João Pinharanda // Nuno Vicente: The breathing of the waters.

Prémio Novos Artistas Fundação EDP 2015

Nuno Vicente works with time, or rather, the elements of time are at work in his pieces. The time measured by human watches is rectified by real time as it transforms, often with a high degree of unpredictability, the materials the artist selects for his shows. The true agencies at work in Nuno Vicente’s pieces, these elements of real time can be seen in other, previous, works in which the artist works with archeological and paleontological time, confronting natural terrestrial phenomena with cosmic time, for example, confronting the incommensurable lifespan of a fossil with the fragile moment it crosses the surface of a lake (Homage to Ilya Prigogine - Rock skipping of fossils onto water, 2014), essaying new ways how to communicate his thoughts into outer space (Diaries – Message into the infinite #1, 2014), essaying infinitely slow ways of abrading materials (Gutta cavat lapidem, 2008), using his walks through German and Portuguese forests and woodlands (he lives in Germany) to collect dead and living materials (Transformation of a bird into stone, 2011-14; Forest – capturing the movement of an inert body, 2014), and confronting the natural with human made devices in order to define a ground where to develop the reflections that serve as guidelines to his work.

In the case of the pieces presented in this exhibition, the natural, transformative, and actuator element is light. Water is used as an actuator and as conductor. Using the double as the base for the development of his visual discourse, the artist immediately shifts our position from a formal to a metaphorical dimension: two works on two walls, two language systems, frontal or diagonal symmetries, the before and the after, day and night, the moon and the sun, the positive and the negative.

Considering the pair light/water as a double, we can understand that Nuno Vicente’s work is more about complementarity than it is about opposition. Water and light are indivisible elements seen as continuous fluxes (material, the first, incorporeal, the second); both difficult to control, they interact in nature – the artist’s objective is somehow the poetic artificialization of this natural process.

In the wall facing the entrance of the exhibition, one piece, (the shadow of a river in countercurrent - Tribute to Heraclitus), consists of a delicate bronze receptacle that, if neither natural nor building (human) conditions are met, can remain as the sculptural project of a future work or, when the conditions are met, i.e. if it is parallel to a river (the Tagus, in this case) and able to receive sunlight, it is activated and transforms into a stream of water that is diverted from the river, and then returned to it. The light that activates the piece can also be subjected to processes of capture and transmission, as it is captured by a reflecting mirror and projected onto the work’s solar panels. Once the piece is activated, it pumps water (from the river just in front of the Museum) into it and then back into the river. There is a time for pause and a time for action, a surrender to chance and weather patterns, mechanic and electronic knowledge serves a poetics that is reminiscent of (and sabotages) the functional and symbolic values of the clepsydra and of the archaic fountain and source. However, as we approach the piece a new perception and a new sense is awakened: hearing the water and its dripping sound inside the supporting wall (suggesting the secrecy of a cave) we are aware of a new element added to the aesthetic fruition of the piece. 

Another piece, immediately on the left after the entrance (Divided sculpture - the propagation of nocturnal light into the infinite) is a slideshow depicting (in the same river, but many miles upstream, near Vila Velha de Ródão) the drift of a small boat with two symmetrical mirrors covered by solar panels. The energy received by these panels during the day is only used to activate a mechanism that lifts them at sundown. During the day the mirrors are covered, during the night the panels rise, uncovering the mirrors and allowing them to symmetrically reflect the nocturnal light. The panels return to their original position when the sun rises. The images were taken in full moon nights in order to potentiate the symbolic value of the exchange of lights (between sun and moon, between night and day). Even if he likes the idea of imagining it arriving at the river mouth where the first piece is, the fate of the small raft (if it sinks or runs aground) is not important to the artist.

Quoting Heraclitus, Nuno Vicente observes the irreversibility of the movement of the river water as it flows towards the sea in a continuous flux. However, the artist is confronted with a river where, in certain periods, dams can pull back the water, challenging the ancient philosophical statement (“no man ever steps in the same river twice”), reversing time, fragmenting it or making it impossible to measure by natural means. Using artifacts and human artifices in order to illustrate his thoughts about nature, the artist challenges the equilibrium that could be conveyed by the exercises of symmetry in his pieces, between his pieces (as a microcosm), and between his pieces and nature (as a macrocosm).

João Pinharanda



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