View of “João Pedro Vale and Nuno Alexandre Ferreira,” 2018. Foreground: Vadios (Vagrants), 2018. Background: Take Ecstasy with Me, 2018. Photo: Bruno Lopes.

View of “João Pedro Vale and Nuno Alexandre Ferreira,” 2018. Foreground: Vadios (Vagrants), 2018. Background: Take Ecstasy with Me, 2018. Photo: Bruno Lopes.

João Pedro Vale and Nuno Alexandre Ferreira

Due in part to being ruled by a dictatorship from 1926 to 1974, not to mention the hegemony of Catholicism, Portugal has no explicit lineage of gay art. In this show, titled “A Mão na Coisa, A Coisa na Boca, A Boca na Coisa, A Coisa na Mão” (The Hand in the Thing, the Thing in the Mouth, the Mouth in the Thing, the Thing in the Hand), the Portuguese duo Nuno Alexandre Ferreira and João Pedro Vale set about addressing this lack. The main work in the central gallery was titled Vadios (Vagrants), 2018, after the word used to describe gay men in the 1912 Portuguese law criminalizing homosexuality (parts of which remained in force until the 1980s). It is a hexagonal metal structure surrounded by a metal shield, in a configuration reminiscent of that of the public urinals that used to be part of the daily urban experience in Lisbon. The structure is covered in graffiti-like writing, including fragments of texts by Portuguese writers who made specific references to homosexual practices, as well as phrases such as the famous DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL, which, beyond the specific meaning conferred upon it within the American military context, can be considered generically as representative of the more “moderate” and insidious forms of heteronormative totalitarianism.

The use of public urinals as a hookup spot for homosexuals is historically associated with political repression and moral transgression. After circling the structure and entering its interior, the visitor recognized how it echoed the logic of the panopticon, even as it shared a dynamic with specific spaces in certain sex clubs and other spots promoting sexual activity. This reference was reinforced by the scent of poppers in the space as well as by circular openings in the partitions separating the compartments, carefully placed at a height that would make it possible for them to be used as glory holes.

In the gallery’s second space, another sculpture took the shape of an attractive stalactite that, thanks to a coating of cobalt(II) chloride, changed color according to the humidity in the room, its hues varying between pink and blue, in reference to traditional stereotypes of gender. Upon careful observation, the viewer realized that the piece consisted of a modern portable urinal that had been turned upside down and suspended from the ceiling. Thus, we remained in the universe of urinals, albeit beneath them: halfway between the rain of disco lights and lavish musical spectaculars and the more intimate potential of a golden shower.

Another group of works took blue jeans as a starting point, since denim was a hallmark of a certain type of gay wardrobe for a long time. The series “Daddies,” 2018, was a set of turntables resembling tree stumps and made of jeans waistbands. The second such work, behind the storefront window of the gallery, was a floor-to-ceiling column of denim cut from jeans that evokes a tree trunk—a place of punishment or pleasure. Glued to it was a document from 1953 stipulating the fines to be applied to anyone practicing certain activities of a sexual nature in public; in this text, from which the exhibition and this work took their (identical) titles, no sexually explicit word is used, indicating that homosexuality must not only not be “done” but may not even be named.

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.