Lisbon

Rui Chafes, Tranquila ferida do sim, faca do não (Quiet Wound of the Yes, Knife of the No), 2000–13, iron, light projectors, each element 118 1/8 x 10 5/8 x 30 3/4", overall dimensions variable.

Rui Chafes, Tranquila ferida do sim, faca do não (Quiet Wound of the Yes, Knife of the No), 2000–13, iron, light projectors, each element 118 1/8 x 10 5/8 x 30 3/4", overall dimensions variable.

Rui Chafes

Galeria Filomena Soares

Rui Chafes, Tranquila ferida do sim, faca do não (Quiet Wound of the Yes, Knife of the No), 2000–13, iron, light projectors, each element 118 1/8 x 10 5/8 x 30 3/4", overall dimensions variable.

It has become a clich. to talk about the overflow of images in our time. We hear again and again about an excess producing a kind of blindness, as if images were so pervasive as to have become transparent, slippery. Another current clich. is that the constant flow of images and information in which we are immersed has accelerated time, leaving us increasingly unable to pause long enough to look, think, or experience in a sustained manner. Yet these truisms can still be useful starting points for reflection, as demonstrated in Rui Chafes’s recent installation Tranquila ferida do sim, faca do não (Quiet Wound of the Yes, Knife of the No), 2000–13. The artist’s work to date has been an attempt to arrest time, in part by denying or defeating the senses through a fabrication of a mute and unchanging darkness. But with this exhibition, Chafes seemed to take this tendency further than ever; now it makes less sense to speak of his sculptures as objects than as sensorial, mesmerizing events.

Upon entering the gallery, one passed through a white curtain into almost absolute darkness. It was scary at first—like entering an abyss, even for those who had been in this space many times before. Not only was it impossible to see, but one felt lost in space, completely alone. Very slowly, as their eyes became accustomed to the darkness, visitors would see five shadows beginning to take shape on the wall facing the entrance. The surrounding space began to take on some kind of form and it became possible to gain a sense of one’s position.

The shadows on the wall turned out to be five very large, dark, columnar sculptures, each about ten feet tall and hanging about six and a half feet above the floor. The sculptures were lit by five projectors on the opposite wall, but so faintly that the objects were never fully visible; their precise shapes, not to mention their materials, remained vague. Those familiar with Chafes’s work might have guessed that they were made of iron, but it was nearly impossible to tell, especially since they were painted black, almost indistinguishable from the surrounding darkness.

In other words, Chafes had transformed the room into an optical device simply by controlling the light level. His apparatus consisted of nothing more than the five sculptures and five light projectors and a space inhabited by shadows, silence, and emptiness. The shadows appeared alternately as wound-like cuts in the wall and as faint lights emanating from the walls themselves; their totemic forms seemed to evoke religious symbols or uncanny apparitions. But most importantly, the work caused its viewers—if nearly blinded visitors can be described as such—to experience something like the regaining of sight, thus calling into question the veracity of vision itself. The installation earned its title’s merging of affirmation and negation: It inhabits the borderline between light and dark, day and night, blindness and insight.

Filipa Oliveira