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The archaeology of lost time: Miguel Palma an interpretive hypothesis

Antnio Cerveira Pinto

My car will be pulling a trailer carrying an installation that resembles an industrial
filter, thus driving around with the purpose of absorbing the carbon monoxide
expelled by my car. This piece/studio gradually constructs paintings of landscapes,
and works as an additional filter for greater environmental cleaning. I would say
that Art in this project plays a double role. On the one hand, it purifies the
environment in which it is installed. On the other hand, it is constructed and
designed by some of the most lethal existing particles. In this process based on an
almost cynical conscience, I seek to bring Kyoto closer to a kind of artistic
Miguel Palma
The hypothesis
Glancing at Miguel Palma!s oeuvre, as it has developed from 1989 until today, it
might well be said that it has been gradually architected and existentially suffered
as an archaeology of lost time see, in this regard, the initiatory pieces, Ludo
(1989), Cemiterra-Geraterra (1991-2000) and Order (1992). Or it could also be
described as the personal archaeology of a time that is promising, seductive and
fantastic but lost! Time; the speed with which time passes; the price of the
irresistible adrenalin, rendered commonplace by the technologies of the 19th and
20th centuries; the memory and nostalgia of those incredible illusions and good
moments lived in the frightening vortex of the decades; in a word, progress! In
short, the foam of a time that this artist!s work seeks desperately to hurl into a kind
of fossilised aesthetics, faithful to the passage of time, but more durable than time
itself. Than our own time, naturally.
Miguel Palma is a typically fim-de-sicle artist, without being a revivalist of right
ideas, or a repeater of forms, or even a well-educated interpreter. He is, out of
necessity and exhaustion, a deconstructionist, a paradoxical rebuilder of toys, an
archaeologist who parodies modernity and a collector of forgotten images. In order
to get where he is, he likes (and needs) to read the things that surround him back
to front, to pronounce reality in discrete and asyntactic semantic packages, to
recover from the agitated night the meaning of the monsters that inhabit it and the
form of the ultra-fast shadows that spread across it without any apparent cause.
When we look at his works as a whole, however, it is not regurgitated surrealism
(Matthew Barney) that we see, because he knows how Freud, the ideological
father of Breton and of those who followed him, was used in the interminable war
machine and in the extremely powerful generators of consensuses and irresistible
aesthetics that dominated life and, above all, misery, unconsciousness and death
throughout the 20th century. Nor is it phenomenologist DaDa (Damien Hirst),
because he knows that the real experimental energy of modernity migrated from a
very early age to the hyperactive and functional field of engineering and the design
of bridges, trains, liners, motorways, automobiles, aeroplanes and rockets, as well
as to synthetic chemistry and biotechnology, to photography and the substitutes of
the irresistible magic lantern: cinema, television, internet... Nor is it Pop gore
(Cindy Sherman), because Miguel Palma ended up feeling some unexpected
advantages of living on the geographical periphery, for example that of not falling
into the trap of the typical provincialism of large cities, allowing himself a panoptic
view over this catastrophic end of an era. Humanity as a whole, led by the pathetic
consumerism and insatiable greed of the western world, has been hastening in
zombie-like fashion towards the previous, neo-mediaeval and dystopian future of
the post-oil era. The overfed minorities dance on the deck of their cherished
decadence. So, what does this sculptor teach us when he looks around him?
Replying to this question, with some boldness, I would say this: it is something that
comes after ""modern!! and ""contemporary, but which I cannot yet call post-
contemporary. The critical point of this in-betweenness is not the political concern
clearly sculpted into his works, at least since Instrument of the Empire (1998),
Europe 2000 (1999) and My great-great-great-grandmother was black (2001); nor
is it the self-criticism, which is carried out in the work itself, of the brazenly
bourgeois metamorphosis of contemporary art, of which Safe with a million

Catalytic Paintings Landscape Filters, 2007
escudos (1994), 30 minutes (1999) and Value (2002) are powerfully cynical and
complex metaphors; nor is it that kind of funereal anthropology of the sexual-
futuristic machines of the 20th century, so nostalgically signalled in projects such
as Driving to perfection (1995), Spitfire (1997), Mini (2002), Viewing Point (2003)
and 1:1.250 (2003); and nor is it even the hypersensitivity of his work to the
illusionism, transitoriness and fragility of lives, worlds and things, extraordinarily
sculpted into works such as Gadget (1993), 2.5 km at 100 kilometres an hour
(2001), Lisbon-Rotterdam (2001), Heritage (2002), Didactic Art (2003), Dream
House (2003) or Instability (2005). The critical point that I am referring to, or that I
am trying to unveil as the real hallmark of creative originality in this artist!s
trajectory, is rather a kind of borderline, which works such as Magic Eye (1993),
Ecosystem (1995), Project 2080 (1996), Aquarium (1996), Carbon 14 (1998),
Alfacis popularis (1999), Library (1999), Telescope (1999), Hydroponic Culture
(2000), Barco do Lavrador (2000), Travelling with pets (2003), Trunk (2003),
Accident Motion Pictures (2003), Flying Carpet (2005) and Catalytic Paintings
Landscape Filters (2007) have been successively establishing between the
conceptual, critical and self-referential metaphor of modern and ""contemporary!!
art, and what will come after this, I mean after the death of ""modern!! and
""contemporary!! art, which, in reality, has already happened! For me, that period
after ""modern!! and ""contemporary!! deconstruction begins at the very moment that
analytical aesthetics reoccupies the dead man!s place, i.e. that of reality. In this
case, because we live in a scientific, technological and media-dominated age that
is very different from all that preceded it, the new realism in art is only now
beginning to rise up, slowly and contradictorily, from the neurotic couch on which it
has been lying for the past 150 years. Like an ignoble and sleepy Golan, the
aesthetic new realism searches for the truth and the pedagogical way of showing it,
by this I mean drawing and constructing it, against the realm of the systematic
manipulation of the perceptions where, for too long, the political economy of the
sign has reigned at the service of a global capitalism, but even then it has been no
less belated and condemned.
In order to have an idea as to how far we need to go back in the European artistic
memory in this therapy of realistic recovery, I propose that we look at four paintings
and analyse them: L'Origine du monde (1866) and Un enterrement Ornans
(1850), by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), and Olympia (1863) and L'Excution de
Maximilien (1868), by douard Manet (1832-1883).
If anything characterises art over time, it is the fact that it has almost always been a
socially tamed machine of the intensive metaphorisation of ideology, i.e. a system
for the symbolic representation of historically constructed reality. From the
operational point of view of the respective praxis, it also became an arena in which,
with greater or lesser courtesy, a battle was waged between the wills of the
sorcerer and the prince on one side and, on the other side, the artist!s irresistible
impulse to be, always and above all else in art, the vehicle of a manifestation of
concrete subjectivity [Egdio Namorado (1920-1975)]. This means a repetitive
babbling, at first dyslexic, and then virtuous, of the confused shadows of existing-
being-here, very much because of the explosions of light and of the dj vu that
are brought to bear here as the real life of living things (and of the things of death).
Since it begins from things, it does not wish to return there, for it has as its
compulsive mission to hover, whenever possible and allowed to do so by genius, in
the undecidable area of reality, which reason, because of its logical nature, finds it
difficult to understand and tolerate. Aesthetic curiosity is therefore not so different
from scientific curiosity: the former returns the enigma as an image (and rhythm),
while the second returns it as a proposition (a hypothesis, theorem or
demonstration). If, in the journey that they were taking together, something
separated them so radically, the fact is that they both claim to do the same: to
arrive at the truth through the via dolorosa of contemplation (in other words, of
theory.) It is precisely because art and philosophy (science) spit out the revealed
reality after having acutely suffered it in the twists and turns of the long-endured
perception, or in the patient logical construction of arguments, that their intrinsic
value is precious, in the original and ultimate sense of the word. It is because of
this value of uniqueness that the sorcerer and the warrior always claimed to control
them. In fact it is in this contradiction that there resides that small and recurrent
misfortune that has accompanied painters and philosophers (scientists) over time.
In a certain sense, we can say that art tends to die cyclically in the arms of science,
but that it always ends up rising again from the ashes of them both, due to the
manifest and repeated relativity of empirical knowledge, the cognitive uselessness
of logic (despite its extreme methodological usefulness) and to the permanent
appeal of the subjective imagination that goes from me to you and to the world and
back. In short, reality is a complex social construction, whose tangible appearance
depends, essentially, on art, even when this appearance is a scientific appearance.
Art cannot therefore separate itself from the tribe for an indeterminate period of
time, under pain of allowing the image of the world to rot in the routine of its
alienated ideological reproduction, amidst the cadavers of the will and the recurring
disappointments and defeats of the political imagination and of that of power in
general. Hermeneutic retreats, such as those that occurred during the most critical
phase of ""modern!! and ""contemporary!! introspection, may serve to purify the
regimes of aesthetic production, but they must not give way to some political
economy of the sign or other, especially if that political economy leads to the
indistinction and alienation of anthropological values, namely on behalf of the
exhibitionistic and cretinous reification of the economy. When this happens,
someone has to call people back to reality! This was what Courbet and Manet did
in the above-mentioned works.
L'Origine du monde (1866), more than a definitive criticism of the evanescent
eroticism protected by the Gods of ancient Greece, is the image that art, with its
capacity to foresee, gives to the announced time of popular democracy and
positive truth. No subterfuge in the face of reality. No diaphanous veil pulled over
its powerful nudity, no fantasy! The end of the sexual taboo, which would dominate
the whole of the 20th century, really began with the writing of the Marquis de Sade
(1740-1814), but also in that small and exceptional painting. The visual impulse,
analysed by Sigmund Freud, and which was to influence the industries of
photography, cinema, television, advertising, public relations and fashion, until the
paroxysm of a genuine systematics of subliminal pornography, is to be found
synthesised there to an extreme that can only really be attained by the great
moments of aesthetic, philosophical and religious intuition. The phenomenological
diversion realised by Duchamp on the basis of this painting deceived us for some
time. By inviting us to enter into the interminable labyrinth of language, and to
participate in the long catharsis in which 19th and 20th-century western art was
immersed, he ended up contributing to the loss of any adherence to reality that
was demonstrated by most of his followers. After Courbet and Manet, and despite
Egon Schiele and Francis Bacon, the fine arts and their avant-garde movements
were gradually transformed into an aesthetic analysis, where form and the refined
games of subliminal meanings imposed themselves in the name of an idiosyncratic
nominalism, progressively alienated from reality. Was this the result of the panic
caused by the overwhelming industry of the technical reproducibility of the work of
art? Fear of photography? Impotence in the face of comic books and cinema?
Resignation to a market niche based on values that were in contradiction with what
the new democratic art should be celebrating? The fact is that realism, whether in
Courbet or in Manet, as well as the initial realism of the impressionists, when these
did not set off along the path of post-Impressionism and some Expressionism
leading to illustration and the comic strip (movements of a democratic art that
""contemporary!! elitism still refuses to study and understand, even today), were
gradually giving way to an unstoppable analytical change of direction. From
Czanne!s Mont Sainte-Victoire, to Picasso!s Demoiselles d'Avignon, to Mondrian!s
decompositions, to Malevitch!s Black Square on a White Background, passing
through the figurative diversions from this same tendency towards abstraction
Matisse, Kandinsky, Klee... what emerges as the dominant stylistic mark of
modernism and contemporaneity is a declared tendency towards disfiguration in
the processes of symbolic representation. And when disfiguration really did reach
its end, the way out of this cul-de-sac, coming originally from Duchamp, was known
by the name of ready-made! In this way, the analytics of the processes of
representation alternately gave way to nominalism and hermeneutics. Basically,
these are two ways of transforming the ""work of art!! into the mere thing or idea
named by the artist who, truly, no longer creates, but only lays down his ostensive
statement about art, his signature (his mark), in the market of symbolic speculation
and communication, so that this non-figurative and meaningless being there can
open itself up to the free and unbounded interpretation of all ususfructuaries and all
Un enterrement Ornans and Les Casseurs de pierre (1849) are two pictorial
testimonies to another realism emerging at that time in a technological platform
that had been dreamt of since the Renaissance, but which was only realised in
1823-1826, with the first heliographs produced by Joseph Nicphore Nipce (1765-
1833). The destiny of photography was to be that of prolonging the long tradition of
art as the symbolic imaging of the community of its leading figures, objects,
fantasies, gods and phantoms. Industrial societies, where proletarians, bourgeois
and businessmen jostled with one another for bread and for a world that was
apparently open to opportunities, welcomed their new camera obscura with open
arms. The image formed at the back of that magic box, albeit upside down, was no
longer the Via Sacra, nor the imperial hearts, nor the erotic preliminaries that
decorated the theatre boxes reserved for the aristocracy, but the sublime reflection,
at the same time accessible and cheap, of a new social reality: urban life. This new
image, or the noema of that image, as Roland Barthes (1915-1980) used to say,
was less and less an evocation and a reverie, by revealing itself, as technology
progressed, to be a verisimilar testimony and the intimate proof of the frozen
moments of everyday life. The this was of the confused and distant public places
that we have passed through, but also of the familiar or unconfessable private
space to which we return as a future-previous stranger, was the indelible mark of
the new system of symbolic representation. As in the burial painted by Courbet (for
the production of which he summoned together the real protagonists of the sad
celebration), photography conveys, in the testimonial power of its images, a dark
certainty that makes us smile and tremble, like the famous baroque and neo-
baroque vanitas paintings. But the most decisive lesson to be learnt from these two
paintings by Courbet is perhaps the way in which the realism that there is in them
exposes, a contrario sensu, the apparent arbitrariness and neutrality of the
respective themes. Instead of a staging, there is a framing. Instead of a model,
there is a coincidence between character and image. Instead of theology,
meditation. Instead of genre, observation. In short, the foundations of a new art,
that the fine arts were to lose sight of during a large part of their technical and
ideological crisis of adaptation.
Whereas Courbet revolutionises the strategy of the gaze (the first close-up of the
""modern!! and ""contemporary!! imagination) and proposes a form of composition
that is appropriate to the modified nature of the progressively more photographic
contents of painting (framing instead of composition, etc.), Manet brings to modern
realism (which would soon emigrate from the plastic arts to the new photo-sensitive
arts) a radically innovative essence, imbibed with great voraciousness from the
tormented Goya: looking in the direction of the facts; seeking the themes of art in
information, the harshest and most unassailable criticism of conceit, hypocrisy and
untruth. Without resorting to subjective exaggeration, or to the sometimes arbitrary
and deceptive power of eloquent metaphors, information, of which painting and
after this, photography, cinema, television and the internet became the rigorous,
but only apparently neutral vehicle, established a definitive distance from the
citizen-artist of the religious, palatial or simply commercial arts. Knowledge became
the quintessential place for the symbolic representation of the world.
The scandal caused in Parisian society by Olympia, the prostitute who, in her
nudity, gained access to the Olympus of the decadent and reactionary European
Beaux Arts, destroyed, in the frankness of her portrayal, a whole system of
hypocritical representation, compliant with the state of profound social divisionism
that reigned at that time. On the other hand, that apparently unqualified being, in
her unexpected protagonism, had just conquered a place in the world of images
that previously was forbidden to people of her kind: the place that impedes moral
pre-judgement and challenges the democratic commitment of observation and
The other component of this cognitive change of direction introduced into fine arts
by realism is the entrance of reality, namely the shameful reality of the
abandonment of Maximilian Habsburg to his Mexican adventure and fate, on the
part of Napoleon III, in the idealised and subservient system of European historical
painting. The impact of this outrage was such that, to a large extent, it can be said
to be responsible for the continuous effort made thereafter to prevent the force of
the artistic imagination from being able, with its formal and chromatic eloquence, to
disturb the system of seduction and manipulation that was peculiar to the rising
new bourgeoisie. A free artist can rapidly become a dangerous being. Art in the
age of its technical reproducibility, when it depends directly on industry for its
existence (illustration, photojournalism, cinema, television, design...), can easily be
controlled, namely through the functional separation of the various moments that
constitute representation: deciding upon the theme, approaching the subject,
capturing it, editing, highlighting and disseminating. But when it chooses other
channels of communication, it does not have to obey the dominant semiotic
alienation and can even seriously threaten the regulators of the instituted systems
of imagination. Hence the continued pressure upon ""modern!! and ""contemporary!!
art to close in on itself introspectively and disfigure its subject-matter. The power of
figuration thus became, so to speak, a strategic resource that was too important,
increasingly watched over and controlled by the powerful iconological machine that
served the world-view of industrial and financial capitalism throughout the 20th
century. Insofar as Manet was defeated in his clear determination to save the
cognitive value of painting, the victory belonged to distortion and abstraction as
guarantees of its progressive ideological anaesthesia. That is why it is not possible
to understand the regime of 20th-century images from its aesthetic avant-garde
movements, without first studying the abundant material culture that preceded it
and systematically conditioned it, and in which we have included all the artistic
forms that are organically rooted in the system of capitalist production and in the
corresponding society of the spectacle, so opportunely anathematised by Guy
Dbord (1931-1994).
Returning to that peculiar sensation of lost time and wasted energy, which Miguel
Palma seems to cure through the incessant search for a solid base on which to
piece back together the broken fragments of the memory of this century, I should
now like to centre my reflections upon the connections that I understand to exist
between the progressive proto-realism of his works and the realist project that was
interrupted, in stylistic and programmatic terms, at the very moment when Czanne
(1839-1906) and Monet (1840-1926) began to turn in their painting towards
abstraction, and later when others, such as Van Gogh (1853-1890), Edvard Munch
(1863-1944) and Egon Schiele (1890-1918), established pictorial disfigurement as
the privileged place for the whole idiosyncratic line of development of western art
over the last century and a half. There will certainly be many other artists who, like
Miguel Palma, try to regain contact with reality, but it is this particular artist that it is
my task to talk about now.
Ludo (1989), Cemiterra-Geraterra [""Iron terrestrial globe enclosed in a
parallelepiped. This box was buried in the garden of the Fundao Calouste
Gulbenkian, between 1991 and 2000!!] (1991-2000) and Order ["!12-metre-long
metallic structure in which thirty-six boxes are arranged with different instruments
and tools!!] (1992), close the initiatory cycle of a creative process based on this
simple idea: to reverse the processes of aesthetic dematerialisation and semiotic
abstraction that have characterised the trajectory of modern art since the
abandonment of Courbet and Manet!s realist paradigms, previously sketched in
paintings of a more romantic nature, such as Shipwreck of the Minotaur, by William
Turner (1775-1851), Le Radeau de la Mduse (1817-1818), by Thodore Gricault
(1791-1824), and The Shootings of May 3rd 1808 (1814), by Francisco de Goya
(1746-1828). Despite its heaviness, there is nothing to identify the aesthetic
evidence of a work by Richard Serra, beyond the reified context of its exhibition,
the public disturbance that it provokes and the price that it costs! Abandoned in the
bombed-out suburbs of Baghdad, or in the submerged city of New Orleans, its tons
of cast iron (in contrast to a simple Spanish-Arabian decorative tile lost in one of
these places) would easily be confused with the surrounding signs of destruction,
but it would be hard to confuse them with an artistic artefact. No curious look would
be directed at them in search of a refuge, consolation or encouragement. It is in
this precise sense of an observation of material culture, and not that of any
contextualised hermeneutic exercise (obviously possible and desirable in another
discussion), that I declare there to have been a lamentable derealisation of art, as
abstractionist metaphysics has erased from its programme of work the possibility of
representation, narrative and meaning, leaving, as the ultima ratio of the identity of
the artistic thing, what others have called the open work, matched, broadly
speaking, by an inevitable aesthetics of reception (reader-response criticism). The
danger of taking this distinct line of communication and sensitivity as a humanity-
market is obvious and has in fact been the privileged arena of the games of
seduction and the aesthetic-narrative combinations that have long marked the
games of fashion and trends in taste in advanced and late capitalist formations. In
relation to this dimension of aesthetics, as an urban product of the ""engineering of
consent that was described by Edward Bernays (1891-1995), the nephew of
Sigmund Freud and one of the 100 most important figures in the twentieth century,
according to Life magazine, it is worth reading this passage from his book,
Propaganda, published in 1928:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of
the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate
this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the
true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our
tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This
is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast
numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together
as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether
in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking,
we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the
mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires
which control the public mind.
Miguel Palma!s first works, obviously tributaries of what we might call the world of
sculptors, have, in short, the particularity of retaining in their heavy masses no

Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928.
longer the worn out phenomenology of minimalism, but the image. Precisely this,
the image! In this particular case, a collection of archetypes lost in time, which only
do not disappear because they insist on returning as questioning memories. If I
insist on dissecting these first works with a scalpel, it is because I see in them the
genesis of a particularly original path of development in the best of Portuguese art
in the period of transition between the 20th and 21st century.
Instrument of the Empire [""A model of a 15th-century Portuguese caravel
commissioned from a young Portuguese man of African origin. Around him,
shipbuilding plans and a map of the Portuguese diaspora created the work
environment.!!]; Europe 2000 [""Table-tennis table with a net that marks out two
territories. The top is covered with craters that make it impossible for the game to
be played.!!]; My great-great-great-grandmother was black [""Magic lantern that
projects transparencies. The artist!s daughters are portrayed, who, despite their
Caucasian physical appearance, have African ancestry.!!]. These three powerful
metaphors the first of the Portuguese colonial past/present, the second of the
absurdity of war, and the third of our racist prejudices reveal, without any
subterfuges, some of the most devastating and persistent sins of the West:
colonialism (and the subsequent neo-colonialism), the systematic pursuit of war
throughout the whole phase of Capitalism!s industrial and financial expansion, and
racial prejudice.
In this particular case, such a revelation does, however, have the peculiarity of
situating the problems in the person himself and in the geographical space to
which he belongs historically, culturally and mentally. This is consequently a radical
and precise identification of the problems, which is essential in order to elucidate
the thematic complexity and moral sincerity of the creative procedure. Thus, if, on
the one hand, we may compare these works with the recent political trends in
""contemporary art!!, on the other hand, there is in the biographical particularity of
these a confessional and self-critical side that escapes the superficiality and
Manichaeism of much of this same political fashion. Their apparent simplicity is
confused with the perception of a certain historical determinism, false and absurd,
which leaves us ashamed and speechless.
Europe 2000, a project developed expressly for the Maia Biennial of 1999, exhibits,
as if in the form of a conceptual open wound, the barbarity taking place at that time
in the very same Europe that was euphorically experiencing its last imperial effort.
On 21 March 1999, under the pretext of avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe in
Kosovo, NATO aircraft had attacked Yugoslavia! For the new European project,
this would surely be a deep wound and difficult to heal. After the French and Dutch
said no in their referendums on the European Constitutional Treaty, the current
attempt being made to replace national referendums with government decisions
shows to what extent, at least at this moment in time, the new Europe is no more
than a confused federation of interests and an illusion of the masses. But a good
metaphor is not only useful for illustrating this or that human episode. In reality, its
lasting effectiveness depends on its managing (or not) to raise itself to a more
general degree of signification. In this particular case, the ping-pong table with
holes in it, as the ultimate metaphor for war games, fills precisely this condition of
generality, on the basis of which the overall conjunctural view of events is
transformed into the philosophy and ethics of History.
Instrument of the Empire, in turn, is a self-critical monument to colonialism, in the
antipodes of the Fascist statuary that still endures today in the formal stupidity,
servility and lack of imagination of the Portuguese official sculpture (which even
enjoys the collaboration of the most unsuspected protagonists of the late
""contemporary art!! produced in Portugal.) Once again, it is the complexity of the
work, in its apparent ingenuity, that confers upon it its metaphorical rarity and
ensures its cultural duration. Who is the African Portuguese in Instrument of the
Empire? If he is no longer the other, in other words the independent Africa, who is
it? It is all of us, I would say, but in the skin of the black man that we tear away
from our concerns and hide in the great urban periphery of our conscience.
Working is good for the black man, just as it was before for the Galicians! Who now
remembers those miserable Portuguese sayings? And yet, we must not confuse a
self-critical monument with some kind of anti-monument. Because in the evocative
power of this metaphorically reconstructed piece of life, there is really a homage...
which is prolonged, in all its candidness, to the very core of our conscience and
responsibility. Try putting this work of art in the corridors of the Portuguese
Parliament, and you will see just how powerful its effects are!
This magnificent triptych closes one of the most beautiful exercises in aesthetic
pedagogy of recent years: My great-great-great-grandmother was black. The
moment that makes this work a remarkable instance of the return of the cognitive
dimension to the artistic praxi s of the avant-garde, in its passage from
""contemporary!! to ""post-contemporary!!, is, so to speak, the historiographical and
anthropological sincerity from which it starts out, ending up projecting onto all of us
the hidden dimension of racial prejudices and the vastness of the incorrigible
cultural ignorance that have long been leaving their marks on the interminable
human tragedy. As in Instrument of the Empire, the innocence that it shows hides a
disturbing revelation. In the case of My great-great-great-grandmother was black,
the disturbance is produced by the question: how is it possible to feel what I
sometimes feel, if there is no scientific evidence to justify it?
Safe with a million escudos [""Iron safe containing a million escudos.!!]; 30 minutes
[""Clocking-in machine. The clock cards which also served as an invitation to the
exhibition, recommended the amount of time that visitors should spend at the place
(30 minutes) and marked their entrance and exit time.!!] and Value [""Acrylic box
exhibiting a Chippendale chair, infected by woodworm] paradoxes in a pure
If I take the money out of the safe, the work dies, but if I leave the money there,
that money will end up dying and the work will follow suit. In other words, so that
the work does not die, the money ""deposited in it has to rot away there (self-
destruct), incapable of overcoming the inflationary deterioration of the
corresponding monetary value, or even of updating itself materially (there are no
longer any escudos, or contos, for example...) But, having reached this point, what
is in the safe is no longer money, and so the work, by losing its concept, also loses
its value! The dilemma is therefore obvious: the moment the work is purchased, its
value immediately enters into a process of irreparable implosion. I don!t know any
work of art that so perfectly realises its own death in the act of realising itself
In the second case, the aesthetic enjoyment, which presupposes a fluid and
irresponsible temporality, is, on the contrary, submitted to the general regime of
alienation from the factory to artistic consumption! Thus, if you wish to free me
from the capitalist reification of time, I shall have to reject the work of art. By
accepting it, I shall permit the destruction of my freedom and, as a consequence, I
shall not be able to enjoy the promised aesthetic distension. In its place, there will
be alienation, or, in other words, something that must, by definition, be
counteracted by the work of art. There will consequently be no work of art. Finally,
if I reject the invitation, in the name of an aesthetic enjoyment that is free of any
constraints, I shall not get to see the promised work of art, i.e. this will cease to
exist for me (which from an anthropic point of view, implies rejecting its existence.)
The value of the work of art supposedly increases with the passage of time, but, in
the case of Value, this duration means the advance of the woodworm and the
progressive implosion of the work of art, literally transforming it into dust. This
means that, as the concept of the work gains in strength, its substance disappears!
The more crystalline the concept, the less of a work there will be at the end!
Nostalgia / ars moriendi
Driving to perfection [""For a month, Miguel Palma undertook timed training
sessions with the aim of improving his performance in driving a go-kart and
achieving an objective view of his performance.!!]; Triumph Spitfire [""Miniature
model of a Triumph Spitfire MK 3 from 1970, on the scale of 1:5, placed on a
photograph depicting Miguel Palma and the artisan Serafim Barbosa.!!]; Mini
[""Exhibition of a MINI Austin-Morris from 1968, restored for competition purposes,
with a panel on which are exhibited photographs depicting meetings and contests
involving the same car, a desk and two chairs for reception purposes.]; Viewing
Point [""Acrylic box enclosing a wooden construction, which supports a viewing
point a place of observation that was very fashionable in the 1940s, having a
triangulation pillar as a reference.!!] and 1:1,250 [""DKW, F8 model, of German
origin, acquired by the Porto engineer Eduardo Fleming, a month before the
outbreak of the Second World War. The vehicle is accompanied by a display case
in which are exhibited documentary materials of the history of that car.!!], are part
of the automobile wing of Miguel Palma!s imaginary museum. Just like Marcel
Duchamp!s assisted and rectified ready-mades, the cars that Miguel Palma
prepares, collects, drives and exhibits have the philosophical integrity of the
Duchampian research into the phenomenological duplicity of mass-produced
industrial objects. The numbered units of the age of reproducibility are copies when
they are born, but they immediately acquire a strange personality as the time of
familiarity that is associated with their use passes. Their intrinsic mechanics gives
them a kind of irresistible sexuality. Those who own such machines fall in love with
them. Vehicles with a new form of autonomy and freedom speed these
adrenaline factories have made successive generations of men and women
addicted to them and imposed themselves as specially representative icons of the
""modern!! and ""contemporary!! era. They continue here and there, but times have
changed, and we all know that they have. The end of these irresistible monsters is
close at hand, and it is not their fault. At the time of taking stock, the moment
comes when they should be remembered and discontinued in an appropriate and
dignified fashion. Will we be able to live without these objects? How will their logic
be understood in the future when there is no sign of it other than the rusty
archaeological remains? Duchamp carefully selected banal objects originating from
industrial creation, thereafter decreeing that they had ceased to be copies and
were now unique. He called this procedure of artistic creation ready-made. He
never said it, and perhaps because of this may not have even reached the point of
thinking it, namely that such a phenomenological excision would one day have to
coincide with the selection imposed by time and by change on the ephemeral world
of copies. It is not by chance that the first artist began by collecting irregular-
shaped shells, even before daring to make his first scratch and line...
Gadget [""Car constructed by Miguel Palma with the aim of producing a truly
functional object. The inaugural journey had as its destination the exhibition
Images for the 90s, at the Fundao de Serralves, Porto.!!]; 2.5 km at 100
kilometres an hour [""4-lane electric automobile track, with a perimeter of 80 metres
and a Seat 600 running round it. The scale is 1:32 and the speed of 100 Kilometres
per hour is the one that is realised 32 times more slowly.!!]; Lisbon-Rotterdam
[""Tow truck with a model of a coastal city covered with an acrylic box, transported
by road to Rotterdam. The vehicle had a video camera that recorded the
alterations that occurred on its inside as a result of the movement and oscillations
of driving: the water flooded the housing areas.!!]; Heritage [""Destruction of a copy
of an 18th-century Japanese "Imari! vase. Its reconstruction was to take place
throughout the period during which the exhibit was on display.!!]; Didactic Art
[""Installation formed from a table on which can be seen a large book with
documents (maps and photographs, prints) made available by Miguel Palma to
children aged between five and eleven years of age. On the bottom part of the
table, slides are projected that document the result of his artistic intervention.!!];
Dream House [""Drawing board transformed into a model with a landscape formed
by a modernist house and by a car that has been involved in an accident.!!];
Instability [""In an acrylic glass display case, a vase from the first half of the 19th
century is associated with a swinging pendular mechanism, temporarily creating
the illusion of instability.!!].
Opposed to the static and negative phenomenology with which Damien Hirst
approaches, for example, the taboo of death (which seems to be called into
question largely through Miguel Palma!s approach to the phenomenon of entropy,
accident, instability or the simple insufficiency of ""modern!! and ""contemporary!! art
in the age of reproducibility, of copy and speculation) is the need to imagine and
stimulate models of intuitive experimentation that provide an alternative to the
restrictive mental labour of typically ""modern!! and ""contemporary!! analytics. It is
said that Michelangelo (1475-1564) threw his chisel against the recently completed
statue of Moses, intended for the tomb of Julius II (hitting it on the knee), and
shouted: ""Perch non parli?!! Why is representation not reality?! What does it need
to open its eyes and walk? Will it make sense to ask the question in this way, now
that we have reached the machine age? Don!t they have organs? And needs? And
can!t they be beautiful? If it depends on art, on techne (_____), surely so, and one
day they will have a life and will be able to love and be loved! But wouldn!t it be
necessary, in order to achieve such a potential post-human symbiosis, for basic
principles of pragmatism and experimentalism to be introduced into the
phenomenological deambulation that precedes and accompanies the praxis of art?
Florence!s determination was lost somewhere along the way, but the right time has
perhaps come to recover it.
Reality is movement, towards good and evil, towards life and death, in happiness
and in suffering. Approaching this type of vitality with the tools of art, following a
simultaneously technological and philosophical strategy of investigation, almost
presupposes the existence of a previous cataloguing of the phenomena that hold
our anthropological and cultural attention (their recent history and the multipolar
impact of daily life). On the other hand, it implies the ongoing compilation of a
glossary and a new grammar. There is an infinite list of things to do now that the
combinatory possibilities of the hermeneutics of ""modern!! and ""contemporary!! art
are exhausted. Measuring the subjective nature of time through the experience of
the work of art is one of them. It is one of those paths that has to be drawn by art
itself. The time of desire, the time of learning, the time of expectation, the time of
enthusiasm, the time of the experience and the acts, the time of disappointment,
the time of inexperience, the time of irrecoverable losses, the finite time of the
great time that we call infinite, measured by the patient reconstruction of a
porcelain piece that has been ritually broken, in the driving of a sculpture with an
engine and wheels, or through the observation of the absurd relativity of speed, or
in the dramatic glimpse of the climate!s reaction to our inadvertent acts... The time
that is interrupted by an earthquake or a road accident, the time of tragedy and the
time of the growth and learning of the map of life and images. Art as a drawing of
carefully chosen subjective experiences, but nonetheless intuitive and friendly,
appears, on the horizon of this new century, as the possible overcoming of the
unfortunate ready-made. Hence our having called for this debate on the need for a
new phenomenology that, while not abandoning the important critical tradition that
has accompanied it since Kant, is, above all, more dynamic and pragmatic, and in
this way can promote the necessary changeover from contemporary time to post-
contemporary time. Instead of perpetuating the torture of the eternal present.
Magic Eye [""Large-sized projector. At one end, a light of great intensity passes
over the surface of an aquarium that, located in the middle of the device, receives
the jet of water coming from a pump. In turn, with the aid of a lens, the image
formed from this waterfall effect is projected into the camera obscura situated at
the other end of this optical machine!!]; Ecosystem [""Fan-inflated mica containing a
construction at two levels: an industrial area superimposed on a residential area.
The ventilation system causes particles of dust to circulate, creating a closed
ecosystem of pollution.!!]; Project 2080 [""A piece based on an agricultural project
entitled 2080, which is characterised by the incentive given to the afforestation of
Community countries. Installation formed by two boxes: in the top one is an
inverted forest landscape; in the bottom one is a light box representing the sky.!!];
Aquarium [""Aquarium containing a fish placed on the surface of a lake.!!]; Carbon
14 [""Glass box that includes different stratigraphic layers of soil. In the upper part,
a revolving agricultural machine works the land.!!]; Alfacis popularis [""Plantation of
lettuces in a bath-tub, evoking urban plant cultivation in the post-revolutionary
period.!!]; Library [""Three bookcases, the middle one being raised by a lifting
mechanism based on the outlet from car exhaust pipes. This bookcase exhibited
books on art, architecture and philosophy.!!]; Telescope [""Through a telescope
placed roughly fifteen metres away, the visitor observes the image resulting from a
transparency of cancerous cells, whose effect is similar to an astronomic
observation. The work pays homage to the doctor Francisco Gentil.!!]; Hydroponic
Culture [""Plantation of bean plants in a hydroponic cultivation system. The
installation is composed of a mineral fertilisation support, an irrigation system, a
PVC tank, an electric pump, electric heating, stainless steel and wooden work
surfaces, chairs and a work surface with a stove, where the bean soup served
during the inauguration was cooked.!!]; Barco do Lavrador [""In this restored
whaleboat, Miguel Palma undertook several guided visits up and down the River
Mondego, just like the "barcos de lavrador!, the small wooden boats that were used
for transporting merchandise and students until the mid-20th century.!!]; Travelling
with pets [""The building of an animal transport device, later placed on the roof rack
of a car, was used to make a video shown in the window of the commercial agency
of the Aeroflot airline company in Lisbon.!!]; Trunk [""Cross section of a tree planted
in 1898 at the Convento dos Capuchos in Sintra. Miguel Palma has marked the
heart centres of this recently felled century-old tree by placing on them various
model cars with the dates of manufacture corresponding to the phases of the tree!s
growth.!!]; Accident Motion Pictures [""An ambulance whose inside has been
transformed into the stage of a city represented on a scale of 1:18. During the
driving of the vehicle multiple accidents are produced involving miniature cars,
which are filmed and simultaneously viewed on four monitors.!!]; Flying Carpet [""On
a Persian carpet, manufactured in Iran, a structure is placed, whose mechanical
system sustains, in a state of equilibrium, a seat from a military airplane with a
turbine that works periodically.!!]; Catalytic Paintings Landscape Filters [see
description at the beginning of this text].
The entire planet (rich and poor) is already, in the opportune expression of James
Howard Kunstler (1949- ), passing through a long emergency
. Announced since
1972, when Donella Meadows (1941-2001) and her team published the first great

James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press,
study on the limits to growth
and the dangers for humankind if it does not try to
understand what is really at stake, it was only after the earthquake and tsunami
that hit South-East Asia in 2004, the hurricane Katrina which devastated the city of
New Orleans in 2005, badly affecting the North American states of Louisiana,
Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, and the more recent and shameful wars fought
over oil (Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran...), that the world finally began to
understand that it has an extremely serious problem to solve. If global warming and
the climate changes caused by this are to have the catastrophic global effects that
most scientists predict, if industrial pollution and the degradation of agricultural land
continues at the present rate, if the end of the cheap fossil energies (especially oil
and natural gas) leads to a race for nuclear energy and a spiral of ever more
intense and deadly wars, we will most probably witness a rapid decline in the life of
our planet, desperate and unpredictable mass migrations, and an unprecedented
psychological crisis on a global scale. Under such circumstances, it is quite likely
that some of the technologies that we use today without thinking will disappear, or
will become too scarce or too expensive, thus radically altering our current
economic, social and cultural pattern of life. In such an implosive scenario, what is
the purpose of art? If economies sink and states fail, resulting in the successive
collapse of the energy, technology and services infrastructures, will we be able to
continue using cars, mobile phones and computers as we do today, without
thinking? Will we continue to travel by plane purely for leisure purposes?
Sophisticated as it is, a great deal of present-day art (understood as the result of
an established given material culture) has been transformed into a complex system
of manipulation and modulation of the aesthetic expectations of the countless
audiences for which it is intended, extending over a broad spectrum of solutions,
ranging from the design of everyday objects to the cultural-industrial complex that
invades all spheres of sensitivity and taste, under the combined regime of fashion
and spectacle. Or else it has gradually begun to establish itself as an alternative
critical activity, seeming to have as its fundamental mission to defend itself as a

Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and Dennis Meadows, Limits to Growth (The
place for the neurotic exploration of its own creative freedom. This is how it has
been in the West since the avant-garde movements abandoned reality, and gave
themselves up to the problems of their own definition. On the one hand, we have
an extremely vast commercial art used for entertainment purposes, basically
rhetorical and destined to transform each individual into a regular consumer of
culture. On the other hand, we have an obstinate critical art, progressively more
caught up in its own intellectual web. The productivity of commercial art has
reached the maximum limit of its powers of seduction, being left with no other way
out than to promote generalised cultural cannibalism. The fine arts, in their turn,
have disappeared in combat, above all leaving behind the rhetoric of their old
rituals. The world is polluted and full of rubbish. We need less art, and more than
anything else a simpler, less pretentious and more friendly art. To reach this point,
we have to recover as irrecusable principles of artistic action the interested
observation of what surrounds us, the establishment of intuitive platforms of
aesthetic interaction, and some final purpose or other. Art cannot become
exhausted within itself, but it has to serve the community, in their moments of
anxiety, but also in their moments of euphoria, dream and utopia. In the uncertain
era in which it began, in the period of the long emergency into which we have
entered, artists will have to recover the instrumental and ideological conviviality
that they once enjoyed with scientists, technologists and pedagogues. Its new
place in the social evolution is that of knowing how to manage forms, colours,
rhythms and the symbolic automatons of the new social cooperation and global
community. Didactics will be an asset and there can never be too much didascalia.
The cognitive message will have to find a safe harbour and it will have to do so
quickly, it will have to be understood and appreciated without effort, to show the
way, to convince and seduce in the name of a new, albeit uncertain, utopia: Gaia.
The mechanisms of alienated mediation have to be opposed by an intelligent
mediation of another type. Most immediately, and as long as there is globalisation,
the artistic pr axi s must fully assume the hypermediatic, immersive,

30-Year Update), Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004.
communicational and rhizomatous potential of the post-industrial technosphere.
We have a real reality, in which we move in small scales, we have the unlimited
virtual reality (very important for the cognitive and theoretical expansion of the
networks of aesthetic research and dissemination) and we have augmented reality,
which expands with every day that passes, opening up an extraordinary window of
opportunities for the demiurgic action of the arts.
When I visited Miguel Palma!s studio, located in a former hand grenade factory, I
understood that what I saw there was a site for the construction of urgent objects,
the fruit of an unceasing periscopic observation. Devices, mechanisms, controllers,
rectified and assisted ready-mades, metaphors, allegories, tragic stories and
anecdotes, life, death, interstices, musical scores scattered everywhere, benches
for tests, experiments, examinations, information, observation, news, games...
What was all that? An exploded world in the process of symbolic recovery? A
multipolar artistic project to convince us of the fragility of this world? Dialectical re-
constructivism building nostalgic bridges that lead us to Vladimir Tatlin? The
archaeology of lost time? Art explained to children. That!s it! Exactly.
A bath-tub with lettuces planted in it Alfacis popularis the fruit of popular
imagination in a situation of serious economic hardship, but projected into the
future that one can see drawing nearer; a hydroponic bean-plant, from which there
comes, not champagne, but the soup served during the inauguration; a boat that
sails up and down the River Mondego, not in the name of the past, but in the name
of a previous future; a reforestation proposal for Europe, proposing to recover the
earlier pagan communion with Mother Earth; the metaphysical ascension of a
library through the effects of a device used for capturing CO
and other gases that
are responsible for the greenhouse effect; or even the catalytic paintings produced
by the exhaust pipe of a 4x4 these are clear examples of the reintroduction of a
realist, critical and responsi bl e programme in the particle accelerator of
contemporary art, at the moment of its imminent metamorphosis. Of course, we
could immediately begin to talk of the post-contemporary art already in progress,
whose analysis does not, however, belong within the scope of this reflection. But
this latter process, precisely because it is in progress, is still incomplete, diffuse
and prone to various contradictions.
On the one hand, it is naturally born from the technosphere in which we are
steeped, as well as from the new protocols and languages of aesthetic
programming, without any special affective links with the recent past of the visual
arts. On the other hand, its maturation will certainly benefit the progressive
incorporation of the genetic heritage of modern and contemporary art, as long as
the latter continues to break free from its current theoretical and cultural isolation.
There are therefore two confluent movements: that of a cognitive art, technically
and scientifically demanding, with reasonably well defined programmes and aims,
shared in both community and disciplinary terms, attentive to developments at the
social and political level, and which I refer to by the name of post-contemporary art;
and, coming together with this, a kind of realist revision of what modern art first
began by being (from the German and English naturalist Romanticism to the
French critical Realism), without overlooking the best of the phenomenology of
contemporary art, although this operates with pre-technological tools and
languages. This belated and transitory phase of contemporary art suffers from a
characteristic phenomenological instability, for it no longer tolerates the
increasingly ethereal rhetoric of the contemporary, but it does not yet know what
is the best trajectory to follow in escaping from that paradigmatic orbit. It therefore
tends to enter into conflict with the recurrent and self-absorbed aporias of modern
and contemporary art. It tends, on the other hand, to move ever closer to the new
technological and cognitive models of the post-contemporary artistic praxis.
Knowing Miguel Palma, his motivations and his artistic development over the last
decade and a half, I believe that we are effectively in the presence of an exemplary
case of transition between the contemporary and post-contemporary paradigms of
western art.
The terms art and aesthetics, in the elevated and micrological acceptance that we
have of them today, appeared in the 19th century, through the progressive
specialisation and rationalisation of the arts and crafts, their organisation, learning
and social hierarchisation within the framework of the multitudinous development of
urban and industrial societies. It was in the course of this process of objective
separation that theory and practice entered into conflict and began to diverge. In
the case of knowledge, its epistemological radicalisation promoted a continuous
disciplinary dispersal, giving rise to two major projects: Philosophy, which was to
seek at all costs to maintain a sovereign, articulate and, in the final analysis,
unitary view of all cognitive fields (logical, epistemological, gnoseological), and
Sciences, genetically programmed for a rapid epistemic specialisation/dispersal,
from which their effervescent productivity arose. In the case of praxis, understood
here as ability (from homo habilis), or as techne (_____), i.e. craftsmanship, art,
mechanics, technology, we were also to witness an increasingly clear-cut
bifurcation between art and technology.
Knowing how to make things with one!s hands, with utensils and tools, in order
afterwards to make other utensils and tools (and so on in successive fashion), in
the emerging context of the urban and industrial civilisation of the 18th and 19th
centuries, and more radically after the appearance of the first steam engines and
cars with internal combustion engines, rapidly evolved to become an elaborate,
specialised, organised and hierarchised technology. Many of the artisans were
then transformed into technologists designers, visualisers, modellers and
constructors. From a historical point of view, this was, so to speak, the natural
evolution that was most coherent with the etymology.
But, with its origin in the Platonic criticism of the arts and in contrast to the
Aristotelian and mediaeval aesthetic conceptions, another interpretation was also
becoming established that of the so-called liberal arts. In the English case,
according to Raymond Williams
, from the 13th century to the last third of the 17th
century, the word art was used without any degree of specialisation, referring,
without any distinction being made, to mathematics, medicine and the
measurement of angles, and, at mediaeval universities, to a heterogeneous group
of disciplines grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and
astronomy. The artist, in his turn, was basically a person with skilful hands, with a
knack, or else a practitioner of one of the arts protected by one of the seven

Raymond Williams (1976), Keywords (a vocabulary of culture and society), London:
muses: history, poetry, comedy, tragedy, music, dance and astronomy. Only in the
last third of the 18th century did disciplines such as painting, drawing, sculpture
and engraving begin to be progressively identified as art, and their practitioners as
artists. The exclusion of the discipline of engraving from the range of subjects
taught at the Royal Academy, founded in 1768 as a result of a split in the Society
of Artists, would in turn lead to the establishment of a new subdivision in the notion
of art, separating the practices derived from manual expertise from those that were
distinguished by their ""intellectual!!, ""imaginative!! and ""creative!! attributes, in this
way giving rise to the separation between liberal arts and fine arts. Hence the
logocentric (hands off) trajectory that would lead us to characterise the essence of
western art, from the second half of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century,
through an inevitable tendency towards abstraction was a step that it took a
hundred years to achieve, ranging, for example, from the psychological portrait of
the aristocrat Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond (1758), painted by Joshua
Reynolds (1723-1792), to the light-filled and plastic exploration of oil painting in
Rain, Steam and Speed The Great Western Railway (1844), by J. M. W. Turner,
passing through the critical paranoia of Goya!s ""black paintings, of which Saturn
devouring one of his children (1815) is one of the most disturbing premonitions of
19th and 20th-century Europe. The divergence between Aristotle (384-322 BC)
and Plato (428/427-348/347 BC), reproduced in the 18th and 19th centuries by the
divergence between Hegel (1770-1831) and Kant (1724-1804), and throughout the
20th century, between neo-Kantians, formalists, structuralists and nominalists, on
the one side, and dialectics, Marxists-Manichaeists, rationalists-dialectics,
pragmatists and structuralists-constructivists, on the other side, explains the logic
of this evolution at the level of the history of ideas. Realism (except in the
undesirable and Manichaeist formulations of Socialist Realism and Nazi-Fascist
art) was to some extent shattered into smithereens by the centripetal forces of
technology, mass psychology and solipsistic formalism. Two centuries were to
pass of morphic and conceptual formalism, of histrionism and the calculated

Fontana Press, 1983.
manipulation of the aesthetic fields overdetermined by the advanced systems of
capitalist production. The critical realism of Goya, Courbet and Manet remained, in
some ways, trapped within the history of Europe; Russian Constructivism became
lost in the Stalinist counter-revolution and the general ebbing away of socialist
hope. The 20th century meanwhile reached its end and the disillusion that was felt
was widespread. In front of us, we have an immeasurable amount of torment and a
great deal of affliction. Perhaps this is the right moment to begin to mend the
broken toy of civilisation. But, in order to do this, we need a new and long period of
interdisciplinary cooperation. As there is nothing beyond nothingness, the best that
we can do is really to relaunch hope once more, and, on the way to forming a new
alliance between practical people and theoreticians, to reconstruct the arts as a
field of greatly expanded wisdom and knowledge and of the aesthetic reconciliation
with the immense, wise, but fragile Gaia.
The model
To propose an interpretive model is always a risky business, and it is more than
likely that there will be flaws at some points in its construction. Whatever the case,
if we don!t try, we run the risk of leaving the dialogue about works of art at the
mercy of the inertias of tastes, or of the more or less sophisticated popular clichs
of their worldly reception. Greenberg!s formalist and neo-Kantian paradigm has
withstood and survived the linguistic criticism unleashed against it by the English
and American Conceptualists, largely because, amongst other reasons, this was
an incomplete, inconsequential and opportunistic criticism. We may defend, as a
thesis, the existence of a theoretical art, and even justify it in the light of a general
tendency towards dematerialisation, i.e. towards a loss of sensitivity in all
representations, insofar as the logical clarification and technical evolution of these
same representations end up being translated into their own death and ascension
to the realm of the Hegelian idea. But we must not forget that the Hegelian idea,
according to him the realm of logic, is not the place of the quietist (and resigned)
tautology, but the arena where what is contradiction and the excluded third not only
coexist, but are also the very condition of the possibility of the world. Reality is not
an explosive encounter between space and time. It is not only space, nor is it only
rhythm. Art is the ""manifestation of concrete subjectivity (Egdio Namorado),
thereby bringing together the experience of life, the knowledge of history, the
brotherhood of ideas and the courage to affirm the truth as a final demonstration of
what, in the beauty of everything, is hidden as the meaning and the ultimate
destination of reality.
April 2007

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