View of “André Romão,” 2019. From left: Pierna izquierda (Left Leg), 2019; Cabeza (el hambre del monstruo) (Head [The Monster’s Hunger]), 2019.

View of “André Romão,” 2019. From left: Pierna izquierda (Left Leg), 2019; Cabeza (el hambre del monstruo) (Head [The Monster’s Hunger]), 2019.

André Romão

garcía | galería

One need only turn to Ovid to confirm that hybrid forms are nothing new in art. States of in-betweenness have always aroused fascination because they unsettle the categories we use to comprehend the world, throwing taxonomies of human, animal, and plant into flux. And while our ideas about the natural and the artificial have changed a great deal since the Roman poet’s Metamorphoses, the Lisbon-born artist André Romão’s latest exhibition, “Flores” (Flowers), proved that it is still possible to trouble the taxonomical waters.

The exhibition staged a selection of interspecies assemblages on a white dais, mounted low to the ground in the main gallery space. The arrangement recalled a window display while also delineating a clear progression, starting with Moonrise (all works 2019), a thin circle of blue Plexiglas suspended on a transparent thread so that it twirled with the comings and goings of visitors. Through this simple mechanism, the piece managed to evoke the phases of the moon. Beneath it, as if part of an invisible body, was a curved limb, covered in tiny feathers and ending in what looked like a wooden lion’s paw. Titled Pierna izquierda (Left Leg), this ornamental form, typical of baroque and Rococo furniture, proposed an interesting semantic game: something natural (the paw) made from an organic material (wood) with an artificial result (the furniture piece) that the artist decorated with pheasant feathers (natural but wrong). These mixtures are not innocuous: Just think of the Chimera, the Sphinx, or the Minotaur. The great monsters of antiquity were messy beings; to our forebears, disorder was a synonym for evil.

This idea was very subtly taken up in Cabeza (el hambre del monstruo) (Head [The Monster’s Hunger]), a sculptural portrait of a figure from the nose up, displayed on its side atop a cardboard box like John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Lining the inside of the white plaster skull was a quartz geode. In crude contrast, the box was printed in lively primary colors and emblazoned with the logo and slogan for the FLAMIN’ HOT corn SNACK MONSTER MUNCH. To the right of this assemblage, Pie featured a plaster copy of a delicately arched foot, poised atop a transparent pedestal, where it served as a flowerpot for a single stem, changed throughout the run of the show. The work nodded not only to Ovid’s account of the metamorphosis of Daphne, but also to Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s famous sculpture of the water nymph and Apollo. The final piece on the dais, Bag (maré baixa), (Bag [Low Tide]), was a disposable plastic bag filled with coral.

The exhibition’s thematic journey from dusk to dawn came to an end in the adjacent gallery with Sunrise, a video showing a small rodent playing with a hollowed-out sculpture of a torso. If the night was riddled with vivid, unsettling imagery, dawn approached through a black-and-white video, tracking the curious movements of a nocturnal animal. We woke up; the monsters of darkness were, in the end, not so terrible. Ultimately, they were but screens for projections of our own memories and desires, the mysterious associations produced by the mind at rest. The mythological mash-ups of antiquity were condemned to eternally elicit terror in others. If our own era is much more permissive toward hybridity and peculiarities, perhaps that’s because we all already see ourselves as creatures cobbled from many disparate elements—or maybe because, in addition to Ovid, we have read our Freud.

Translated from Spanish by Michele Faguet.