Nuno Ramalho

Nuno Ramalho, a young artist living in Porto, has distinguished himself among the generation that emerged in Portugal during this past decade through the civic consciousness that imbues his production. Ramalho questions prevailing worldviews by analyzing the ideological structures that dominate the social sphere. In the tradition of institutional critique, he explores the logic of artistic legitimization and the mechanisms of the art market. However, other systems of power, those perhaps more manifest in daily life, also constitute Ramalho’s subject matter.

As suggested by the title of his recent exhibition, “Mercado Negro” (Black Market), which brought together works made in the last three years, Ramalho addresses the economy in general and the connection between economics and politics in particular. One example is Recibo (Receipt), 2009, a silver replica of a sales receipt from the bookstore at the Saatchi Gallery in London, in which is mentioned, among other items, the 2007 volume Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers: From Structuralism to Post-Humanism. By juxtaposing ostensible opposites—the mundane artifacts of the market and the radical texts of theory—Ramalho derides their connection. This attitude can also be seen in Carta (Letter), 2009, the documentation of correspondence between Ramalho and the president of Portugal about the latter’s official portrait, a commission traditionally assigned to a recognized artist. Ramalho uses the exchange to expound on the historical relationship between art and systems of power.

In other works, Ramalho cross-referenced individual autonomy and administration. Anúncio (Ad), 2009, takes the form of the photographic reproduction of classified pages in the Jornal de Notícias—the country’s largest-circulation daily newspaper—with alterations by the artist. In a single week in January of this year, Ramalho published nine ads in different sections (Help Wanted, for example), each one consisting of a single word written in white against a black background. Lined up on the wall, the words formed the phrase PARA ALÉM DE TUDO ISTO, COMO SE NADA FOSSE (Beyond all this, as if it were nothing), whose Situationist-inspired covert message suggests a revolutionary desire lurking in the pages of the mass media.

Various works allude to the G8, the economic group comprising the world’s wealthiest countries. For example, the drawing Sem Título (Estudo para Leaders of Men) (Untitled [Study for Leaders of Men]), 2006, replicates a photograph, widely circulated in the media, of the heads of state of the eight nations along with other dignitaries. But here the subjects are disfigured, converted into impersonal representations of the acts of government. Other works are less obvious in their reference to public issues: Coelho (Rabbit), 2009, is a vitrine containing an object made of photocopies of rabbit fur, cut into strips; a small text conveys the story of the killing of a rabbit by a group of boys. Lesmas (Slugs), 2009, is also a vitrine, this one with the phrase LESMAS NO FIO DA NAVALHA (slugs on the edge of a razor blade) spanning three of its sides—a quote from the film Apocalypse Now (1979) that evokes our capacity for horrifying acts. The uncanny quality of these works reflects an existential disenchantment, underscoring the sources of Ramalho’s political outlook and his trenchant commentary on the conditions of society in the present day.

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.