Nuno da Luz, The Conquest of Nature, 2010, photocopy, 11 3/4 x 8 1/4".

Nuno da Luz, The Conquest of Nature, 2010, photocopy, 11 3/4 x 8 1/4".

Nuno da Luz

Nuno da Luz, The Conquest of Nature, 2010, photocopy, 11 3/4 x 8 1/4".

Nuno da Luz is fascinated by the randomness of the events that take place all around us, whether natural catastrophes or simple everyday accidents—and particularly by the ways we accept or refuse them. For his first solo exhibition, he used a couple of serendipitous events or accidents as a jumping-off point. The first was a simple mishearing. Listening to a recording made during a silent protest march by Italian metal workers in Milan in 1969, he heard at a certain moment during the protest a voice through a megaphone shouting “Il nostro silenzio è un monito” (Our silence is a warning). But Luz understood, instead, “Il nostro silenzio è solido” (Our silence is solid). Because of the prolonged silence, the recording made clear the surrounding ambient noises during the march, which for the artist seemed to be so dense that they were almost palpable, thus corroborating the demonstrator’s presumed words.

Translated into Portuguese, these two declarations became the title of the show, “O nosso silêncio é um aviso / O nosso silêncio é sólido,” and also of one of the exhibited installations, dated 2012: an empty room with three electric heaters and a set of speakers hanging from the ceiling. The temperature of the space was quite high, making it increasingly uncomfortable to remain there throughout the two sound pieces (one of church bells and the other of processed feedback), which were separated by five minutes of silence. The artist wanted to see how changing the atmospheric conditions of a room would impact the way we listen to the simplest sounds. On the exhibition’s opening night, a performance by Manuel Mota and Margarida Garcia continued this experiment as the two musicians were invited to respond via improvisation to the ambience of the room. The larger the audience grew, the hotter the room became and the denser the air. The musicians reacted both to the changing environment and, in turn, to the reactions of the audience.

In the adjacent room, the artist had a similar strategy but used a contrasting method. For 09.05.2000, 2012, instead of controlling the temperature, da Luz had the window open all the time, leaving the weather outside to dominate the inside of the space. The unpredictability dictated by the weather was metaphorically related to an event that had front-page coverage in one of Portugal’s daily newspapers. The artist presented a four-page story from this newspaper, Público, on the date cited in the installation’s title, which told of a blackout in the nation’s south, caused by a stork hitting a high-voltage power line. On the opposing wall hung a speculative essay written by the artist using this story as a starting point for reflections on how to live with randomness.

The second incident that informed the show happened while the artist was photocopying the cover of the 1969 book The Conquest of Nature by R. J. Forbes, which examines the way in which people have used technology to try to understand the unpredictability of natural phenomena in order to control them. Accidentally, the machine erased the author’s name, leaving only the title in the resulting copy, and transformed the cover’s photograph into an abstract image. This shift seems paradoxical, given the content of the book: If even technology itself can cause an inadvertent outcome, how can we hope to control nature’s volatility? The resulting image laconically conveys the artist’s fascination with the question of how to transform the randomness of events into visible (or audible) works of art.

Filipa Oliveira