And from the dust it shall return
Luísa Santos, 2019
And from the dust it shall return (2019), by Carlos Mensil (1988, Santo Tirso), is a site-specific installation-exhibit for Travessa da Ermida. In fact, more than specific to the space, this installation-exhibit is specific to the context of the place or the multiple symbols that the history of the place summons.
When we step into the space of Travessa da Ermida we are at first confronted with a partly lit wall. If we come closer we can see a kind of drawing in real-time, and hear a mechanical sound in a rhythm that seems random. If we move to the back of the wall we discover the entire wooden structure that bears the wall, a device with a spring, a moving magnet sphere, pulleys, nylon wires that slide, and also a small engine in a wooden box that seems to emit a blue light, which is, in the end, coming from an electronic component.
This description is, within the limits of what these words can do, truthful to what we can see and hear. However, the most interesting part of this piece is not entrusted to the senses but rather to our experience and our memory (or our ideas) of what we know of the place - we are in a hermitage, built with the religious function of chapel, modest in size, in a solitary place - and the symbols that we associate with it.
The first symbol comes to us by way of the title, And from the dust it shall return, in a clear biblical reference to “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis, 3:19). To the Catholic Church, God created Man using the same matter as the Earth - dust: “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis, 2:7). Later God would tell Adam that “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis, 3:19). This Bible passage tells us that we will return to dust, in our finite condition, mortal and dependent on God. In turn, the sentence that gives title to the exhibit, with the subtle semantic change that it puts forward, implies a condition of infinite circularity, of a return from that dust, matter that is simultaneously beginning and end.
And dust, in this installation-exhibit, is precisely and jointly matter and time. In the first room, lit by a kind of tall monocle that seems to take the place of a rose window in the chapel, we can see a drawing being produced in real time. One of the first impressions we get from And from the dust it shall return is that of this movement marked by a mechanical sound that, in this place, can easily make us think of an organ. The abstract image that is being drawn in motions, reminiscent of the mathematical principles that guided the first geometric abstractions and kinetic art, never stops. This drawing made with dust composed of pieces of metals and magnets, leftovers recovered from other finished pieces of Carlos Mensil’s studio, thus instantaneously creates a relation with the title. After all, this drawing and - ultimately - this piece returned from the dust, from the dead parts of other pieces, to create something new.
This process of creation is a driving force for a sense of perplexity and oddness - we see the dust drawing on the wall but we see no one controlling it, nor can we discern in it a beginning nor end, not even a predictable rhythm. The attempts to understand who or what determines the motion of the drawing lead us to the altar, where we will be guided by a discontinuous white light. Together with the azulejo tiles, with the geographic location of the hermitage, and with the drawing, which though abstract forms a horizon line with waves, the light becomes a symbol of the sea, in its overtones regarding the place of the sublime, as fascinating as it is anguishing. From the altar, clues are given to us by a mechanical device, devoid of human presence to what takes place on the other side of the wall, almost like in a visual translation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. From here, information is seemingly given to us about the (first) reality that we can see. However the correspondence between the places reveals itself more mysterious and disorientating than actually showing resolution or ending.
And, ultimately, it is of this sensation between fascination and terror for understanding the ending (or what or who determines it) that And from the dust it shall return speaks. No matter the amount of books - holy or secular - we have access to, we still have no answer as to what the end is, what death is. The aura of And from the dust it shall return thus resides in the symbols it summons but also in the contradictory effect of transforming a matter - dust - into a signified. And so the installation-exhibit points to something which escapes the human senses, showing the fourth dimension that Marcel Duchamp described as that which we cannot see with our eyes. And from the dust it shall return thusly puts forward an alternative to the finite cycle that our senses know by suggesting a universal and infinite condition.
Between the binomials visible - invisible, material - immaterial, familiar - unknown, controllable - uncontrollable, the installation-exhibit is crystallized within the realm of the perceivable. And from the dust it shall return, again and again, and as many times as our mind - or is it soul? - will allow.
Painting, between thought and perception
Nuno Faria, 2018
Carlos Mensil’s exhibition at Galeria Presença, can be perceived as a flow of images-in-motion, forces that shift between a “thought-painting” and a “upcoming-painting”. Painting is a force that is also a presence, a body that moves, first and foremost, it is a “thing” (a body) and because it is “something” that can be thought of (by another body). In this exhibition we can observe 14 recent artworks (created between 2017 and 2018) which mostly explore the possibilities of stainless steel as a performative material: a video/animation being played alongside a sound and two pieces with engines, magnets and steel spheres. But, nonetheless, there, as a counterpart, an invisible dimension: the sound is not coinciding with the action, the objects that move without an apparent reason, the light and reflection of the plastic that involves some of the framing structures. Carlos Mensil is not interested in naming the painting, rather to create a space to reflect about painting as a type of language and happening. Essentially, the whole exhibition takes place in a fraction of time, in a hiatus (of time, of space), in some kind of void. Everything is presented as a negative: the image appears as an analogy, and the object as a magnetic force which moves according to its own free will. We are not far from an animistic pulsion, which very much defines the very own act of painting: things that come to life, escaping the control, the hand of the artist himself. In fact, in the material or substantial sense of the word, we can hardly see a thing (the artist works in reduction); yet, we see, but in the physiological or phenomenological sense: we see a body of proposals operating (in expansion) in the space of the invisible, that hiatus between appearing and disappearing.(…)
What is a fine arts degree for?
Fernando Pinto Coelho, 2015
(…) Ultimately, what seems to be false is what is actually being exhibited as real. Tricks are only used in representation proposals which delight the senses. With these strategies we are confronted with a myriad of hypothesis which push us, blindfolded, into a new enigma, in which the common ground seems to me to be the discovery of a new world, i.e., the other, the difference, by means of sudden glimpses of a reality which we invent for ourselves. We peek the unknown as if what lies beyond that frontier is the enemy and, carefully, sheltered, we go about experiencing the dismantling of the world. So, beyond the objects which feign “fait accompli” - finished (ready made) - there is no real use of the “trompe l’oeil” technique. Besides that is not Carlos Mensil’s aim. Actually his objects are moments of reflexion which, in the context of his other works, are clearly part of a narrative which is being put together along the years.
Art is not a lie, but it is also not the truth
Paulo Cunha e Silva, 2013
(…) The artist causes a slight osllation in the tranquility of the world, and to our expectations of its predictability. He gives reality a little shake (a nudge) and it moves slightly out of place. He pulls the carpet out from under us, causes a quiet earth- quake that destroys nothing, but it makes us feel uneasy. The work of Carlos Mensil eloquently addresses all these issues. His objects might be fragments, "traces", taken from the world and re-presented as though the world had not noticed their absence. He plays with our perception. Not by causing an immense upheaval that knocks the viewer to the ground, but by forng one to turn around, look back and to realize that something is not right, that there is a problem. The history of art is a gallery of these problems, of this "extra world" that the artist produces, this series of ambiguities that feed on themselves. (…)