But already in the course of that galactic year, we came to the realization that up to then the forms of the world had been provisional and would change one by one. And this understanding was followed by a boredom for the old images, so much so that one could not even bear the memory of them. (Italo Calvino – All Cosmicomics)The drawing does not occupy the paper sheet. It spatializes itself in time there, and it discovers its archetype: space-time as assemblage operates the drawing effect, a certain rhythm in which each form is always an indeterminate beginning, without founding propositions. A scratch. The tip of a sharp plate, suspended, swings back and forth. In the center and over our heads. To risk. Up and down. The line that unfolds on the wall in a game of multiple reflections guarantees the condition of wonder. It establishes the plasticity of new spaces that dispossess the resemblance of the power of any regulatory exercise of the image. Potentially cinematographic structures activate delicate and imperceptible movements. Through them, various scales and planes are repeated discontinuously. A transparent cube reinvents the dark room, fascinated by invisible screens that await the sensitive matter – Sokurov said that there are a great number of people who have nothing inside them.
Convoking an almost dramaturgical sense of the exhibition space, in which objects, supports, and materials play a leading role in the free flow between order and disorder, balance and imbalance, reality and imagination, interior and exterior, light and shadow, a conceptual framework is affirmed that destabilises the sovereignty of representation. Sound atmospheres integrate a sinuous and vitalist poetics that not only configures these works but also manifests the singular formulation of iconography as a trace which names the world. Omnipresent and tense complicities establish critical approximations between contemporary landscapes and technologies, water springs and oil extraction, ecology and industrial massification, nature and culture. The gods and the mortals. Always the form and the background. Links. Art and an obstinate way of saddening.
Herberto Helder wrote that the lover and the loved thing are a single prior cry of love – it is what at the origin is enunciated as a plan. Or the drawing.
Through Carlos Mensil’s work process we are confronted with reflections and procedures which stem from a praxis of research on phenomena and organisms that we associate with the several life cycles and with our perception of them. But these reflections and procedures also stem from a self-referential memory which resides in the presence of the machine, whether it is the machine of the familial workshop or an analogy with the mechanics of fluids, the movement of celestial bodies, the blood flow, or the apparently infinite motion of a thread sustained by a system of pulleys which leads us towards the endless course of one of its sections, like a “Díptico” [Diptych] under constant construction. Or yet towards the instability which a bird feather traverses, in a repetitive motion over a mechanical and complex construction of cables, beams, and pulleys which seem to disappear under the precarious situation of that light and diaphanous object, in its pendular flow, without beginning or end.
Much like the title of this exhibition, “Rotor”, a palindrome which serves as a metaphor for the modus operandi that inscribes an idea of motion into all of the pieces, even those that we find in an unstable balance and seem static and safe, but which are embedded in the realm of uncertainty, perhaps endless and perpetual. Carlos Mensil elaborates various games of perception with the viewer, at the level of language – between the title of the artwork and the very artwork we experience –, as for instance in “Redline”, “Díptico”, “Desnorte” [Disorientation], or “Prova de resistência” [Endurance Test]. It is under the aegis of this notion that the possibility of simulacrum, like a prosthetic external to corporeality, can be proposed as a speculative discourse between what is, in this case, the artwork and what that artwork seems to be in its plurality of meanings, as an experimental model which does not escape scientific index and cannot be reduced to the temporal constancy of measured time. In that sense, the idea of prosthetics is a model of representation and for that very reason expresses an idea of externality, but also of empathy with the viewer’s body, as we can see for instance in “Redline”, which summons us into a duplicity between the reality and the fiction of an endless and intermittent circulation in its flow, of what may be the thinnest membrane which sets death – as central and concise unity – and life apart. Of that duplicity we know only the state of wakefulness, of being alert to an “imaginary figure which, like the soul, the shadow, the image in the mirror, stalks the subject as its other, making it at the same time themselves and never quite look like themselves, stalking them as a subtle and forever conjured death. However, it is not always thus: when the double materializes itself, when it becomes visible, that means an imminent death”.(1) It is important to remember that this piece, free of evocative pretense, was undertaken during the year of 2020, a year lived in suspension for public health reasons, a year of political actions which became universal departing from the imprecise establishment of the idea of globalization. Moreover, the piece traverses a space which is also a constructed body, a functional architecture for the exhibition of artworks, the gallery. This is an organic body, dimensioned in its fragmentation to allow for the differentiation of the spaces as containers of meaning for the different artworks on display. The canonical relation between interior and exterior is present, as is intimacy and sharing, in a metaphor for nature outlined in the narrow interior garden of the urban refuge, where we will find a gush of water which continuously decants the liquid into a bucket, in the piece titled “(Avô) A regar” [(Grandfather) Watering]. I’ll draw on, here, an expression which is difficult to translate, and which may embed us in this initiatory moment: heimlich/unheimlich, which is to say, perhaps between the familiar (and self-referential) intimacy and the unsettledness of presence. (2) It is in this dimension, founded on the appearance of manufacture and the near-workshop proficiency of Mensil’s work, that we are confronted with a universe of experiences between physics, biology, and questioning carried out as artistic process. All these procedures, from the most complex to the simplest, do not lose sight of the models that make present our human condition, as universal beings, beings in a relation with the Other, and participants in an empirical memory which can be found, as a speculative model, in the experience conditioned by “Entre o Sol e a Terra” [Between the Sun and the Earth], a complex installation of remarkable scale, conceived and assembled specifically for this exhibition. Still on the artist’s work, I draw on the words of another curator and scientist, who on Mensil’s artistic process noted the following: “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.”(3)
(1) BAUDRILLARD, Jean, Simulacros e Simulação, Lisbon: Relógio D’Água, 1991, p. 123.
(2) Translation adapted from a note by translator Maria João da Costa Pereira for Simulacros e Simulação.
(3) A arte não é mentira, mas também não é verdade. Paulo Cunha e Silva, Porto, December 2012.
The object is anthropomorphic. We find ourselves bound to it by the same visceral intimacy that connects us to the organs of our own body and the features of the object – even if concealed – lean towards the retrieval of that substance. There is no way around it: we see veins and arteries, blood in motion. The spectacle of the vital sap in flow. Upon this prompt ascertainment it would be hard to staunch the echoes of last night’s newscast: pandemic, infection, death.
Redline arises during the inhuman experience of a lock-down (due to the threat of a historical virus), taking the shape of, for Carlos Mensil, as for many artists during this difficult period of our recent history, a cunning subterfuge for a reunion with the more vital, urgent, and necessary experience of artistic creation. A reason of life and death.
One of Carlos’s procedural uniquenesses which has always impressed me is the utmost care and time dedicated to the upkeep of his artifacts. A large portion of his attention is drawn to the inexorable work of time over things: the listening of the mechanisms, the comprehensive observation of the materials, their dilations, condensations, leaks, or deviations. There is hence a patient vigilance over the imminence of a flaw or interruption, like an infinite availability to repair the body that was built and postpone crises. This attention allows him to have a most in-depth inner knowledge of his pieces, which is all the more efficient the more he nests in himself the awareness of the possibility of his demise. In the particular case of this machine-organism titled Redline, this interdependence leads me to think that rather than an extension of Carlos’s own body this is a vision of its inside. The continuous dance of an uncertain fluid within a vulnerable organism, delicate in the imminence of its stalling. A flash on the frailty of life.
Redline is also a wound. A scab from long ago, from the near-immemorial times of childhood. It was with keen interest that, while visiting his studio, I heard Carlos confess to me the origin of his amazement regarding machinery and kinetics. The son of a mechanic who worked with sewing machines, he expended a disproportionate amount of his childhood time around mechanisms. An open wound which would never again heal and form a scar.
DIS-ORIENTATIONS ON THIS EXHIBITION
Carlos’s praxis is CYLINDRICAL
it affirms itself upwards and downwards with equal width : it repeats itself.
it is constant – it is a cornerstone – it is foundational
it institutes something, even if we know not what that is
it is a surprise: maybe, maybe
THAT WHICH REPEATS ITSELF SURPRISES US
it sways it sways it sways but it does not fall. It continuously continues without variation
[or with a variation of minor notes – those that matter to the disorientations]
suspended, heavy, sustained
THAT WHICH REPEATS ITSELF CAPTURES US
the regular motion captures the gaze but also the body.
Slowly, the home-workplace-home dance seems to be evoked;
in a whisper and wanting the humdrum
that cuddles our trained hand
that pushes us back on track
WHAT IS REPEATED?
the relations between time and consistency;
YOU BOIL SQUID-INK SPAGHETTI
WITH THE SAME TIME MEASURE AS THE [[other]] SPAGHETTI.
Movement and color walk hand in hand.
Consciousness of time is _________ (variable)
and it entwines with – which is to say it marries – duration
Sensations are articulated with perceptions
and from this combo ensue life’s senses,
invented in the playing out of stories,
but also the experience of time.
Knowledge of time is another matter altogether.
Reason and feelings articulated, but not collected.
synchronicity and the senses are articulated
sound feeds us images.
TICK - TOCKS, TIC - TOCKS
TO SUM IT UP: the construction of Gaze is synesthetic.
HOLE, VOID, RESISTANCE, ROUTINE
Carlos’s titles have an implicit message
even before he knows it
his articulated praxis between para-artwork and artwork-itself
tells us that movement is key
as well as the structure which structures it,
but what’s important is the magic that comes out of it.
The enthusiasm that arises from structure is The artwork
and not the constructive details
which we might find difficult to keep up with
lastly, that which is most relevant
to understand the signs
in the light ::
the work of EVIDENCE.
To understand the signs
through the shadows ::
the work of INTELLIGENCE.
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 crystallised 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.
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.(…)
(…) 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 earthquake 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. (…)