Alexandre Estrela

MNAC: Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado

Though his production also encompasses photography, drawing, sculpture, and installation, video remains Alexandre Estrela’s preferred medium. It is the creation of images in general, and the process underlying imagemaking in a technological age in particular, that interests him. Estrela therefore uses common audiovisual equipment such as TV sets and camcorders, exploring their technical qualities, both in analog and digital terms, for the creation of his works. For instance, in TV’s Back, 1995, a television set displays an image of its own back, and in One in a Million (Version Two), 2003, a malfunctioning pixel appears as a tiny bright point interfering with the view from a car driving through the streets of New York City.

Neither of these works, however, figures in Estrela’s survey “Stargate,” for the project took science fiction as its organizing principle. For example, the 2002 work after which the exhibition is named consists of an image of a slow-moving object whose size increases until it occupies the whole of the picture plane. Its appearance recalls a trope from Hollywood cinema. But the object is nothing more than the lens cap of a camcorder, and what was seen was its underside gradually covering the lens until nothing else remains visible and blackness fills the screen.

The choice of theme, however, proves to be an artificial imposition on Estrela’s oeuvre, since he has made as many works that have nothing to do with science fiction as ones in which it is central. A consequence of this curatorial approach is that significant works like Interdigital (entre os meus dedos) (Interdigital [Between My Fingers]), 2003, Metadrop, 2004, and Shooting for a “Second I,” 2005, were necessarily excluded. Even works that can be read from a sci-fi perspective end up seeing their meaning reduced to a single observational angle. Such was the case with Sem Sol, 1999, a video that plays with the double meaning of the Portuguese word sol, which refers to both the sun and the musical key of G. The video shows a red dot evocative of the sun dancing to music from which every occurrence of the note G has been deleted, leaving gaps in the melody, each of which is visually marked by the insertion of a black frame.

Instead of taking science fiction as a theme, it would have been preferable to focus on the ways in which Estrela utilizes language or relates image and sound. These aspects of his art can be seen not only in works that have been left out, but also in Sem Sol as well as in other works on view, among which Hear Here, 2002, stands out. Based on the fact that light travels faster than sound, which permits us to calculate, for example, the distance of thunderstorms, in this work an all-black screen is suddenly filled by a flash of light, followed by a loud noise. Then we see at the lower right corner of the screen the hypothetical distance, in miles, between the viewer and the source of the light (based on the temporal discrepancy between the flash and the corresponding sound). Since the interval between the light and the sound varies, so does the distance; when light and sound are simultaneous, HEAR HERE appears on the screen, as if the phenomenon were taking place at the exact spot where the spectator stands.

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.