Rodrigo Oliveira

For “Da Obra ao Texto” (From Work to Text), Rodrigo Oliveira’s first solo show in Porto, the young Lisbon-based artist brought together two sets of works. One reflects his ongoing investigation of the legacy of modernism in contemporary life, especially as seen in architecture. For example, 20792 (Unité d’habitación) (20792 [Housing Unity]), 2009, merges a Le Corbusier drawing of the color coding used in the facades of his Unité d’Habitation buildings in Marseille with another drawing, burned by the sun, representing the volume of those edifices. Construções complexas (Geografia da casa) (Complex Constructions [Geography of the House]), 2009, consists of a series of emergency floor plans like those found in corporate buildings, but manipulated in accordance with preliminary studies of dwellings of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, among other architects, in order to examine the dialectic of function and form as professed by modernism, as well as contemporary criticism of this dichotomy.

Oliveira’s second body of work was inspired by the work of Roland Barthes, as suggested by the title of the exhibition. This is a less familiar component of Oliveira’s output—the exploration of power and language. In From Work to Text #2, 2008, Oliveira rewrites passages from Barthes’s famous essay, resorting to the popular technique of ransom notes: He makes words with letters cut from magazine pages. The poststructuralist claim that texts resist a single interpretation or, more generally, the privileging of the signified over the signifier, is also reflected in other works on view. For example, The Gap Between Civilization and Culture, 2006, consists of a collection of dictionary pages from the Penguin Reference Library in which the artist crossed out all the words between the terms civilization and culture. A similar strategy is noticeable in A distância entre Eu e o outro (Lisboa) (Porto) (The Distance Between Me and the Other [Lisbon] [porto]), 2008, composed of excerpts of telephone listings from the two cities, in bound volumes, which include only those subscribers with surnames between eu (me) and outro (other).

The separation between the two groups of works in the gallery space implied a difference between them, but as one continued through the exhibition space, one realized their common focus on the deconstruction of ideological systems. Oliveira’s critical attitude is patent, for instance, in Today & Now, 2009, a metal box from which spills the diamond-shaped confetti of two shredded books, Phaidon’s Artoday and Taschen’s Art Now. The conceptual and visual relationship among works like those of the series “Façade” (2008) and Jornal de serviço (Leitura em diagonal das páginas amarelas) (Service Journal [Diagonal Reading of the Yellow Pages]), 2009, reveals the same attitude. The former are colored geometrical structures that evoke the architectural functionalism of the International Style; the latter is composed of Yellow Pages cut page by page and collaged onto paper in order to depict a bookcase organized in alphabetical order. The exhibition brilliantly used such humor and absurdity to illuminate the structures that reign over values, attitudes, and collective behavior in our late-capitalist society.

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.