Porto, Portugal

Rita Sobral Campos

Galeria Pedro Oliveira

Since 2008, Rita Sobral Campos, a young Portuguese artist residing in New York, has dedicated herself to writing and developing works and projects based on the texts she produces. Gutenberg’s Machine, 2008, for instance, is a newspaper that explores the propagation of the republican ideals that led to the founding of the Portuguese Republic in 1910. In it, she published a short play, also titled Gutenberg’s Machine, inspired by the cut-up technique of William S. Burroughs, and tracing the life of Johannes, an imaginary character loosely based on the storied inventor of the printing press. Sobral Campos’s interest in literature evolved with the production of The Last Faust Myth in the History of Mankind, 2006–2009, from which emerged the project Teletransporter, 2009, recently presented in two exhibitions—“On Rituals of Homecoming,” curated by Adam Budak, at the Ludwik Grohman Villa in Lodz, Poland, and this solo show in Porto.

The Last Faust Myth is a fantastic story unfolding like a movie script, in which a pair of narrators introduces four characters: Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese modernist writer; Joan of Arc; Arthur Virgílio, a swindler from the early twentieth century; and a popular sixteenth-century prophet named Bandarra. In an existential manner, they all begin to question themselves; for example, Pessoa muses about the banality of his surname (which means “person” in Portuguese), concluding that its ordinariness would justify the identity crisis underlying the multiplicity of alter egos that characterizes him—his famous heteronyms. Then a fifth character appears: Mephistopheles, who attempts to corrupt the others, but unsuccessfully.

This text is distributed over twenty-three pages composed on an old Olivetti typewriter. On them are inscribed geometric designs whose overlapping lines mask certain passages while calling attention to others. Sobral Campos then digitized the resulting images, blowing them up and printing them on photographic paper. (A larger selection of these photographs was shown in Porto than in Lodz.) The works are situated between the legacy of abstract art and the imagery of science fiction; the powerful graphic component, inspired by Constructivism, also stresses the critical quality of her output: In As the Frustration of Our Characters Grew, 2009, several black bars cover up two paragraphs that on one hand enunciate Mephistopheles’s mission and on the other describe the remaining characters, speculating whether such strange people could really be corruptible. Sobral Campos explores artistic tradition and censorship in order to examine the symbolic systems that govern social life.

Sobral Campos has often linked her photographs to sculpture; this is also the case with Teletransporter, the work that gives the project on view in Lodz its title and which simulates a strange teleportation machine linked to a platform for transmitting matter; in the Porto gallery, by the same token, are three platforms for receiving that matter. The teleporter constitutes the device connecting the characters of the narrative, who belong to different space-time dimensions. In the tradition of the best science fiction, Sobral Campos’s disenchanted worldview and fascination with the future possibilities of technology reflect anxieties that are very much in the present.

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.