Sies + Höke is pleased to present the gallery’s inaugural exhibition of work by Portuguese artists Gusmão and Paiva (*1979 / 1977). Gusmão and Paiva have been collaborating since 2001 on short films, sculptures and installations and represented their home country at the 2009 Venice Biennial. This exhibition shows nine films, a spaceous “inverted” camera obscura installation and three bronze sculptures.
Gusmão and Paiva’s silent short films are visually minimal and simply produced; they feature amateur actors and low-tech special effects, and have a purposefully aged look to them that recalls the silent movies of the 1920s. Varying in content and approach from the educational and experimental to the magical and philosophical, they depict a strange and subtly fabulous universe.
The tragicomic and nonsensical elements in Gusmão and Paiva’s work have been related to numerous ancestors, most often to Nietzsche and the existentialist writers Beckett, Camus, Ionesco and Kafka, but also the iconic films of Bas Jan Ader and classic slapstick movie. Gusmão and Paiva’s work is also characterised by their apparent interest in paranormal phenomena, alchemy and occultism. In works such as their camera obscura, they analyse the mechanism of sight, studying systems of illusion and deception and indicating the complexity of the production of images.
Through these widespread references Gusmão and Paiva examine the position of the individual in the centre of an inexplicable world. Mistrusting the idea of a universal narrative or truth, they mockingly embrace the ideas of existentialism and reject a fully rational understanding of the world.
A text by João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva
The thing inside the thing, inside the thing… the thing is swallowed and remains concealed. The belly of the Russian doll, belly of the whale; Jonas being swallowed by the “big fish”; layers of things; a vase inside vases: one inside another, from larger to smaller; Trojan horse; the Hollow Earth _ or, in reverse: the onion skin peeled, layer by layer. The foot removes the sock which takes off the shoe which leaves the footprint…
Without evading the thingness of things, we see the puppeteer setting up the show; he positions the table before hiding himself behind the canvas, picking up the strings, manipulating the puppet that will perform: the glutton. The puppeteer then prepares a fine meal, the table cloth is the stage where the smallest elements come alive like someone elaborating a theory in miniature. The props are simple, plates, glasses, cutlery, two pots, food. The hands work the crockery like a watchmaker inserting the spring in a winding mechanism; he arranges the world on top of the table. There is a certain delicacy to the gestures. The puppeteer finishes setting up. We see his giant hand rising and leaving the scene behind.
In the Theatre, the “place for seeing”, the world is as verisimilar as it is removed from itself. Everything is represented. Thus placed on the table, the world is impossible to describe. In an impasse, the glutton peeks through the curtain, he does not know what awaits him on stage. The trap is set. The rehearsal may begin.
The story goes like this:
The desert herdsmen have a technique that allows them to take their cattle to places where there is little water and with great effort and luck a common man is not lost. During long periods of drought, when thirst grows and the natural reservoirs run dry, these men, tired of the liquid materiality of mirages, set a trap.
First they make a narrow hole in a termite mound the exact size of their arm, hide a fruit inside and then, in the shade of a bush, wait. A little while later, a baboon attracted by the smell of the fruit approaches the hole. It sticks its arm inside until it reaches the belly of the hiding place and grabs the fruit in anticipation of his meal. It can remove its arm but not with its hand clutching the fruit! The herdsman gets up and calmly approaches the baboon who, on seeing the human, cannot decide between immediate flight and the fruit; by instinct, it maintains its hold on the fruit making it impossible to remove its arm and so is stuck in the hole, caught by its own indecision. Then (the moral of the story is brought to a rapid end), the herdsman feeds the baboon salt to make it very thirsty, frees it and follows it to a hidden well or a cave where there is water.
Film, sculpture and installation.
Some of the works presented were produced by Fondazione Brodbeck, 2010.