Nuno da Luz, Untitled, 2015, survival blankets, aluminum rail, 11' 10“ × 35' 8”. Photo: Bruno Lopes.

Nuno da Luz, Untitled, 2015, survival blankets, aluminum rail, 11' 10“ × 35' 8”. Photo: Bruno Lopes.

Nuno da Luz

Galeria Vera Cortês

Nuno da Luz, Untitled, 2015, survival blankets, aluminum rail, 11' 10“ × 35' 8”. Photo: Bruno Lopes.

The dichotomy between nature and culture has been at the center of Nuno da Luz’s practice for several years now. Many of his works examine the subject of wilderness, questioning the widespread assumption that this environment is somehow “other.” In his frequently immaterial works—recordings, sound installations, or temporary situations inside or outside formal exhibition spaces—da Luz addresses man’s alienation from the sphere of the natural, while pointing to the processes by which nature has been colonized and gradually rendered extinct. Rather than simply illustrating a power struggle between the cultural and the natural, however, da Luz explores the possibilities of their engagement—that is, the capacity of natural phenomena to participate in the production of the artwork; in this way, the frequently unpredictable powers of nature become more than just subject matter. But most importantly, natural forces become active and even determining factors in the production of the work—and by extension in the production and critique of culture.

Da Luz’s latest exhibition, “Wilderness,” brought together new and (sometimes revised) older pieces that, as Luis Silva writes in the accompanying brochure, evidence the artist’s interest “in reclaiming the term,” in constructing “that which can be understood as our ‘wilderness.’” The emphasis in several works on the animation of a natural, seemingly lifeless object marks a shift in da Luz’s practice. On first encounter, many of the works seemed static or even almost invisible; it was only through their activation by the viewer’s body or other external factors that the inert objects were brought to life—for instance by the weather, as in the case of Wind Vane (Careless Love) (all works cited, 2015). This work, which looks like a clock, marked not time but rather the wind’s intensity and direction via its connection to a wind station at the Lisbon airport. The tension between the living and the dead became most apparent in Untitled, a series of golden survival blankets installed as a curtain covering the windows. This seemingly static object, a division between the living exterior and the lifeless interior, was activated by the movement of the spectator, who set the curtain into motion while providing it with a voice—the crackling of its shiny material, which intensified with every step taken and followed the spectator throughout the exhibition.

A growing interest in the animism of the object was further emphasized in Bullroarers, an installation of skateboards that have been subjected to an electrical discharge of 9,000 volts. Marked with the resulting lightning-bolt patterns of veins, the skateboards were arrayed on the floor like a group of people at a friendly gathering, as if to further suggest the ever-blurring borders between subject and object, between the living and the seemingly lifeless. Although the hypermediated world we inhabit today increasingly serves to distance us from the material reality of life, moments like these provide a welcome—if challenging—reminder of our ties to the physical world and of our roots in the natural sphere.

Markéta Stará Condeixa