Pedro Cabrita Reis

Pedro Cabrita Reis’ recent installation is part of his latest series, which began with the magnificent Scala Coeli (Stairway to heaven, 1992) presented in the group exhibition “Los Ultimos dias” (The last days, 1992). It is a series with a strongly allegorical content in which Cabrita Reis’ classic melancholy austerity is placed in the service of a ceremonial idea of art’s role. In Scala Coeli this reference was nearly explicit: the piece functioned as a banquet table for a secularized last supper without any promise of resurrection or paradise, but it still alluded to an ascending path.

There is an implicit lesson in these pieces: the absence of a redeeming horizon does not exempt art from assuming a theologico-political ritual function. In the wake of Joseph Beuys, Cabrita Reis sees himself confronted by the challenge to assume an almost shamanistic role—which Dan Cameron rightly notes in his catalogue essay. The big difference between Cabrita Reis and the German master Messiah is that the former does not root that charismatic function in his own person; instead it occupies a discrete plane. All the power of a ceremonial edict is granted to the pieces themselves, and the artist is not present except as maker, as an absent guest at an impossible banquet. In effect, every vestige of human presence is only visible as a mute trace that invokes a palpable and explicit absence.

The melancholic force of this series resides precisely in that absence, like an abbreviated trace only briefly retained in memory. In a way, the scenes he constructs tell us about imaginary ceremonies of lost purity that already belong to us, as if the knowledge of those places were in our genes. The poverty and austerity of those surroundings contrasts beautifully with that cold purity—almost angelic and of a chilling mystical asceticism. Therein resides all the strength of this artist’s recent work, and the results, at times quite unequal in his work, depend on the allegorical force of his pieces. In those that get lost in formal experimentation, or in an excessive thematic complexity—rhetorical or spatial—that allegorical content is less clear, and the piece loses part of its strength. Something similar takes place in H. Suite VIII, 1993, in which the fullness of the installation was obscured by the mechanical complexity of the apparatuses. In H. Suite VII, 1993, however, we find ourselves once again before an exemplary piece. With an almost gestaltlike simplicity, the spectator is absorbed by the strength of a single glance at Cabrita Reis’ mystical and melancholic universe. It is a place in which he will certainly feel we have been before, infinitely celebrating our own drama, our own difficulty—that of being human in a culture which has emptied such a condition of all meaning.

José Luis Brea

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent T. Martin.