sides of a moral issue, that casts a new light on the idea of habit: if a set of crossword puzzles is a symbol of one habit, a set of cigarette packs is always a symbol of addiction. In this slight semantic distinction one finds the abyss where vice and virtue are articulated. Using the strategy of documentation of its own time (we are certainly dealing with two works that claim the recognition of its performative status), Leonardo seems to force us to take a position on the quality of these two habits, pointing to a value judgment. And one remembers David Hume words: "So when you say an action or character is vicious, I would simply say that, due to the constitution of your nature, to consider them, you experience a sense of censorship. " * *
4. "No matter what the future brings..." *
We consider, therefore, two habits that Hume put beyond the reach of reason in the eighteenth century, but the reasonableness that was sparingly instilled in us over nearly three hundred years, further complicates the collective negotiation of the frontier between vice and virtue in the contemporary world. Balancing between the comfort of our finite body and the immense body of these works, between the arguments of reason and the evidence of pleasure, we know that the space we occupy in the center of the gallery, its the stage of a cross-fire, the place of a vertigo. And if we allow ourselves, it can be us who sit in the safe haven of a desk, loaded with our dirty vices and our clean virtues, practicing them to exhaustion, as if creating wrinkles in the body.
5. "A case of do or die..." *
One urgency may well be the place where time is tight. And it is possible to live in a state of urgency all the time, corseted by the time that never comes, which is never enough. In one deliberated and obsessive gesture, which seems to counteract the more mechanized strategies of collecting, we watch now the reverse strategy of the one who waits and materializes that waiting in one body. To list all the verbs that exist in the Portuguese language seems to be the ultimate response to the mortality that time exposes. As a son of Chronos who challenges the inevitability of infanticide, this list of verbs seems to be a weapon that, shot in urgency, will reach the void. But each new verb is a breath of resistance and deceleration, as a mirage of one action is a promise of life saved. In the monumentality of this list taken as a whole, time seems to be nothing, precisely because we can be everything at a glance.
* Verses from the song "As Time Goes By..." by Herman Hupfeld, sung by Frank Sinatra
* * David Hume, "Treatise of Human Nature", Lisbon, Calouste Museum - Education Service and Scholarship, 2001