Lisbon

Leonel Moura

Biblioteca National

The recent work of Leonel Moura deals with a pervasive problem on the contemporary artistic scene. The question at hand is, What social and economic geography informs our perception of the contemporary international cultural situation? Since the beginning of the decade, there has been an esthetic revaluation of cultural and regional traditions. In some cases, the result has been a simplistic analysis of the problem of cultural differentiation and homogenization. An interpretation based on a juxtaposition of regional cultures, or on the simple opposition between dominant and dominated culture, is no longer sufficient. In our present situation, the question becomes vaster and more complex. First, the question of differentiation has been extended to the definition and status of objects. In the context of this greater consideration, all objects (whether “domestic,” “artistic,” “primitive,” or “industrial”) are potentially approachable and acceptable. The power to affirm each specific cultural form does not depend on the conformity to a fixed norm that no longer exists, but rather on the economic and mediatory capacity to promote and carry forward such affirmations on an international scale. The issue here is the capacity to create a new identifiable cultural image.

Moura’s work can be situated at the crossroads between a diversity of cultural traditions and the universality of contemporary language. The question of origin and cultural destiny that usually constitutes the background of an artistic endeavor here becomes an explicit theme.

Moura’s images share characteristics with mass media’s forms of communication: a voluminous metal structure that resembles the framework of a commercial display or television; a greatly enlarged photograph whose easily visible grain recalls newspaper imagery in a video recording, or written words in computerized typeface. All these processes help clarify the message, while demanding immediate decoding. The presentation of a particular question becomes more important than one’s reflection on that question. Thus, at first reading, these works might seem to exhaust their own meaning through their overt stance in relation to the viewer. However, in a second reading, they are exposed to a question that opens in the viewer an ample field of reflection: which images help form our present vision of the world? And to what degree are these images capable of facing the complexity of our contemporaneity?

The formal coldness of the works is not taken to the extreme of refusing all possible ideological or metaphoric content. In the series “Portugal” and “North Territory,” both 1987–88, a reading in terms of the confrontation between arrogance and discretion, oldness and newness, power and nonpower, centrality and non-centrality becomes possible. In the “Europa” series, 1987–88, a confrontation between the distinct origins and resonances of selected images is inevitable. Portraits of philosophers and political figures fundamental to the history of European culture are confronted with impressive images of the artistic tradition. In this way, a specific field of reflection about the present meaning of the notion of Europe, its cultural past and political future, is inaugurated.

At a moment when these debates are at the forefront of contemporary discussion, it is significant that an artist invites the viewer to a “council” in which, under the sign of “Europa,” he is made to confront his own context as it relates to images such as those of Lenin, Machiavelli, Descartes, and Kant. In so doing, the viewer comes to recognize that these images are decisive in the process of formulating the perception of individual context.

Alexandre Melo

Translated from the Portuguese by Amy Antin.