Miguel Ângelo Rocha

Portuguese artist Miguel Ângelo Rocha combines explorations of basic pictorial and sculptural properties—point, line, plane, volume, and color—with an analysis of the sign value of found objects, merging formal investigation with the legacy of the readymade. Triste (Sad), 2010, for example, consists of a wooden table, on one side of which is attached a marine plywood board, bent and painted yellow, with a plastic bucket on top of it, soiled with cement as if found on some construction site.

Um exemplo daquilo” (An Example of That) brought together eighteen small-scale works to establish a dialogue among themselves, whether through the materials employed and their manipulation or the references they evoke—the latter is the case with marine plywood, which Rocha often uses for its aesthetic and technical qualities. Thus the red of De (infra-mince), 2008, a piece that consists of geometric planes attached to the corner where two walls meet, resembles that of Malas e ossos (Suitcases and Bones), 2009, two intersecting suitcases and a set of bones linked by curved boards of marine plywood. Other examples include Três de um par perfeito (Three of a Perfect Pair) and Contra a interpretação (Against Interpretation), both 2009, which feature newspapers and stains of color painted on the floor or walls, alluding to the messy, precarious condition of the substances and mundane experiences that define them.

The tension between nameable, recognizable elements from daily life and abstract structures resulting from a series of cumulative, almost Constructivist actions by the artist is heightened in Malas e ossos, for example. The work relates to the idea of a journey, on the one hand, and to the remains of the body—and therefore to death—on the other. From such juxtapositions of personal imagination and cultural reference emerges an uncanny sensation, as if the beholder were somehow becoming an extension or even a double of the work. In Mão esquerda, mão direita (Left Hand, Right Hand), 2010, this situation is taken to a paradoxical extreme, for the beholder is addressed, almost questioned. Consisting of a sheet of marine plywood painted white on one side and intersected by a piece of wood, the work is symmetrical to echo the beholder’s body, while its division implies psychological conflict.

This back-and-forth between symbolic order and subjectivity is recognized in other recent large-scale sculptures, such as Eupalinos, 2009, commissioned for “Between Sky and Sea,” an exhibition organized by Coimbra, Portugal’s Centro de artes visuais last summer as part of the event Art Algarve. In this case, Rocha took inspiration from Paul Valéry’s 1921 dialogue “Eupalinos ou l’architecte,” which evokes Eupalinos of Megara, an engineer in ancient Greece known for the innovative tunnel he constructed on the island of Samos. The work consists of several boards of marine plywood cut and intersecting one another, painted black, and suspended from the ceiling to create jerky, irregular loops. The patent drama in this piece was also present in the exhibition at Galeria Miguel Nabinho, where the works were strewn like so many ruins, evoking those scenes of destruction so popular in today’s visual culture. And yet a feeling of hope springs from each work, demonstrating the power of form to construct an alternative experience of the world.

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.