Atom Egoyan / Julião Sarmento

What was so fascinating about Exotica (1994) the film that for many of us marked the discovery of Atom Egoyan, was the way that it enticed you to get dose, as close as possible, to let yourself be suffocated by the proximity of the voice of the flesh, without being able to touch any. This was the secret behind the film’s strip-club atmosphere. I remember the enthusiasm with which Julião Sarmento spoke to me of Exotica after he’d seen it for the first time. Years later, that enthusiasm would bring the two artists together in a collaboration included in the 2001 Venice Biennale: the video installation Close, 2000-2001, shown again at the Museu de Arte Contemporbea in an exhibition that also included three video installations by Sarmento and two by Egoyan.

Egoyan has been presenting installations since 1996. In Early Development, 1997, it is the physical presence of the projector that exemplifies the mediation of memory through which we gain access to images of childhood. In Evidence, 1999, which takes off from Egoyan’s film Felicia’s Journey (1999), a monitor hung beside a chair allows only a single viewer at a time. This puts the spectator in the place of the psychopathic interlocutor of the girls in the film, thus inviting us to share his position of guilt.

Film is a fundamental reference in all of Sarmento’s work, even in his paintings, whose strategies of composition and fragmentation are subtly cinematic. The artist has been a painter for almost forty years but also a photographer, filmmaker, and video artist, having in recent years privileged the latter incarnation. Doppelganger, 2001, shown here and in Sarmento’s recent one-man show at London’s Lisson Gallery, comes closer than his work ever has to the logic of cinematographic narrative. In this double projection onto two surfaces forming an angle, a dialogue is shown simultaneously from two views: on one side an interior shot, on the other an exterior view. Two women exchange positions and circulate between inside and outside through a door that connects the two spaces and the two contiguous projections. At the exit door, a snake appears on the ground for brief moments, intimating a threat.

The collaborative work Close is presented on a screen measuring fourteen by eleven feet and situated in a corridor where the viewer can never get more than about three feet from it. The images take on proportions that render them almost impossible to identify. They’re too close. We can touch the screen, but an image of a body on a screen is not a body, and therefore its proximity, underlined by an involving voice and disturbing speech, merely reinforces the intensity of absence and inaccessibility (as with the “don’t touch” body of a stripper). The voyeur’s desire has no limits because to see close up, as close as possible, is to see too close up, to lose perspective. As the title of the show says, “Something Is Missing.”

Alexandre Melo

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford Landers.