Runo Lagomarsino, We All Laughed at Christopher Columbus, 2003, single-slide projection on MDF,  18 × 10 × 16 3⁄4". Photo: Bruno Lopes.

Runo Lagomarsino, We All Laughed at Christopher Columbus, 2003, single-slide projection on MDF, 18 × 10 × 16 3⁄4". Photo: Bruno Lopes.

Runo Lagomarsino

Galeria Avenida da Índia

One of the works in this exhibition, Untitled (This wall has no image but it contains geography), 2011/2018, featured the Portuguese version of its subtitle, written in small letters with white pencil on a wall painted black. Geography is the theme of much of Runo Lagomarsino’s work, so it’s undoubtedly significant that this show was presented in a space—run by the Lisbon municipal council—located near many historical sites and monuments associated with Portugal’s history of colonialism and seafaring in the fifteen and sixteenth centuries. Titled “La neblina” (The Fog), and curated by Filipa Oliveira, it was the first solo exhibition in Portugal by this artist, who divides his time between two cities: Malmö, Sweden, and São Paulo.

On the facade of the gallery hung Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, 2012, a large photographic reproduction of the eponymous 1868 painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, a highly representative image of the ridiculous and predatory pomp of the Western outlook vis-à-vis everything that is not recognized as “occidental.” Similar in implication was Pedro II Before the Sphinx and the Pyramid, 2018, a small reproduction of a photograph from 1871 by J. Pascal Sébah from the collection of Brazil’s National Library Foundation. This photo was displayed on wallpaper bearing myriad small images of a medieval knight and a caravel—the typical Portuguese sailing ship of the age of exploration (Entremundos [Between Worlds], 2013). The caravel was also the central, repeated motif in the 2018 work that shared the exhibition’s title, a postcard surrounded by screens of ships in fog that helped make sense of the exhibition’s constant references to voyages of colonial exploration. The six-minute video More delicate than the historians’ are the map-maker’s colors, 2012–13, showed the artist and his father throwing a dozen eggs (brought illegally from Argentina) against an enormous statue of Columbus erected in Seville to mark the five hundredth anniversary of the “discovery of America.” In another work, from 2003, the English phrase WE ALL LAUGHED AT CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS was projected onto a piece of MDF propped up on the floor.

One wall was covered with rubber-stamp impressions combining and superimposing the words AMERICA and AMNESIA. This discreet and understated intervention, Americamnesia, 2017, pointed to what was perhaps the fundamental idea of the exhibition: The affirmation of an identity or nationality—“American,” for instance—implies forgetting and repressing historical realities that impede its idealization. The price of identity may be the most brutal violence (the genocide of a continent’s original inhabitants), and amnesia its guarantor. But there is an alternative: a rewriting of history that would allow us to see beyond the fog of the exhibition’s title.

To see or not to see: This was the subject of Pergamon (A Place in Things), 2014. A wooden platform on the floor displayed a collection of burned-out lightbulbs recovered by the artist from trash at the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin, which houses archeological treasures gathered by German colonial explorers. It prompted us to wonder what they saw and didn’t see, and what those now responsible for the museum’s collections themselves fail to see or should begin to see. Parenthesis, 2018, a projected map of Europe in which the continent’s name is bracketed by bent nails placed on an overhead projector, suggested that histories and geographies must be considered anew.

In a large display window, passersby on the street could see nothing more than a single lightbulb hanging with its cord disconnected. But at the end of the day, when the gallery closed, the bulb was turned on—as if waiting, as the title of this 2013 work says, For the Ghosts and the Raving Poets.

Alexandre Melo

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.