I am question oriented


Essay for the exhibition-screening Another Autointerview, Télétheque Project / Plataforma MA, Instituto Franco-Portugais, Lisbob, February 2010

João Leonardo (J.L.) video on show at Téléthèque is a screening version, or  a version for one single monitor, of the work “Autointerview”, a video installation for two monitors, that was presented about a year ago in his solo exhibition “Timeline” at Galeria 111. This led to the invitation made to JL to  "Talk" with us. In this new version, the title of the video (this is its first public display) is "Another Autointerview" - named after the text written by Lucas Samaras (Greece, 1936), from which both videos were made. This videographic work combines at least two ingredients that are known from previous works of JL: his own figure (or his own body) as the main character and single actor of the video-performance, and the appropriation of an artist text (the other text was a letter from Sol Lewit to Eva Hesse). The two main formal questions that we are inevitably confronted with this specific work “Another Autointerview”, are as follow: the implications of making two versions of the same work and the appropriation of an artist text. 

The first question, I must confess has caused me some discomfort in the beginning: to think that one was about to do a version of a video installation (an admirable one) that "fit" in one monitor so that its circulation would be somehow easier. In fact this issue arose on my mind before I see the video and realize they were made simultaneously. So here we have a false question. The issue of the standard formats is certainly valid, but lets leave it for another occasion because in this specific case, another  “Autointerview” extends the nodal point of this video: duplicity. We can’t really say here that one version of the same work works better than the other. They are simply two different versions of the same theme. JL´s himself has refered to this version as the "twins version". As you may see in the video-stills, there are two JL´s seated face to face, in an interview format, in witch one embody the questions and another the answers. Maybe one can say that this version has a more theatrical dimension, it is simultaneously more truly false and it benefits from the good subtle actor´s play of JL, in its declared impatience with himself. The first version, on the other hand, would win with the surprising and original device of the two monitors. Both versions benefit from the reading of an excellent voice.  Thus it is in this double-duplication that JL though the staging  –  it is fairer the word staging than appropriation  –  of the 1971 text by Lucas Samaras.

We then approach and sharply step into the second question: what does one video version (actually two in this case) adds to a text that is genius in itself? First, if it was not this work and maybe many of us would possibly never know a text in which we can certainly identify. Lucas Samaras is not an artist much referenced.  In JL´s case, the identification is extended to Lucas Samaras work, and one should say (for those who do not know his work) that he has obsessively built his long and prolific work, solely and exclusively on the self. Thousands of self-portraits, mostly in drawing and photography (often manipulated before Photoshop was invented - and in the meantime adopted) in which we consciously see evoked the figure of Narcisus, both the flower and the mythological character, the swan and also the orthodox saint, among others. The image of himself is an invariable presence. His rare installations are made with mirrors and here we have a text version of his work. The text is dense. The artist asks difficult but fundamental questions to himself, like “What are you?”,  repeating the question until he gets a satisfactory answer. The text´s humor relates to this last factor and also to the overlapping of a kind of auto-psychoanalysis, with prosaic questions like “Do you have any animals?”. In fact, as it might be expected, in this dialog, the interviewer and the interviewed are highly complicit: the question is made to give room for one or several previously desired answers. JL´s interpretation is the externalization and implementation of this internal and introspective dialog, on its own purified and minimal way, in a set that is a bit somber than normal on his videos. The result is a Bekett-inspired staging  – one must notice that there is no scenic indications on the original text  – which approached on the absurd in the field of metaphysics and were the false is assumed, it stands: there is nothing neither spontaneous, nor natural in this (these) videographic version(s) of Another Autointerview. The videographic reading of this text requires viewing the video repeatedly. The relevance and intensity of some questions and answers do not allow to assimilate the next question. The rhythm imposed by the video to the text underlines its construction and effectiveness. 

Lets return to the unusual figure of the twins, proposed and embody by JL, and that necessarily propel us for an uncanny, mannerist strangeness. This is the same strangeness or peculiarity that inspire the images distilled by the musician Aphex Twin, or the current heads of state of Poland, Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski or the artists twins Jane and Louise Wilson with an exhibition currently on CAM. We undoubtedly have here a folie du voir described by Christine Buci-Gluksmann, very postmodern in its unfolding and forgery of the image made possible by the sophistication and accessibility of current technical tools. The twins also suggest a (hopefully) distant preview of the clone or, at least, the possibility to embody different personalities in the "screen" dimension.  Or still, the natural and ancient multiplication of the self... And this is why the self-portrait often leads mainly to talk about all the selves. As JL gesturally enhances on the video: “Why don’t you keep your problems and your pleasures to yourself? Because I’m universalizing them.” 

JL has undertaken the difficult task of consciously question and expose intimate problems and reasonings, most of them unspeakable, but who are however, at least one or another, common to all, relieving the loneliness of each for a moment. Here it is easier than in previous works because it has a (yet another) accomplice: Lucas Samaras.

Catarina Marto

Lisbon, February 2010

Catarina Marto is an Artist and Curator based in Lisbon.


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“Lucas Samaras - Objects and Subjects, 1969-1986”, essays by Thomas McEvilley, Donald Kuspit and Roberta Smith, Denver Art Museum, ed. Marlene Chambers, Abbeville Press, 1988, NY 

“Unrepentent ego - self-portraits of Lucas Samaras”, Martha Prather, with an essay by Donald Kuspit, Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, 2003

“Photofictions”, Waddington Galleries, designed by Tomo Makiura, catálogo de exposição de  17 Março a 17 Abril 2004, Londres

“Hors limites, l’art et la vie, 1952-1994”, conception Jean de Loisy, coordination Françoise Marquet, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d’art moderne - Centre de création industrielle, 1994, Paris

Note sur la photographie, Gallimard /Seuil/Cahiers du Cinéma, Paris, 1980