The Unbuilding of Man


in:  "Other Aproaches", Antena 3 - The Umbuilding of Man (cat.), Fundação de Serralves / Camara Municipal de Torres Vedras, November, 2007

João Leonardo’s work guides our gaze towards the action of the body and its consequences. He displays his belief in the virility of his own body: a tattoo, a cigarette, a glass of beer. But this masculinity seems to be undermined by something strange that disturbs the austerity that we have accepted in the meantime. The promiscuity of indiscriminate kisses, painted body, the word real and the choice of loving, are traps, embedded within his work, that question the meaning of being a man-artist. Inverting Bruce Nauman’s Art Make-up (1967–68), the artist removes the layers that identify him in Clean (2003). His full disintegration is achieved when he attains transparency, from which moment we become scandalised, not by the object itself, but that which we transform it into. In The Hair of the Dog (2004), we are obliged to watch the artist as he drinks his own urine – but prefer to divert our gaze from this unbroken cycle. Our decadent preconceived ideas persist precisely in this refusal of a reality constructed in front of us or even by us.

In Contradiction (2005), the artist/worker, in his atelier, nonchalantly ties himself up, with skill and symmetry, thereby building a web, structure, second skin, or protective mesh. At the end, he calmly poses before us, in order to see and be seen, proud of his work. He then unties himself, with great facility, carefully tidies the ropes, breathes a sigh of relief and exits the stage. This contradictory game fosters a metaphor for the role of the artist as manipulator and, simultaneously, marionette. The ropes suggest a social and historical burden that imposes a second skin upon the artist that is simultaneously beneficial and detestable. We weave and build this second skin, always as a premeditated and conscious choice, but this does not mean it is devoid of feeling or emotion. Our choice validates, deepens, and praises the construction of our own identity and culture: error, lying, falsehood, make-up, webs, clothing.

The possibility of Escape (2004), begins with the sound of a door closing. On the classic contemporary stage – the television set – the artist lies bound up. Through recourse to the efforts of the worker or slave, he frees himself as part of implementation of this work. We sense his pain and desperation through his heavy breathing and swearing. Upon escaping, the artist leaves a vestige of his own presence. This discarded skin is his visible work. We are obliged to establish an equivalence between the object, the art and artist, and are also confronted with ideas we have about ourselves. The effort is always glorious, even if the spectator sees no end to this process, because it is through the very reverberation of this image in our memory, that doubts are perpetuated concerning the object and our capacity of seeing/interpreting it.

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