Tiago Alexandre, If I were a boy, 2018, helmets, copper tube, dimensions variable.

Tiago Alexandre, If I were a boy, 2018, helmets, copper tube, dimensions variable.

Tiago Alexandre


Tiago Alexandre, If I were a boy, 2018, helmets, copper tube, dimensions variable.

On Balcony’s facade, atop a wide glass display window, visitors saw the handwritten question WHO RUNS THE WORLD? in pink neon. On its display window, in a more discreet position, was the title of the exhibition, WORDS DON'T COME EASY. Between F. R. David’s 1982 Europop hit “Words,” the source of the title, and Beyoncé’s power statement of 2011, is a span of some thirty years, which (perhaps not coincidentally) is about Tiago Alexandre’s age today. The citations announced his exhibition’s themes: What is power, and who has it? How does power manifest itself through images, words (which are not always “easy” to use) or dance-music rhythms, which directly challenge the movements and desire of the body?

In the gallery’s front room, If I were a boy, 2018, a column made up of fourteen heavily used motorcycle helmets (one of them identified with the label JOHNNY GUITAR) stood as a totemic presence. The artist explains that they belonged to friends who’d decided they were too old for their bikes but had kept the helmets. On the walls, three paintings on paper (Believer, Best lover, and Mom’s child, all 2018) showed the front (fender, tire, and handlebars) of a motorcycle, seen from above—the driver’s point of view. In them, the phallic suggestion is obvious. This is a biographical or autobiographical journey through a youth culture associated with a love of motor vehicles.

In a set of five paintings on paper in the back room, the name connor in some of them (it looms largest in Mr. Japan—Hungry Dad, 2017) harked back to the 1984 film The Terminator, in which the title character is sent back in time to kill a woman named Sarah Connor to prevent her son from ever being born. Here was another of Alexandre’s themes: time and the family, the succession of generations. Between parents, children and machines, the salvation of humanity is at stake.

Downstairs, lit only by a faint rose-colored light coming from behind a wall and two strings of bulbs placed on the floor, were the sculptures One last ride YZF 750 and One last ride CBR 900 RR, both 2018, which could not be seen simultaneously because the room is divided by a staircase. These consist of motorcycle frames placed on salat prayer rugs. In the half-light of the cellar, these objects made us feel the absence of their users and contexts: the speed of the highway, the pause for prayer—times of communion, concentration, or emotion. The frames of the bikes are new, the metal and its form immaculate, but we could say that life no longer inhabits them. They are like industrial ruins or surrogates of human skeletons, now quasi-abstract objects. They raise the question of the nature of the transmutation of power associated with the transformation of these objects into works of art. What is the power of art today? The last work one encountered was Words don’t come easy, 2018, a video loop of a moving motorbike. It is dark. We see the visor of a helmet. Someone hums the exhibition’s title song. But the movement of the camera is faster than that of the motorcycle; seen always from the front, the bike keeps falling behind until only the highway is visible. Could it be that this is what we call growing up, getting old, living? Beyond evoking nostalgia for one’s youth, the artist seems to be asking a fundamental question: Do we ever really arrive at our maturity? Is there an end to a road that is after all endless? And then there’s the decisive question that we started with: Who runs the world?

Alexandre Melo

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.