Milan

João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, Onça Geométrica (Geometric Ounce), 2013, five projectors, 16-mm films (color, silent, various durations). Installation view.

João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, Onça Geométrica (Geometric Ounce), 2013, five projectors, 16-mm films (color, silent, various durations). Installation view.

João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva

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João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, Onça Geométrica (Geometric Ounce), 2013, five projectors, 16-mm films (color, silent, various durations). Installation view.

The works in “Onça Geométrica” (Geometric Ounce), the recent exhibition by João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, take their inspiration from daily life, literature, philosophy, and the artists’ own fertile imaginations. In this, they are much like the duo’s earlier films, photographs, and sculptures, such as those included in the 2009 Venice Biennale, where the pair represented Portugal, and the most recent one, curated by Massimiliano Gioni. The artists’ eclectic repertoire of sources ranges from Sextus Propertius and Plautus through Victor Hugo and Alfred Jarry to Jorge Luis Borges and René Daumal, from whose 1938 novel A Night of Serious Drinking they’ve borrowed the term abyssology, the study of the abyss, applying it to their creative practice. The subjects Gusmão and Paiva examine manifest many more meanings than might initially meet the eye, attesting to the dense semantic network that hides beneath the images and stories under consideration.

This show was inspired by a fanciful event described by the two artists, an account halfway between news story and surreal fantasy. The protagonist is the artists’ cat, Mimi, who, violently expelled from her home, becomes intent on seeking revenge for the wrong inflicted on her by her owners. She returns accompanied by another feline: the insidious onça pintada, the jaguar—but one with geometrical markings. The installation that lends the show its title (all works 2013) is made up of five 16-mm projections presenting a sort of geometrical abstraction—spinning circles of painted glass. Each projection shows a somewhat different view of this same whirling motif.

This monumental piece was offset by seven photographs that likewise seem suspended between the real and imaginary worlds, offering viewers glimpses of details of daily life that, removed from their original context, lose their conventional meanings to take on completely different ones, attesting, once again, to the variety of interpretations that the artists’ work encourages. Except for the photograph resting on the floor like its subject, Máquina de lavar roupa com leopardo (Washing Machine with Leopard)—in which one can glimpse, inside the appliance, a spotted coat that brings to mind the fur of the fantastic feline evoked in the story—the images have nothing in common with the abstract video installation. However, they share that work’s emotional tension, derived from a pervasive, metaphysically tinged atmosphere, a sense of being suspended in time and space. Thus, mysterious photographs such as those of a tattoo on someone’s arm in Tattoo Ending in Fish Tail, the three donkeys lined up in receding perspective in O Terceiro Burro (The Third Donkey), the television set in a domestic interior in TV fantásma (TV Ghost), the colorful geometric elements in Salada de Luz (Light Salad), the pastry cut in half in A analogia do buraco negro (The Black Hole Analogy), or those being prepared in Croissants à roda (Spinning Croissants) all in their own way helped emphasize the show’s atmosphere of magic realism.

Pier Paolo Pancotto

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.