Until September 18 at Paços do Concelho, in the Câmara Municipal do Porto, will be on view Hybridize or Disappear, a group show curated by João Laia with artworks by Cécile B. Evans, Neïl Beloufa, Antoine Catala, Diogo Evangelista, Oliver Laric, Shana Moulton, Katja Novitskova, Laure Prouvost and Magali Reus.
The exhibition, previously at National Contemporary Art Museum – Museu do Chiado, explores the interpenetration between representational systems and social structuring, speculating on how a critique of a representational system could be looked at as a reflection on social structuring.
We asked some questions to João Laia.
ATP: Is there any kind of “Darwinian” aspect in the show regarding the idea of hybridization and disappearance? At first I interpreted the title as a sort of exhortation to mix and evolve in order to survive, intending the various artistic mediums as “species”.
João Laia: Your point of view is interesting, I read it as a compliment as it somehow means the show has several parallel interpretations. But I must admit it is not a line of thought I had considered. Hybridize or Disappear is a quote from Oliver Laric’s Versions (2009), which is part of the exhibition. Laric’s practice primarily analyses the circulation / reproduction of images / discourses, problematizing ideas such as authorship and ownership. I was clearly interested in these topics but the phrase for me also encompassed a number of other questions I wanted to address. The first hybrid layer was the relation between visuality and matter, how current representational regimes are privileging sight as the main form of engagement with the world, for example, transforming objects into images, and how some artists are actually questioning this dynamic by materialising images, by making them tangible entities. So in a way my use of the ideas of hybridization and disappearance works as a comment about current processes of dematerialisation. Within this wide question, other hybrid conditions arise in terms of language (textual and objectual), materials (organic and industrial) and life style or conception (consumerism and spirituality). The idea of the hybrid also led me to play with the selection of sculptures that were already on display at the museum. They were part of the show but the names of the artists and the list of works were not included in the list. There was a gap between the experience of visiting the show and the information one would be given. The fact that the pieces were all not only sculptures but also representations of the human body, underlined my interest in the body rather than the eye as a communication tool. There was also a clear willingness to engage with the friction between real and virtual, the fact that the web became such a powerful framework which currently functions as a context for all things on and off line. Hybridize or Disappear is also somewhat of a provocation, or at least an invitation, an ultra assertive sentence that aims at triggering some kind of reaction. I thought it was an apt title for the show, working both as a strong statement and a loose framework from and into which other questions could appear.
ATP: The exhibition has been shown in two different venues. How did you conceive the two different set ups?
JL: The first version, in Lisbon, was the main reference point while constructing the show. The second display, currently in Porto, appeared at a later stage when most of the pieces had already been selected. Because of the important differences between the venues the show changed in each iteration. In Porto it was a more natural process of adapting the show to the conditions of the space whereas in Lisbon I included the specific conditions of the venue into the conceptual construction of the exhibition. In Lisbon the incorporation of the Museum’s sculpture collection was extremely important, as well as the fact that I was using three very different spaces (a hallway, a black box and a garden). In Porto the main challenge was how to adapt the show to a monumental space with a much grander scale than Lisbon. The dialogues between the pieces changed a lot in both iterations, even if some specific conversations were present in both, such as Antoine Catala with Cécile B. Evans, Laure Prouvost and Neil Beloufa or Shana Moulton with Oliver Laric. In Katja Novitskova and Diogo Evangelista’s case both displays were very different: whereas in Lisbon Evangelista’s works were installed in the black box together with Moulton, Prouvost and Beloufa, in Porto I used a granite corridor to install his light sculptures, creating a kind of cave-like atmosphere that worked perfectly. Novitskova moved from an outdoor green space to a granite flooring in a monumental hallway. I also enjoyed the idea that the exhibition was not a static entity and instead but rather something that evolved in time and space.
ATP: We can take the centrality of the body as a common thread between the artworks in the show. Could you please discuss further on this theme?
JL: My interest in working with practices that emphasize the materiality of bodies, objects and images, comes from an observation of how today’s representational models are dominated by images which even though highly defined are somehow empty, abstract, stylized. On the one hand they are completely unreal and on the other hand they are intended to be super accurate representations, standardising the way one represents, engages with and understands the world. These images focus on a representational scheme dominated by vision, particularly a conception of the visual that is separated from its material base, from the body. I read the interest of this group of artists in producing representations that play with materiality, with physical realities as a comment upon this condition. They explore the friction between representation and materiality, signalling how looking/seeing is not an abstract and isolated gesture but rather a sense interacting with other senses, all having bodily dimensions in themselves. In this way, underlining materiality might begin to be read as a way to question contemporary visual culture indicating the embedded interdependence between reality and representation, between matter and image, a relation that is not new but that has accelerated greatly with the emergence of digital tools.
ATP: How does this aspect relate with the presence of the viewer? Is there a precise path between artworks or you were more interested in the creation of a particular environmental experience?
JL: In both venues there is no single path. The configuration of the buildings prevents such type of organisation. In Lisbon there were two entrances, if one would enter through the garden Katja Novistkova’s pieces would be the first, whereas entering through the main door one would most likely first notice Neil Beloufa’s installation or (depending on how the space was navigated) the set showing Cécile B. Evans, Antoine Catala and the two sculptures of the Museum’s collection. In general terms the pieces in the show constantly recalled our own materiality as humans, our bodily potentials and limits, our concrete condition, and so indeed the show’s narrative, albeit a fragmented and dispersed kind, was produced through one’s bodily experience of motion in space while engaging with the works rather than from a linear route with a precise development. If there was a particular environmental experience in the shows, it was this self-consciousness of being a body moving, and that one’s engagement with the show, images and the world is constantly grounded in that material condition.
ATP: Hybridize or Disappear is accompanied by an extensive catalogue. How did you conceive it? What is the relation between the book and the shows?
JL: The publication aims at exploring the main topic of the show, the friction between representation and matter, commenting on the current processes of dematerialisation through different conceptions of how a supposedly immaterial culture is actually material and can therefore be rematerialised. In a way the publication is not so much a catalogue, there isn’t any documentation of the shows for example, or listing of artworks exhibited, even if it has the same title as the exhibition and the cover clearly lists the institutions where the show was on display. In a way Hybridize or Disappear is in itself a hybrid project which happens as an exhibition and a publication. I invited seven curators / writers / researchers to contribute a new piece that would consider the universe of the exhibition. There was a first contact / invitation followed by a conversation on what could be interesting for the book, followed by individual work by each author, who developed their pieces in total autonomy. For example my text tried to explore the possibility of reading practices that materialize images as forms of problematising our current neo-liberal system of social organisation. Drawing from a number of thinkers such Mark B. N. Hansen, Jonathan Crary, Hal Foster or Guy Debord, I tried to map the development of the present representational model which privileges sight, from the Renaissance up to today, and the imbedded relation of this dynamic with the development of our economical, political and social contexts. Broadly speaking from this mapping out of the interdependence between social structuring and representational model, I speculate on whether a practice that problematises a visual regime can be interpreted as a political gesture that comments upon the organisation of society and its functioning.