Paradox of Plenty (2019) examines the complementary relationship, and resultant politics, that exists between media technology and nature. Not only is the exhibition wittingly reflecting on the geological substance of our media cultures determined by the plethora of technological devices available today, but also “on the implications between the history of technology and the inner histories of colonial and neocolonial societies.”1 Hence, the artistic research orbits stultifying narratives of mineral extraction and geology particularly stemming from European expeditions to Africa and South America; the politics of representation in natural history museums necessarily linked to colonialist conquests of the 19th century; and the ecological, social and economic axes of our accelerating tech culture. The exhibition also comes to terms with the politics of “accumulation by dispossession” operating at the heart of this phenomenon whose endgame is profit without compunction for the health of the planet and its inhabitants2.
Paradox of Plenty seems to, on the one hand, visualise nature or geological phenomena while replicating it on the other hand through immersive, optical and aural strategies with the relationship existing between these situations being both indexical and open-ended. This calculated conflation is done through imaging technologies such as lightboxes, carousel slide projectors, light therapy glasses, light filters, LED display panel, among others. The mise en scène of still, moving, gestural and embodied spectacles is designed via installation, sculpture, photography, video, film, performance and happenings.
The fact that we can trace the components of our various technological devices to natural raw materials is one thing (for eg. Tin, Tantalum and Tungsten are significant metals in this regard); but the autonomy that these components consequently acquire, coupled with their functions, to shape the given reality within which they come to participate can be considered to be the subversive potential of this transformation from natural substances into mechanical, digital or artificial things— to paraphrase the artist, this is self-evident in the nature and potential of images to alter and manipulate reality as well as our apparatuses of perception3. In this way, not only is the artist directing our attention to the naturalness of such technologies, but also to its entanglement with the fictions inherent in nature4 itself— making it possible to stage such a recursive ensemble of organic, synthetic, and/or artificial images that enter into dynamic relationships— first with themselves, and then with human as well as other bodies.
To the extent that fiction connotes “using the means of art to construct a “system” of represented actions, assembled forms, and internally coherent signs”5, we can discuss Pinho’s exhibition as a “system” indulging audiences in fictional documentaries6— fictional because the artist utilises the above-mentioned operations and documentary because of the factographic depiction of subject matter. The tensions generated by this paradox invokes the figure of a politically-motivated quasi-ethnographer artist who appears indifferent to mining the void of primitive and contemporary image forms. For example, the geological matter, image objects/mechanisms or evidentiary documents— the stones, their warped print representations on paper, the zoomed-in photographs animated in the form of lightboxes, the motorized carousel projections equipped with self-timers, the artificial rubber plant automatically revolving on a display stand, the seemingly unending stream of texts on LED panel in an immersive “green” environment which is, in turn, periodically animated with the performance of a “body non-body”7, and so on and so forth— consign themselves to a documentary fiction at once drawing attention to their ontic referents as much as to other-worldly experiences. The metonymical value acquired in this constellation frees the ensemble up to exist as signifiers participating in the dialogic discourses of imperialism, techno-science and the evolution of images as such.
In short, these artificial and organic things acquire the polysemic quality of speaking for themselves in Pinho’s controlled world of image presences (whether invented or existing, in physical form or otherwise). The artist’s “system” attests to a condition of the image fervently affirming its conformist tendencies (merely acting as a “faithful copy” of an originary something, illustrating/documenting the subject matter) and then proceeding to utilize the power of fiction to create a constellation which calls its operation of contingency and indeterminacy to play8. Such might the enigma be of creating an intricate web binding the virtual enchantments of the subject matter to the ugliness of its real-world effects.
— IUB (2020)
** Paradox of Plenty (23/05 – 16/06/2019) is a solo exhibition by Hugo Almeida Pinho which happened at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. For more information on the exhibition visit https://www.bethanien.de/en/exhibitions/hugo-de-almeida-pinho/
For more on Pinho’s work see http://www.hugodealmeidapinho.com
1 See exhibition press release. Additionally, the crux of the exhibition could be summarised thus: “Paradox of Plenty addresses two subjects that have become relevant in understanding our natural and technological condition: the processes of nature artificialization and the intensive integration of mineral resources into technological devices – whose economic, ecological and social traces implicate the history of technology in the histories of colonial and neo-colonial societies”. See exhibition statement by Sara Castelo Branco.
2 That is to say the law of commodification of the kind stretching from imperialism well into neoliberal globalisation.
3 See Paradox of Plenty (2019) press release.
4 There is a durational performance in the exhibition titled similarly as “Nature Fictions”.
5 Jacques Rancière suggests that “[…] “fiction” is not a pretty story or evil lie, the flipside of reality that people try to pass off for it. Originally, fingere doesn’t mean “to feign” but “to forge.” Fiction means using the means of art to construct a “system” of represented actions, assembled forms, and internally coherent signs.” See ibid. 158.
6 I owe this thought to Rancière who applies this theory to moving images in particular. For him, “[d]ocumentary fiction invents new intrigues with historical documents.” See Jacques Rancière. Film Fables (Talking Images). 2006. Trans. Emilliano Battista. Berg Publishers, Oxford, New York. 18.
7 The artist defines this as “a human at negative and as a shadow, who in a slow movement assumes various static and sculptural positions in space, wearing only glasses that constitute a set of light artificialization devices used in the therapy of various conditions triggered by the routines of contemporary life”. This is the performance titled “Nature Fictions” in note 4.
8 Rancière contends that the term ‘image’ refers to “two different things. There is the simple relationship that produces the likeness of an original: not necessarily its faithful copy, but simply what suffices to stand in for it. And there is the interplay of operations that produces what we call art: or precisely an alteration of resemblance. This alteration can take a myriad of forms”. See Jacques Ranciere, The Future of the Image, 2019, trans. Gregory Elliott, Verso, London/New York, 6.