Lisbon

View of “Igor Jesus,” 2015–16. From left: De costas voltadas (Back to Back), 2015; Domingo (Sunday), 2015; Polaroid, 2015; Polaroid, 2015. Photo: António Jorge Silva.

View of “Igor Jesus,” 2015–16. From left: De costas voltadas (Back to Back), 2015; Domingo (Sunday), 2015; Polaroid, 2015; Polaroid, 2015. Photo: António Jorge Silva.

Igor Jesus

Galeria Filomena Soares

View of “Igor Jesus,” 2015–16. From left: De costas voltadas (Back to Back), 2015; Domingo (Sunday), 2015; Polaroid, 2015; Polaroid, 2015. Photo: António Jorge Silva.

When Igor Jesus conceives an exhibition, he begins with an overall approach to the space in which he will be showing, and to the process by which he must transform it in order to achieve his objectives. In the case of this show, his first at the venue, the challenge was a considerable one: Galeria Filomena Soares, boasts the largest contiguous space of any private gallery in Portugal.

At the entrance, the artist built a black box in which was projected the video that gave the exhibition its title: The Last Letter to Santa Claus (all works 2015), a loop of nearly thirty-two minutes. The visitor had to pass through (and presumably spend some time in) this dark space before seeing in the distance what appeared to be a freestanding wall placed at an oblique angle and nearly blocking access to the last third of the hall. In reality, it was a grayish-blue monochrome called De costas voltadas (Back to Back). Painted the color of a heavily overcast sky, it consists of eighteen panels, these dimensions total more than eleven and a half by twenty-six feet. From behind this wall-like canvas came a sound that echoed through the gallery—the sound track of a short video loop, POV, playing on a plasma screen set on an inclined plane.

The exhibition offered up its key immediately at the beginning, but only at the end could one grasp it. The Last Letter to Santa Claus alternates traveling shots ascending and descending over a black surface with floor-level views of domestic living rooms. The point of view is therefore that of Father Christmas climbing up and down chimneys into empty rooms with nothing to indicate an intention to welcome him. On the wall of the main exhibition area, three works, each about six by four feet and titled Polaroid, supplemented the video. They could be seen as black abstract paintings, or even as images of the darkness of the soot inside the chimney, but Jesus made them by cutting, pasting, and digitizing empty Polaroid prints. On the floor between the black box and the blue monochrome was Domingo (Sunday), a small circle formed by the remnants of half a dozen old shoes and sneakers sewn together. Affixed to the wall facing the Polaroids was a small upside-down glass whose transparency is clouded with the residue of red wine. Finally, POV, the video behind the canvas, shows a stereo speaker falling (filmed frontally by a camera attached to it) until it breaks on the floor.

As Christmas approaches, children are often told to write to Santa Claus to let him know what gifts they want to receive (some decades ago these letters were addressed to the Baby Jesus, which in the case of Igor Jesus may have had a more disturbing effect). The artist told me that in his last such letter he asked Santa Claus to take him away. But we needn’t get into biographical speculations. The themes of the father, birth, family, and the fall are sufficiently general to make explanations superfluous. Let us leave to each viewer his or her own “POV.”

What was most impressive in this work was the way it broached themes of great subjective and emotional intensity while avoiding the vulgar snares of psychology or lyricism. Rather, the artist appeared to proceed by indirection and through the sparest of formal operations in the construction and selection of the objects exhibited.

Alexandre Melo

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.