Miguel Palma

“O Mundo às Avessas” (The World Upside-Down), the most recent show by Portuguese artist Miguel Palma, brought together eleven of his most important works, offering for the first time a selective overview of his prolific output. Dating from 1993 to the present, these mostly large-scale sculptures chronicle Palma’s fascination with technology and his entropic vision of the world. Most of the works were installed in separate rooms, however, neutralizing the almost chaotic aspect of Palma’s practice.

One of Palma’s most significant works is Engenho (Device), 1993, an elegantly stylized single-seat car that he built and drove from Lisbon to Porto. This work exemplifies the artist’s ongoing interest in machines, including their evolution and their impact on daily life. To Palma, cars symbolize the relationship between human being and machine. Although 2,5 km a 100 km à hora (2.5 km at 100 km per hour), 2001, a 262-foot-long electric track on which a miniature car travels, was the only other work on view dealing with the automobile, there have been many more over the years—for example, Accident Motion Pictures, 2003, an ambulance containing four video cameras trained on a miniature city complete with model cars; when driven, the vehicle, through its motion, causes the little cars to crash into each other, and footage of these collisions appears on accompanying monitors.

Other works on view reflected Palma’s concerns with ecology and warfare. Ecossistema (Ecosystem), 1995, consists of an inflated membrane covering a miniature industrial park and residential area and a ventilation system that creates a closed circuit of pollution. Carbono 14 (Carbon 14), 1998, is a monumental vitrine containing a model underground city; different layers of sand, stirred by a mechanical agricultural tool, enfold miniature houses and vehicles. In Tapete voador (Flying Carpet), 2005, the seat from an F-16 fighter jet is moved up and down by a turbine placed on top of a handmade Persian rug. Finally, Little Boy, 2007, presents a model of a commercial airplane flying in a circle and transporting bombs. This last work, the most recent of those on view, encapsulates Palma’s current practice. He is a bricoleur, a kind of engineer of bygone times, and a caustic critic of contemporary society.

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.